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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Today's AVs aren't ready to drive themselves in all situations, but they could be enlisted to make traditional car-sharing services more efficient.

Why it matters: Companies like Zipcar and Car2Go could lower their operating costs and edge into the autonomous driving world by using early-stage AVs to navigate between rental customers. And every mile driven by a person would still be a mile the AV learns, helping to map roadways.

Background: Current AVs are not ready for full autonomy (the robo-taxis in Waymo's Arizona service, for example, reportedly avoid highways and sometimes require human assistance). But they do, hypothetically, have the capability to travel autonomously over short distances.

Early-stage AVs could potentially be deployed by traditional car-sharing companies to drive themselves between customers, who would then take the wheel. The cars could take less direct routes when needed to avoid challenging driving scenarios.

  • Operating the AVs autonomously only when there isn’t a passenger inside delays negotiating certain trade-offs between safety and comfort, like AVs' propensities to brake suddenly and take roundabout routes to stick with mapped out roads.
  • Once in the car, the customer would drive, with the help of any advanced sensor and safety systems in place, while allowing the car's AI to learn from the customer's driving.

Details: This model could bring additional benefits to car-sharing services and their customers.

  • The AVs could refuel when idle, which could ease the shift to electric vehicles.
  • They could redistribute themselves in anticipation of demand patterns, reducing wait times and increasing vehicle use.
  • They could potentially be safer, too, thanks to more sophisticated sensor technology than today's standard safety equipment.
  • AVs could also park in low-cost areas and drive themselves to maintenance centers, reducing both labor and parking costs for car-sharing operators.

Yes, but: With the industry racing for full automation, there has been little discussion of possible applications of partial automation, which would require careful consideration of liability, the conditions in which an AV should operate autonomously, including weather, traffic, and location. 

Gordon Bauer is a National Science Foundation Research Fellow in the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley.

Go deeper

13 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 15 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.