Autonomous driving news has been flooding the zone lately. One story pops up and before we get to covering it, another does, and then another. Let’s go through a handful of these stories quickly and see where that leaves us — perhaps at a very interesting destination, or perhaps in an illogical traffic jam 20 robotaxis long.
Pressure on Gavin Newsom for Autonomous Trucking
While California has been a leader in the autonomous car space, it has been blocking activity in the autonomous trucking arena. That’s why you see Waymo Via testing autonomous semi trucks in Texas but not California. Dozens of companies are not into the strong California regulations limiting autonomous trucking, and they’re putting pressure on Gavin Newsom to open things up. That includes Waymo, UPS, Aurora, and many others.
Specifically, 34 companies and organizations have sent an open letter to Governor Gavin Newsom trying to persuade him to loosen regulations. It starts off like this:
“As CEOs, co-founders, leaders, and allied organizations of the autonomous trucking industry ecosystem, we are working each day to do something uniquely Californian—harness innovation to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges, including road safety and the supply chain crisis. Many of us are proud to be building autonomous trucking technology in the Golden State or have communities or operations that seek to leverage autonomous trucking to better serve California. Yet currently, we are unable to bring the benefits of autonomous trucks to the state.
“This is because the California Department of Motor Vehicles (‘DMV’) explicitly prohibited the operation of autonomous trucks in prior proceedings, suggesting that rules to authorize this important technology were better left to a future regulatory proceeding. Over the ensuing years, there has been regular engagement with your office, the DMV, the California Highway Patrol (‘CHP’), California State Transportation Agency (‘CalSTA’), and other stakeholders, providing transparent updates and addressing questions as autonomous trucking technology has matured.
“A new study from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group Foundation found that autonomous trucking technology can add $6.5 billion in economic activity to California while bringing greater efficiency to our supply chain, spurring wage gains and job growth. On the heels of this economic report, the tragic, ‘crisis-level’ truck-related crash data just released by NHTSA, and the growing truck driver shortage, it is time to begin the regulatory process.”
May Mobility Robotaxis Next Year?
May Mobility, an autonomous shuttle startup, just raised $111 million in a Series C fundraising round. The Michigan startup aims to have driverless shuttles driving people around next year, in 2023.
“With the close of this latest investment round, May Mobility will continue to accelerate growth in our technology, business development and platforms, all with a global reach,” said Edwin Olson, CEO of May Mobility. “Our additional investors, as well as our continued strategic collaboration with Toyota and others, will enable us to march toward driver-out commercial operations in 2023 and enable our expansion into new markets as we roll out more Toyota Sienna Autono-MaaS vehicles now and look to next generation platforms, such as the e-Palette.”
Despite being based in Michigan, May Mobility is dominated by Japanese investors, and it also has operations in Japan. Geographical operations aside, May Mobility has attracted a phenomenally broad group of institutional and corporate investors.
“Bringing the company’s total raised funding to date to $194 million, the round is expected to increase May Mobility’s engineering headcount, expand its global customer base, enhance rider experiences and further invest in technology advancements. With this round of funding, May Mobility has doubled down on its commitment to driver-out operations in 2023. SoftBank, State Farm Ventures, Next Century Ventures, SAIC, Wanxiang, Karma and 10x Group join the list of partners committed to the company’s mission of driving a greener, more accessible future through mobility. The round was led by SPARX Group Co., Ltd.’s Mirai Creation Fund II alongside Tokio Marine, Toyota Tsusho, Bridgestone Americas and returning investors Toyota Ventures, Millennium Technology Value Partners, Cyrus Capital Partners, LG Technology Ventures and Maven Ventures, among others.”
With all of this cash raised, let’s hope that May Mobility can really deliver.
Tesla Model X and Model Y Autopilot to Respond to Potholes
For a long time, the only real and consistent reason I had for not using Tesla Autopilot was the widespread presence of potholes and not wanting my Tesla Model 3 to damage itself driving full speed across them. Now, if you have a Tesla Model X or Model Y, that problem may be solved (or at least slightly improved).
“To enable the feature you’ll need the latest update 2022.20,” Engadget writes, “then you tap ‘Controls > Suspension > Adaptive Suspension Damping, and select the Comfort or Auto setting,’ Tesla notes, adding that ‘the instrument cluster will continue to indicate when the suspension is raised for comfort.'”
I look forward to seeing how this newfound focus on potholes helps Tesla vehicles really become smooth autonomous driving machines. Unfortunately, the Tesla team is indicating no chance of redemption yet in my Model 3.
“Tesla isn’t the first automaker to think up pothole scanning technology,” Engadget writes. “Some manufacturers like Ford have proposed features that even detect individual potholes and instantly damp the suspension, for example. Tesla’s system could be far more practical, though, by simply softening the ride parameters over known patches of rough road. ”
We’ll see how well Tesla avoids potholes without creating other bigger problems, but I find it not-so-uplifting to see that the system will only be updated for Tesla vehicles with active suspension. Most Tesla vehicles on the road (including mine) lack that smart suspension system. Will our vehicles ever be able to navigate themselves around potholes? One would expect them to get there, but Tesla Autopilot and Full Self-Driving have certainly taken years longer than Elon Musk initially hoped they’d take to get to effective “Navigate on Autopilot” for city streets. And we’re still not quite there. I’m not going to hold my breath for effective pothole avoidance technology. Color me skeptical.
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