But with consumer confidence in the technology (and the people developing it) slipping to historic lows, technologists and carmakers are sobering to the reality that half-baked deployment could kill the nascent industry in utero.
The root: Validating safety and performance in diverse, chaotic and multi-hazard environments has proven more challenging than engineers first believed. Not to mention, costlier.
- General Motors' Cruise Automation, whose self-driving stack is among the world's most advanced, said this week it would miss its goal of delivering commercial robocabs by year's end.
- "Delivering self-driving cars at scale isn't just about winning the race," the company said in a statement, "it's about winning the tech race and the trust race."
Now, they're not the first company to set and miss goals. Even Waymo, the prohibitive AV leader, has missed deadlines.
Of course, these are all artificial, self-imposed deadlines. There's no clock ticking down to zero, by which AVs have to be deployed or else.
- Yes, but: A safe autonomous vehicle—if we can ever validate what safe actually means in real terms—is fundamentally safer than conventional vehicles, which are responsible of more than a million people annually worldwide, so delays in deployment represent real lives that could have been saved if the technology had been realized in time.
But what's really driving the feverish quest to deploy: a sincere and urgent desire to save human life, or the trillions of dollars that first-to-market leaders will score?
What matters is how these companies couch these delays and whether they learn and apply the lessons earnestly or throw caution to the wind to cross the finish line first.
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2. The Auto(nomous) Bahn
- In Pittsburgh, friction between AV boosters and transit advocates is brewing.
- China's Pony.ai has put Waymo in its sights.
- Lyft just released an AV open source data set that it says is the largest of its kind.
- Ford says AVs still "way in the future."
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