"It's easy to make an autonomous vehicle that works 99% of the time," Russell says later. His company plans to start shipping an "auto-grade" sensor that costs less than $1,000 in 2018, he says, assuming it checks the boxes in a battery of tests. Oryx Vision, an Israeli startup that is building a test unit for cars, hopes to eventually sell lidar sensors to vehicle manufacturers for about $100. Tesla's Elon Musk has argued that advanced radar could do the same job as lidar, and other startups are working on super-powered cameras to help cars see more clearly.
Reaction to Musk's latest move, announced on Wednesday, has been no different. His decision to equip all new Tesla vehicles with radar and cameras that will enable them to (eventually) drive autonomously--without human intervention--has been described as brilliant while others have called it dangerous. "People are always talking about how expensive fully autonomous cars will be initially," Gartner analyst Mike Ramsey told Fortune. Tesla's new self-driving hardware doesn't include Lidar, the light-sensitive laser imaging radar that Google, Ford, and other automakers are using to develop driverless cars.
Tactical Robots, an Israeli firm, has been running test flights of its Cormorant unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) this summer, and will keep expanding those tests to bring its aircraft with internal spinning rotors to the market. Rafi Yoeli, the founder and head of Urban Aeronautics, of which Tactical Robots is a subsidiary, tells TIME that the Cormorant will have both military and commercial uses. The Cormorant will be able to carry 1,100 pounds distances of more than 31 miles (50 km), Tactical Robots said in a press release. And the engine itself is slated for upgrades: Urban Aeronautics and the helicopter engine manufacturer Safran are partnering to both create more powerful engines for the Cormorant, as well as to develop entirely new internal rotor aircrafts together.
Uber on Wednesday launched its self-driving pilot program that allows some passengers to get to their destination in a vehicle that drives itself, marking the company's first public test in the U.S. of the future of the technology. The Ford Fusion cars have 3D cameras, global positioning systems and a detection system that uses lasers to assess objects on the road. The vehicles can stop at red lights, go at green lights, drive over bridges and maneuver around other vehicles on their own. Earlier this year, Uber said the technology is in its early days, but some still cheered its first step.
But who gets there first (old-line automakers, new-economy startups) and how (by selling passenger cars, taxi services, commercial vehicles) is still unclear. The company aims to retrofit existing long-haul trucks with tech that enables self-driving solely from exit to exit on freeways, which poses a more manageable set of problems than fully automating passenger vehicles. Otto product manager Eric Berdinis, relaxing in the back, argued that many self-driving features aimed at ordinary consumers amounted to mere convenience. But outfitted with the right tech, truck drivers stand to benefit much more: lowering the likelihood of crashes, increasing fuel efficiency, saving on gas and getting more use out of an expensive asset.
Automated vehicles could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90%, or increase it by more than 200%, according to research from the Department of Energy (DOE). The DOE does not currently have the authority to make rules for automated vehicles, but agency officials hope the findings will inform decisions by policymakers at other agencies as well as auto manufacturers. asks Ann Schlenker, transportation research director at the Argonne National Laboratory. Automation would make car travel easy and encourage car owners to make an extra trip rather that stay at home, as they might otherwise if they had to spend the time behind the wheel.
Before January, this startup specializing in outfitting commercial trucks with self-driving technology did not exist. While Uber is openly working to make Uber drivers obsolete--the first self-driving Ubers are set to go live in Pittsburgh in the coming months--Ron says that for "the foreseeable future" Otto intends to only be a "co-pilot" that helps drivers make a better living, while the company gets access to data from vehicles outfitted with its hardware. Will Uber take a cut from the commercial truck marketplace app, assuming it takes off? On our test drive, the human firmly planted in the truck's driver's seat took the wheel once when a broom popped up on the highway, and again when there was construction and he had to merge into thick traffic in the adjacent lane.
Ride-hailing app Uber will introduce self-driving cars in Pittsburgh as soon as this month, the first part of a pilot program to explore the future of the technology. The company plans to test 100 Volvo XC90s outfitted to drive themselves. Uber has made considerable investments on that front and has been testing cars for more than a year. The company also purchased Otto, a company working on self-driving technology for trucks.
Electric car maker Tesla Motors is working on multiple new vehicles, including heavy trucks and buses that could be unveiled as early as next year. Tesla currently makes a luxury sedan, the Model S, and a luxury crossover, the Model X. In his 2006 plan, Musk laid out Tesla's goal of using profits from its first car -- the sporty Roadster, which went on sale in 2008 -- to fund the development of a wider range of vehicles, including lower-priced family cars. Tesla delivered 50,580 vehicles last year.
If regulators make too many laws now, warned the head of policy from X (formerly GoogleX), "the cold, dry text" will stymie the most cutting edge technology. And if we're not realistic about human habits, predicted a Berkeley transportation expert, automated vehicles could lead us to waste more gas and cause more congestion instead of leading to a traffic and accident-free utopia on the road. That Berkeley expert, professor Joan Walker, highlighted the example of "zero-occupancy" vehicles that could be clogging up residential streets as people summon them for on-demand home deliveries. But the speeches at the conference on Tuesday, which bills itself as "the largest gathering … of professionals involved with making automated vehicles a reality," often concentrated on more mundane, more immediate ones.