The Fuse

This Week In AVs: Walmart Starts AV Pilot; Congress Seeks to Jump-Start AV Bill; and More

by Stefan Broekhuizen | August 05, 2019

Walmart Begins Pilot with Autonomous Vehicle Company Gatik
Walmart has announced the launch of a new pilot with autonomous vehicle startup Gatik to transport groceries between two Walmart stores in Bentonville, Arkansas. The California-based Gatik specializes in business-to-business short-haul logistics. Three of its autonomous vehicles—Ford Transit vans equipped with the Gatik’s autonomous driving system—will make the deliveries. Gatik’s AVs will run on two routes and operate seven days a week, with a safety driver behind the wheel.

Gatik joins an array of companies working to deploy automated vehicles in niche applications, beyond industry leaders’ more publicized efforts toward robo-taxis and trucks.

Gatik joins an array of companies working to deploy automated vehicles in niche applications, beyond industry leaders’ more publicized efforts toward robo-taxis and trucks. Chinese AV company Idriverplus produces passenger vehicles, but also makes autonomous street cleaners; in Michigan, Refraction AI is operating a four-foot-tall, 80-pound autonomous delivery robot that runs in both car and bike lanes. Although the realization that fully autonomous passenger cars are years—rather than months—away has dampened excitement, significant progress with automated systems continues to be made.

Ford acquires defense contractor Quantum Signal to boost self-driving cars
Ford has acquired Quantum Signal, a Michigan-based software developer that has previously worked with the Department of Defense to design long-distance, remote-control robotic vehicles. Ford is interested in Quantum Signal’s flagship product ANVEL, an abbreviation of Autonomous Navigation and Virtual Environment Laboratory. The result of collaboration with U.S. Army researchers, “ANVEL is an interactive, real-time software M&S tool that supports the conceptualization, development, testing, validation, and verification of intelligent manned and unmanned ground vehicles and capabilities.” The automaker will likely use Quantum Signal’s autonomous navigation software to aid in the development of its own automated and driverless vehicles, which Ford has scheduled for commercialization in 2021. This news comes as Cruise, General Motors Co.’s AV division, postponed their rollout scheduled for later this year.

Ford’s acquisition of Quantum Signal also indicates that its belief in partnerships and collaboration as the best ways to accelerate development hasn’t wavered; in addition to Quantum Signal, Ford acquired Journey Holding Corp. on Tuesday, a provider of intelligent transportation system software. Ford adds these companies to a collection that includes autonomous vehicle startup Argo AI, which just received a $2.6 billion investment from Volkswagen. That investment is itself the result of a partnership between Ford and the German automaker, centered on electric and autonomous vehicles.

U.S. Congress seeks to jump start stalled self-driving car bill
The House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Commerce Committee are asking automakers, safety groups, and others in the AV sphere for their input on self-driving car legislation. The committees announced they are working on a “bipartisan and bicameral basis” on a bill to accelerate adoption of self-driving vehicles. By August 23, interested parties can provide their comments on AV testing, federal laws, cybersecurity and privacy, disability access, and other topics. Congress’s last attempt to pass a bill on self-driving cars was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives but flopped in the Senate after Democrats took issue with the legislation’s handling of safety standards.

Passage of a self-driving car bill would likely precipitate the development and deployment of AVs, and automakers have hailed Congress’s revived efforts

Passage of a self-driving car bill would likely precipitate the development and deployment of AVs, and automakers have hailed Congress’s revived efforts; a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which includes industry giants General Motors, Volkswagen, and Toyota, said, “Right now various countries are exploring regulations that will shape the future of autonomous vehicles, and the U.S. risks losing its leadership in this life-saving, life-changing technology, so we urge Congress to move forward now, this year.” To do so, legislators and supporters of the bill will have to ensure the law can address the concerns of interests that sank the previous bill.

J.D. Power study shows consumers are still unsure about AVs
recent study by J.D. Power and SurveyMonkey has revealed many consumers lack confidence in the future of autonomous vehicles. J.D. Power’s inaugural Mobility Confidence Index Study surveyed 5,749 consumers about self-driving vehicles and measured their comfort on a 100-point scale. Self-driving vehicles posted a score of 36, in the “low” confidence segment. 39 percent of consumers aren’t excited about any self-driving technology, whether delivery services, transit, taxis or personal vehicles. The results of the survey make clear that consumers’ primary concern with self-driving technology is safety-related: 71 percent are worried about tech failures and errors, 57 percent about vehicles being hacked, and 55 percent about legal liability as a result of a collision. That 66 percent of participants admitted to having little or no knowledge about AVs is dubious consolation to automakers and developers, as it also evinces a glaring need for consumer education.

This news comes on the heels of a recent spate of AV-related accidents: last week, an autonomous shuttle in Salt Lake City abruptly stopped and caused a 76-year-old man to fall from his seat and injure his face; in Vienna, Austria, another self-driving shuttle bumped a woman’s knee at low speed while running road tests. Meanwhile, police are still investigating last year’s crash in which an Uber autonomous vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. Taking into account the poll results, automakers and other industry groups have their work cut out for them; implementing strong safety standards in upcoming legislation would likely be a good start toward strengthening consumer confidence.

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