Aug 16, 2019

Axios Navigate

By Joann Muller
Joann Muller

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Expert Voices contributor Ro Gupta weighs in on the struggle to define and verify AV safety standards.

Today's issue is dedicated to the automotive enthusiasts from around the world who are convening in Monterey, California, this week for events leading up to Sunday's famed Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, arguably the epicenter of the motoring universe.

1 big thing: The antidote to autonomy

Photo: Kian Eriksen/Total 911 Magazine/Future via Getty Images

Carmageddon is upon us: Before we know it, robocars will be ubiquitous and crowd out human-driven cars.

After all, Elon Musk has said that buying anything other than a Tesla that can drive itself will be as financially insane as owning a horse. But horses survived, and driving will too.

Reality check: Automated vehicles will change our lives and our cities — hopefully for the better by reducing traffic fatalities and making it easier to move from A to B.

  • But it'll be decades before they arrive in significant numbers, and when they do, they'll be confined to cities, catering to commuters, tourists and urban dwellers.

What's happening: Taking a realistic look at the industry, most experts say...

  • The first automated semitrucks on highways could arrive in the next few years.
  • Urban delivery vehicles, and then robotaxis, could arrive next. But, they will be confined to certain neighborhoods and limited to good driving conditions.
  • Widespread deployment is many years away.
  • Meantime, the rest of us will still be driving — though our cars will make it easier through highway-assistance features like Tesla Autopilot or Cadillac Super Cruise.

Key stat: Americans spend nearly an hour each day behind the wheel, traveling 220 miles per week in 2017, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

  • If it feels like you're driving more, it's true: Compared to 2014, U.S. drivers in 2017 spent an additional 20 minutes driving each week.
  • As many of us know, commuting can be a nightmare.

But "commuting is not driving," argues McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty, which insures collector cars and boats and who will forever be a driver. "It's almost a different act."

"Never Stop Driving," a book for which Hagerty wrote the epilogue, is an antidote for the autonomous era.

  • It celebrates cars and culture — everything from collecting and restoring old cars to racing and car clubs.
  • "It's fun to put away the phone, clear your head, and enjoy a 'whole person' experience rather than being digitally distracted," Hagerty tells Axios.
  • Cars have their own social network, after all, as this week's Pebble Beach reminds us.

Between the lines: Digital music didn't kill vinyl records, and automation won't kill driving, Hagerty adds.

  • "Cars have been around for 120 years, and they didn’t make horses go extinct. They just took them out of city centers."
2. The last drive

Mazda MX-5 Miata. Photo: Mazda

Speaking of "Never Stop Driving," the book's stunning photos alone will stir your desire to go out for a ride.

Details: One of my favorite chapters is called "My Last Drive."

  • It's loosely modeled after a chef's parlor game called "The Last Meal," in which cooks discuss the ideal menu for their final dining experience.
  • The authors asked some notable car enthusiasts including Jay Leno, Mario Andretti and Patrick Dempsey to describe their perfect final time behind the wheel — where would they go, in what vehicle and with whom? It's a fun thought exercise.

What they're saying: Here are some excerpts...

  • Dario Franchitti, retired race car driver: "It would have to be Scotland ... the scenery is constantly changing." In a Ferrari Daytona Spider, "I would take my wife because she loves driving there as much as I do."
  • Jay Leno, comedian and host of "Jay Leno's Garage" on NBC: "There’s a place called Angeles Crest. ... It’s like driving in Sicily or the mountains in Switzerland." In a Duesenberg that he's had for years, he'd take his wife "[i]f it's my last drive."
  • Ed Welburn, retired GM design chief who designed 2 presidential limousines: "[My] last drive would be to drive the latest Beast down Pennsylvania Avenue with newly elected President Michelle Obama in the back seat."

My thought bubble: My final drive would be in a Mazda Miata, with the top down and my husband by my side. I'd drive along the water somewhere — perhaps M-22 along the gorgeous coast of Lake Michigan or California's Pacific Coast Highway.

  • Better yet, I'd rather go somewhere I've never been. Just press the accelerator and go. Final destination? Who cares.
3. How the AV industry could implement and enforce safety standards

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

AV companies are wrestling with how to define and set safety standards, and at a recent symposium, a possible path emerged — even if the industry hasn't reached a consensus, Ro Gupta writes for Axios Expert Voices.

The big picture: NHTSA's voluntary safety self-assessment guidance applies to AV companies — but there are no mandatory safety standards and any future standards will have to define "safe enough" and also verify safety to earn public trust.

What they're saying: During the keynote presentations at the Autonomous Vehicle Symposium in Orlando in July, AV companies promoted their efforts on safety.

  • Aurora defined "safe" as "free from unreasonable risk."
  • The PEGASUS standardization project suggested drawing on fatality-rate statistics that were historically accepted for other technologies, like aviation or motorcycles.
  • Volvo defined "safe enough" as performance equal to an "attentive, skilled, experienced driver."

But, but, but: There was no consensus on how to define — let alone verify — safety. Verifying safety is just as difficult as defining it.

Where it stands: AV companies typically assert the safety of their tech, trust it will perform as intended in road tests, and verify safety claims by reporting crashes and disengagement of the autonomous driving software.

What's needed: A more comprehensive safety method would be for regulators and insurers to verify safety practices before the tech is tested in public environments.

Read more

Gupta is the CEO of Carmera, which makes HD maps for AVs.

4. Driving the conversation

Hauling: UPS joins self-driving race by investing in autonomous tech startup TuSimple (Alan Ohnsman — Forbes)

  • Why it matters: UPS had already quietly been using the self-driving trucking company to haul cargo in Arizona. The investment is a vote of confidence in TuSimple's technology.

Flying: Old gyrocopters could be the funky flying cars of the future (Eric Adams — Wired)

  • What's new: Two companies, Skyworks Global and Jaunt Air Mobility, are developing electric air taxis by infusing the nearly century-old design with modern technology for a new era of urban aviation.

Velodyne lawsuit: The world's leader in self-driving lidar technology is suing two Chinese companies over IP (Echo Huang — Quartz)

  • The backdrop: China is behind, but determined to take the lead in AVs. Per LA Times, the Chinese government set next year as the target date for large-scale adoption of early-stage AVs, and it wants 10% of all new vehicles sold by 2030 to be fully autonomous — meaning hands-off driving.
  • Yes, but: These intellectual property disputes could be a hindrance.
5. What I'm driving

Lexus UX. Photo: Lexus

This week I'm driving the 2019 Lexus UX 250h F-Sport, an entry-level Lexus with awfully big ambitions.

Details: The UX (urban crossover) is aimed at millennials looking for adventure in the city. It tries to be both sporty and efficient, and affordable yet luxurious. Though labeled a crossover, it's really just a hatchback.

What's new: The UX hybrid has some nifty superpowers that allow it to see into the future to maximize efficiency — a skill Lexus claims is an industry first.

How it works: Per Lexus, the car can optimize charging and discharging of the hybrid battery by working with the navigation system and the driver's habits.

  • Typically, a hybrid draws energy from the battery when accelerating.
  • When braking or coasting, wasted energy is captured and stored, earning power for future driving.
  • When coasting on a long, downhill stretch of road, a full charge could be reached partway down the hill; any additional regenerated energy would be wasted.
  • The UX avoids this by calculating when a long downhill stretch lies ahead, and then relying more heavily on battery-only driving to reduce the state of charge and better accept that regeneration opportunity.
  • The result: a fuel economy of 39 mpg.

Plus, safety tech is standard on the UX, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and front- and rear-collision mitigation systems.

My thought bubble: While impressed by the car's smarts and focus on safety, I think the UX is too cramped and its infotainment system too complicated to get me to fork over $40,000.

Joann Muller