Uber and Volvo are taking the next step in their self-driving relationship.
Volvo, which first began working with the ride-hail player in August 2016, has agreed to sell 24,000 SUVs to Uber between 2019 and 2021, the automaker announced on Monday.
An Uber spokesperson confirmed that Volvo has agreed to sell the ride-hail player 24,000 cars but said that it is a general framework. The company could buy fewer or more cars from Volvo.
The Volvo XC90s will have the “core” technology — like redundant processors — needed to enable autonomous driving, to which the ride-hail company will add some of its own technology after the fact.
It’s unclear whether Uber intends to work with Volvo in the future on producing these cars with the software integrated. For now, Uber and Volvo work together on some parts of the technology before it’s produced and then Uber adds its own sensor kit. We’ve asked if Uber adds its own software before or after and will update when we hear back.
So far, this is the largest number of cars that any two companies have agreed to develop that will serve in a commercial driverless fleet. Alphabet’s self-driving arm Waymo only recently announced that it would begin testing 600 Chrysler Pacificas on the road.
It’s also unclear if Uber will continue this ownership model wherein the company simply buys cars from an automaker. While self-driving cars will likely increase profitability — given Uber will take home the entire fare instead of divvying up around 75 percent of it to drivers — but the costs of owning and maintaining the cars are lofty. With autonomous vehicles, there’s also a likelihood that these cars will rack up more miles quickly since there’s little reason to stop and have to be replaced sooner.
For a company that is in the middle of cutting its losses as it prepares to go public, having tens of thousands of cars on its balance sheet isn’t exactly ideal. That’s why Uber has also struck a separate relationship with Daimler that is easier on its purse strings. Through that relationship, Daimler will simply plug its own driverless cars into Uber’s network when it’s ready.
While Uber’s U.S. rival Lyft certainly has struck more automaker relationships, Uber’s partnership with Volvo at least appears to have progressed far more.
The $69 billion ride-hail company has also been developing its own autonomous tech at least two years longer than Lyft has. That said, Uber’s self-driving tech has been slow to progress. As of March 2017, the company’s safety drivers had to take over the autonomous system once every .8 miles.
The U.S. House on Wednesday unanimously approved a sweeping proposal to speed the deployment of self-driving cars without human controls by putting federal regulators in the driver’s seat and barring states from blocking autonomous vehicles.
The House measure, the first significant federal legislation aimed at speeding self-driving cars to market, would allow automakers to obtain exemptions to deploy up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year. The cap would rise over three years to 100,000 vehicles annually.
Representative Doris Matsui said the bill “puts us on a path towards innovation which, up until recently, seemed unimaginable.”
Automakers, business groups, and advocates for the blind praised the House measure. But one consumer group said the House bill did not do enough to ensure self-driving cars would be safe.
Under the bill, manufacturers seeking exemptions must demonstrate self-driving cars are at least as safe as existing vehicles. States could still set rules on registration, licensing, liability, insurance and safety inspections, but not performance standards.
Automakers would have to submit safety assessment reports to regulators, but the bill would not require pre-market approval of advanced vehicle technologies. The measure now goes to the Senate, where a bipartisan group of lawmakers has been working on similar legislation.
Automakers and technology companies, including General Motors Co and Alphabet Inc’s self-driving unit Waymo, hope to begin deploying vehicles around 2020. They have been pushing for new federal rules making it easier to deploy self-driving technology, but some consumer groups have sought additional safeguards.
Current federal rules bar self-driving cars without human controls on U.S. roads. States have issued a variety of different rules in the absence of clear federal guidance, and automakers have complained that California’s rules are too restrictive.
The policy group Transportation for America said cities are worried the House “legislation will preempt local authorities from managing their own streets and fail to give local leaders the confidence that manufacturers and operators will be aware of and follow local laws and regulations.”
On Tuesday, Reuters reported that U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will unveil revised self-driving guidelines next Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Michigan, citing sources, and the department confirmed plans to unveil the new guidelines next week. The House bill would require compliance with the guidelines.
GM said in a statement that “while more work is needed,” the House measure is “good progress toward a law that will facilitate realization of the safety, mobility, and environmental benefits of self-driving vehicles.”
The House bill would also require automakers to add a driver alert to check rear seating in an effort to prevent children from being left behind, and to consider performance standards for headlights.
Lyft is partnering with yet another self-driving car startup — this time with Drive.ai in the San Francisco Bay Area — to launch a pilot program that will shuttle ride-sharing customers to their destinations in vehicles controlled by artificial intelligence, not humans.
The partnership is just the latest step in Lyft’s plan to offer up its vast network of passengers and drivers to companies developing self-driving cars. Lyft already has partnerships with GM, Boston-based NuTonomy, and Waymo, the Google self-driving car project that spun out to become a business under parent company Alphabet.
Drive.ai and Lyft did not specify when this pilot program will start actively shuttling passengers in autonomous vehicles. Executives with Drive.ai and Lyft say they expect to launch “soon.”
Initially, the pilot will involve a small set of passengers who will opt in to this program, Taggart Matthiesen, senior director of product of Lyft, told The Verge. He did not provide a specific number of vehicles or participants, but noted the self-driving car will have a Drive.ai safety driver behind the wheel to take over in case the artificial intelligence controlling the car fails, and of course, to meet California regulations.
Once a ride is requested, Drive.ai’s software will evaluate whether or not the route is feasible, said Carol Reiley, co-founder and president of Drive.ai. This may be a route that has been pre-selected, Reiley said, adding that the company’s self-driving technology can handle rainy and nighttime conditions.
Drive.ai, which was founded by former graduate students working in Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, will use the pilot to test the limits of the self-driving car technology and further develop it so the riding experience is consistent, regardless of the conditions of route, Reiley said. A consistent and safe ride is something all companies developing self-driving car technology are chasing, with varying degrees of success.
Despite the lack of logistical details, the partnership is a milestone for the lesser-known Drive.ai, which received an autonomous vehicle testing permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles in April 2016. This partnership — the first that Drive.ai has publicly announced — gives the startup the opportunity to potentially bring its self-driving cars to the 350 cities in 40 US states where Lyft operates.
Drive.ai uses a different approach from other companies racing to deploy autonomous vehicles. Startups generally train their self-driving vehicles with deep learning technology, a sophisticated form of artificial intelligence algorithms that allow a computer — essentially the car’s brain — to learn by using a series of connected networks to identify patterns in data. Traditionally, deep learning is used to teach the car how to recognize objects, such as the ability of the car to detect a traffic light or a pedestrian. In general, the use of deep neural networks is limited to this task.
Last year, GM bought Cruise Automation, a startup focused on self-driving car technology, and now it appears the automotive giant is getting serious about creating HD maps. Cruise Automation has just announced that it’s recruiting a Head of Mapping, who will “own the strategy, planning, and execution of our specialized HD maps,” according to the job posting.
While GM might be the country’s top auto manufacturer, it lags behind Google and other Silicon Valley companies when it comes to self-driving technology. Indeed, Google’s self-driving project, called Waymo, has an upper hand on its rivals because of the company’s robust maps. GM and other car companies are racing to keep up with the tech giant.
However, GM has an advantage that Google does not: actual cars on the road. Last year, GM announced that it would begin to use OnStar, the safety system and in-car concierge installed in its cars, to create maps for autonomous vehicles. Now, it appears as though the company is ready to take advantage of all that data. “Look at how many cars GM sells — it won’t take much to have that data very quickly,” Dave Sullivan, an analyst with AutoPacific Inc., told The Wall Street Journal.
GM also recently announced that it was adding an additional 130 cars to its test fleet of autonomous Chevy Bolts. Between its prototype driverless cars and advances in HD mapping, it appears as though GM is very serious about developing safe and effective self-driving vehicles as quickly as possible.
Joshua Brown’s Tesla warned him seven times to put his hands back on the wheel before he plowed into a truck.
A National Transportation Safety Board report on the deadly crash also found that Brown had his hands on the wheel of the Tesla Model S for 25 seconds out of 37 minutes that the car was on autopilot.
The crash, near Gainesville, Florida, in May 2016, drew attention because of the questions it raised about the safety of self-driving cars.
An earlier investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the crash was not the result of any defect in Tesla’s autopilot feature, which can keep a car in a lane and brake to avoid traffic and other obstacles.
In this case, the car hit the trailer of a truck that pulled across its lanes of traffic at an intersection.
The NTSB cautioned that its report was only fact-finding about the crash. The agency said it was not drawing conclusions about why the crash happened.
A new study commissioned by computer chipmaker Intel estimates that economic opportunities created by autonomous vehicles will accelerate from $800 billion a year in 2035 to $7 trillion annually by 2050 and dramatically change our concepts of mobility. That potential for profit, and the risks to existing businesses from that disruption, are reasons why automakers and tech companies are investing so much.
The futurist study by Strategy Analytics forecasts the economic impact of a new global “passenger economy” driven by autonomous vehicles that will replace today’s sharing economy and private car ownership (as well as the corps of drivers employed by transportation and freight companies). It would be an economic disruption, it says, on the order of the internet and cellphones. The study sees the first fully autonomous vehicles within five years or so and slower growth through 2035, after which it will take off.
Intel has, of course, a vested interest in the forecast. The company is investing heavily to become a leader in autonomous technology development, including partnerships with Delphi and BMW as well as recently paying $15.3 billion to buy vehicle camera and sensor maker Mobileye.
The study looks at changes for both businesses and consumers. “Less than a decade ago, no one was talking about the potential of a soon-to-emerge app or sharing economy because no one saw it coming,” said Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, in a statement. “This is why we started the conversation around the passenger economy early, to wake people up to the opportunity streams that will emerge when cars become the most powerful mobile data-generating devices we use and people swap driving for riding.”
The study breaks down the $7 trillion economic impact of the new passenger economy and buying mobility as a service by 2050 as:
- Businesses will account for 43 percent, or $3 trillion in revenues, including transportation and delivery companies. It sees this taking off fastest as automation potentially pays for itself.
- Consumers will account for 55 percent, or $3.7 trillion in revenue, for buying mobility services.
- New apps and services created by self-driving vehicles will have an impact of $200 billion, such as by media companies and advertisers.
It also looks at scenarios for potential changes in how we’ll live and interact with the vehicles as we get around, including:
- Safer travel. The study predicts that 585,000 lives could be saved and $234 billion in related public safety costs prevented due to self-driving vehicles from 2035 to 2045.
- A lot of free time while we’re in the vehicle, but not driving. Self-driving vehicles could free up more than 250 million hours of commuting time per year in the most congested cities.
- In-car services, “from onboard beauty salons to touchscreen tables for remote collaboration, fast-casual dining, remote vending, mobile health care clinics and treatment pods, and even platooning pod hotels, vehicles will become transportation experience pods.”
- In-car entertainment. “Media and content producers will develop custom content formats to match short and long travel times.”
- Ads targeted to your location and to you thanks to all the data vehicles will be accumulating about you. “Location-based advertising will become more keenly relevant, and advertisers and agencies will be presented with a new realm of possibilities.”
- Mobility services as a perk. “Employers, office buildings, apartment complexes, university campuses and housing estates will offer [mobility services] to add value to and distinguish their offer from competitors or as part of their compensation package.”
- Car as a business. The smaller number of people who choose to own a vehicle will share it via an app when they aren’t using it. Or they might buy just a time-share of the vehicle from car companies.
Disrupting Public Transit and Other consequences
One interesting note in this study, which does not come up much in the discussion of autonomous vehicles, is the potential for these vehicles to disrupt not just the auto and transportation industries and private car ownership, but also our current models of mass transit, including buses, light rail and subways. Door-to-door service-on-demand from an app would be hard to resist.
The study predicts that cities may rethink public transit and even get into municipal ownership of fleets of self-driving vehicles.
Perversely, this also could mean more traffic, not less. It could be more orderly as the vehicles cruise along at fixed speeds with fixed spacing, and you could spend the time on entertainment or working during the ride since the car is driving.
Privacy also will become a bigger issue, since an unprecedented amount of data will be gathered about you and your activities, purchases and travel patterns. And so will security; if you think hacking email is dangerous, consider how hacking could affect a world of interconnected and computer-driven autonomous transportation.
For the first time, Apple CEO Tim Cook has confirmed that the iPhone-maker is building the technology to power self-driving cars. In an interview with Bloomberg, Cook said that the firm is currently “focusing on autonomous systems” — rather than, say, a car stamped with the Apple logo — and that this could be used for many different purposes.
“We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects,” said Cook. “Autonomy is something that’s incredibly exciting for us, but we’ll see where it will take us. We’re not really saying from a product point of view what we’ll do, but we’re being straightforward that it’s a core technology we view as very important.”
Apple’s interest in autonomous vehicles has been something of an open secret in Silicon Valley. Rumors about the company’s efforts (codenamed Project Titan, and reportedly started in 2014) have been swirling for years. More recently, documents have emerged that clearly show Apple’s involvement in the technology, including the publication this April of a permit for the company to test self-driving cars in California.
Apple reportedly hired more than 1,000 engineers to work on Project Titan, but was forced to tweak its focus. In October last year, it was reported that the company had shrunk the team’s ambitions, from attempting to compete directly with the likes of Tesla by building the company’s own electric car, to focusing more on the software side of things. This interview with Cook confirms that this is Apple’s priority.
Whatever the company’s final goal, it is now, at least, being a bit more candid about its interest. Cook told Bloomberg that Apple sees the car industry as ripe for disruption, and noted that self-driving technology is just one of three “vectors of change” that will come to fruition in the near future. The other two, he says, are ride-sharing and electrification. “If you’ve driven an all-electric car it’s actually a marvelous experience,” said the Apple chief.
The Korean electronics giant joins a long-list of high-tech businesses that are trialing autonomous driving, which also includes Apple, Alphabet and China’s Baidu. Samsung plans to dabble in the technology by developing advanced sensors and artificial intelligence technologies with a commercial Hyundai-made vehicle.
Samsung becomes the first electronics company to receive permission from the South Korea government to test out self-driving cars. The news first broke via South Korea’s official news agency, Yonhap. Here’s more:
The ministry [of Land, Infrastructure and Transport] said it has been seeking to ease regulations on self-driving cars to bolster industry growth. Accordingly, the ministry reduced the number of mandatory passengers of such cars to one from the previous two. It also paved the way for the production of cars without steering wheels or pedals.
“Self-driving cars call for the collaboration of various cutting-edge technologies from the automobile, artificial intelligence and information communication sectors,” the ministry said, adding it will continue efforts to establish a favorable environment for the sector’s growth.
Samsung signaled its intention to join the self-driving car revolution in a big way back in October last year, when it announced a USD8 billion deal to buy automobile components maker Harman International.
Shares in Samsung were up 0.5% this afternoon in Korean trading. The stock’s returned almost 25% this year so far.
Waymo—or, the company formerly known as Google’s self-driving car project—announced Tuesday that it plans to sign up hundreds of households living in and around the Phoenix, Arizona, area for a trial that will give them free, on-demand access to self-driving cars.
“Rather than offering people one or two rides, the goal of this program is to give participants access to our fleet every day, at any time, to go anywhere within an area that’s about twice the size of San Francisco,” John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, wrote in a post on Medium.
The fact that Krafcik outlined how much of the greater Phoenix area will be open to riders is significant, suggesting that Waymo has mapped it in great detail and is confident that its cars will perform well there. This is similar to the approach Uber took when it launched its self-driving taxi program in Pittsburgh last year.
Uber’s Pittsburgh experiment showcased a technology that was a long way from self-sufficient (see “What to Know Before You Get In a Self-driving Car”), and since then the ride-hailing giant’s autonomous vehicle operations have had a rough ride—including being accused by Waymo of stealing its lidar technology.
Waymo, meanwhile, appears to believe its fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans and Lexus RX450h SUVs is up to the challenge of ferrying families to and from work, soccer practice, and on errands. While the company makes clear that each car will come with a human test driver, Krafcik said the purpose of the trial is to learn more about how people use Waymo’s vehicles—where they go with them, how they interact with them during rides, and so on.
This could be a sign that the technology is maturing to the point that Waymo is becoming more concerned with how to make an actual business out of its cars (which was, after all, the point of spinning the company out of Google in the first place). There is also plenty of pressure from a growing list of competitors to keep pushing forward.
Regardless of the motivation, the trial is likely to provide a trove of data on what regular people do with autonomous vehicles when given the opportunity. And if Waymo’s years of experience in testing self-driving cars is any indication, there are bound to be a lot of unexpected results.