Last week, autonomous vehicle (AV) developer Cruise announced that it has received a permit from California’s DMV to test its AVs on public roads without a backup driver behind the wheel—and will be deploying its electric, driverless vehicles before the end of the year.
In a blog post, Cruise CEO Dan Ammann noted that while his company may not have been the first to receive such a permit, it does intend to be the first company to test its fully driverless vehicles on the dense city streets of San Francisco.
Before the end of the year, we’ll be sending cars out onto the streets of SF — without gasoline and without anyone at the wheel,” Ammann said. “Because safely removing the driver is the true benchmark of a self-driving car, and because burning fossil fuels is no way to build the future of transportation.”
The permit is a timely milestone for self-driving deployment and speeding the safety benefits of AVs, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.
“As the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects, driverless and contactless services will only grow in importance as consumers increasingly opt for limited person-to-person contact,” SAFE President and CEO Robbie Diamond said in a statement.
The permit comes hot on the heels of the announcement by Waymo to open up its driverless rides in Arizona to the public. Initially limited to friends and family of its trial phase participants, CEO John Krafcik said, “In the near term, 100% of our rides will be fully driverless.”
Taken together—alongside Nuro’s exemption by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from federal motor vehicle safety standards to deploy its delivery bots on public roads—the combination of milestones suggest the next step of a still-nascent industry rapidly maturing in the public eye.
Yet while American AV developers retain a technological edge over their rivals, two recent op-eds show that such an advantage will not be enough to maintain leadership in this critical industry.
SAFE Chairman Admiral Dennis Blair and Rep. Debbie Dingell argue in a Bloomberg Law op-edv that the United States must defend its transportation leadership to preserve our global authority, noting that the critical supply chains vital for the production of connected, autonomous, shared and electric vehicles are still overwhelmingly dominated by China.
Writing that “tomorrow’s intelligent transportation technologies will be built on 5G connectivity,” the op-ed adds that Beijing has worked hard through companies like Huawei to dominate this industry: By late 2020, China is projected to have more than 500,000 5G sites. As of 2018, there were fewer than 30,000 in the U.S.
The problem persists higher up the supply chain. As noted by SAFE Energy Security Leadership Council (ESLC) co-chair Gen. James Conway and ESLC member Peter Ackerman in an op-ed for the Financial Times, China “has gained — and is determined to retain — a tight grip on a broad swath of minerals that form the foundations of tomorrow’s most important industries.”
The op-ed adds that China currently has an “indisputable” lead in the mining, processing and battery manufacturing vital for tomorrow’s intelligent and autonomous transportation. More than 70 per cent of global EV battery manufacturing capacity is in China, while the United States has less than 10 per cent. Of the 142 lithium-ion battery megafactories under construction worldwide, China will be home to 107 of them. Just nine will be in the US.
China also produces more than 60 per cent of the world’s cathodes and 80 per cent of anodes for batteries, and the majority of the world’s permanent magnets used in EV motors.
If the United States wishes to leverage the AV milestones from Cruise, Waymo and Nuro and turn that advantage into lasting economic and energy security, it must take a minerals-to-markets approach to the connected, autonomous, shared and electric vehicle industries.