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This blog posted was originally published on 1 April 2021 as part of our April Fool’s newsletter. It is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
If you’ve been keeping up with the race to self-driving cars as we have, last week’s news may have come as a bit of a surprise. A JV surprisingly consisting of autonomous competitors Waymo, Audi, Cruise, Tesla, Uber, and PSA Group (provisionally calling itself WACT-UP) has created a vehicle that has achieved sustained SAE level 5 performance. While we’re all waiting for test results and initial certification proof expected from the ADOT, we wanted to discuss some of the things that have been publicly shared so far.
So far, testing has been successful for over 14 days straight. I can’t say I’m terribly impressed thus far. While that’s a great start, one vehicle for two weeks is far shy of what will be needed to prove out roadworthiness. There must be significant other test data the JV has provided to ADOT that has fast-tracked their full roadway access certification. If so, that hasn’t been released (and no mention thus far that it is forthcoming).
Waymo won out here, as they’ve appeared to use a Chrysler Pacifica for the maiden test runs. What isn’t very clear however is this line in the press release:
“All parties have contributed their own, independent, self-driving system to the test vehicle.”
It almost sounds like the car might be sporting six individual autonomous systems, all working in parallel. That would have a significant advantage for redundancy, as well as increasing the safety factor. However, it doesn’t seem like an energy efficient strategy.
One of the clues that the car may in fact be running all these autonomous systems independently is the stated weight. They’ve quoted a staggering 10,055 pounds, which seems to be over the Pacifica’s max towing capacity. That also implies that there isn’t room for passengers or non-autonomous gear in the initial configuration.
Another clue is the power draw, since another line in the press release says, “The vehicle was always instructed to return to the charging station after travelling 1km to ensure the batteries were not exhausted mid-run.” That sort of a drive would probably indicate a higher power draw than just a solo system.
The test track was located in the Sonora desert. They may have dusted off (quite literally) the old DARPA’s Grand Challenge stomping grounds for these tests. It’s a bit of a concern that the car doesn’t seem like it was tested on highways or even paved roads. Certainly, there were no pedestrians other than the occasional test engineer. Nor were there highway signs, traffic lights, sidewalk curbs, merge, roundabouts, or other expected test conditions. Other than nostalgia, it’s hard to imagine why they chose such a remote location for such a big splash announcement.
They also mentioned a max speed of 5kph. The press release gave several rationale as to the low speeds (vehicle getting bound up in the sand, competing lidar reflections, motor torque exceeding recommended heat, conflicting drive-by-wire commands, start/stop due to snake detection), but nowhere was it discussed if there was a plan to solve these issues and test the vehicle closer to highway speeds.
L5 is here! It does seem to come with a handful of minor issues that need sorting first. A bit more testing, perhaps. And a loosening of some of the restrictions (namely, the ability to carry a passenger as a starter). But it’s finally here!