The NMA Foundation presents The Car of the Future weekly feature:
The website theverge.com this week headlined an article called “Self-driving cars just had one of their best months yet.” The subheadline was even more hyperbolic, “Autonomous vehicles are moving from their infancy into their adolescence.” As a car of the future watcher, I believe that autonomous vehicles (AVs) did have a good month but really…moving into adolescence and skipping childhood all together? Nah…
No doubt there was some movement and AVs did some growing in the past month but not to the extent of hitting puberty—far from it.
On the regulatory front, Congress was especially jolly in looking into the issue with 14 bills on the table. The biggest crux is trying to take control over the process so that there is uniformity across all states with regards to testing and possible deployment of AVs. Lawmakers would like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to be responsible for AVs on a federal level. Automakers and tech companies are onboard. They want to get their AVs on the road faster and do not want to learn and understand 50 different AV regulations from 50 different states—understandable. But if the feds take over the AV regs, car of the future makers should not take this as a sign to become act as if this is the Wild West and think anything goes.
Safety and consumer advocates are cautious. Jacqueline Gillan, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, testified at a House hearing and had this to say, “While we see great potential for the future of AVs, basic safeguards and reasonable industry accountability are essential.” She added, “Testing and government oversight will not inhibit technological creativity and innovation, but without them, it will inhibit and threaten public protection and acceptance.”
Two other rather exciting developments also occurred this past month.
Rental Car Companies are now in the loop. Waymo announced a partnership with Avis and Apple revealed it has been working in a little project with Hertz. Rental car companies have the experience managing fleets and also control a network of customers. Fleet management of driverless vehicles will be more important in the future as AVs are more accepted. Recently, rental car companies have been left out of the car of the future loop and were faltering with the tsunami of ridesharing and carsharing disruption. Rental car company alliances with tech companies make sense. Will automakers also reach out to rental car companies and align themselves as they have done with ridesharing companies?
The other large development comes out of China and technically occurred in early July. Baidu, the Chinese Google, announced this past week that they have enlisted more than 50 partners for its Apollo driverless project. The program aims to open up part of Baidu’s AV software in the same fashion that Google did with their Android operating system for smart phones. Baidu hopes this will encourage companies to build products based on their software. The partner agreements unveiled this week cover virtually every automotive field and include four Chinese car companies, suppliers: Bosch and Continental, Microsoft, Southeast Asian ridesharing giant Grab and mapping systems company TomTom. Baidu hopes this will open up their competitiveness to take on rival Google parent Alphabet Inc’s Waymo.
AVs might indeed be entering the childhood phase. Let’s wait and see though if they can keep the growing momentum.
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