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.
It may be a long time before you can own a truly self-driving car. But chipmakers are placing bets that you will. On Tuesday, the Japanese chipmaker Renesas, the second-largest provider of semiconductors for the automotive industry, said it will acquire San Jose based chipmaker Integrated Device Technology (IDT) for $6.7 billion, in part to prepare for autonomous vehicles. IDT has not historically provided chips for cars, but it does have sensor and wireless technologies that could help Renesas compete in the market for chips for autonomous vehicles. "Renesas and IDT have complementary technologies," says Objective Analysis analyst Jim Handy.
The safety of self-driving cars has become a source of concern for U.S. transportation regulators this year after one of Uber Technologies Inc's [UBER.UL] vehicles struck and killed a woman in March in Arizona, prompting the company to shut down its testing efforts for a time. Uber has said it plans to have self-driving cars back on the road by the end of the year.
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.
Japanese carmaker Toyota is to invest $500m (£387m) in Uber and expand a partnership to jointly develop self-driving cars. The firm said this would involve the "mass-production" of autonomous vehicles that would be deployed on Uber's ride sharing network. It is being viewed as a way for both firms to catch up with rivals in the competitive driverless car market. The deal also values Uber at some $72bn, despite its mounting losses. That is up 15% since its last investment in May but matches a previous valuation in February.
One researcher is putting real humans into computerized driving simulations to help self-driving cars learn human behavior. In the not-too-distant future, Americans will be sharing the road with self-driving cars. Companies are pouring billions of dollars into developing self-driving vehicles. Waymo, formerly the Google self-driving-car project, says that its self-driving cars have already driven millions of miles on the open road. Stanford University assistant professor Dorsa Sadigh has ridden in self-driving cars.
After Dara Khosrowshahi took over as Uber's chief executive last August, he considered shutting the company's money-losing autonomous vehicle division. A visit to Pittsburgh this spring changed that. In town for a leadership summit, Mr. Khosrowshahi and other Uber executives were briefed on the state of the company's self-driving vehicle research, which is based in Pittsburgh. The group was impressed by the progress its autonomous division had made in testing driverless cars in Pittsburgh and in Arizona, according to three people familiar with the ride-hailing company, who were not authorized to speak publicly. They left the meeting energized, convinced that Uber needed to forge ahead with self-driving cars, the people said.
For the developers of self-driving vehicles, semi-trucks are a potential low-hanging fruit. Although big rigs are imposingly, intimidatingly huge, they also predominantly run on freeways and other fixed routes that are simpler to automate. Fleet managers are easier to convince with rational, financial arguments than individual car buyers. Today, a new startup, Kodiak Robotics, is edging out of stealth, announcing $40 million in financing, and telling the world it's going to pick and ship that fruit. The company is worth watching because it's cofounded by Don Burnette, who also cofounded Otto, a trucking startup acquired by Uber in 2016, and particularly notable because it led to a high-profile legal spat in the nascent autonomous vehicle industry.