Autonomous automakers make progress, leaving US regulators behind


WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 2 (Reuters) – Autonomous vehicle companies from Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) to General Motors Co’s (GM.N) Cruise are racing to start making money from their technology, surpassing the efforts of regulators and Congress to draft rules of conduct for robotic vehicles.

On Tuesday, Cruise said SoftBank Group Corp (9984.T) would invest an additional $1.35 billion in anticipation of Cruise launching robo-taxi business operations. Read more

Cruise needs a permit, from the California Public Utilities Commission, to start charging for rides around San Francisco in vehicles without a human driver.

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Cruise, Tesla, Alphabet Inc’s Waymo (GOOGL.O) and Aurora Innovation Inc (AUR.O) are among several companies aiming to deploy fully autonomous vehicle technology in the United States within two to three years, whether or not federal regulators provide a clear legal framework to do so. Autonomous vehicle (AV) startups and automakers are under pressure to start generating revenue from billions of dollars in engineering investments over the past decade.

The bill to create a national framework of rules governing autonomous vehicles remains stalled in Congress, despite industry lobbying. This left self-driving vehicle companies free to deploy robot taxis or self-driving trucks in some states, such as Arizona and Texas, but not others. Waymo has provided thousands of driverless robo-taxi rides in Phoenix, though service remains limited.

“Providing guardrails is helpful, federally,” said Chris Urmson, chief executive of automated vehicle technology company Aurora Innovation. “Today we have different regulations in all 50 states.”

Aurora is testing its Aurora Driver in Class 8 trucks, but so far it can’t run those trucks in California without a human driver. That cuts out a potentially rich market for self-driving truck companies hauling loads from Southern California to fulfillment centers east.

“We’re looking at the Port of Los Angeles … and the supply chain challenges that we’re seeing. There’s a real urgency for this technology” to address the shortage of truck drivers, Urmson told an audience at the Motor Show. Washington auto last month.

Broadcast industry lobbyist Ariel Wolf told a U.S. House of Representatives panel on Tuesday that self-driving trucks “won’t lead to mass layoffs.” Instead, he said, self-driving trucks making long-haul trips will allow human drivers to “spend more nights in their own beds rather than in a truck’s bunk.”

PROTECT JOBS

Unions, however, urged Congress to be skeptical.

“We stand to lose hundreds of thousands of frontline manufacturing and transportation jobs if Congress does not act decisively and the audiovisual industry remains completely unregulated,” the president said Tuesday. of the Transportation Workers Union, John Samuelsen, on the House panel.

Unions and litigators also want self-driving vehicle companies to disclose more crash data and other aspects of their systems.

“All workers deserve to know that an autonomous vehicle or bot traveling alongside them is safe enough to share the same road or worksite,” said Teamsters manager Doug Bloch.

In the absence of new laws tailored to automated vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which oversees vehicle safety in the United States, has offered voluntary guidelines and last year required companies to report accidents involving automated driving systems.

But the agency hasn’t released comprehensive standards for robot cars or trucks. The US Federal Aviation Administration has the authority to review new technologies before they are used in aircraft. But car manufacturers are free to certify themselves that an item is safe. NHTSA steps in if new features prove to be a safety hazard.

NHTSA officials have stepped up scrutiny of Tesla’s automated driving systems over the past year. The agency said on Tuesday it had pressed Tesla to modify a feature of its Full Self Driving, or FSD, automated driving system that allowed vehicles to continue through stop signs rather than come to a complete stop. So-called rolling stops are illegal.

In December, NHTSA opened a review of a feature that allowed Tesla models to play videos on dashboard screens, and last August opened a formal investigation into Autopilot driver assistance systems in 765s. 000 American vehicles after a series of incidents in which Teslas collided with emergency vehicles. .

Yet Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk made no mention of regulatory concerns during a January 26 investor call when he said the company may soon use an over-the-air software download to enable its vehicles to drive themselves and be used to provide autonomy. transportation services.

“I would be shocked if we didn’t achieve safer-than-human fully self-driving this year,” Musk said. When Tesla enables its vehicles to drive autonomously via an over-the-air software download, Musk said, vehicle owners could offer rides that “cost less than the subsidized value of a bus ticket.”

One potential avenue for industry and safety advocates involves voluntary agreements on standards, said David Harkey, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an industry-backed vehicle safety research body. insurance. Harkey said the IIHS could be part of such an effort.

“We have to get to the point where it’s not the Wild West anymore,” he said.

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Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington, Hyunjoo Jin in San Francisco and Joseph White in Detroit Writing by Joseph White Editing by Matthew Lewis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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