News of Uber’s decision to suspend (then reinstate) its current self-driving car pilot program after a test vehicle was hit by another car that failed to yield to the Uber vehicle, puts attention on the whole autonomous vehicle industry.
Specifically, what is the state of the move to a driverless future? What are the major issues? Will there be any collateral damage?
Suspend Then Restart
It might be the quickest restart of a suspended test program in automotive history. Friday Uber suspended its self-driving car project after a car driven by a human driver failed to yield and hit the Uber vehicle, causing it to roll over. Nobody was seriously injured in either vehicle.
Monday Uber confirmed its test fleet will be back on the streets of San Francisco yet today. Autonomous cars in Arizona and Pittsburgh remain grounded. The reason for the partial reinstatement appears to be that the cars in San Francisco are at a different stage of development and considered unlikely to have the same problem experience by the vehicle in Arizona last week.
Silicon Valley Versus Detroit
In many ways, the battle for supremacy in autonomous vehicles is one between America’s automotive industry and Silicon Valley. Both are in competition to call the shots on the next personal computing device – the car.
The battle is over the connections designed to deliver information, entertainment and diagnostic data back to the manufacturer. Moreover, since these connections come with subscription revenue, the potential profits are enormous.
The Players And The Problems
The names of major players are familiar, Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOGC) Google, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPLC) and Uber on the tech side, Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:FD) Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE:TMD) and General Motors Co. (NYSE:GMD) from the automotive side.
In some ways the players are the problem. Lack of cooperation has led to fragmentation and a paucity of developers. Developers want to build applications and services that can straddle different hardware systems. Right now that’s not happening – at least among carmakers. Silicon Valley has a more cooperation-based history.
Ready Or Not
Recently California’s Department of Motor Vehicles said it planned to allow companies to test autonomous vehicles without backup drivers. One caveat: The car would be required to have a remote driver with “eyes on” the vehicle at all times.
As exciting as this development seems to be many experts point to the fact that fully autonomous vehicles have not solved every possible road situation and until that happens there will always be an element of risk, not to mention a lack of public trust.
Jobs At Risk
What about that day when autonomous vehicles actually are common on America’s roadways? When that happens, one recent report suggests as many as 4 million truck, bus, delivery and taxi driving jobs will disappear.
Moreover, the report from progressive think tank Center for Global Policy Solutions suggests the layoffs and job losses will disproportionally affect persons of color and residents of certain states including North Dakota, Idaho, Wyoming, West Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Iowa and Indiana.
The report suggests the adoption of policies designed mitigate job losses and provide for alternative job training for those affected by the coming autonomous revolution.