Self-Driving Cars Here — If You Know Where To Look

Self-driving car seems to be an idea that is always several years away from reality. But maybe we haven’t looked into it yet.

Follow the two women leading the commercialization effort self-driving car, the technology has evolved and is truly out — and while it may be limited to certain niches for now, they believe it could become a lot more ubiquitous in the next few years.

Jody Kelman oversees auto driving parts of the car sharing company Lyft, has been testing self-driving taxis in Las Vegas since 2018.

Aubrey Donnellan is Co-Founder and Managing Director at Robotics Flag Bear, retrofit tractors to make them self-propelled.

Kelman and Donnellan spoke to staff writer WIRED Aarian Marshall in WIRED HQ at CES, a virtual event that explores the standout gadgets, technologies and ideas on display at the massive trade show.

“It’s here—that’s good news,” Donnellan said when asked when self-driving car will come at last. “We have been in the market for a few years now.”

Open fields present fewer challenges for autonomous vehicles than congested roads, and thus limited forms of autonomy have become a feature of tractors in recent years. Donnellan said she hopes her company will produce more automated tractors in the next few years.

Bear flag acquired by agricultural equipment giant John Deere in August. At CES, Deere also announced its own fully automatic tractor, which could prompt more farmers to deploy robots in their fields.

Lyft, offers self-driving rides in Vegas in partnership with autonomous vehicle company MotivationKelman says, has shown that autonomy works in limited situations. Lyft users there can sometimes summon a self-driving car using the same app they use for other rides. Kelman said the company has completed more than 100,000 self-driving rides and plans to expand its offering of dedicated self-driving taxi services by 2023, as well as deploy more in other locations.

“What we’re going to see is this really starts in earnest next year,” Kelman said. But autonomy won’t be available everywhere at once. “This will happen in the pocket over time, in certain cities, in certain weather conditions, at certain times of the day.”

Lyft said in April that it would sell its self-driving subsidiary, Level 5, for Toyota subsidiary Woven Planet, but the company still has a product group dedicated to supporting autonomous driving and continues to work on the technology with other companies.

The development of self-driving cars has been marred by technical challenges posed by weather and other factorsand some efforts to promote technology development lead to a fatal accident.

Both Kelman and Donnellan say understanding how humans interact with autonomy will be critical to ensuring both the safety and success of adoptions. “Companies that are doing this, are worth their salt, ironically putting humans at the center of their robotic innovation,” said Donnellan.

According to Kelman, companies developing self-driving cars can not only learn from successes in other industries, such as agriculture, but also from each other. She points out that Motional shares data it collects from autonomous driving with other companies. She says that the approach, which is being developed in Europe, could accelerate the development of the technology.


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