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Automated Driving: A game of visionaries and realists

A snappy CES offering from the visionaries at Rinspeed

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Stephan Giesler
Stephan Giesler

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Hello, automated driving community! Something snappy in store for CES, California goes against the grain and Ford keeps our feet on the ground: we bring you this week’s key stories from the world of automated driving!

Rather than being dominated by a big breaking story, this week in AD was more a series of interesting sub-plots, each deserving of some attention. So let’s dive right in…

Just last month, GM had recommended a new rule to the Department of Motor Vehicles in the state of California that would allow car manufacturers to not be held liable for crashes if the vehicle hasn’t been maintained according to manufacturer specifications, i.e. if you haven’t cleaned your sensors or your tires are under-inflated for example.

But on this occasion, the usually liberal Californian DMV decided not to give way to GM’s proposal and ditched the rule. All well and good but as we know, the liability issues surrounding autonomous cars are complex. So, while automakers certainly shouldn’t be allowed to simply point to bad maintenance when the crash was really a result of a technical hitch, they also can’t be held liable for all subsequent consumer behavior once the car leaves the garage. It seems to me that it’s the DMV’s job to now find a reasonable middle ground.   

Let’s all just take a deep breath…

It’s that time of year again: yes, the time for mistletoe and wine but also for CES sneak previews. It seems Swiss car design firm Rinspeed, who are no strangers to forward thinking concept cars, will be debuting something pretty ‘out there’ again at the CES in January.

Rinspeed is set to reveal its Snap Mobility Concept – not so much a car but rather “an unparalleled mobility ecosystem.” It’s based on a modular driverless pod and chassis concept where standalone modules such as the "variable shopping pod”, “spacious camping pod" or even the "cozy cuddling pod" simply snap on to the “skateboard” chassis.  

In keeping with our story that the car’s interior will be a key element in the success of automated vehicles as well as the platform for new business models, Rinspeed has adorned the inside of the pods with copious amounts of tech. Each occupant can enjoy three screens displaying everything from personal information and media to route information and onboard movies. Not to mention a personal robot assistant to help you “run errands”.

Meanwhile, back on earth, one OEM is taking a refreshingly realistic stance on AD. Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. has come out and said that the firm isn’t in a rush to deliver self-driving cars to market. Still, this comes somewhat as a surprise after the claims of former CEO Mark Fields to have them on the roads by 2021. Interestingly enough, Fields was alleged to have ‘retired’ from his position because, amongst other things, AD development wasn’t progressing quite fast enough.

Speaking at the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, China, Ford highlighted the need to have “a discussion somewhere about ethics and trust,” (don’t worry Bill, we’re on it.) Again, as the curtain draws on another year, I reckon the industry is looking back on how far it has come – but on the other hand, putting on a more and more realistic view on how far there is still to go.

So long, drive safely (until cars are driverless), 

Stephan Giesler

Editor-in-Chief, 2025AD

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