The Fuse

This Week in AVs: Argo to Test in California; Amazon Gets Into AVs; and More

by Kristen Hernandez | January 31, 2019

Argo AI acquires permit to test autonomous vehicles in California

Pittsburgh-based startup Argo AI has acquired a permit to test its autonomous vehicles in California. The permit is for one vehicle and two drivers. Since its founding in 2016, Argo AI has been testing in a variety of locations. While much of its testing is in Pittsburgh, the company is also testing in Miami, Detroit, and, in the near future, Washington, D.C. as part of its partnership with Ford. The startup uses Ford Fusion hybrid vehicles as its AV platform; unlike many of its competitors testing AVs based on a battery electric vehicle platform, Ford has claimed that a hybrid platform is better suited to the expected duty cycle of an AV. It is unclear at this time whether Argo’s California testing will also include Ford or if this will launch a new partnership.

Are Americans Driving Older Cars Or Just Leaving Them In The Driveway?

In recent years, many have been concerned about the aging of America’s light-duty vehicle fleet. The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that average vehicle age rose from 10.9 years in 2011 to 11.6 years in 2016. However, new SAFE analysis has found a more nuanced result. Most analyses consider the ages of vehicles in the fleet but fail to consider how often these vehicles are driven. It is usage which has a more significant effect on safety and environmental impacts, concerns associated with an aging fleet. SAFE analysis of the 2017 National Household Travel Survey found that older vehicles were driven less than newer vehicles. Additionally, fleet aging was primarily driven by old vehicles remaining in the fleet and not being scrapped as new vehicles were purchased. Furthermore, much of the increase in vehicle age could be attributed to the fall in vehicle sales during the Great Recession; as vehicle sales recover, SAFE expects a decline in average vehicle age.

Amazon working on self-driving robots and trucks for autonomous delivery

Amazon has entered the ground-based autonomous delivery space. Late last week, it announced a limited service using a self-driving delivery robot. Called Scout, the device is the size of a small cooler and will roll down sidewalks delivering packages to customers. The service is currently operating just six devices in Snohomish County, Washington. Their operation will presently be limited to weekdays and daylight hours. Initially, Scout devices will be accompanied by Amazon employees, though they will follow their delivery route autonomously. Amazon is also reportedly working on autonomous trucking. Motorists have seen Embark self-driving trucks on the I-10 highway hauling trailers emblazoned with the Amazon Prime logo. If technologies such as these are implemented at scale, they could cut down on individual shopping trips, saving Americans time and fuel. Indeed, SAFE estimates, based on National Household Travel Survey data, have shown that over 60 billion shopping trips (about 33% of which are two miles or less) in household cars occur in urban areas every year.

New tech lights up the path of self-driving cars

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has developed a lighting-based system of communication for self-driving cars. The system can project the vehicle’s intended path onto the road in front of it, thus providing important information to other motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. For this purpose, a series of lines is projected in front of the vehicle. When the gaps between the lines get smaller, the vehicle is preparing to stop; when they get further apart, the vehicle is preparing to accelerate. When the vehicle intends to turn, the lines turn in the direction of travel. JLR is one of several companies using lighting to communicate between self-driving cars and other agents on the road. Hyundai MOBIS showcased its Communication Lighting concept at CES early this month and Daimler debuted a lighting-based communication concept for self-driving cars in early December. Clearly conveying their intended movements to other road actors through a familiar medium such as lighting can help AVs deliver on their promise to improve safety and save lives.