By on August 28, 2020

Uber Technologies promised to make the safety information related to its self-driving program more widely available following some fairly harsh criticism from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The agency had faulted Uber with some amount of responsibility after conducting its investigation into the fatal testing accident that took place in March of 2018. The incident, which took place in Tempe, AZ, involved an inattentive Uber safety operator who struck and killed a pedestrian who was attempting to cross a poorly lit roadway — creating a national backlash against self-driving vehicles and a push toward ensuring higher levels of safety.

Police say the vehicle was operating autonomously for testing purposes at the time of the collision. Following months of investigation, the NTSB decided in 2019 that driver failed to act in a safe manner due to being distracted by their cellphone. Uber was also faulted for possessing inadequate safety risk assessment procedures, ineffective oversight of vehicle operators, and a general absence of mechanisms to address complacency by operators as the cars drove themselves. (Read More…)

By on August 4, 2020

Legislation that would advance the widespread deployment of autonomous vehicle in the United States appears to have stalled. With development of the technology hitting a rough patch and public perception teetering between AVs being a major breakthrough for society or an important contributor to its demise, any new laws might have been irrelevant anyway.

Outside of major players like Waymo, companies making consistent progress on the technology are hard to find; meanwhile, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to decide who’s at fault when a computer-controlled car goes off script and hurts someone or destroys property. Drivers don’t want to be liable, since they’re not technically supposed to be the ones in control (once true self driving arrives) and manufacturers don’t want to assume any more responsibilities than absolutely necessary.

Those concerns and more were reportedly on full display during last week’s Automated Vehicles Symposium. Designed to take the pulse of the industry and decide where AVs currently stand, the event seemed to showcase that there wasn’t much to be done this year. Whether it be the fault of companies overestimating how quickly the technology would advance (yes), the impact of pandemic-related lockdowns (yes), the unappetizing nature of the mobility concept (yes), or a lack of effective, well-informed governance (yes), 2020 seems to be a wasted year for vehicular autonomy.

(Read More…)

By on July 31, 2020

With regulatory bodies the world over forcing the automotive sector to prioritize efficiency over mightiness, industry rhetoric has gradually shifted away from the powertrain. While every brand still wants to squeeze out all available power from ubiquitous four-cylinder motors, providing excess is only a priority in a handful of cases catering directly to enthusiasts.

The idea of a big, brutish luxury car with a monstrous engine still exists, but it’s being supplanted by technology-driven features catering to tech-focused minds and the green movement. Modern luxury is based in connectivity, applications, and distancing one from the experience of driving altogether  or at least that’s what the automotive industry now seems to believe.

And they may have a point. While we’re well aware those advocating “mobility” desperately want it so that they can tap into your data (to enhance revenue using the same grimy business tactics favored by big tech firms), carmakers also need something shiny to dangle in front of consumers so we’ll buy the latest and greatest product. The tech sector is also booming right now, and the industry’s dying to get investors back on its side after seeing the Wall Street performance of EV companies  especially Tesla Motors.

Even the traditionalists at Toyota are buying into it, announcing an important push into software development as they attempt to craft the next industry-standard operating system for cars. It’s also the song Volkswagen Group has sung ever since Dieselgate. Meanwhile, Audi recently explained its own commitment to software after its parent company (VW) tasked it with ensuring the botched launches of the ID.3 and Mk8 Golf don’t become commonplace.

(Read More…)

By on July 22, 2020

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Waymo jointly announced plans to expand their autonomous driving partnership on Wednesday, with a new focus on delivery vehicles. The Google affiliate already uses Chrysler’s Pacifica as the primary testing platform for its autonomous taxi services, and it appears it isn’t eager to rock the boat, now that it needs something more utilitarian as it moves toward SAE Level 4.

While not completely self-driving, such vehicles would be capable of performing all necessary tasks under certain conditions. They may be designed for a specific purpose and lack traditional vehicle controls. Waymo seems to think they’d be ideal units for transporting goods and has asked FCA to hand over Ram ProMaster vans for conversion into test mules. It also asked the automaker to become its sole partner on the project — which is assumed to carry over once the company merges with Groupe PSA to become the Stellantis corporation.  (Read More…)

By on July 9, 2020

Tesla is reportedly “very close” to achieving complete driving autonomy, according to CEO Elon Musk.

“I’m extremely confident that level 5 or essentially complete autonomy will happen and I think will happen very quickly,” Musk said during a video message for the opening of Shanghai’s annual World Artificial Intelligence Conference.  (Read More…)

By on June 27, 2020

Always eager to slash delivery costs — especially if the government opts to stop subsidizing the company via the U.S. Postal Service — Amazon has been getting chummy with EV startups. It’s also begun exploring new business opportunities in regard to food delivery and ride hailing, resulting in sizable investments into both sectors.

On Friday, Amazon announced it will acquire California-based Zoox to help it further those goals. Coming off a staffing reduction of about 10 percent to contend with the pandemic, the company is currently focused on delivering an symmetrical, self-driving, zero-emissions vehicle that can compete on the currently nonexistent robo-taxi market. While the world’s 13th largest company (by revenue) seems like it would make good use of the property to advance its autonomous delivery program, corporate messaging seems to indicate Amazon is more interested in Zoox’s expertise in people moving.  (Read More…)

By on June 23, 2020

When Sir Thomas More coined the term “utopia,” he lifted two words from Ancient Greek that roughly translate into “not a place.” Turns out people from the 16th century still understood satire, perhaps better than we do today. After all, we are the ones operating under the assumption that we can remap society in order to build consequence-free transportation network without a shred of humor to keep us grounded.

We may not need satire in this instance, however. A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health asks questions about how just effectively the shift to autonomy will benefit society as a whole. Industry leaders have broadly framed the shift toward self-driving as kicking down the door to an idyllic universe where no one wants for transportation, with autonomous taxis serving as the first wave of this planned paradise. The reality may be vastly different that what’s being sold, however.  (Read More…)

By on June 15, 2020

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) plans to release new guidance for automakers to make autonomous testing data available to the public. As you are no doubt aware, the concept of self-driving cars is losing steam. The industry finds itself confronting hurdles it never could have anticipated, slowing progress, while high-profile mishaps have shaken the public’s faith.

While polling has hardly been consistent (and often conducted by actors who frame the questions to get a desired answer), reputable outlets have shown us that public acceptance of self-driving cars declined over the past few years. The NHTSA would like to offset this by allowing regular folks to more easily track the industry’s progress, while encouraging a bit of competition among companies as they compare themselves to each other in a new database.  (Read More…)

By on April 8, 2020

On Tuesday, self-driving startup Nuro received a permit from the State of California to commence testing on certain public roads. Issued by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, the document allows its fleet of driverless delivery bots to mingle with traffic.

On a national level, Nuro’s vehicles are technically illegal without a smidgen of government help. U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards mandate road-going automobiles have things like windshields, airbags, and mirrors. Meanwhile, Nuro’s small delivery units don’t even have space for a driver — requiring the Department of Transportation to make regulatory exemptions for the brand in February after debating the issue for over a year.  (Read More…)

By on March 20, 2020

Starsky Robotics is shutting down, ending whatever prospects it had at becoming the world’s premier self-driving company for long-haul trucking. The business has hit a snag with funding, with CEO Stefan Seltz-Axmacher announcing the fundraising it scheduled for November worked out rather badly.

Lacking capital was what ultimately killed Starsky Robotics, though Seltz-Axmacher claims the issue is quite a bit more complicated than that. Despite making significant progress with his own company, he now feels Starsky and the rest of the world has been incredibly naive in how it handled autonomous vehicles. He also believes there’s something deeply wrong with the burgeoning AV industry — it’s becoming bloated, progress has been slower than promised, investors don’t understand anything about the technology, and artificial intelligence is deeply flawed.  (Read More…)

By on March 12, 2020

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has issued a set of guidelines for advanced driving aids, suggesting that the key to automated safety is making sure drivers are perpetually engaged with the vehicle’s operations. Unfortunately, this has turned out to be a Catch-22 scenario due to the way these systems function. Semi-autonomous features are supposed to be there to help promote safety by adding an extra layer of protection; however, many encourage motorists to disengage by nature of their design.

Adaptive cruise control with lane keeping is probably the worst offender. Implemented as a way to keep cars a safe distance apart on the expressway, it offers an experience that borders on having the car chauffeur you around. The effectiveness of these systems vary widely, with none actually being capable of any legitimate self-driving functionality. You’re also not supposed to be able to tune out while they’re in use, but they all seem coyly contrived to do exactly that. The IIHS is concerned this phenomenon will only get worse as driving aids evolve and become increasingly commonplace.

“Unfortunately, the more sophisticated and reliable automation becomes, the more difficult it is for drivers to stay focused on what the vehicle is doing,” said IIHS President David Harkey. “That’s why systems should be designed to keep drivers actively engaged.” (Read More…)

By on March 9, 2020

As the coronavirus epidemic scares populations out of stores, transportation hubs, and stock markets, autonomous vehicles may be getting a leg up in China. Bloomberg reports that Neolix, an autonomous delivery company based in Beijing, has seen a surge in demand as people opt to stay home (or are forced into quarantined by the Chinese government). Founder Yu Enyuan said the startup has booked orders for more than than 200 autonomous delivery pods since knowledge of COVID-19 became public — noting it had only produced 125 units in the eight months leading up to that.

Thanks to being overhyped by an industry that wasn’t anywhere near as far along as claimed, autonomous vehicles haven’t earned a lot of love lately. Yet Neolix’s minor victory suggests they may have useful applications that previously went ignored. In the realm of humanoid robotics, the goal if often to design a platform that can successfully fill in for a living, breathing person when the surrounding environment becomes too dangerous. Why not for AVs?  (Read More…)

By on March 3, 2020

Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced Monday that his company amassed $2.25 billion in its external investment round. Considering Waymo is owned by Google parent Alphabet, one of the richest companies in the world, you’d think it’d be able to float some extra funding into autonomous development. However, even a company worth an estimated $1 trillion knows it’s better to source capital from outside the business — that must be on the first page of every tech company’s playbook.

Seen widely as the firm currently riding the tip of the autonomous spear, Waymo already operates self-driving shuttle programs (with a safety driver) in Arizona, with plans for expansion. The new funding aims to further those goals; however, with autonomous targets being missed by just about every company that bothered making them, we’ll wait to see what happens. The company is currently focused on getting its Waymo Driver system into more vehicles, starting with EVs and Class 8 trucks.  (Read More…)

By on November 25, 2019

autonomous hardware

While the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) job isn’t to establish new regulations, it is obligated to enforce the country’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards while conducting crash investigations and making recommendations to other agencies on ways to improve vehicular safety.

Lately, that job involves telling the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency that does write those rules, to step up its game on autonomous vehicles.

Last week, the NTSB held a board meeting in Washington D.C. to determine the probable cause of a fatal collision between a self-driving Uber prototype and a pedestrian in March of 2018. While Uber took plenty of heat, the NHTSA also came under fire for prioritizing the advancement of advanced driving technologies over public safety. (Read More…)

By on November 15, 2019

autonomous hardware

The terminology surrounding self-driving technologies and advanced driving aids has started to earn quite a bit of criticism in the wake of publicized crashes and growing outcry from consumer advocacy groups. For years, the industry has treated all assistance technologies as equal — placing everything on a sliding scale developed by SAE International.

It’s actually a good metric if you’re familiar with SAE’s autonomous ranking system. But to a layperson the differences between SAE Level 2 and 5 don’t mean a whole lot, despite offering completely different experiences. Automakers also have terms of their own, some of which could easily lead customers to believe their products are far more capable than reality allows.

Automotive News recently published an op-ed calling for clarity, and it was so good, we felt inclined to share.  (Read More…)

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