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Automakers Want Free Hand to Test Autonomous Vehicles – But GOP Might Cut Out Federal, State Safety Regulators

Industry insists a freer hand will bring self-driving technology to market more quickly.

by on Jun.16, 2017

Waymo recently launched a pilot ride-sharing program in Phoenix using autonomous Chrysler minivans.

As they move closer to bringing autonomous and fully driverless vehicles to market, automakers and tech firms such as General Motors, Ford, Waymo and Tesla are pressing the federal government to loosen up regulations limiting the way they can test their prototypes on public roads.

Even before the Obama Administration concluded its second term, the feds were working up new autonomous guidelines. But now, under the Trump Administration, it appears Congress could give the auto industry even more freedom to move forward while limiting the power of both individual states and even federal safety regulators.

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Congress wants to “continue working with all parties in a bipartisan manner as we refine language and move forward towards a consensus package,” said U.S. Representative Bob Latta, chairman of a panel that oversees automotive regulations.

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Waymo Puts Firefly out to Autonomous Automotive Pasture

Tech giant retires little bubble cars in favor of Chrysler Pacificas.

by on Jun.14, 2017

Waymo is retiring the Firefly in favor of a more real-world vehicle: the Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

As Waymo, formerly known as Google’s autonomous vehicle program, continues to develop its self-driving vehicles, it’s clear that one part of the program won’t carry on: the Firefly, also known as Google’s “little marshmallow car” or a dozen other nicknames.

The company announced it plans to retire its fleet of “Fireflies,” the actual name of the quirky looking cars, instead focusing its fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans for further development.

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The small two-seat egg-shaped car introduced many to the idea of a self-driving car. In fact, the company took a legally blind passenger in Austin, Texas, on what it claimed was the world’s first actual autonomous trip. (more…)

Waymo Latest to Push into Self-Driving Trucks

Study Warns up to 70% of trucking jobs at risk.

by on Jun.05, 2017

A pair of Otto trucks carrying prototype autonomous Volvos being tested by Uber.

Waymo, the autonomous vehicle spin-off of Google, is the latest on an expanding list of companies looking to develop self-driving trucks.

Now a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent, Waymo said it believes that fully driverless trucks could take over long-haul duties in the future, though human drivers might continue to be needed for shorter routes, especially those involving pickup and deliveries. Other companies are looking at ways to go driverless even on short-haul routes.

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Separately, a new report from the International Transport Forum warned that anywhere from 50% to 70% of all trucking jobs could be eliminated by end of the next decade through the introduction of autonomous and driverless vehicles.

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Uber Fires Autonomous Vehicle Chief Levandowski

Latest twist in ongoing battle with Waymo.

by on May.31, 2017

Anthony Levandowski is seen here discussing autonomous vehicles while still with Google in 2011. Photo courtesy Shinygogo.

The ongoing battle between Uber and Waymo over allegedly stolen autonomous vehicle trade secrets took a new turn as the car-sharing giant fired the one-time head of its self-driving vehicle operations, Anthony Levandowski.

The 37-year-old engineer rose to prominence as head of autonomous operations at Waymo’s parent Google. He then went off to form his own company which, in turn, was purchased by Uber. Levandowski was subsequently accused of taking thousands of proprietary documents with him, material he has refused to turn over to the California court hearing the lawsuit filed by Waymo.

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Levandowski was sidetracked by Uber as a result of the ongoing lawsuit. The ride-sharing service told the court on Tuesday it has now fired the executive because he refused to comply with orders to turn over the documents. Levandowski’s attorney previously told the court he was refusing the order for fear it could lead to him facing criminal prosecution.

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Lyft Inks Autonomous Development Deal with Waymo

Judge issues ruling in Uber/Waymo court battle.

by on May.15, 2017

Waymo and Left are partnering up to help the ride-share company accelerate its goals autonomous vehicle goals.

The intensity of the driverless ride-share competition just ratcheted up a bit more with the new partnership between Lyft and Waymo.

Lyft officials believe the deal will accelerate its vision for transportation while Waymo sadi in a statement said a deal to launch self-driving pilots would accelerate its vision for transportation and said the partnership would let its technology reach “more people, in more places.”

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Neither offered many details of the agreement. Lyft is the second-largest ride-share service in the U.S. behind Uber, which has been developing its own self-driving vehicles while in the midst of a battle over industrial secrets with Waymo. (more…)

Judge Calls for Criminal Probe in Waymo/Uber Trade Secrets Case

A dangerous turn for Uber and key employee.

by on May.12, 2017

Uber could face the possibility of having its autonomous vehicle program shut down or slowed.

A trade secrets lawsuit filed by autonomous vehicle company Waymo may be taking a dangerous turn for ride-sharing service Uber.

The self-driving spin-off of Google has alleged that a former employee stole thousands of pages of confidential documents before leaving to set up his own company that, in turn, was sold to Uber. The case has, until now, been handled as a civil matter in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, but it could now turn into a criminal matter.

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While U.S. Judge William Alsup said he would take “no position,” he did declare that there is “ample evidence” that Anthony Levandowski breached his contract when leaving Waymo several years ago, something Judge Alsup said needed to be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice for possible prosecution.

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Are Privately Owned Cars Set to Vanish?

“Historic revolution” could see 95% of motorists turn to driverless, shared EVs.

by on May.04, 2017

Waymo is now offering to let the public check out its autonomous vehicles in Phoenix.

When Waymo, the autonomous vehicle spin-off of Google began offering to let Phoenix-area families try out its vehicle service last month it touched off what a new study is calling “a historic revolution in transportation.”

While the number of Americans using all forms of ride-sharing – autonomous or otherwise – is currently quite small, RethinkX, an independent think tank that looks at the impact of new technology says it will grow rapidly. By 2030, it predicts in its new report, 95% of the miles traveled in the U.S. will be in self-driving, shared electric vehicles.

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That’s a far more rapid transition than others have been predicting. A recent report by the Boston Consulting Group delivered a shock to many by forecasting 25% of U.S. miles would be driven in shared, driverless, electric vehicles by 2030. But “it’s time to adjust our thinking,” said Tony Seba, a co-author of the RethinkX study, “Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030: The Disruption of Transportation and the Collapse of the ICE Vehicle and Oil Industries.”

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Waymo Invites Public to Join Autonomous Test Program

First public test for Google’s self-driving vehicle spin-off is good news for FCA, as well.

by on Apr.25, 2017

One of the first Phoenix families to join the Waymo pilot climbs into an autonomous Chrysler Pacifica.

After eight years of testing Waymo is ready to go public, Google’s autonomous vehicle spin-off offering families in the Phoenix area the chance to try out its self-driving cars as part of a new pilot ride-sharing program.

The move brings the technology a step closer to becoming a day-to-day reality and coincides with efforts by other entrants into the fast-emerging field who are rapidly expanding the number of autonomous vehicles now on public roads. The pilot program could cement Waymo’s position as a leader in the technology while also giving a big boost to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the automaker that will now provide another 500 Pacifica plug-in hybrid minivans for use in the Arizona project.

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Waymo quietly began offering rides to a “handful of Phoenix, AZ residents…over the last month,” the Alphabet subsidiary’s CEO John Krafcik revealed in a statement issued overnight. “Now residents in the Phoenix area can apply” to join the trial, Waymo planning on “accepting hundreds of people with diverse backgrounds and transportation needs who want to ride and give feedback about Waymo’s self-driving cars.”

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Uber Refutes Google’s Stolen Intellectual Property Charges

Uber denies charges in latest court filings.

by on Apr.10, 2017

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick company issued a broad denial of charges leveled against it by Waymo in a recent court filing.

Uber, the ride-hailing company that is trying to change how people use cars, issued a broad denial of claims that it stole critical intellectual property originally developed by and for Google’s automated vehicle subsidiary Waymo.

The lawsuit filed by Waymo in February charges Uber is using intellectual property that was downloaded on a laptop computer by a former employee at Google, which now goes by the name Alphabet. The employee downloaded thousands of critical documents before leaving to launch his own self-driving startup, Otto, which was later acquired by Uber.

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The former Google employee, Anthony Lewandowski, now holds a critical role in Uber’s self-driving-vehicle unit, which the ride-hailing service said is key to the company’s future. (more…)

Ford Takes Lead in Race for Autonomous Vehicles

Waymo faces challenges bringing tech to market, cautions new study.

by on Apr.03, 2017

Ford's latest-gen autonomous Fusion prototype recently began testing in several locations.

In the race to put autonomous vehicles on the road, it’s not always those who were quick out of the gate who are taking the lead, finds a new study.

Ford Motor Co., which initially took a slow and cautious approach to self-driving technology, is now in the lead, according to Navigant Research, a firm that closely follows the development of high-tech automotive hardware and software.

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Like “many traditional OEMs,” said the Navigant study released today, Ford was “skeptical about the commercial prospects for automated driving,” but it has shifted its efforts into high gear since Mark Fields became CEO in mid-2014, and has since been making aggressive moves “through a combination of strategic investments and development of supporting business models.”

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