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January 09, 2019

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In every newsletter, we include analysis and insights from experts in the AV field. Today Gordon Bauer from UC-Berkeley's Transportation Sustainability Research Center floats an idea for near-term AV use.

1 big thing: Building AV trust is a two-way street

Illustration of a car with eyeballs instead of headlights

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

For automated vehicles to succeed, drivers will need to be able to trust them. But it'll be just as important for cars to understand who's driving, and how they're doing along the journey, so they can share control at the right times.

Why it matters: Lack of trust is one of the biggest obstacles to the AV adoption. But trust is a relationship — a shared acknowledgement of risk. So it’s important for both cars and drivers to understand one another’s skills and limitations.

What’s happening: Veoneer, a leading supplier of AV technologies including radar and driver-monitoring systems, is researching human-machine trust and what's needed to codify it.

  • And yesterday at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, a coalition of carmakers, tech companies and safety advocates announced a plan to address public fear of AVs with a new education campaign touting the benefits of AV technology.

Details: Veoneer researchers are focused on what happens during so-called "moments of truth" — those high-risk, high-emotion situations on the road where split-second decisions are critical. They've found that widespread adoption of AVs will depend on 3 things...

  • Drivers (and passengers) must trust that automated systems will make the right decisions.
  • The systems have to discern and respond to different driver skill levels and emotions.
  • This human-machine interaction has to be fast and seamless, with collaboration getting better over time.
"Right now the onus is on the driver to understand the car; there's nothing the other way around."
— Annika Larsson, human factors research specialist, Veoneer

At CES, Veoneer demonstrated the latest version of its "learning intelligent vehicle" in a mock smart city environment.

  • The car uses a multitude of sensors and advanced AI to get to know you as you drive together.
  • It judges your facial expressions and micro-movements in your eyes to understand what you're receptive to at each moment. If you seem distracted by a crying baby, for example, you might like some help so the car's assisted driving features would kick in more frequently.

Ultimately, automated driving is a partnership, Larsson says. Cars need to be able to collaborate with drivers, similar to the way that pilots and air traffic controllers collaborate with airplanes.

  • That's different from the traditional thinking about AVs, where it's assumed that humans will ultimately be removed entirely from the driver's seat.
  • But even the CEO of industry leader Waymo has gone on record saying autonomous cars won't be able to drive in all conditions.

The bottom line: When it comes to AVs, cars need to understand driver skills as much as humans need to trust the technology.

Go deeper

2. Ford execs describe push towards AVs

Photo of Ford autonomous vehicle on streets of D.C.

One of Ford's self-driving test vehicles on the streets of D.C. Photo: Ford

Ford will continue its shift towards "mobility" to position itself as a key player in AVs, even as the traditional car industry seems headed for a down cycle and the realistic timeframe for AVs is being pushed back, several company executives tell Axios' Ina Fried at CES.

Why it matters: Though Ford still gets most of its revenue selling personal vehicles, the company sees a world where people rely on a much wider mix of transportation modes. To transform itself for its AV goals, Ford has made a range of acquisitions and has brought more of its technology development in-house.

Driving the news: Ford's actions include buying the private bus startup Chariot and a scooter business called Spin. It's also hiring more engineers to work on self-driving capabilities and the next version of its Sync navigation/entertainment system.

The Spin purchase is a recognition that micro-vehicles of some sort will be an important part of the "first mile" and "last mile" of transit, even if they ultimately take a somewhat different form than today's scooters, EVP Marcy Klevorn tells Axios.

In-house technology will be key to meeting competition from tech giants Google and Apple, Ford CTO Ken Washington tells Axios.

  • Ford is doubling down on a bet it can out-innovate the tech giants, which are in the throes of battling for a bigger share of in-car electronics, so it has brought more engineering in-house for its Sync entertainment and navigation system.
  • "We’ve been very clear for quite some time we don’t want to delegate our future to others," Washington says.

Ford expects the timeframe of AV arrivals will be longer than the most optimistic estimates, with Ford VP Sherif Marakby saying "reality is kicking in" and pointing to 2021 for AVs at scale.

  • "We believe there are probably going to be 2–3 successful operating systems in autonomous vehicles," Marakby tells Axios. "We plan to be one of those."

The big picture: Ford's rivals are also making big bets, albeit with different approaches.

Read more of Ina's story

3. What's new in AV tech at CES

Image of autonomous vehicle offloading robots to deliver packages in urban area.

Unleash the dogs: Continental's vision for future urban package delivery. Photo: Continental

Here are some of the more interesting bits about AVs to come out of CES 2019...

Automated big rigs: Daimler’s truck unit says it aims to have self-driving Level 4 trucks on the road within a decade. That means they don't need a human driver under most conditions.

Talking AVs: Ford announced it will install cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology in all new U.S. models starting in 2022, enabling them to communicate with one another about road hazards and talk to traffic lights to smooth traffic flow.

  • Why it matters: By endorsing C-V2X, Ford broke ranks with GM and Toyota, which have invested in competing Wi-Fi technology called dedicated short-range communications (DSRC). Governments have also sunk a lot of money into roadside infrastructure to support DSRC, but the telecom industry wants that spectrum to expand its own services.
  • As Axios Expert Voices contributor Eric Jillard wrote recently, Europe is leaning toward DSRC but the progress of C-V2X in China may prove decisive.

Other CES news:

4. Early stage AVs could make car-sharing more efficient

Illustration of car on top of a road map

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, writes Gordon Bauer, a National Science Foundation research fellow at UC-Berkeley.

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.

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.

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, and the conditions in which an AV should operate autonomously, including weather, traffic and location. 

Read the full post

5. Driving the conversation

AV scoop: Aurora Innovation, the hot self-driving startup, will be worth $2 billion after an investment by Sequoia (Theodore Scheifler — Recode).

  • Why it matters: Though late to the game, Aurora's founders —Chris Urmson, Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell — are the AV world's dream team, hailing from Google, Tesla and Uber. They're already working to provide automated driving systems to Hyundai, Volkswagen and Byton.

Building trust: Why Your Ice Cream Will Ride in a Self-Driving Car Before You Do (Christopher Mims — The Wall Street Journal).

  • My thought bubble: While many people are still leery of self-driving cars, delivery AVs are one way to build trust since consumers might be more willing to risk a few broken eggs.

Fast delivery: Elon Musk Accelerates Tesla's China Strategy With Shanghai Gigafactory Groundbreaking (Alan Ohnsman — Forbes).

  • The big picture: For most automakers, it typically takes about 2 years from the start of construction of a factory until assembly operations begin. But Tesla thinks it can speed up construction of Gigafactory 3 because of what it learned from ramping up Model 3 production last year.
  • My thought bubble: Could it lead to another tent in Shanghai like he built in California?

6. 1 fun thing

Image of Hyundai's Elevate "walking car" concept crawling out of a snow-filled ditch.

Hyundai's four-legged Elevate concept can go pretty much anywhere. Photo: Hyundai

Hats off to Hyundai for the weirdest car introduced at CES: Elevate, a walking electric car concept.

Why it matters: The Korean carmaker presented it as the ultimate rescue vehicle, a tool for first responders trying to get to victims of forest fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, or floods.

Details: It would be capable of both mammalian and reptilian walking gaits, allowing it to move in any direction.

  • The legs would fold up so it could drive at highway speeds like any other vehicle.
  • It could climb a 5-foot wall or step over a 5-foot gap.
  • It could traverse pretty much any terrain while keeping passengers level.

The modular EV platform could be adapted for other uses, too.

“People living with disabilities...could hail an autonomous Hyundai Elevate that could walk up to their front door, level itself, and allow their wheelchair to roll right in –— the possibilities are limitless.”
— John Suh, Hyundai VP and head of Hyundai Cradle

It crawled out of Hyundai's Cradle venture and incubator arm, and is the result of a 3-year project with metro Detroit-based industrial design firm Sundberg Ferar.

My thought bubble: The 4-legged, anthropomorphic vehicle reminds me of those AT-AT (All Terrain Armored Transport) combat vehicles used by the Imperial ground forces in "Star Wars" films.