State Of Autonomy: October Recap

Photo credit: @nittymcshutter:

Every month, I recap the news articles I’ve consumed around autonomous vehicles, calling out the highlights and keeping track of market progress. This is also your chance to nominate a topic for me to editorialize next month.

Well, the big day’s finally here! Kinda? Asterisk?

While the mass media army has been yearning for (and peddling) the notion of some great race to autonomous vehicle commercialization, it was never a thing to begin with. As folks like me have been saying for a while now: the autonomy revolution starts not with a bang, but a lot of whimpers. Like, a litter of golden retrievers whimpering.

In mass media’s defense, most people would rather hear a simple story than a set of related facts, which is why they’re only satisfied by press releases and vehicle crashes.

Ok, so what actually happened? Here’s your set of related facts:

Waymo subtly announced on an earnings call that it had started charging customers in the Phoenix, AZ area for robotaxi rides in its driverless cars. They had previously received approval from Arizona to operate such a business, and they also recently published an emergency response guide for its vehicles in case of a collision. They have partner programs in place with the likes of Walmart which gives their passengers dedicated pickup & drop-off points (such as the photo atop this article), which makes them about as real as any local paratransit service. So… that’s commercialization.

Of course, they’re only operational in Arizona — though Waymo just received approval to operate without a safety driver in California as well, which is where they plan to go to market next. And you, Joe Schmoe, can’t just download the app and get a ride — you have to sign an NDA as an early rider, which basically makes you a beta tester. So… it’s not really commercialization if you’re required to have some privileged personal relationship with the company in order to use the service.

But then, part of what makes mobility tech interesting is how much it disrupts traditional business models: there’s no law of commercialization that says Waymo has to charge anyone for the service, or that they can’t make demands of their riders. So… there really is no finish line.

But hey, if you prefer a nice clean story over the facts, you can always follow Elon Musk on Twitter.

This Month’s Highlights:



Coming In September:

  • Escape Your Next Natural Disaster In A Self-Driving Car
  • Moms Are The Real Experts In Artificial Intelligence
  • Your suggestion? Send a tweet to Mitch Turck

Reactions From The Public:

Re: Uber-Funded RAND Research On Assessing AV Safety

Re: NHTSA’s Demand For Transdev To Suspend Florida School Shuttle Trial

Re: Waymo’s Commercialization Update

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