TRANSPORTATION AND LOGISTICS BRIEFING: Consumers apprehensive about self-driving cars — Update on self-driving regulations — New details on Tesla’s semi-truck

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Automakers and tech companies are
racing to develop self-driving cars, but consumers aren’t ready
to give up control of their cars to computers just yet. More than
half (55%) of 1,500 US and German consumers surveyed
recently by Gartner said that they would not ride in a fully
autonomous vehicle.

The survey found that consumers want the ability to
retake control of the car in case of a technology failure or
security breach:

  • Despite the concerns around fully autonomous vehicles,
    71% of the respondents said they’d ride in a semi-autonomous
    vehicle that they could control at their leisure.
  • The survey found that respondents were most concerned
    about the possibility of the car’s technology either failing
    outright or being confused by a specific situation.

    The second most common concern was the possibility that the car
    could get hacked.  

Public concerns about control over the car is one of the
reasons that some automakers are taking a gradual approach to
self-driving technology,
rolling out advanced driver
assist functionality first and then building up towards full
autonomy. Tesla, for instance, has been periodically updating its
Autopilot software with new capabilities, like self-parking, with
the intent of eventually making the system fully self-driving. It
will likely take decades of driving in semi-autonomous cars
before consumers are comfortable enough for automakers to build
fully autonomous cars without a steering wheel or pedals, the

final level
of autonomy.

However, semi-autonomous cars will require automakers to
rethink the driving experience.
Drivers will still need
to be aware of what’s happening on the road around them, and be
able to immediately take control of the car in case of emergency.
its Autopilot system late last year to warn drivers
three times if they take their hands off the steering wheel while
using the system. After the warnings, Autopilot’s automatic
steering function disengages, forcing the driver to take back the
wheel. These types of solutions highlight the problem of relying
on a driver in a semi-autonomous car — how to ensure drivers are
alert and can react quickly if danger arises. This
in handing off control between computer systems and
humans is why Google and others have been focusing on fully
autonomous cars that don’t rely at all on a human driver.
However, those cars will still need to provide humans the option
to take the wheel when they want to in order to make them
comfortable with riding in them.


Despite a concerted push by automakers and
tech companies to accelerate the development of self-driving car
regulations, it will likely take years before federal agencies
can release regulations for self-driving cars,
according to
Transport Topics News. A group of automakers
issued a statement on July 13 pressing Congress to direct the
National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) to
start drafting new regulations. Until now, the federal government
has left self-driving car regulation up to state officials,
leading to a confusing patchwork of state rules on the technology
and its use on public roads.

Congress has shown that it recognizes the need to amend
federal safety requirements to account for self-driving cars, and
momentum seems to be building for new legislation.

Earlier this summer, a bipartisan House panel
unanimously to move forward with new legislation that
would direct the Department of Transportation to create special
exemptions for automakers from current federal safety standards,
allowing them to expand their self-driving car tests. The bill
would also direct federal regulatory agencies to start work on
drafting new federal road safety rules for self-driving cars that
would override any conflicting state regulations.

However, it seems unlikely that federal agencies will be
able to quickly formulate new self-driving car regulations, even
with a push from Congress.
The NHTSA released
non-binding guidelines last September to provide some basic
safety protocols for companies testing self-driving cars, and
plans to update those this coming September. However, drafting
real regulations will require extensive field testing, as well as
reaching a consensus among various stakeholders, including car
companies and consumer advocacy groups.

Right now, the NHTSA lacks the budget and staff to
conduct such wide-ranging technical work and industry outreach to
form new regulations in anything less than five years,

former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook told Transport Topics
News. The administration remains without a director, and it seems
unlikely to get much support from the White House, which has let
its self-driving car task force fall
in recent months. This is bad news for automakers and
other companies developing self-driving technology, who may be
left dealing with a confusing web of state regulations as they
progress their testing efforts towards commercial launches.

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new details surrounding Tesla’s planned electric
semi-truck, which it is expected to unveil in September. The
vehicle will have a charging range of 200-300 miles, meaning that
the vehicle will be targeted towards regional hauling. That’s
according to Reuter’s source, an executive at fleet operator
Ryder System Inc. who said he spoke with Tesla earlier this year
about their trucking plans. Tesla itself declined to comment for
the story.

The 200-300-mile range is consistent with the battery
technology available today,
according to researchers who
spoke with Reuters. That would make the truck useful for
medium-range trips, such as moving goods from a port facility to
a nearby city, or from a distribution center to retail store
location. The market for such regional hauls has declined in
recent years, but still makes up about 30% of US trucking jobs,
according to Fleet Compete, which analyzes trucking industry

However, regional hauls are expected to play a larger
role in trucking going forward, and other truck manufacturers are
eyeing this market as well.
Earlier this year, Volvo

a new line of trucks, dubbed VNR, developed
specifically for regional hauling. That’s because regional trips
are expected to increase in the coming years as digital and
brick-and mortar retailers increase their warehouse networks to
store more goods closer to their customers. That will likely
reduce demand for long-haul trips, as well. Fuel cost are the
biggest expense regional trucking fleets face and that could give
Tesla’s all electric Semi a strong selling point. However, Tesla
has yet to reveal the vehicle’s price, which many in the industry

could be prohibitive.

In other news…

  • Kansas City is is
    for the future of transportation by embedding new
    sensors on its roadways with help from startup Integrated
    The sensors will collect data about city
    traffic and road use to help with road maintenance projects and
    efforts to reduce traffic congestion. The sensors will include
    channels for connectivity, allowing telecoms to eventually run
    5G networks through them. That could allow the sensors to share
    data with self-driving cars to provide more information about
    the cars’ surroundings and improve their navigation.
  • Amazon will
    its Amazon Locker program that lets customers pick
    up orders and drop off returns to some Whole Foods
    Amazon started the program back in 2011 to
    provide customers with an alternative to home delivery, and has
    since expanded the program to more than 2,000 locations in 50
    cities worldwide. Placing the lockers in Whole Foods locations
    could help Amazon drive its customers to those stores, which
    could lead to additional purchases during visits. This is the
    first clue Amazon has provided to how it will integrate Whole
    Foods locations into its extensive logistics network. It likely
    won’t be long until Amazon starts experimenting with other ways
    to further that integration, including delivering groceries
    from Whole Foods locations.
  • German politicians are
    the country’s automakers for not moving fast
    enough to make their cars more friendly to the
    The country’s automakers have been
    swamped by the 2015 Volkswagen emissions-cheating scandal that
    later spread to include other carmakers, and a recent poll
    found that two-thirds of German citizens believed the
    government was too lenient with the industry after the scandal
    broke. With elections coming up, German politicians, including
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have repeatedly scolded the
    automakers and promised to hold them to stricter fuel emissions
    standards. Merkel’s main challenger, Social Democratic Party
    chairman Martin Schulz, has promised to impose a quota for
    electric vehicles on the auto industry. That could be a
    significant burden on the country’s car industry, which still
    remains heavily reliant on sales of diesel-powered cars. 

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