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Early in the much-promoted new driverless age, autonomous vehicles are experimental and cost far too much for mass private ownership. So companies are asking cities, states and the federal government to shoulder the massive initial rollout.
Driving the news: A pair of little-noticed proposed contracts show the steep price of these first-time autonomous cars and shuttles, amounting to leasing costs of well over $100,000 each per year. The contracts raise questions about whether driverless cars are the best use of public funds.
Until now, the cost of autonomous cars has been largely guesswork — companies have been reluctant to say how much they will charge for their vehicles. But previously unreported contracts on the website of the Houston-Galveston Area Council reveal how much is being charged by two of the companies, Silicon Valley-based Drive.ai and EasyMile, a French autonomous shuttle provider. The documents prepare the companies to be hired in any city in the state.
And some localities are paying such rates — with the help of federal grants:
But these are the outliers, according to Greg Rodriguez, a Washington, DC lawyer who specializes in autonomous vehicles. "Most cities think that there will be no costs related to a pilot project with [a driverless] shuttle company," Rodriguez told me.
"I will be very surprised if cities will pay for AV car services even at relatively low prices, let alone steep prices."— Raj Rajkumar, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University
Public funding for AVs can be a touchy subject.
But, but, but: Others support government funding — if autonomous shuttles are broadly advantageous.
California's Paradise fire, in November. Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty
Homes built in Northern California fire country in the past decade: 24,370.
Home destroyed by fires in Northern California in the past year: 20,793 (h/t Liam Dillon, L.A. Times).
Our thought bubble: The devastation of two years of intensified fires dramatizes another California crisis — its critical shortage of housing. Many of those left homeless by the blazes are living in open camps, but even finding them places to live will not resolve the state's plight because of one inexorable fact: More fires will be on the way next year and beyond.
Amazon Go. Photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty
Yesterday we had a post on the race to make cashierless checkouts work — bugs not yet worked out and a blindspot among American retailers that has so far left China in the lead.
Among email responses, we heard from Eddie Gustavsson, a Future reader in Sweden:
"Here in Sweden, local grocery giant ICA has had an alternative to self checkout for many years. In its larger stores, you swipe your ICA card when entering to get a barcode scanner. You then scan the stuff as you go, putting it into your own bag. Upon exit, you dock the scanner, swipe your ICA card, and pay with your debit/credit card. No need for mobile payments and everyone already has an ICA card because of discounts and other incentives.
In Japan, I saw another version. You use a basket that reads the RFID tags of the stuff as you put it in. Then the checkout reads the basket as you put it at the till."
Bennu from OSIRIS-REx. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona
Can play save the world? (Jenny Anderson — Quartz)
NASA craft arrives at asteroid Bennu (Andrew Freedman — Axios)
The 96-year-old inventor of lithium-ion batteries wants to best himself (The Economist)
Mapping medieval London's gruesome murders (Feargus O'Sullivan — CityLab)
The ongoing battle against photo-bombers (Karen Hao — MIT Tech Review)
On the lit side. Photo: NASA/LIFE/Getty
China is planning tomorrow to launch a spacecraft with the aim of making the first-ever landing on the dark side of the Moon.
The Chang’e-4 is scheduled to launch at 2:30 pm ET, reports Marcia Smith of SpacePolicyOnline, although there is no word when it's meant to land on the Moon. The distance is 240,000 miles and about three days.
Since a radio signal can't reach the dark side, China earlier this year positioned Queqiao, a satellite, to relay transmissions from the spacecraft.