Jan 25, 2019

On the road to self-driving cars, experience matters

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The field is wide open for autonomous vehicle developers, making it hard to predict winners and losers. But look closely: the ones inching toward commercialization are quietly putting important building blocks in place.

Why it matters: There are many brilliant teams working on driverless car technology. But enabling a robot vehicle to drive from Point A to Point B is just the start—commercializing AVs will take a lot more work. To scale up, companies need the right leaders and experienced partners.

What's happening: Smart players are forging new relationships with companies that can help them progress toward commercialization.

  • Waymo this week tapped Magna, a big Canadian auto supplier, to integrate its self-driving system into thousands of Chrysler and Jaguar vehicles at a planned factory in Michigan.
  • Velodyne, a leader in lidar sensors, just licensed its technology to Veoneer, another experienced auto supplier, to deliver a new automotive grade lidar system for an unnamed carmaker.

Be smart: These partnerships are the real deal, proof that they are getting closer to bringing automated vehicles to market. And while a lot of aspiring tech companies announce impressive partnerships, most are just deals to test their wares in the field. Let's see if they can turn a handful of development units into large-scale production contracts.

The lab is different from the road, and there is real work involved to make sure new technologies are "automotive grade."

  • Fragile sensors can work great in the lab. But like every component in a car, they need to be rigorously tested for durability, safety and quality under a variety of conditions, including extreme vibration, temperature and humidity levels.
  • They also need to be carefully integrated into the vehicle to ensure safety and security, so expertise is important.

Some AV companies are also hiring new leaders with operational experience to take their business to the next level.

The bottom line: As hard as it is to design the perfect self-driving car, it's clear that other factors will determine which companies ultimately succeed in bringing them to market.

Go deeper

Inside Trump's antifa tweet

President Trump at Cape Canaveral on May 30. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

As recently as Saturday night, senior administration officials told me that the designation of a violent cohort of far-left activists, antifa, as a terrorist organization was not being seriously discussed at the White House. But that was Saturday.

Behind the scenes: The situation changed dramatically a few hours later, after prominent conservative allies of the president, such as his friend media commentator Dan Bongino, publicly urged a tough response against people associated with antifa (short for "anti-fascist").

U.S. enters 6th day of nationwide protests over George Floyd's killing

A protest in Philadelphia on May 31. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Protests continued across the country for the sixth day in a row on Sunday, as demonstrators called for justice in response to the deaths of George Floyd, EMT Breonna Taylor, jogger Ahmaud Arbery and countless other black Americans who have suffered at the hands of racism and police brutality.

What's happening: Protestors in D.C. broke one police barricade outside the White House on Sunday evening after reportedly demonstrating for several hours. The atmosphere was still largely peaceful as of 6pm ET.

Trump privately scolded, warned by allies

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Over the past couple of days, numerous advisers both inside and outside the White House have urged the president to tone down his violent rhetoric, which many worry could escalate racial tensions and hurt him politically.

Behind the scenes: The biggest source of internal concern was Trump's escalatory tweet, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." Some advisers said it could damage him severely with independent voters and suburban women.