The Fuse

This Week in AVs: First AV Service Launched in New York State; Robo-Charging AV Pilot Established; and More

by Stefan Broekhuizen | August 08, 2019

Electrify America and Stable Partnering on Robotic Chargers for Autonomous Electric Vehicles
Electrify America is collaborating with electric vehicle charging company Stable Auto to pilot a fast-charging facility for electric, autonomous vehicles in San Francisco, where Stable is based. In order to charge the vehicles without human intervention, Stable will pair its robotic technology and advanced scheduling software with two of Electrify America’s 150-kilowatt DC fast chargers, supplied for the purpose. Stable will oversee the project, which will take place at its own facility; this will be Stable’s first autonomous commercial charging station. The companies expect the site to open in early 2020. Wayne Killen, director for infrastructure planning and business development for Electrify America, said that “Autonomous vehicles will play an important role in the future of driving, particularly with fleets, and tailored charging options for self-driving EVs will be critical to develop that effort. We’re excited to partner with Stable to be at the forefront of learning more and developing those charging solutions.”

Electrify America’s partnership with Stable is an encouraging sign for the future of autonomous vehicles. To maximize their environmental benefits, AVs will need to be electric; this will necessitate a ubiquitous fleet-charging infrastructure. However, despite recent advancements—Nissan and Evgo announced they will build an additional 200 fast-charging stations in the US, and a proposed highway infrastructure bill includes $1 billion in grants for alternative fuel infrastructure—this network is currently lacking in scope. Further investments are imperative to build the kind of charging infrastructure a fleet of electric AVs will need.

Optimus Ride Launches New York State’s First Commercial Self-Driving Vehicle System
Boston-based self-driving technology startup Optimus Ride is launching an autonomous shuttle service in Brooklyn Navy Yard this week. The 300-acre development hosts over 400 manufacturing businesses and 10,000 onsite employees. Between 7:00 AM and 10:30 PM, six of Optimus Ride’s autonomous shuttles will run between the NYC Ferry stop at Dock 72 and the Yard’s Cumberland Gate at Flushing Avenue; Optimus Ride estimates that the shuttles will transport 500 commuters a day and over 16,000 a month. The free service will initially operate with both a safety driver and software operator on board.

Optimus Ride estimates that the shuttles will transport 500 commuters a day and over 16,000 a month

Optimus Ride’s shuttle service, if successful, has the potential to significantly accelerate public acceptance of AVs. A recent J.D. Power survey showed that most consumers are unexcited about autonomous vehicles, making clear that proponents of self-driving technology must win consumers’ trust before large-scale deployment; by performing well in a thriving business hub, Optimus Ride’s autonomous shuttles can advance that goal. As Dr. Ryan Chin, CEO and co-founder of Optimus Ride, expressed, “Our system will provide access to and experience with autonomy for thousands of people, helping to increase acceptance and confidence of this new technology, which helps move the overall industry forward.”

DiDi Chuxing Upgrades Its Autonomous Driving Unit into an Independent Company
Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing has made its self-driving division an independent company. According to a press release, Didi made the decision so the new company can “focus on R&D, product application, and business development related to autonomous driving technologies.” The new company will employ the over 200 existing staff Didi’s self-driving unit assembled since its inception in 2016, as well as several current Didi executives, who will assume leadership roles in the newly independent venture while retaining their current positions. The new company will also “integrate the resources and technological advantages of DiDi’s platform, continue to increase investment in R&D of core innovative technologies, and deepen collaboration with upstream and downstream auto industry partners.”

The new company will employ the over 200 existing staff at Didi’s self-driving unit, as well as several current Didi executives

Didi’s decision to make its autonomous driving unit an independent entity is more broadly indicative of Chinese efforts to compete in the AV sphere: this week, Chinese tech giant Baidu partnered with software company Electrobit to design automotive infrastructure software for Baidu’s autonomous driving platform; last month, another major Chinese tech company, Tencent, agreed to create a data computing and storage platform for BMW’s AVs. Such developments—among others—illustrate China’s determination not to be left behind in the global AV race.

The Intersection of Housing Trends and AVs
Urban families looking to purchase second homes are increasingly turning their sights toward suburbs. Traffic is among the primary motivators behind this trend: trips from city centers to beach houses or similarly distant second homes can take up to six hours or more, one-way, curbing significantly the length of time people can spend at their weekend getaways. As a result, city-dwellers across the United States are buying second properties in relatively nearby suburbs, often reachable in an hour or so from their usual urban residence. Proponents claim that they can enjoy both the vibrancy and immediacy of city life, as well as the relative relaxation and openness of suburbia, without the prohibitively long drive.

This trend is partially enabled by transportation and logistics innovations which have made it easier to live without a car (e.g. ride-hailing and on-demand delivery). There has been a long-running debate about whether AVs would encourage dense urban living or sprawl; this article shows the impacts may be more nuanced than either of those simplistic extremes.