Ro­bot cars as soon as 2021

Cities have to plan their taxes now to avoid far worse traf­fic when peo­ple buy self-driv­ing cars

The Witness - Wheels - - INDUSTRY - AL­WYN VILJOEN

FORD and Volvo are the lat­est com­pa­nies to an­nounce their plans to sell cars that can drive them­selves in the next five years.

Both com­pa­nies have co-opted fast­mov­ing start-up tal­ent to add mo­men­tum to the slow pro­cess of de­vel­op­ment that is typ­i­cal of car com­pa­nies.

Volvo is work­ing with Uber while Ford has in­vested in or is col­lab­o­rat­ing with four start-ups to help de­liver on its aim to sell many fully au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles by 2021.

Volvo Cars said in a state­ment that Uber has signed an agree­ment to es­tab­lish a joint project that will de­velop new base ve­hi­cles that will be able to in­cor­po­rate the lat­est de­vel­op­ments in AD tech­nolo­gies, up to and in­clud­ing fully au­ton­o­mous driver­less cars.

The base ve­hi­cles will be man­u­fac­tured by Volvo Cars and then pur­chased from Volvo by Uber. The new base ve­hi­cle will be de­vel­oped on Volvo Cars’ fully mo­du­lar Scal­able Prod­uct Ar­chi­tec­ture (SPA). SPA has been de­vel­oped as part of Volvo Cars’ global in­dus­trial trans­for­ma­tion pro­gramme, which started in 2010, and has been pre­pared from the out­set for the lat­est au­ton­o­mous drive tech­nolo­gies as well as next gen­er­a­tion elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and con­nec­tiv­ity de­vel­op­ments.

Travis Kalan­ick, Uber’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, com­mented: “Over one mil­lion peo­ple die in car ac­ci­dents ev­ery year. Th­ese are tragedies that self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy can help solve, but we can’t do this alone.

“That’s why our part­ner­ship with a great man­u­fac­turer like Volvo is so im­por­tant. Volvo is a leader in ve­hi­cle de­vel­op­ment and best-in-class when it comes to safety. By com­bin­ing the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of Uber and Volvo we will get to the fu­ture faster, to­gether.”

Cheap ro­bot Fords for all

At Ford’s Palo Alto cam­pus, Ford pres­i­dent and CEO Mark Fields said the next 10 years will be the decade of the ro­bot car, adding Ford pre­dicts au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles will have as big an im­pact on so­ci­ety as Ford’s mov­ing assem­bly line did 100 years ago.

And the good news, like Henry Ford’s af­ford­able T-mod­els, the ro­bot Fords will be aimed at ev­ery­one’s pock­ets.

“We’re ded­i­cated to putting on the road an au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle that can im­prove safety and solve so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges for mil­lions of peo­ple — not just those who can af­ford lux­ury ve­hi­cles.”

To make this dream a re­al­ity Ford plan to be a leader in au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles, as well as in con­nec­tiv­ity, mo­bil­ity, the cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence, and data and an­a­lyt­ics. The com­pany al­ready has over a decade of au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle re­search and de­vel­op­ment, and said its first fully au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle will be a So­ci­ety of Au­to­mo­tive En­gi­neers-rated level 4-ca­pa­ble ve­hi­cle. This means it will be able to steer it­self like the lit­tle Google car with­out a steer­ing wheel or fuel and brake ped­als.

Ford said this first model was be­ing specif­i­cally de­signed for com­mer­cial mo­bil­ity ser­vices, such as ride shar­ing and ride hail­ing, and will be avail­able in high vol­umes.

To de­liver an au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle in 2021, Ford an­nounced four key in­vest­ments and col­lab­o­ra­tions that are ex­pand­ing its strong re­search in ad­vanced al­go­rithms, 3D map­ping, Li­DAR, and radar and cam­era sen­sors and is in­creas­ing its Sil­i­con Val­ley op­er­a­tions, cre­at­ing a ded­i­cated cam­pus in Palo Alto.

A vi­sion­ary woman’s view

Robin Chase, co-founder of Ve­niam ve­hi­cle mesh, as well as co-founder and for­mer CEO of Zip­car, com­mented in an opin­ion piece that she did not think five years was too short to start sell­ing ro­bot cars around the world.

She said in an es­say first pub­lished on Back Chan­nel that a nor­mal per­son would typ­i­cally drive less than 965 000 km in their life­time, but a fleet of self-learn­ing ro­bot cars can drive this dis­tance — learn­ing ev­ery cen­time­tre of the way — in a mat­ter of weeks. And the ro­bot cars con­stantly share their learn­ing with each other. “They are do­ing so now, for mul­ti­ple com­pa­nies: dozens of cars are now driv­ing all-day shifts in Moun­tain View, Austin, Ann Ar­bor, Wuhu, China, and Sin­ga­pore,” wrote Chase.

“In the last few years, a hun­dred Google cars have com­pleted two mil­lion miles of on-road travel with­out in­juries or fa­tal­i­ties, and are sim­u­lat­ing and learn­ing from three mil­lion vir­tual miles of driv­ing ev­ery day. Tesla has 50 000 ve­hi­cles, sold to the pub­lic, that are driv­ing au­tonomously on high­ways right now, col­lect­ing mil­lions of more miles of real world driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence (al­beit with one fa­tal­ity).

“This gives com­pa­nies like Google, Tesla, GM, Ford, Toy­ota, BMW, and Nis­san the con­fi­dence to prom­ise com­mer­cial sales of fully au­ton­o­mous cars by 2020, less than four years away.

Chase, how­ever, warns city plan­ners that ro­bot cars will not nec­es­sar­ily be a good thing.

“Right now, our ‘con­gested’ roads and cities are mostly filled by in­di­vid­u­als driv­ing alone in their cars (75% of all trips). Just imag­ine our streets and your frus­tra­tion when 50% of the cars have no peo­ple in them at all.”

Chase warns pro­fes­sional driv­ers will be­come un­em­ployed when ro­bot taxis and trucks take over, adding it won’t only be the driv­ers who lose their jobs.

“As per­sonal car own­ers switch from own­ing a ve­hi­cle they use just five per­cent of the time and costs them 18% of their in­come to be­ing driven for a frac­tion of that price, we’ll see lay-offs in re­pairs and main­te­nance, and car in­sur­ance, as well as car de­sign and man­u­fac­tur­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion/lo­gis­tics.”

But she adds city plan­ners are now at a fork in the road where they can fix the bro­ken trans­port sys­tem so that more peo­ple can es­cape the poverty trap by get­ting to places cheaply, and she said it starts by think­ing dif­fer­ently about tax.

“The cost and in­ac­ces­si­bil­ity of trans­port has been found to be the largest bar­rier keep­ing peo­ple in poverty.

“Shared AVs have the po­ten­tial to trans­form ac­cess to op­por­tu­ni­ties. We’ll also have way fewer traf­fic deaths and in­juries, greener and more liv­able cities; clean air; re­duced CO2 emis­sions; more dis­pos­able in­come and more money spent lo­cally. This goes a long way to­wards com­pen­sat­ing for those lost jobs.”

Chase asks if it still made eco­nomic sense to tax labour in the new au­to­mated world. “It makes much more sense to be tax­ing the new tech­ni­cal plat­forms that are gen­er­at­ing the prof­its, and tax­ing the wealth of the small num­ber of tal­ented and lucky peo­ple who founded and fi­nanced th­ese new job­less won­ders,” she wrote.

‘Our con­gested roads and cities are mostly filled by in­di­vid­u­als driv­ing alone in their cars (75% of all trips). Just imag­ine our streets and your frus­tra­tion when 50% of the cars have no peo­ple in them at all.’

PHO­TOS: QUICKPIC

Ford and Volvo have an­nounced their plans to have fully au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles on the road in the next few years, with the Ford Fu­sion Hy­brid re­search ve­hi­cle (left) al­ready be­ing tested in Michi­gan, Ari­zona and Cal­i­for­nia, while Volvo and Uber have an­nounced a part­ner­ship to build the next gen­er­a­tion of elec­tri­fied, self-driv­ing cars.

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