Apple’s driverless car project, code-named Titan, has long been a rumor in Silicon Valley. Last week The Guardian reported that documents confirmed the project’s existence. In May, engineers from Apple’s secretive Special Project group met with representatives of GoMentum Station, a 2,100-acre former naval base near San Francisco that is being turned into a high-security testing ground for autonomous vehicles. The Guardian obtained correspondence through a public records act request in which Apple engineer Frank Fearon wrote: “We would … like to get an understanding of timing and availability for the space, and how we would need to coordinate around other parties who would be using [it].” Though many companies are developing autonomous vehicle technology, it is widely believed that Apple’s driverless car project has the potential to lead the industry as the Cupertino company has done with mp3 players, cellular phones and tablets.
There’s an interesting piece in The Economist’s Science & Technology section predicting a life where autonomous cars rule the roads. Most of the predictions have been made before, but there are some new statistical projections, including the reduction of urban vehicles by 90% when car-making moves from selling to individual owners to selling to fleets.
Kevin C Desouza posted an interesting piece on Salon yesterday, positing a surprising financial consequence to cities and counties when driverless cars go mainstream. Desouza, an associate dean for research and professor at Arizona State University’s College of Public Service & Community Solutions, suggests a staggering decrease in revenue from traffic tickets, parking tickets, DUIs and gasoline taxes as the increased use of autonomous vehicles reduces these traditional sources of local government income.
A Tesla turn signal may solve the issue of fault for the inevitable driverless car accidents to come. Say you’re in an autonomous vehicle that makes a turn and collides with another autonomous vehicle. How can you tell which driver is “at fault” where both cars were being operated by a computer? We’ve already talked about how this issue may well disrupt the auto insurance industry, but given that Tesla Motors may soon be including semi-autonomous features in its vehicles, it is not surprise that they’ve come up with a possible solution. Dubbed the “Tesla turn signal,” it would requires a driver to depress a signal before the car would execute a turn or pass another vehicle, making sure that a motorist actually thinks about the maneuver before the car does it. This kind of driver involvement would supposedly allow the insurance industry to assign fault in the event of a collision.
The United States Department of Transportation will push driverless cars, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said last week. He is expected to unveil the administration’s autonomous vehicle policy tomorrow in a speech in Silicon Valley. The DOT is expected to expedite the usually glacial federal rulemaking process for this technology and to remove barriers that typically slow innovation. “We want to ensure that industry sees DOT as an agency that is not only working to set the bar for safety in the marketplace but is leading in technologies that can play a role in enhancing safety,” Foxx said. By acknowledging that the feds will push driverless cars, Foxx recognized that their advent is closer than many realize. According to the Washington Post, the arrival of some of this technology is just months away, with General Motors planing to roll out models next year. On the West Coast, California’s DMV is set to finish operational rules for autonomous vehicles later this month.
A driverless semi is still years from production, but German automaker Daimler Trucks unveiled a working model today in Nevada. The driverless semi traveled (albeit with a driver steering) the length of the Hoover Dam. Nevada, which issued a full license for the truck, aims to be a national leader in driverless vehicles. “We are really showing that we’re at the cradle of innovation,” Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said Tuesday after helping affix the state’s automated vehicle license to the truck. The license is valid and would allow Daimler to use the driverless semi to ship goods within the state’s borders. “We’re far from that. We’re just getting people inspired,” said Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, member of the board of management of Daimler AG.