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Situational awareness: Next week's Geneva Auto Show, one of the industry's most important events, was canceled due to coronavirus fears.
Photos: Joann Muller/Axios
I recently took my first driverless Waymo ride — without a backup safety driver — an extraordinary experience, but also a reminder of how industry hype has skewed our expectations for self-driving cars.
Why it matters: Waymo is the first company to deploy automated vehicles on public roads without anyone behind the wheel, but all that means is they've crossed the starting line in the self-driving race.
What's happening: Waymo is plotting two commercial offerings: Waymo One, its fledgling automated ride-hailing service currently confined to the Phoenix suburbs, and a soon-to-be-named automated trucking business.
What to watch: In an interview, Krafcik acknowledged automated trucking looks like a bigger opportunity at the moment.
My ride began in front of the Element Hotel in Chandler, Arizona, where Waymo does most of its AV testing.
My thought bubble: The 12-minute ride to a nearby shopping center was uneventful, as one would hope. Even at 45 mph, I felt confident, safe — even awed — during the ride.
But I was also struck by the constraints of the experience: this was a fairly simple route in an area the car knew well, traffic was light and weather conditions were ideal. (The threat of flash flooding earlier in the week suspended driverless operations for several days.)
The bottom line: I've ridden in autonomous vehicles many times, but always with a safety driver. My first truly driverless ride, while thrilling, convinced me it will be years before autonomous mobility is widely available.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
There's mounting evidence that people put too much trust in driver-assistance features like Tesla Autopilot, but federal regulators aren't doing enough to ensure the systems are deployed safely, experts say.
Why it matters: Nearly 37,000 Americans die each year in highway accidents. As automated features become more common, the roads could get more dangerous — not safer — if drivers use the technology in unintended ways.
Driving the news: The National Transportation Safety Board this week slammed Tesla and the federal government for failing to prevent "foreseeable abuse" of its Autopilot technology, which it found contributed to a fatal accident in California in 2018.
The agency issued nine safety recommendations, including the installation of driver monitoring systems as well as lock-out devices to prevent the use of cell phones while driving. And it said companies like Apple should adopt policies to prevent distracted driving by employees.
But its harshest criticism was reserved for Tesla and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The bottom line, from NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt:
"There is not a vehicle currently available to U.S. consumers that is self-driving. Period. Every vehicle sold to U.S. consumers still requires the driver to be actively engaged in the driving task, even when advanced driver assistance systems are activated."
Zoox CEO Aicha Evans. Photo: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch
Zoox is in "advanced discussions with several strategic partners and corporate investors" for its next round of funding, CEO Aicha Evans tells Axios.
Why it matters: The self-driving car developer has been especially quiet for the past year or so, and venture capital sources say the company has struggled to raise capital to fund its ambitious plans.
Yes, but: Evans, a former Intel executive marking her one-year anniversary with Zoox, said, "This year is a huge year. We are finally showing the world what we've been up to."
Zoox is more ambitious than most AV tech startups, with plans to operate its own ride-hailing service using a purpose-built robotaxi currently under development.
Where it stands: Zoox continues to develop its self-driving technology using Toyota SUVs on some of the most difficult streets of San Francisco.
The catch: It takes a lot of capital to develop autonomous vehicle technology; even more so to design and build a vehicle and then launch a ride-hailing network.
Giddy-up: Autonomous driving startup Pony.ai raises $462 million in Toyota-led funding (Julie Zhu and Yilei Sun — Reuters)
Disengagement: Waymo and Cruise vie for supremacy in murky California self-driving data (Alan Ohnsman — Forbes)
Permit: Cruise Automation's self-driving cars can now carry passengers (Sean Szymkowski —Road Show by CNET)
Off-roading in Sedona in the 2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD. Photo: Bill Rapai/Axios
Last week in Sedona, Arizona, we spent time trail-driving in Toyota's new 2020 RAV4 TRD off-road model.
Why it matters: I don't always get to try out a vehicle's full capability during a short press loan. This was a rare opportunity to get off the beaten highway.
The big picture: The RAV4, America's top-selling crossover, is the latest Toyota model to get its TRD (Toyota Racing Development) package inspired by the brand's off-road and desert racing history.
Details: With an 8.6-inch ground clearance, its suspension, wheels and tires are engineered specifically for trail driving.
In Sedona, we explored several trails, carefully crawling over red rock shelf on Schnebly Road until the trail got more challenging.
The bottom line: I spent $12 on an "ultimate" car wash at the end of the week, but it was worth every penny. Sometimes, it's still fun to drive.