Self-driving car spinoff Waymo says the technology behind its new autonomous vehicles is safe. Waymo's CEO says they will buy up to 20,000 electric vehicles from Jaguar Land Rover to help realize their vision for a robotic ride-hailing service. SAN FRANCISCO -- Later this year, Alphabet's self-driving car company, Waymo, plans an historic first: offering a self-driving, ride-hailing fleet to the general public in the city of Phoenix. After nearly a decade of building and testing its autonomous cars -- which just hit the 10 million-mile milestone -- the former Google Car Project is about to hit start on what eventually will be self-driving car services in a few of the 25 U.S. in which it currently tests. So what's it like to hand over your daily driving chores to a robot?
Cruise, the self-driving car arm of General Motors, has an unexpected new ally in its bid to keep its corporate master at the forefront of an industry enduring its greatest period of change in generations: Honda. In a deal announced today, the Japanese automaker will help San Francisco-based Cruise and its Detroit owner develop and mass produce a new sort vehicle for a world in which human drivers are no longer needed. Honda is opening its checkbook too, pledging to spend $2 billion on the project over 12 years, and immediately putting a $750 million equity investment into Cruise. For Honda, the partnership offers entree into a self-driving space where it has thus far spent little time and effort. For Cruise and GM, the newcomer adds engineering know-how, especially with regard to interior design.
Self-driving car company Cruise Automation is rushing to create a new autonomous vehicle with the help of one of the largest names in the automotive industry. Honda said it will invest $2.75 billion into Cruise's autonomous vehicle operations over the next 12 years, an infusion that arrives several months after the Japanese firm SoftBank announced a $2.25 billion investment in the company. Both investments bring the four-year-old company's valuation to a whopping $14.6 billion, General Motors said in a news release Wednesday. Cruise Automation -- which is already building a fleet of autonomous vehicles that could hit American streets as early as next year -- is a subsidiary of GM. The Detroit automaker's stock was up nearly 2 percent Wednesday.
Proponents of 5G say it will offer ultra-fast connections, speedier data downloads, and be able to handle millions more connections than 4G mobile networks can cope with today. One use for 5G is self-driving cars, but will they really need it? The telecoms industry envisions autonomous cars equipped with hundreds of sensors collecting and receiving information all at once over a network. It calls this concept "Vehicle-to-everything" (V2X). To achieve this, the car needs to detect blind spots and avoid collisions with people, animals or other vehicles on the road.
Of the many acronyms engineers spend their lives internalizing, few are more valuable than KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Constrain the problem, reduce the variables, and make life as easy as possible when designing novel systems--like, say, a self-driving car. The world is a messy, complicated place. The less of it you need to solve, the closer you are to having a working product. That's why Waymo tests and plans to deploy its vehicles in Chandler, Arizona, with its reliably sunny weather, calm traffic, and meticulously mapped roads.
How much safer, smoother, and more efficient could driving be if cars could communicate with traffic lights while approaching an intersection, get alerted to jaywalking pedestrians, or talk to each other while roaring down the highway at 65 miles per hour? A peer-to-peer wireless technology called C-V2X can warn vehicles about obstacles that cameras and radars might not catch, connecting them to their surroundings in a way that could eventually help them drive themselves. Most of the demos involve people driving cars and trucks outfitted with special C-V2X chipsets and modems. The vehicles send and receive wireless signals 10 times per second and display certain types of information--such as warnings about oncoming pedestrians, storms, and accidents--as pop-up alerts on drivers' windshields or dashboards. The most recent C-V2X demonstration, which took place in Colorado on August 14, also connected participating vehicles to traffic lights, so drivers knew exactly when the lights would change colors.
When Mangesh Gururaj's wife left home to pick up their child from math lessons one Sunday earlier this month, she turned on her Tesla Model S and hit "Summon," a self-parking feature that the electric automaker has promoted as a central step toward driverless cars. But as the family's $65,000 sedan reversed itself out of the garage, Gururaj said, the car abruptly struck the garage's side wall, ripping its front end off with a loud crack. The maimed Tesla looked as if it would have kept driving, Gururaj said, if his wife hadn't hit the brakes. No one was hurt, but Gururaj was rattled: The car had failed disastrously, during the simplest of maneuvers, using one of the most basic features from the self-driving technology he and his family had trusted many times at higher speeds. "This is just a crash in the garage.
Uber didn't necessarily get into self-driving cars to make friends. It launched its program in Pittsburgh by gutting the robotics program at Carnegie Mellon University, after all. But in the three years since--as the company has struggled with wayward leadership, a broken corporate culture, and this spring's fatal crash, which killed an Arizona woman--Uber has learned that the buddy system may not be so bad. As this new technology moves slowly toward commercialization, its creators are grappling with how a robo-car business should work, exactly. It's a murky world in which exploration feels safer, somehow, with a partner by your side.
The genesis of the modern self-driving car across three Darpa challenges in the early 2000s has been well documented, here and elsewhere. Teams of universities, enthusiasts and automakers struggled to get cars to drive themselves through desert and city conditions. In the process, they kick-started the sensor, software and mapping technologies that would power today's self-driving taxis and trucks. A fascinating new book, "Autonomy" by Lawrence Burns, explores both the Darpa races and what happened next--in particular, how Google's self-driving car effort,now spun out as Waymo, came to dominate the field. Burns is a long-time auto executive, having come up through the ranks at GM and spent time championing that company's own autonomous vehicle effort, the impressive but ill-fated EN-V urban mobility concept.
A self-driving taxi has successfully taken paying passengers through the busy streets of Tokyo, raising the prospect that the service will be ready in time to ferry athletes and tourists between sports venues and the city centre during the 2020 Summer Olympics. ZMP, a developer of autonomous driving technology, and the taxi company Hinomaru Kotsu, claim that the road tests, which began this week, are the first in the world to involve driverless taxis and fare-paying passengers. The trial took place as Toyota and the transport giant Uber said they were intensifying efforts to develop a self-driving vehicle, pitting themselves against rival initiatives in Japan, the US and Europe. Toyota will invest $500m in the venture, which will develop vehicles based on the carmakers' Sienna minivans, with a view to start testing in 2021, the firms said this week. Uber and Waymo, owned by Google spinoff Alphabet, have started testing their vehicles on public roads in the US, but the venture suffered a serious setback in March when a Waymo self-driving van struck and killed a pedestrian during a trial in Arizona.