Jul 3, 2019

Axios Navigate

Joann Muller

Good morning! Thanks for reading. I'm off for the long holiday weekend. I'll be in your inbox again next Wednesday.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,270 words, <5 minute read.

Expert Voices contributor Bibhrajit Halder suggests a way to gradually build public trust in AV technology.

Rest in peace, Lee Iacocca, 94, whose publicist said he wanted to be remembered not as a great businessman but for his efforts to raise funds for the Statue of Liberty and Great Hall of Ellis Island:

  • "All the success I've had, all the jobs I've saved and the lives I've influenced would never have happened if my parents had been turned away at Ellis Island."
1 big thing: Trust us — our self-driving car is safe

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A slew of companies are pushing to define safety metrics and validation methods in hopes of setting — and potentially cashing in on — an industry-wide standard for AVs.

The big picture: Current safety standards govern only the design of motor vehicles — the cars' technical specifications and validation methods to certify they perform as designed. But convincing the public and regulators that self-driving cars are safe will require an entirely different set of standards.

What's happening: The industry has already started work on ISO 21448 (safety of the intended functionality or "SOTIF"), which aims to ensure that even when all the systems in a self-driving vehicle are functioning properly and something unexpected happens, a crash is avoided.

  • But it won't go far enough to ensure an AV is safe when the driver is no longer responsible, experts say.

Various organizations aim to fill the gap with their own suggested AV standards or testing criteria, each hoping the industry will follow their lead. A flurry of announcements hit this week:

  • 11 companies, led by BMW, Intel and others, published a 157-page report, "Safety First for Automated Driving," which lays out 12 "guiding principles" for the development, testing and validation of safe automated passenger vehicles.
  • Intel rival Nvidia, meanwhile, announced in a blog post that it is leading a group of European auto suppliers on AV assessment methods.
  • Underwriters Labs is developing a standard for safety, UL4600, detailed in a new blog post by a technical contributor, Phil Koopman, co-founder of Edge Case Research.
  • They follow January's announcement from Foretellix, an Israeli startup that has raised $16 million by figuring out how to automate AV safety testing by crunching safety-related metrics from hundreds of millions of potential driving scenarios.

Be smart: Each of the groups has a vested interest in trying to promote their own technology or safety approach as the preferred industry standard.

  • Jack Weast, Intel's vice president of AV standards, tells Axios the collective expertise of all 11 companies is represented in his group's report, positioning it not as a proposed standard but "an excellent starting point" for discussion in the industry.
"There are those out there who believe safety should be proprietary — 'Just trust me.' It's a black box.... There are plenty of ways for us to differentiate, but when it comes to safety, it has to be transparent, open and discussed for all to understand."
— Jack Weast, Intel
2. Tesla's surprise, and what comes next

Photo: Tesla

Tesla's stock opened 6.8% higher after the Silicon Valley electric automaker reported delivering a record 95,200 vehicles in Q2, beating many analysts' expectations, Axios' Ben Geman writes in Generate.

Why it matters: It's a bright spot for the company that's struggling to become profitable amid questions about long-term demand for its cars. But so far, Tesla's Model 3 is far outselling rivals like the Chevrolet Bolt and Audi E-tron, both battery-powered like the Tesla.

What's next: All eyes now turn to the company's Q2 financial report slated for release in coming weeks.

As Bloomberg's Tesla reporter Dana Hull writes...

  • "While the results go a long way toward contradicting Tesla's doubters, it remains to be seen whether this level of demand is sustainable — or profitable. The $3,750 U.S. federal tax credit buyers were eligible for was cut by half beginning July 1, and deliveries tailed off the last time the incentive shrank."

The intrigue: The market is watching closely to see if growing sales of Model 3 are coming at the expense of its more expensive and higher-margin models, the Model S and Model x.

3. Autonomy milestones in other sectors could build trust in AVs

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Instead of trying to design fully automated vehicles from scratch, the way forward might be to adapt limited technologies that have already proven themselves in specific settings, SafeAI CEO Bibhrajit Halder writes for Axios Expert Voices.

Why it matters: Adapting new technology from successful use-cases where safety is paramount, like in mining, could assuage public concerns about AVs, and accelerate AV development and production.

What's happening: Some of the first milestones of autonomy have already been achieved, like geo-fenced, low-speed autonomous driving, automatic emergency braking, and repetitive tasks in mining.

  • Autonomous drones used to monitor construction projects, handle land surveys and watch over resource management also have crossover applications for delivery, agriculture and security.
  • May Mobility's low-speed AV shuttle service is an example of gradual deployment.

Flashback: Public expectations for passenger-ready, fully autonomous vehicles don't have a strong historical analogy.

  • The first smartphones did enough advanced tasks well enough to gain popularity. Then, as updates to software and hardware improved performance, they gradually became "the hub of everything [people] do online."

Read the full post.

Halder is the CEO of SafeAI, an AV technology startup focused on industrial AVs. He is also a member of GLG, a platform connecting businesses with industry experts.

4. Driving the conversation

VW's electric Type 20 concept showcases new technolgy in a vintage look. Photo: VW

Buzz for ID Buzz: Electric Volkswagen Type 20 Microbus concept ties the past to the future (Bengt Halvorson — Green Car Reports)

  • Why it matters: You've got to love the VW Type 20 concept vehicle, which is a 1962 Type 2 Microbus that's been converted to electric power and outfitted with cutting-edge technology like biometric identification, a conversational digital assistant and a holographic 3D infotainment system. Unveiled Tuesday at the rededication of VW's Silicon Valley research center, it's a preview of the electric ID Buzz van, due in 2022.

Rivian: Meet the man quietly building the Tesla of trucks, with Jeff Bezos aboard (The New York Times — Nelson D. Schwartz)

  • My thought bubble: This is the latest profile of the "it" guy in autos, R.J. Scaringe, CEO of Rivian. As I wrote here last October, Scaringe hopes to duplicate Tesla's success but with electric trucks and SUVs. He's got the right market segment and $1.7 billion in capital, but the question is, can he deliver?

More Rivian: EV startup Rivian has poached dozens from Ford, McLaren, Tesla, and Faraday Future (Sean O'Kane — The Verge)

  • Quick take: Hiring good engineers is hard, and talent tends to gravitate toward companies that are hot. Rivian no doubt fits the bill.
5. What I'm driving

Photo: Honda

My weekly vehicle test drive, with a focus on advanced technologies...

This week's ride is the 2019 Honda Passport Elite AWD, the latest addition to Honda's SUV lineup — but with more off-road chops.

Why it matters: The Alabama-built Passport slots between the popular CR-V and the full-size Pilot, adding some extra fuel to Honda's fast-growing SUV sales.

First impressions: I find the Passport's styling rather bland — it's getting harder for any crossover SUV to stand out from the crowd — but as always, Honda dazzles with its mastery of interior space.

  • The deep, covered bin between the front seats was perfect for hiding my purse or my husband's camera.
  • The covered, removable plastic bin under the floor in the cargo area is great for muddy things (though its easy-to-reach location means the spare tire is harder to reach).

The tech-y stuff: As I've said before, Honda deserves credit for making driver-assistance features like automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assist standard on all its vehicles.

  • The problem is they're oversensitive, which means they're more of an annoyance than a help.
  • The big risk is that frustrated Honda owners will turn off the systems and lose the benefit of these life-saving features.

The bottom line: Starting at $33,035 for the basic Sport trim up to $44,075 for the Elite AWD I drove, the Honda Passport stands up well against other midsize crossovers.

Joann Muller

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Editor's note: The top story has been updated to correct the spelling of Jack Weast's name.