The Fuse

This Week in AVs: Ex-Google Engineers Launch Delivery Bot Startup; Missouri Bill Banning AVs Gathers Pace; and More

by Alex Adams | @alexjhadams | February 24, 2020

Google Engineers Launch Delivery Bot Startup
After being shuttered by Google, the engineers behind the company’s Bookbot—a short-lived delivery bot created within the company’s experimental Area 120 product incubator—have founded their own startup to relaunch the sidewalk delivery bot. Formed in 2019 after Google scaled back its retail delivery ambitions, Cartken is staffed not only by the former Area 120 engineers, but also by a logistics expert who was formerly in charge of operations at Google Express.

Although the company is keeping very quiet on its ambitions—and has yet to officially confirm it is working on an autonomous delivery bot—the Cartken team will likely aim to pick up where Bookbot left off. In February 2019, the delivery bot was operating one day a week for the City of Mountain View’s library system, proving popular with library staff and users. “People thought it was super cool, and were breaking out their cameras,” said Tracy Gray, Mountain View’s Library Services Director. The service was discontinued in June, with Bookbot only operational for 12 days, serving just 36 users. As The Verge notes, if Cartken is working on a delivery bot, it would not be the first time former Google employees have struck out on their own to focus on last-mile deliveries—two ex-Google engineers formed Nuro, which began testing in 2018.

Missouri Bill Banning AVs Gathers Pace
A bill sponsored by Missouri state Rep. Mike Moon, which would prohibit driverless vehicles from using the state’s roadways, has received the support of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). The bill, HB 2059, would require a licensed driver to be present and in the driver’s seat of any vehicle operating in autonomous mode. Although the bill has yet to be assigned to committee, OOIDA’s government affairs manager Mike Matousek wrote to Rep. Moon in support of the legislation, stating that “there are hundreds—or even thousands—of concerns that need to be addressed before a driverless vehicle of any size should be allowed to operate on public highways,” adding that having a licensed driver in the vehicle at all times would be a “simple solution.”

Passage of such a bill would exacerbate the already complicated patchwork of state laws on AVs, rather than providing a pathway for manufacturers to test and demonstrate the safety of their AVs. Moreover, the bill could present questions around the use of driver-assistive platooning technology in the state—which is of great appeal to the logistics and trucking industries, as it could contribute to fuel savings by reducing aerodynamic drag, lessen traffic congestion and improve highway safety. SAFE research estimates that the widespread use of existing platooning technology could save up to 20 billion gallons of diesel fuel through 2050.

Autonomous Yard Truck Startup Announces $53 Million In Funding
A Golden, Colorado-based startup called Outrider came out of stealth last week to announce that it had raised $53 million in seed and Series A funding. The company has developed a system that includes an electric distribution yard truck equipped with a full AV system, automating the manual aspect of yard operations, such as moving trailers around distribution yards as well as to and from loading docks. As there are 400,000 such distribution yards across the United States, acting as critical supply chain hubs, perfection and deployment of this technology would not only prove to be a lucrative investment, but significantly enhance productivity and reduce processing times at these crucial logistics nodes.

Outrider CEO Andrew Smith told TechCrunch that automating truck operations in distribution yards is an ideal demonstration and use of AV technology because they are well-defined areas that require a multitude of complex functions currently performed manually. “Because we’re getting people out of these yard environments, where there’s 80,000 pound vehicles, we’re delivering increased efficiency,” he said.