After years of hearings, investigations, and states doing whatever they like in the absence of federal decision-making, self-driving car decrees flowed out of Washington, DC, this week like your data from Equifax.
The Department of Transportation updated its policy on automated vehicles. The National Transportation Safety Board released the results of a yearlong investigation into a deadly Tesla Autopilot crash. The Senate took on self-driving trucks, with a hearing that pitted the industry against the truckers who ply the nation’s highways. Transportation change is happening, and this country’s policymakers finally seem ready to tackle it.
Oh, and the Frankfurt Motor Show, the biggest in the world, kicked off this week with an unprecedented focus on electric driving. Missed it all? Let’s get you caught up.
Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week
- In January, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the government’s road safety watchdog, found electric carmaker Tesla was not at fault for a fatal crash involving Autopilot, its semiautonomous driver assist feature. This week, the NTSB disagreed, I reported. The independent board doesn’t have the power to make rules but recommended that Tesla and automakers building semiautonomous features get better at guaranteeing drivers stay engaged at the wheel—even when the car is driving itself. The board also asked NHTSA to up its regulatory game just a few hours before the agency released a policy that backed away from steadfast oversight. Awkward!
- If the feds’ increased involvement in self-driving cars doesn’t convince you they’re coming, talk to General Motors. On Monday, the carmaker announced it had built the first production autonomous vehicle in the world. The “Generation 3” is a Chevy Bolt EV with a bunch of new parts and more redundant systems, so it doesn’t need a human driver to back it up if, say, something goes wrong with the brakes. Just one problem: GM hasn’t perfected the software that would make this thing actually self-drive. At least it got the easy part out of the way? I got the lowdown.
- Yeah, self-driving software is hard, but a new long-distance infrared camera from the company AdaSky should make it easier for the vehicles to detect what’s going on around them, Jack tells us. This new sensor will help cars perceive living things around them, with heat signatures picking out skin n’bone humans and animals.
- Self-driving cars will have to talk to people too, which is why a team of researchers dressed as car seats to gauge how pedestrians, cyclists, and walkers react to vehicles when they don’t see drivers inside. I reported on the Ford-funded study, an early stab at creating an industry-wide standard for a new AV language.
- Or, screw driverless! Lee Simmons takes on the driverful car, a concept from artist (and WIRED Jargon Watch columnist) Jonathan Keats that questions the oft-cited inevitability of autonomy. Keats’ vehicle seeks to merge man and machine with an immersive sound experience matching music to action—faster speed, for example, faster music.
- Big car companies think, at least, lots of people still want to drive. Alex takes us inside the new BMW i Vision Dynamics, the latest Tesla challenger. The four-door electric has a 373-mile range and a top speed of 120 mph. Watch out, Elon.
- If you’re more of a 200 mph+ person, you’ll like the Mercedes Project One that debuted in Frankfurt, Germany. Thanks to a very small but very smart 1.6-liter V6 engine and a quartet of electric motors, this F1-flavored car tops out at 217 mph and goes from 0 to 60 in 2.6 seconds. Eric Adams has all the engineering deets, which almost justify its $2.8 million price tag.
The “Caption That GIF” Contest of the Week
This is a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute researcher fastening himself into a car seat costume so he can study human reactions to autonomous vehicles. But it’s also a metaphor for … something. Please send suggestions to @AarianMarshall. There are no prizes.
News from elsewhere on the internet.
- China is mulling a ban on fossil fuel-guzzling vehicles, Forbes reports. It would join the UK and France as the latest big country to promise a phaseout on internal combustion engines. China already purchases half the world’s electric vehicles, and its pollution levels compete with India and Pakistan for top (bottom?) spot.
- Reuters reports on a big announcement from South Korean electronics company Samsung: It’s getting into self-driving cars. The company believes it has an inside track thanks to its recent acquisition of the audio and auto supplier Harman, which gives the company an in with big-time carmakers.
- Teamsters head James P. Hoffa tells Congress that self-driving trucks pose a threat to American road safety—and the jobs of the 600,000 truck drivers represented by the union.
- Watch out, potential car buyers: The Detroit Free Press says 60 cars caught up in the Volkswagen diesel scandal were stolen out of a Michigan lot, given fake titles, and are probably on the market somewhere in Indiana.
- Mark your calendars—Elon Musk says Tesla will probably unveil its “beast” of semi-truck on October 26.
Please tip your local transportation reporters: @adavies47, @stewart_jack and @AarianMarshall.