State Of Autonomy: August Recap

I’m surprisingly conflicted about this. https://jalopnik.com/jaguars-new-autonomous-car-has-a-face-and-its-horrifyin-1828650588

Every month, I recap the news articles I’ve consumed around autonomous vehicles, calling out the highlights and keeping track of market projections. This is also your chance, dear readers, to nominate a topic for discussion in the following month.

Future of Transportation / Trucks recently penned the term “AV Jesus” — I like that, though I’m going to take the counterpoint regarding its context.

Reilly’s reaction to this questionable journalism from The Information was one of comfort: “this wholly critical piece on Waymo… means we have officially exited the ‘AV Jesus’ era of press coverage [for which] we can all be thankful, even Waymo.” Perhaps so regarding the press, but given the bulk of the article referenced public frustration with Waymo’s driving skills, I’d say we are heading in the opposite direction socially — and naturally so.

On the one hand, The Information’s article leans on Waymo’s refusal to break traffic laws or drive aggressively — both for the sake of maintaining traffic flow and predictability, if you ask humans.

On the other hand, autonomous vehicle haters salivated over a second article in August wherein Bloomberg quoted and slanted Drive.ai’s CEO Andrew Ng asking that pedestrians be “lawful and considerate” when interacting with driverless test vehicles.

What’s happening in both of these cases is that engineers are attempting to give AVs an understanding of the world through road rules we have created, but because we break those rules for selfish and contradictory purposes so often, we find their allegiance to our own rules foreign and frustrating.

We want self-driving cars to obey laws, unless we think those laws are stupid, or unless obeying the law will make our lives less convenient. Of course, what makes one person’s life more convenient can have the opposite effect on another: the car owners from The Information’s article want AVs to drive more assertively and enforce their right-of-way… while the pedestrian activists touting Bloomberg’s article want AVs to be cautious beyond lawfulness, forfeiting their right-of-way at all times.

In short, humans want autonomous vehicles to forgive us for our traffic sins, while punishing those in traffic who sin against us, while understanding right from wrong on a level we as humans have yet to grasp. We want AV Jesus for the same reason we wanted regular Jesus: to avoid personal responsibility.

This Month’s Highlights:

Commercializations:

Get it while the grocery gettin’s good… two companies launched some very small grocery delivery pilot programs in August. I hesitate to pay either of them too much attention until we see some actual usage data, because the PR is so easy to spin without having to mention all the humans who need to be involved to make such a service function. But, still worth the callout given how influential the model would be if the operation were super-low-touch.

Nuro is working with Kroger — the largest grocery chain in the U.S., currently losing market share to Amazon/Whole Foods — on servicing a region of Arizona with its well-known “picnic basket” vehicle. Again, time will tell whether Kroger is doing this for their customers, or their shareholders.

AutoX has paired up with DeMartini Orchard and GrubMarket to trial their service to 400 homes in the NorCal area. The AutoX vehicle will also be a sort of convenience store on wheels — you can grab the stuff you ordered, or you can look through the shelves(?) and buy something directly from the vehicle.

Coming In September:

Reactions From The Public:

None this month! Publications are increasingly scrapping their Comments sections in favor of more advertising-focused experiences, and nearly all the articles I read this month were devoid of reader comments. Sorry boutcha.

Future of work, future of mobility, future of ice cream.

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