Robot driving, driverless delivery set for public rollout CES:2k18

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At CES 2018, tech enthusiasts can expect driverless technology to play an increasingly important role, as tech companies and automakers look set to rollout autonomous vehicles.

The wait for the self-driving future is coming to an end. The earliest real-world applications of autonomous vehicles will arrive in 2018. Starting in Phoenix this year, a small number of commuters will be riding in driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans as part of a trial conducted by Waymo, the self-driving car unit owned by Google’s parent company. For the first time, ordinary people just trying to get to work will be interacting with autonomous vehicles. Waymo has promised to broaden the test to a wider market soon.

Other major players will spend this year preparing for the imminent introduction of driverless vehicles. By 2019, General Motor Co expects to deploy electric Chevy Bolt robot taxis in big US cities. Uber Technologies Inc has also pledged to launch a fleet of self-driving Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles in that time frame. Tesla Inc missed a self-imposed deadline for a coast-to-coast driverless excursion by the end of 2017, but Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk still promises that full autonomy is coming soon to the electric automaker’s models.

The major players are gathering this week in Las Vegas at CES, formerly the Consumer Electronics Show, to showcase products meant to overhaul human mobility. To provide a peek into the arrival of the autonomous age, we spoke to industry leaders and transportation experts. The idea was to fill in the blanks on how we will interact with the first driverless vehicles.

It’s been 10 years since automated driving had its “Kitty Hawk moment,” in which researchers proved that the technology could work just as the Wright Brothers demonstrated the possibility of flight. Now comes the time to put some practical use behind hype. This century’s transportation revolution, if it works as expected, will reach the public on the back of billions invested by the world’s biggest and richest companies, such as Alphabet Inc, Ford Motor Co and Daimler AG. The earliest uses will be in services, not privately owned vehicles. “This is going to be a big revolution,” Ashwani Gupta, global head of Renault-Nissan’s light commercial vehicle business, said in an interview. “And it will begin in both people movers and material movers.”

The wait for the self-driving future is coming to an end. The earliest real-world applications of autonomous vehicles will arrive in 2018. Starting in Phoenix this year, a small number of commuters will be riding in driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans as part of a trial conducted by Waymo, the self-driving car unit owned by Google’s parent company. For the first time, ordinary people just trying to get to work will be interacting with autonomous vehicles. Waymo has promised to broaden the test to a wider market soon.

Other major players will spend this year preparing for the imminent introduction of driverless vehicles. By 2019, General Motor Co expects to deploy electric Chevy Bolt robot taxis in big US cities. Uber Technologies Inc has also pledged to launch a fleet of self-driving Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles in that time frame. Tesla Inc missed a self-imposed deadline for a coast-to-coast driverless excursion by the end of 2017, but Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk still promises that full autonomy is coming soon to the electric automaker’s models.

The major players are gathering this week in Las Vegas at CES, formerly the Consumer Electronics Show, to showcase products meant to overhaul human mobility. To provide a peek into the arrival of the autonomous age, we spoke to industry leaders and transportation experts. The idea was to fill in the blanks on how we will interact with the first driverless vehicles.

It’s been 10 years since automated driving had its “Kitty Hawk moment,” in which researchers proved that the technology could work just as the Wright Brothers demonstrated the possibility of flight. Now comes the time to put some practical use behind hype. This century’s transportation revolution, if it works as expected, will reach the public on the back of billions invested by the world’s biggest and richest companies, such as Alphabet Inc, Ford Motor Co and Daimler AG. The earliest uses will be in services, not privately owned vehicles. “This is going to be a big revolution,” Ashwani Gupta, global head of Renault-Nissan’s light commercial vehicle business, said in an interview. “And it will begin in both people movers and material movers.”

As it pulls up, the small SUV greets you with a computer voice: “Hello, Mr. Jones.” You punch in a code on the door; it unlocks and slides open. Inside, an animated screen near your seat shows the route you will be taking to the restaurant. Your path is represented by a green arrow coursing through the streets of New York, while the screen also shows pedestrians in white, cyclists in yellow, and the urban canyon of buildings you’re passing through.

Halfway there you realize you have no cash and remember that the restaurant you’re heading to doesn’t accept credit cards. You press a button overhead that connects you to a human attendant, who says, “How can I help you, Mr Jones?” You explain you need cash and ask if you can make a quick stop at the nearest ATM. The attendant finds the closest bank and re-routes the taxi. You grab some cash and are quickly on your way again, feeling reassured you can make a human connection and have some control over the robot.

“Having that connection is important for building trust,” said Sherif Markaby, vice president of autonomous vehicles at Ford. “People inside the vehicle need to feel comfortable and confident.”

You arrive for dinner a little late. The drop-off point is in a designated area for autonomous vehicles, a few steps away from an old-fashioned valet line used by human drivers. The hurly-burly of the valet could be a sensory overload for the robot, so it steers clear and stops in its own space of solace. As you exit the vehicle, the Bolt says, “Good evening, Mr Jones, and thank you for riding with us.” Reflexively, you respond, “You’re welcome.”

 

Pros: No driver to tip, and the fare is likely to be lower because robo-taxis cost less than half as much to operate as human-driven cabs. Drivers account for as much as 60 percent of the cost of cab.

Cons: Robots drive slower than grandma. They obey all traffic laws, so there’s no speeding or rushing to make a light. And they cautiously defer to aggressive drivers and pedestrians, which can lead to long pauses in your commute as the car lets others go first.

Driverless Delivery
Fido is running low on dog food, so you order a 25-pound bag with a shopping app on your phone. Within hours, the bag is on a semi truck, still driven for now by a human, headed for a warehouse on the outskirts of Phoenix. The semi sends signals over Wi-Fi on the contents of its cargo to a phalanx of small driverless delivery vans waiting at the depot. When the big rig arrives, its contents are dispersed to the vans via an automated logistics system of conveyors that sorts items by destination.

These driverless vans fan out to carry their cargo to customers throughout the city. They travel mostly on surface streets, going no faster than about 35 miles per hour. If a robotic delivery van takes to the highway—unlikely in the early stages of deployment—it would probably travel in a dedicated lane to avoid snarling traffic with its slow-moving ways. Devoid of a driver’s cockpit, the battery-powered vans look like a metal cube on wheels. They are a study in function over form, maximizing cargo carrying and minimizing style. The vans will also be marked with special lighting above the windshield to alert other drivers and pedestrians that they are driverless.

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