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No summer break for driverless car pioneers

Feeling the heat? Waymo carries out thermal testing in the desert (Photo: Waymo)

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Kate Mann
Kate Mann
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Hello, automated driving community! Stateside, self-driving cars are pushed to the limit in a national park, a U.S. House panel approves a broad proposal on driverless safety standards and a Californian start-up receives a significant cash injection - we bring you this week’s key stories from the world of automated driving!

Something unusual happened this week. Politicians agreed. Even more unusual, Democrats and Republicans agreed. During a hearing by the House Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection, the panel approved a sweeping proposal by voice vote to allow automakers to deploy up to 100,000 self-driving vehicles, without adhering to existing safety standards. The proposal also suggests that individual states should be barred from introducing their own driverless car rules. While critics have been quick to call out the influence of the automotive industry lobby on the decision, others have welcomed the move to bring self-driving cars to market sooner in light of a growing number of traffic fatalities. The full House of Representatives is set to vote on the bill when it reconvenes in September.  

Hot off the press: Waymo’s self-driving car trials

For some, there is no such thing as a summer break. In fact, the warmer weather presents an opportunity. Given that extreme conditions can be a significant hurdle for self-driving technology, Alphabet’s Waymo decided to turn up the heat. After a year of trials in simulated and real-life scenarios, the company took their fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to one of the hottest places on Earth: Death Valley. Luckily, it seems any PR glitches regarding the name of the chosen location were avoided. In a new blog piece, Waymo explains that while testing in hot temperatures is standard for all cars, it is especially critical for autonomous vehicles given the additional heat their systems generate. They liken the scenario to a smart phone shutting down on a hot day. The successful trial involved three scenarios: idling for long periods of time, slope roads and stop-and-go traffic. Even though the latter test took place on the Las Vegas Strip, it seems in this case Waymo is taking no chances.  

$159 million: believe it or Nauto

Elsewhere in the west, one automotive tech start-up won big this week. Founded in California in April 2015, Nauto has developed a multi-sensor device to detect collisions, monitor risk maneuvers and track driver behavior in real time. The technology is considered important for Level 3 and Level 4 automation. Using a combination of artificial intelligence, cameras, motion sensors and GPS, the cutting-edge technology has now caught the attention of big investors. The result? A million-dollar financing round led by SoftBank and venture capital firm Greylock Partners, together with BMW iVentures, General Motors Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures and the venture arm of Allianz. Nauto has stated that it will use the money - $159 million to be precise - to further develop the product and install it in vehicles around the world.

Speaking of partnerships, more details of Baidu’s Apollo project are also now emerging. As we recently reported, the Chinese internet giant is collaborating with more than 50 companies to develop an open self-driving platform. Among them, the Microsoft Corporation. While so far little had been said about the partnership, a recent press release from the multinational tech corporation announced joint plans to explore opportunities to deliver connected vehicle solutions and provide its Azure cloud infrastructure to companies using Baidu's self-driving platform outside China. Shifting the scope of the project to global, this development might be one small step for Microsoft, but it’s a giant leap for Baidu.

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

Kate Mann

Editor, 2025AD

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