The process of a technology going from the lab to commercialization is uneven. The autonomous vehicle category is in the midst of making this transition with a very high profile.
There was some news during the past couple of weeks. Yesterday, Google announced that it has made its autonomous vehicle initiative into a business called Waymo. The announcement came in a blog post by CEO John Krafcik; he doesn’t provide much insight into the way forward for Waymo, which stands for a new way forward in mobility.
Krafcik doesn’t address the future in the post, but reviews what Alphabet has already done in the area and provides two anecdotal rationales for driverless cars. One is a mention of a rider in one of Alphabet’s driverless prototypes. The man is legally blind. The other is Krafcik’s 97-year-old mother, who has to wait for him to visit to see friends and run errands. She could, of course, do that alone if she had a driverless car.
Uber has been testing driverless cars in Pittsburgh for three months. The next stop, so to speak, is San Francisco. The company said today that it is looking to vary the nature of the conditions in which it is testing the self-driving vehicles. Pittsburgh offers challenging roads and variable weather. San Francisco adds “more bikes on the road, high traffic density and narrow lanes.” For some reason, the release doesn’t mention hills, which of course are the city’s outstanding physical characteristic.
It makes sense for insurance companies to get involved. Yesterday, one of the big players stepped forward, as the Allstate Insurance Company announced a multiyear agreement with the Intelligent Systems Laboratory at Stanford University. The goals of the research include machine learning, artificial intelligence and highly autonomous vehicle systems, the press release says.
Another sign that automated vehicles are becoming real is that an interesting battle is emerging between states and the federal government. Traditionally, says statescoop, manufacture of vehicles and equipment safety issues have been controlled at the federal level, while the rules of the road and driver issues are handled by the states. This demarcation may not work when the driver becomes part of the car.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration knows how it wants to handle this emerging world, according to the story:
In response to the shift in the technology, NHTSA wants to manage all regulations dealing with autonomous vehicles, while also requesting that states continue to fulfill their traditional role of regulating traffic laws, licensing, processing car registration and handling insurance and liability issues. NHTSA calls this new division of authority the “Model State Policy.
It is far from certain if the states will be accommodating. The time to decide is here. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder last week signed legislation that legalizes driverless cars. The legislation, which Snyder signed at the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, allows rules that are in place for testing to be used for ongoing non-test autonomous operation on state roads.
The move to automated vehicles is a big one that raises lots of questions. It is a very exciting trend, which will improve safety and increase worker productivity. There likely will be much progress during the next year.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.