Tests of self-driving taxis will take place within a year in a deal between GM and Lyft.
In a second deal, Chrysler and Google have teamed up on a self-driving minivan.
In Germany, self-driving trains will interconnect with self-driving autos to form self-driving door-to-door networks.
Self-Driving Electric Taxis Coming Up
General Motors Co. and Lyft Inc. within a year will begin testing a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric taxis on public roads, a move central to the companies’ joint efforts to challenge Silicon Valley giants in the battle to reshape the auto industry.
The plan is being hatched a few months after GM invested $500 million in Lyft, a ride-hailing company whose services rival Uber Technologies Inc. The program will rely on technology being acquired as part of GM’s separate $1 billion planned purchase of San Francisco-based Cruise Automation Inc., a developer of autonomous-driving technology.
Details of the autonomous-taxi testing program are still being worked out, according to a Lyft executive, but it will include customers in a yet-to-be disclosed city. Customers will have the opportunity to opt in or out of the pilot when hailing a Lyft car from the company’s mobile app.
In addition to driverless cars, GM aims to use Lyft and its growing army of drivers as a primary customer for the Bolt, an electric car that launches later this year amid soft demand for electric vehicles.
The new effort is directed mostly at challenging Alphabet and Uber. The Google self-driving car program has gained a sizable lead over conventional auto makers via testing in California and other states, and it received an additional boost this week through a minivan-supply agreement with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. Uber, much bigger than Lyft, has its own self-driving research center in Pittsburgh and is preparing to usher autonomous vehicles in to its fleet by 2020.
In an effort to ease regulatory concerns, Lyft will start with autonomous cars that have drivers in the cockpit ready to intervene—but the driver is expected to eventually be obsolete.
“Much Faster Than Expected”
“It’s much faster than I had expected,” said Jeffery Greenblatt, an energy researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and an author of that paper, about the testing timeline proposed by Lyft. “I had said 2030, and here we are already with companies jumping in to be first ones.
“It shows that there is a strong business case,” he added. “I hope that pans out in testing and that they are as useful and low carbon as we estimated that they are.”
A General Motors spokesperson would not divulge additional details but wrote in an email that “GM continues to make progress on our previously announced plans related to an integrated on-demand autonomous network with Lyft. Similarly, we have said the Chevrolet Bolt EV is the ideal platform for ride sharing solutions. We believe electrification blends perfectly with autonomy when it comes to technology integration.”
Google, Chrysler Team Up on Minivans
After months (and months and months) of rumors, including one rumor that it was partnering with Ford, Google’s self-driving car is going into manufacturing mode, with a new prototype based on the Chrysler Pacifica minivan. But hold the grocery-getter jokes, please. An autonomous minivan is exactly what Google should be making.
Google announced the partnership today, along with several reasons why a Fiat Chrysler partnership make sense.
“FCA will design the minivans so it’s easy for us to install our self-driving systems, including the computers that hold our self-driving software, and the sensors that enable our software to see what’s on the road around the vehicle. The minivan design also gives us an opportunity to test a larger vehicle that could be easier for passengers to enter and exit, particularly with features like hands-free sliding doors.”
This decision to go with this kind of vehicle emphasizes the goal that’s always been behind Google’s self-driving car project: It will allow unprecedented independence for people who are blind, deaf, and disabled. A minivan can be easily adapted for wheelchairs and other assistive devices that will help people to get in and out of the vehicle easily.
But there’s also another important benefit to a minivan: More seats means that these autonomous vehicles can be easily shared, allowing them to function more like public transportation. There’s a reason that Elon Musk hinted about developing some kind of autonomous bus. Self-driving sharedvehicles are the future.
Self-Driving Railroad Network
Deutsche Bahn, the German government-owned rail system that manages travel throughout the country, is planning to add autonomous vehicles to its system with the goal of offering seamless door-to-door transit.
As Deutsche Bahn’s CEO Reedier Grube explained to the German publication WirtschaftsWoche, the system already markets trains as a good alternative to driving because they help passengers use time more effectively. “If in the future autonomous cars can do this, then the operators of these cars can claim the same about their services. That’s why we will have to add autonomously driving cars to our offering.”
The railway operator has been discussing using self-driving cars internally for some time. A strategy document for Deutsche Bahn touts the importance of “multimodal mobility” and “end-to-end service,” and it specifically points to autonomous vehicles as part of an “integrated land transport system.”
Millions of Driver Jobs Will Vanish
Over the past few years I have received hundreds of emails from readers telling me that I was wrong. Some thought this would never happen, others suggested 2030 or 2050.
I am sticking with my assessment of 2020 as a key launch date. That’s when regulations, rules and kinks will all be worked out. It could be sooner. By 2024 at the latest, millions of taxi, bus, and truck driving jobs will vanish.
By the way, please note that the free market, not politicians are taking care of the alleged greenhouse gas emissions problem quite nicely.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock