March 2, 2018 News of the Day: Waymo Self-Driving Cars May Soon Be Testing in San Antonio, Self-Driving Cars Are Allowed on Arizona Roads Without a Human Behind the Wheel

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【Summary】March 2, 2018 News of the Day

Eric Walz    Mar 02, 2018 4:38 PM PT
author: Eric Walz   

Waymo Self-Driving Cars May Soon Be Testing in San Antonio, Texas

The state of Texas was named an autonomous vehicle proving ground by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2016. The Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership was formed as a result of the designation and now includes the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the University of Texas at Austin's Center for Transportation Research and 32 other municipal and regional partners with a shared interest in the mobility and safety challenges of autonomous and connected vehicles on public roadways.

Because of the state's designation as an autonomous proving ground, major tech companies are looking at cities in Texas to test their autonomous cars, among them is Waymo.

San Antonio city officials acknowledged they were approached by two self-driving car companies about testing on its city streets. According to city staff, Waymo and the Silicon-Valley startup Drive.AI are the first to get in touch.

Waymo is one of the highest profile companies in the autonomous car arena and is owned by Google. Staff members contacted the city last month about expanding their testing here. Waymo has been scouting cities to expand its autonomous ride-hailing program and just announced that its self-driving fleet has reached 5 million miles traveled autonomously. Waymo is already testing self-driving cars in Austin, Phoenix, and Detroit.

"They (Waymo) kind of have a detailed process with their own [Request for Proposal]," said Art Reinhardt with the city's Transportation & Capital Improvement Department.

The city of San Antonio would need to apply to have Waymo cars tested on its streets, he said.

According to Office of Innovation Director Jose De La Cruz, the deadline to apply with Waymo is mid-April.

Fredericksburg Road, from the medical center to downtown San Antonio, was suggested as an ideal testing route by the city, because it was a busy thoroughfare that included cars, cyclists and pedestrians, all of which autonomous cars must contend with on the roads.

Waymo is one of the highest profile companies in the autonomous car arena and is owned by Alphabet. Staff members contacted the city last month about expanding their testing here.

During Tuesday's innovation and technology committee meeting, District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez said he would have to be convinced testing companies were safe and he could explain it to constituents before granting approval. Much of the proposed Fredericksburg Road route falls in councilman's district.

"What I said was that over my dead body would we see autonomous vehicles traversing roads in District 8 unless I have had an opportunity to put my hands on those vehicles and really understand this technology better," he said.

Pelaez said the fact that companies are looking for the city's blessing adds a sense of urgency for City Council and staff to educate themselves and prepare residents to see the cars on local roadways.

"I anticipate that you'll be seeing autonomous vehicles on city streets in 2018," he said.

City Council will consider applying to Waymo's testing program while exploring projects with other autonomous car companies in the next two months.

Gov. Doug Ducey: Self-Driving Cars Are Allowed on Arizona Roads Without a Human Behind the Wheel


PHOENIX — In response to California's new rule allowing autonomous cars to test on public roads without a human backup, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday moved to maintain Arizona's status as the most permissive state for self driving cars.

The governor issued a new executive order that makes it clear the robot cars don't need a driver behind the wheel if they follow all the traditional traffic laws and rules for cars and drivers.

Ducey initially issued his permissive order in 2015, prompting Uber, Waymo, General Motors and Intel start testing self-driving cars on public roads in the state. Currently, Waymo's self-driving minivans are operating there with no driver behind the wheel.

The executive order said that 600 autonomous cars with recognizable rooftop LiDAR, cameras and other equipment operate on public roads in Arizona today.

Waymo's Chrysler Pacifica minivans are a common sight in the city of Chandler, where Intel also tests its own autonomous technology. Uber's grey Volvo XC90 SUVs are testing near Arizona State University, while GM's autonomous cars operate mostly in south Scottsdale.

"As technology advances, our policies and priorities must adapt to remain competitive in today's economy," Ducey said in a statement. "This executive order embraces new technologies by creating an environment that supports autonomous vehicle innovation and maintains a focus on public safety."

Waymo is the only company currently operating autonomous vehicles with no one behind the wheel, though other companies hope to attain that goal.

"Arizona's support of innovation has allowed Waymo to remain focused on our mission to improve road safety by building the world's most experienced driver," Waymo said in a prepared statement.

"We are proud to be growing our operations in Chandler and look forward to launching our driverless ride-hailing service in the greater Phoenix area later this year."

Ducey's move follows a recent action by California regulators to permit self-driving cars with nobody behind the wheel starting April 2. Unlike California, Arizona does not require a special DMV permit for autonomous vehicles.

Uber shut down its San Francisco testing after California's DMV revoked the registrations of its self driving fleet of Volvos for not having the required autonomous testing permit. This prompted Uber to move its California autonomous test to Arizona, joining the group already there.

Ducey's new executive order notes that more than 37,000 people die annually in traffic accidents nationwide and that the aim of self-driving cars is to make the roads much safer.

The order says self-driving cars "with, or without, a person present in the vehicle" must follow all state and federal laws as well as regulations from the state Department of Transportation.

New Mercedes Benz A Class Ready for Car-Sharing


The new Mercedes Benz A Class is intended to be a more affordable entry into the Mercedes lineup, and the car is targeting younger, tech-savvy drivers. One notable feature is that the A-Class comes already setup for car-sharing between friends.

The Mercedes "me" service has proved particularly popular in Germany over recent years and will make sharing the new A-Class between friends, family and colleagues simple.

To use the service, owners of the new A-Class will simply need to install the smartphone app, which interacts with the Mercedes me communication module installed in the vehicle.

Users won't even need to be worried about keeping the vehicle key safe, because once the car is returned, the key can be left inside and the car can be locked remotely through the app.

For those drivers who do not want to carry around a car key, the A-Class has an optional ‘Digital Vehicle Key'. The feature, first launched in the E-Class, uses NFC and allows the vehicle to be opened, closed, and started through an NFC-enabled smart device.

In Germany alone, there is a big market for this technology. There are roughly 1.7 million people registered with car sharing providers, including rival Daimler's car2go.

GM Expands its Maven Car Sharing Service to Austin Texas


Imagine never needing to own or lease a car —you can just rent one as needed. That's what General Motors hopes more Americans will do, as it rolls out an all-electric fleet of vehicles for rent in Austin.

The Texas capita is the first U.S. city to host an all-electric fleet of cars that will be provided from Detroit-based Maven Drive LLC, an in-house startup by General Motors.

Twenty Chevrolet Bolt EVs are now available to residents of the Texas capital for $229 per week, plus taxes. That price includes the vehicle, unlimited miles, insurance and maintenance. Maven is already offering its car-sharing service in eight other U.S. cities, but Austin will have the first all-electric option.

The Maven Gig part of the service is marketed towards people driving for Uber of Lyft, working in what is known as the ‘gig economy'. With Maven Gig, a rental car can be used to drive for Uber, Lyft, or any other company—an attractive alternative to using their own vehicle to drive passengers in.

"We're taking emissions and congestion out of the city," said Julia Steyn, a General Motors vice president for urban mobility who also leads Maven. She arrived in Austin on March 1 for the electric-car rollout, and praised Austin city officials for being "incredibly open-minded."

The genesis of the partnership among Maven, Austin city officials and Austin Energy, the city's public electrical-power utility, began about two years ago when city officials applied for a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge. Maven supplied advice to the city during the application process.

"The city of Austin launched Electric Drive one year ago as an example of a sustainable mobility hub in the heart of downtown," said Mayor Steve Adler in a statement.

Electric Drive — a portion of West Second Street near an old power plant that is now hip office space — is Austin Energy's showcase for electric transportation. The so-called mobility hub features bike sharing, car sharing, access to the hike-and-bike trail and charging options for electric vehicles.

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