The Fuse

This Week in AVs: Regulators Seek Public Comment on AVs Without Steering Wheels; Ford and Waymo Expand AV Programs; and More

by Kristen Hernandez | March 22, 2019

U.S. regulators want public’s view on cars with no steering wheel, brakes

These regulatory proceedings are extremely important because they will set precedents on NHTSA’s views and requirements for AV safety.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is seeking public comment on two petitions relating to the deployment of autonomous vehicles without human controls and other traditional safety features that may be inapplicable for AVs. General Motors is requesting to deploy autonomous ridesharing vehicles without steering wheels or brake pedals while Nuro is petitioning to deploy low-speed, automated delivery vehicles without human occupants. The delivery vehicles would lack features such as a windshield and exterior mirrors. NHTSA has requested input on how the safety of these vehicles ought to be judged and their ultimate decision will likely impact planned deployments. These regulatory proceedings are extremely important because they will set precedents on NHTSA’s views and requirements for AV safety. Among other questions, NHTSA is asking for public input on the critical question of whether, for example, the safety of an AV without a steering wheel needs to be judged against a human-driven car, or against the safety of an AV with a steering wheel. Both GM and Nuro have essentially argued that since an AV with a steering wheel is legal under NHTSA regulations, their modified systems should be judged against that standard.

Ford, Waymo to expand self-driving programs
According to recent reports, both Waymo and Ford are expanding their autonomous vehicle tests. Ford is purportedly preparing to begin autonomous vehicle testing in Austin, which would be the fifth city in the automaker’s testing program after Detroit, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Waymo will be opening a new technical service center in Mesa, which will provide additional dispatch capacity as well as fleet maintenance, cleaning, and management. Waymo will be able to double its capacity in the Phoenix area as a result, while Ford is looking to launch their self-driving taxi and delivery service in 2021. These expansions will expose more of the public to self-driving technology as well as give vehicles familiarity with new locations, both of which will be significant in maximizing deployment potential.

Driverless trucks ride at night with TuSimple’s improved camera system
Autonomous trucking company TuSimple has announced the addition of an improved camera and vision system to their Level 4 self-driving trucks. This upgrade will allow the vehicles to operate at night, as well as in low-light conditions such as dark tunnels. It will also address other light-related issues, including sun flare at the beginning and end of the day and headlights. Allowing the company’s autonomous trucks to operate in these conditions could push average utilization to 80 percent, up from the current average of 50 percent. Increasing utilization represents progress towards a commercializable product.

Toyota doubles down on Nvidia tech for self-driving cars
Nvidia has announced this week that they have partnered with Toyota on a variety of autonomous technology. Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (TRI-AD) will be using Nvidia’s technology to train its deep neural networks and for testing, development, and deployment of its autonomous vehicles, building on an existing partnership between the two companies. Additionally, Toyota will be the first customer for Nvidia’s new Drive Constellation AV simulator. AV simulation can allow for testing of specific scenarios and edge cases in a controlled environment, which is a significant step in preparing autonomous vehicles to deal with complex situations on public roads.