Jan 9, 2019

Early stage AVs could make car-sharing companies more efficient

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.

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  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 1 p.m. ET: 691,867 — Total deaths: 32,988 — Total recoveries: 146,613.
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  3. Federal government latest: The first federal prisoner to die from coronavirus was reported from a correctional facility in Louisiana on Sunday.
  4. Public health updates: Fauci says 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from virus.
  5. State updates: Louisiana governor says state is on track to exceed ventilator capacity by end of this week — Cuomo says Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "really panicked" people
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Cuomo: Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "really panicked people"

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference Sunday that President Donald Trump's unexpected Saturday announcement of a possible "short-term" quarantine of New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut to curb the spread of the coronavirus "really panicked people."

Why it matters: Though Trump ruled out the mandatory quarantine later that day, Cuomo said people still called "all night long" asking about the comments and many likely fled the New York area — possibly spreading the virus further.

U.S. coronavirus updates: Fauci suggests death toll could top 100,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN Sunday that models suggest COVID-19 will infect millions of Americans and could kill 100,000–200,000, though he stressed that the projections are "such a moving target."

The big picture: With more than 121,000 people infected, the U.S. has the most COVID-19 cases in the world, exceeding China and Italy, per data from Johns Hopkins. A second wave of American cities, including Boston, Detroit, New Orleans and Philadelphia, reported influxes of cases on Saturday.

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