Add Intel to the list of companies working on self-driving cars. It just spent $15.3 billion purchasing Mobileye, a manufacturer of sensors used in autonomous cars. Intel’s CEO says he expects to have a complete hardware package ready for auto makers in 2024. Considering Ford’s promise to have fully autonomous cars on the road by 2021, that might be late, or it might just be more realistic.
Meanwhile, after much criticism from the industry, California has revised its proposed rules for self-driving cars. The original rules did not provide any possibility for testing of cars that did not allow a human override. This led Google and other companies to migrate their testing operations to Texas and other friendlier states.
Most states still don’t have any laws providing for self-driving cars, but because the people who wrote those laws never conceived of the possibility, most states also don’t outlaw them. Arizona, for example, has no law, and the governor “welcomes them with open arms.”
However, most states, including Arizona, require that a driver be at the wheel of a car, which is interpreted to mean someone ready to take over if the computer encounters something it can’t handle. The problem with that is that many autonomous car experts worry that it will be difficult to safely transition from computer-driven to human-driven, especially in an emergency situation, so they want to skip that stage and just have completely self-driving cars. Such cars can’t be tested in Arizona or other states that require a human at the controls. People hoped that California’s law would provide for such testing, so they were disappointed when the original rules failed to do so.
The list of companies working on some aspect of self-driving cars is now quite long. Automakers include BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mercedes, Nissan, Tesla, a somewhat reluctant Toyota, Volkswagen, Volvo, and no doubt several others. Smaller automakers such as Fiat-Chrysler and Subaru may rely on software from Apple or Google, computer hardware from Intel and Nvidia, and other auto parts from Bosch, Continental, and Delta, all of which have autonomous research programs.
Lyft (working with General Motors) and Uber have their own programs. Then there are companies that want to retrofit late-model cars to make them autonomous. No doubt there are many more, including several Chinese companies. This is turning into a real Nascar race, which can only be good for consumers and highway safety.