Self-drive car­mak­ers gag the hype

Daily News - - METRO - The Wash­ing­ton Post

THREE for­mer ex­ec­u­tives at Google, Tesla and Uber who once raced to be the first to de­velop self-driv­ing cars have adopted a new strat­egy: slow down, and shut up.

At their new com­pany Au­rora In­no­va­tion, which is de­vel­op­ing self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy for car­mak­ers in­clud­ing Volk­swa­gen and Hyundai, the rules are sim­ple: no flashy launches, mind-blow­ing time­lines or hyper-chore­ographed per­for­mances on closed tracks.

“No demo candy,” said Chris Urm­son, a co-founder and for­mer head of Google’s self-driv­ing car team.

Au­rora’s long-game tech­nique re­flects a new phase for the hyped prom­ise of com­puter-pi­loted su­per­cars: a more sub­dued, more prag­matic way of ad­dress­ing the tough re­al­i­ties of the most com­pli­cated ro­botic sys­tem ever built.

In the wake of sev­eral high-pro­file crashes that dented pub­lic en­thu­si­asm in au­tonomous cars, Au­rora’s ex­ec­u­tives are urg­ing their own in­dus­try to face a re­al­ity check, say­ing lofty prom­ises risk con­fus­ing pas­sen­gers and doom­ing the tech­nol­ogy be­fore it can truly take off.

The “en­tire in­dus­try” needs “to be more truth­ful about our ca­pa­bil­i­ties”, said Ster­ling An­der­son, an Au­rora co-founder and for­mer head of Tesla’s Au­topi­lot sys­tem. “We’re talk­ing about build­ing trust in the pub­lic.

“You don’t do that by over­stat­ing what the sys­tem can and can’t do.”

A safe, sell­able, self-driv­ing car has be­come the holy grail of Sil­i­con Val­ley: con­vert­ing even a frac­tion of the 4.8tril­lion kilo­me­tres driven ev­ery year by Amer­i­can cars and trucks could re­duce deadly ac­ci­dents caused by hu­man er­ror and spawn a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness.

Fifty-seven com­pa­nies are au­tho­rised to test self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles on Cal­i­for­nia roads, state records show, and com­pe­ti­tion for ta­lent, soft­ware and tech­nolo­gies has sparked an arms race even among tra­di­tional car­mak­ers: Ford and GM have each in­vested roughly $1bil­lion in their re­spec­tive self-driv­ing firms, Argo AI and Cruise.

The first com­pany to mar­ket a true self-driv­ing car could gain in­cred­i­ble ca­chet, win­ning buyer trust and mar­ket­ing po­ten­tial for which its ri­vals could only dream.

But in­dus­try ex­perts sus­pect most will fail. The time­line is so un­cer­tain. The devel­op­ment costs are so high.

And the com­pe­ti­tion is so fierce, in the US and around the world. The in­vest­ment gi­ant NIO Cap­i­tal es­ti­mated in Au­gust that the “sur­vival rate” for China’s hun­dreds of self-driv­ing start-ups would be about 1%.

To stand out, com­pa­nies have pushed for in­creas­ingly strange or cap­ti­vat­ing vi­sions of the fu­ture: Mer­cedes-Benz re­cently un­veiled self-driv­ing con­cept cars straight out of sci­ence fic­tion, in­clud­ing a wind­screen-less car that re­sem­bles a gi­ant toaster. |

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.