The rise of autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing programs will change the major players in the auto industry and imminently affect the Apple Car. As the reality of autonomy is accelerating and approaching well before the projected 2020 mark, government involvement and policies will play a very substantial role in the timeline.
California’s Department of Motor Vehicles granted permits for autonomous testing to Tesla, BMW, Ford, Volkswagen, and Google. These companies don’t come as a surprise on the list. Cruise Automation, bought by GM for a reported $2 billion last week, also made the list.
With companies like Cruise Automation and Lyft teaming with GM and making the lists, a curve is thrown. It shows that not only the large automakers alone will be involved.
As states like California and Nevada are leading the cause for robotic cars, government and politicians want a piece of the pie. Tuesday, March 15 at 2:30PM, the Senate committee for Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing entitled, “Hands off: The Future of Self-Driving Cars.” In attendance were representatives from GM, Delphi, Google, Lyft, and the Director of Humans and Autonomy Lab and Duke Robotics from Duke University. It’s not possible to know for sure what other companies were in attendance in some capacity, and if Apple was represented, it’s not likely to be publicized.
“The hearing will explore advancements in autonomous vehicle technology and its anticipated benefits for Americans. Witnesses have been asked to testify on their continued efforts to develop automated vehicles, their views on the appropriate role of government in promoting innovation including removing unnecessary hurdles, and their strategy to grow consumer adoption of this new technology.”
The fact that one of the goals of the hearing is “removing unnecessary hurdles”, could be very telling to the timely future of autonomous cars and the progress of the Apple Car.
Highlights from the hearing:
Before the hearing, companies provided vehicles as examples. Continental, Volkswagen, BMW, and Tesla were all involved in these demonstrations.
The hearing opened with Chairman John Thune briefly explaining the rise and importance of autonomous vehicles. He specifically pointed out reduction of car accidents, stopping drunk driving, assisting the elderly and disabled, and increasing productivity to simplify lives. Thune assured that the biggest hurdle may be government regulations and the inability to keep up with the pace of the technology.
Ranking member Bill Nelson spoke next. His primary focus was making sure that the emphasis was on safety. He also mentioned the possibility of hacking. Nelson’s hope was that the witnesses could speak to solutions, so that problems would be prevented ahead of time.
Dr. Chris Urmson, Google X Director of Self-Driving Cars was the first witness. After explaining in detail the company’s development and testing of self-driving cars, he emphasized the need for “federal leadership”. Urmson concluded:
“In the coming years, we’d like to explore driving in other cities that can teach us about different types of challenging weather and terrain. We’d also like to run pilot programs to learn what people would like to do with fully self-driving vehicles. If the technology develops as we hope, we’ll work with partners to bring this technology into the world safely.”
Mr. Mike Ableson, Vice President of Strategy and Global Portfolio Planning for GM spoke next. He explained GM’s current and upcoming projects in ride sharing and autonomous driving, focusing on safety. GM anticipates being the first automaker to bring Dedicated Short Range Communications (vehicle to vehicle safety technology) to the market with the 2017 Cadillac CTS. The 2017 Cadillac CT6 will showcase hands-free and feet-free driving. Abelson mentioned the company’s investment in the ride-sharing company Lyft, and the recent acquisition of Cruise Automation.
Next was Mr. Glen DeVos, Vice President of Global Engineering and Services, Electronics and Safety at Delphi Automotive. He mentioned that in April 2015, Delphi performed an automated cross country drive. DeVos went into very specific details concerning the drive, as well as what the company learned from the experience. He said:
“Delphi made history by completing a 15-state, 3,400-mile journey from San Francisco to New
York City with a car that, 99 percent of the time, was driving without human input. The drive
took place during daylight hours and included an engineer behind the wheel with the ability to
assume control of the vehicle if the car encountered a situation the vehicle could not clearly
navigate on its own.”
Testimony from Mr. Joseph Okpaku, Vice President of Government Relations for Lyft followed. He provided information about his company’s experience in ride-sharing and his opinions about priorities to make these technologies a success. He explained:
“Three years ago, only one state had issued a regulatory framework for the ridesharing industry. Today, 30 states have enacted legislation for this industry, with another bill currently sitting on a Governor’s desk awaiting signature. Over this period, we have spent thousands of hours meeting with lawmakers, regulators, and law enforcement in order to help craft innovative and appropriate legislation. We’ve met with the foremost academic minds and industry experts. We’ve given testimony at hundreds of proceedings. This is the experience that Lyft brings to the table.”
The testimonies concluded with a speech by Dr. Mary (Missy) Louise Cummings, Director of Humans and Autonomy Lab and Duke Robotics at Duke University. She provided facts about her background in research working with companies such as Ford, Nissan, Toyota, and Google X. Cummings provided a bit of skepticism and reality to end the hearing. She admitted:
“While I enthusiastically support the research, development, and testing of self-driving cars, as human limitations and the propensity for distraction are real threats on the road, I am decidedly less optimistic about what I perceive to be a rush to field systems that are absolutely not ready for widespread deployment, and certainly not ready for humans to be completely taken out of the driver’s seat.”
“The development of self-driving car technologies has led to important advances in automotive safety including lane departure prevention and crash avoidance systems. While such advances are necessary stepping stones towards fully capable self-driving cars, going from automated lane changing or automated parking to a car that can autonomously execute safe control under all possible driving conditions is a huge leap that companies are not ready to make.”
Click here to read the full details of the hearing with complete speeches and testimonies.