While EVs are already gaining ground in the automobile industry, EV automakers are now taking things to the next level by enhancing their self-driving technologies.
In fact, the race between EV makers to create this technology has gotten so high that they’re attempting to outrun regulatory bodies and Congress in order to create AI-bots that can help drive cars autonomously.
One of such companies is Cruise which on Tuesday reported a deal that SoftBank Group Corp will invest some US$1.35 billion in anticipation of Cruise launching its commercial AI-powered taxi operations.
However, in order for the company to become fully operational, it needed a permit from California’s Public Utilities Commission in order to commence charging for rides around San Francisco in its robotaxis.
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Cruise isn’t the only company that is trying to accomplish this. Big brands such as Tesla, Waymo, and Aurora Innovatiuon Inc. are among those aiming to deploy their own fully-autonomous vehicle tech in the United States within the next two or three years even if they do not get a clear legal framework from federal regulators.
Over the past decade, billions of dollars have been invested into the EV and Autonomous Vehicle (AV) start-ups which have ultimately led to these companies being under pressure as they’re yet to fully reach their earning potential.
There was proposed legislation in order to create a national framework of rules that can govern AVs but this is currently being stalled in Congress even though the industry continues to lobby for such bills.
Even with this, autonomous vehicle companies are left to deploy their robotaxis or self-driving trucks in some states such as Arizona and Texas.
Waymo for example has provided thousands of rides in its robotaxis in Phoenix even though the service is still limited.
“Providing guard rails is helpful, at the federal level,” said Chris Urmson, chief executive of automated vehicle technology company Aurora Innovation. “Today we have different regulations across the 50 states.”
Aurora on the other hand is testing its Aurora Driver in Class trucks even though it cannot operate trucks in the state of California without actual human drivers.
“We look at the Port of Los Angeles … and the supply-chain challenges we see. There’s a real urgency for this technology” to address the shortage of truck drivers, Urmson said to an audience at the Washington Auto Show last month.
According to Ariel Wolf, an AV industry lobbyist, autonomous trucks will not lead to mass layoffs, he said while facing a panel in the US House of Representatives on Tuesday. Instead, he believes that trucks driving long-haul routes will allow human drivers to “spend more nights in their own beds instead of in the sleeper berth of a truck.
AV industry lobbyist Ariel Wolf told a U.S. House of Representatives panel on Tuesday that autonomous trucks “will not lead to mass layoffs.” Instead, he said, autonomous trucks driving long-haul routes will allow human drivers to “spend more nights in their own beds instead of in the sleeper berth of a truck.”
Unions, however, urged Congress to be skeptical.
“We are at risk … of losing hundreds of thousands of manufacturing and frontline transportation jobs if Congress fails to act decisively and the AV industry is left completely unregulated,” Transport Workers Union President John Samuelsen told the House panel Tuesday.
Unions and trial lawyers also want autonomous vehicle companies to disclose more data about accidents and other aspects of their systems.
“All workers deserve to know that an autonomous vehicle or bot traveling next to them is safe enough to share the same road or worksite,” said Teamsters official Doug Bloch.
While there aren’t new regulations tailored to automated vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which oversees vehicle safety in the United States has therefore put forward voluntary guidelines and also require companies to report accidents involving automated driving systems.
But the agency hasn’t issued any comprehensive standards for robot-driven cars or even trucks for that matter. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has the power to review new technology before it is used in aircraft.
In the case of vehicle manufacturers, they’re free to certify themselves that a feature is safe. The NHTA steps in if new features turn out to be a safety hazard.
Also, the body has intensified scrutiny of Tesla’s automated driving systems over the past year. The agency said it had pressed Tesla to change a feature of its Full Self Driving (FSD) system which allows vehicles to keep moving through stop signs rather than coming to a complete halt.
NSo-called rolling stops are illegal.
A report in December has it that NHTSA opened a review of a feature that allowed Tesla models to play videos over dashboard screens, and another one in August opened a formal investigation of the Autopilot driver assistance systems in some 765,000 U.S. vehicles after a number of incidents in which Tesla cars collided with emergency vehicles.
The company’s CEO, however, made no mention of regulatory concerns during an investor call on Jan. 26th when he said the company could soon use an over-the-air software download in order to enable its vehicles to drive autonomously and be used to offer autonomous ride services.
“I would be shocked if we do not achieve full self-driving safer than a human this year,” Musk said. When Tesla enables its vehicles to drive autonomously via an over-the-air software download, Musk said, vehicle owners could offer rides that would “cost less than the subsidized value of a bus ticket.”
One potential path for the industry and safety advocates involves voluntary agreements on standards, said David Harkey, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a vehicle safety research organization backed by the insurance industry. Harkey said the IIHS could be part of such an effort.
“We have to get to the point where it’s not the Wild West,” he said.