Look ma, no hands

Sev­eral com­pa­nies are ready to roll out ro­bot cars to take over the steer­ing

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING - ALWYN VILJOEN

WAYMO, the self-driv­ing car unit in Google, and Lyft, the main com­peti­tor to Uber in the U.S., have signed a col­lab­o­ra­tion agree­ment to co-op­er­ate on self­driv­ing cars.

Al­pha­bet, Google’s par­ent com­pany, spun Waymo out of Google’s X project lab in December af­ter more than eight years of re­search.

Lyft is the fastest grow­ing rideshare com­pany in the U.S. and is avail­able in more than 190 cities.

Reuters re­ports the al­liance be­tween the two com­pa­nies is the tip of the ice­berg in cur­rent de­vel­op­ments in the au­ton­o­mous car sec­tor, which many be­lieve will soon grow into a multi­bil­lion­dol­lar in­dus­try.

The New York Times re­ported Waymo and Lyft will work on pi­lot projects and prod­uct de­vel­op­ment ef­forts.

De­tails on the deal are scant, but Lyft is on record that it wants to match its net­work of driv­ers and pas­sen­gers with other part­ners ac­tive in trans­port, like Gen­eral Mo­tors, with which com­pany Lyft last year en­tered into a deal to test au­ton­o­mous Chevro­let Bolt ve­hi­cles us­ing Lyft’s net­work.

GM said it will in­vest $500 mil­lion in Lyft to help the com­pany con­tinue the rapid growth of its successful rideshar­ing ser­vice.

In ad­di­tion, GM will hold a seat on the com­pany’s board of di­rec­tors.

Waymo also last year an­nounced a deal with Fiat Chrysler to equip and test a fleet of mini­vans for au­ton­o­mous driv­ing and re­cently said it is ne­go­ti­at­ing with Honda to test the Ja­panese man­u­fac­turer’s ve­hi­cles.

Waymo is al­ready pi­lot­ing a ride-hail­ing pro­gramme in Phoenix us­ing self-driv­ing Chrysler mini­vans and Lexus mod­els to give more in­trepid pas­sen­gers free rides around the city.

Waymo aims to bring its self­driv­ing tech­nol­ogy to the gen­eral pub­lic in the next few years, us­ing such part­ner­ships to fast-track the cul­mi­na­tion to a decade of de­vel­op­ment that saw the ro­bot cars log over 4,8 mil­lion kilo­me­tres of real world driv­ing.

The ve­hi­cles have been tested on closed tracks and open roads in Ari­zona, Cal­i­for­nia, Texas and Wash­ing­ton, where state law al­lows the test­ing of au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles.

Waymo went on record to state its self-driv­ing-car tech­nol­ogy is ready to be ap­plied com­mer­cially.

And in the left cor­ner

Ford also pre­dicts the ro­bot car is com­ing soon, and ear­lier this year an­nounced a $1 bil­lion in­vest­ment in Argo AI, an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence founded by for­mer Google and Uber employees. Ford plans to have a fully au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle in com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion for a ride-hail­ing ser­vice by 2021 — a scant four years hence.

It is not just Euro­pean com­pa­nies test­ing ro­bot cars. Chi­nese In­ter­net com­pany Baidu be­gan test­ing au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy last year in ve­hi­cles of three do­mes­tic au­tomak­ers, aim­ing to de­ploy cars com­mer­cially as early as next year. And in Sin­ga­pore, for­mer Gen­eral Mo­tors parts di­vi­sion Del­phi as well as ri­val nuTon­omy — a Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy start-up — are test­ing au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles.

Uber has also part­nered with au­tomak­ers to roll out pro­to­type ve­hi­cles in Pittsburgh and Tempe, Ari­zona.

These plans will be af­fected by Waymo’s lit­i­ga­tion against Uber over self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy that Waymo said a for­mer em­ployee had stolen to found Otto ro­bot­ics, a com­pany owned by Uber.

As for other play­ers, Ap­ple re­cently re­ceived a per­mit to test ve­hi­cles in Cal­i­for­nia and Tesla cars mav­er­ick Elon Musk said on a TED Talk last week he plans to speed up traf­fic by putting cars on bo­geys in deep tun­nels us­ing his new Bor­ing com­pany.

PHOTO: MATHYS FER­REIRA

Ro­bot cars are half­way here, as Alwyn Viljoen dis­cov­ered while test­ing the new 2017 Mazda CX5’s abil­ity to keep it­self be­tween the lines on the N4 out­side Pre­to­ria West with the speed con­trol set at 120 km/h.

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