The unbridled optimism of the last couple of years gives way to reality in 2019 about the arrival of self-driving cars on a mass scale, while smaller deployments proliferate.
While the last couple of years saw much optimism and enthusiasm about the driverless-car technology becoming mainstream very quickly, 2019 saw a shift in the public discourse back to reality and tempered expectations.
“Despite high hopes, self-driving cars are way in the future,” announced a front-page story in The New York Times in July.
“A year ago, Detroit and Silicon Valley had visions of putting thousands of self-driving taxis on the road in 2019, ushering in an age of driverless cars,” Neal E. Boudette began telling the story in The Times. “Most of those cars have yet to arrive—and it is likely to be years before they do.”
The article cited Ford and Volkswagen’s plans to team up on driverless-car technology, spoke of Waymo and GM’s reluctance to say when they will roll out more self-driving vehicles, and quoted Ford CEO Jim Hackett saying, “We overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles.”
In the meanwhile, some companies are looking to utilize self-driving vehicles in more controlled settings on a smaller scale. May Mobility focuses on operating autonomous shuttles in Detroit (MI), Providence (RI) and Columbus (OH). The six-passenger golf carts travel short, defined routes at low speeds, and provide public transportation where none is available.
“Our focus is, how can we use the technology today?” Alisyn Malek, May Mobility’s chief operating officer, told The Times. “We realize that today we have to start somewhere.”
That’s similar to what Optimus Ride launched in New York City’s Brooklyn Navy Yard in early August. The city’s first self-driving shuttle service is made up of a half dozen six-seater electric vehicles that operate within the 300 acres of the private property, providing public transportation to the ferry dock located on the East River.
“These types of modest deployments are likely to become more common, especially as the big companies that are spending billions of dollars to build and operate self-driving cars are forced to rein in expectations about their readiness,” The Verge noted.
“Optimus Ride calls to mind similar services that are available from startups like Voyage in retirement communities in California and Florida or Drive.ai in Frisco, Texas: mostly low-speed autonomous vehicles in tightly controlled, geofenced areas with an operations team in constant communication with the cars.”
Also in early August, Silicon-Valley-based Kodiak Robotics opened a Dallas office and announced it will launch a self-driving truck hauling service between Dallas and Houston.
“Kodiak is far from the only robotic truck venture to cast its eyes upon Texas. Almost every player in the automated trucking space—San-Diego-based TuSimple, the “truck platooning” company Peloton Technology, the San Francisco startups Embark and Starsky Robotics—has either tested or made commercial runs in the state,” Wired Reports. “The truck developers come for the regulations. In 2017, the Texas legislature passed a pair of bills legalizing both driverless vehicles and platooning trucks.”
Perhaps reining in expectations and focusing on smaller deployments of self-driving vehicles is a good thing. It will allow insurers to properly plan and develop the new products and offerings that the future of auto insurance will demand.