FYI: Another Major NY Times Article On Driverless/Self-Driving Cars
Front page Business Section 08/19/16; due to its length, heavily edited; as usual, the entire article probably only available to NY Times subscribers.
The Times continues to heavily invest in its print paper, frequent news articles re this tech, and not just about Tesla's problems either.
Title: Uber Aims for an Edge in the Race for a Self-Driving Future
A world in which cars drive themselves may come sooner than once thought.
On Thursday, Uber said that it would begin testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh in a matter of weeks, allowing people in the city to hail modified versions of Volvo sport utility vehicles to get around the city.
Uber also said it had acquired Otto, a 90-person start-up including former Google and Carnegie Mellon engineers that is focused on developing self-driving truck technology to upend the shipping industry (FYI: Carnegie Mellon is a long established, well regarded engineering university).
Those moves are the most recent indications of Uber’s ambitions for autonomous vehicles that can provide services to both consumers and businesses.
And they come after Ford Motor’s announcement this week that it would put fleets of self-driving taxis onto American roads in five years. As part of that effort, Ford said it had acquired an Israeli start-up, Saips, that specializes in computer vision, a crucial technology for self-driving cars. Ford also announced investments in three other companies involved in major technologies for driverless vehicles.
Suddenly, it seems, both Silicon Valley and Detroit are doubling down on their bets for autonomous vehicles. And in what could emerge as a self-driving-car arms race, the players are investing in, or partnering with, or buying outright the specialty companies most focused on the requisite hardware, software and artificial intelligence capabilities.
When Uber puts its modified Volvo XC90s on the streets of Pittsburgh, it will be the first, fledgling attempt to commercialize vehicles that drive themselves without the need for a human being at the controls.
In a test beginning later in the month, Uber users in Pittsburgh will be able to hail self-driving Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicles to get around the city.
But the Ford and Uber initiatives are not without risk. Federal auto safety regulators are preparing guidelines for autonomous vehicles that may or may not include the need for a steering wheel or require the presence of a driver who can step in should computerized systems falter.
In a nod to the highly experimental nature of its Pittsburgh plan, Uber intends to have an actual human being behind the wheel — just in case. But while Ford is looking five years out, Uber is moving aggressively toward driverless fleets, despite the regulatory uncertainties.
The acquisition of Otto follows Uber’s recent opening of an advanced technology center in Pittsburgh, in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University. The company has also hired engineers directly away from Google, which has been immersed in developing autonomous cars for a decade.
Like Uber, Google is intent on developing self-driving cars for urban taxi use — reasoning that the slow speeds and relatively predictable environment of city streets that can be thoroughly, digitally mapped is the best and safest near-term purpose of autonomous vehicles. But for Uber, such cars are not a side bet but a way to be more fully in control of its business by eliminating the need for drivers who expect to be paid.
The German automaker Daimler was forced recently to pull an advertisement in the United States that possibly overstated the safety of assisted-driving options in a new Mercedes-Benz model (I posted a Reply on that when I saw that TV commercial; didn't see anything re US govt banning that commercial, but good to see that someone in the govt is paying attn. [for a change]).
And Google is continuously explaining how minor accidents are occurring in self-driving vehicles it has been testing for some time in California.
In the Pittsburgh pilot program, Uber plans not only to have human drivers aboard as a safety precaution. Passengers who use the vehicles will have to “opt in” and agree to be participants in the road test before riding, according to Uber.
That plan, along with this week’s announcements by Uber and Ford make clear that the initial market for robotic cars will likely be for commercial fleets rather than vehicles consumers would park in their own garages.
Industry analysts see ride-hailing firms and delivery businesses as natural customers for the first autonomous vehicles, in part because the cars and trucks are expected to carry high price tags.
Ford officials said this week that ride-hailing services are able to generate the passenger revenues needed to cover the high cost of the cars.
Raj Nair, Ford’s global product development chief, said that eliminating human drivers would drastically lower the cost of a ride-hailing fare. By catering to those companies, Ford expects to build a small, but profitable business segment.
Me Here: one thing about Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) is that it snows and has hills; it will be interesting to see if Nature is the supreme test of just how practical a self-driving car really is, on a year round basis, i. e., as someone who lives where it snows, ice and snow storms are a real test of a driver's skill/or lack thereof, even in city traffic. Snow plows, sanding, etc., can only do so much, and don't happen in an instant even when there is ample warning of snow storm.
Perhaps we will all live long enough to see most of the private car sector go the way of the dinosaeur, i. e., it really will be cheaper to take a self-driving taxi to wherever it is that we wish to go, especially for local trips (and the wait for a Uber type taxi to arrive not onerous since there would be so many of them); that leaves open the question of 'what about' long distance, cross-country trips.
I wasn't certain that America was that "free" with the road rules. I'd have considered that they'd still require a driver to monitor the car. If the vehicles were on roads with no vehicles other than self drive, then I'd think it quite progressive. However, throw people into the mix, I'm not so sure.......