Daimler embarks on self-driving race with San Francisco shuttles

By BLOOMBERG | 11 July 2018

FRANKFURT: Daimler AG plans to offer autonomous shuttles on public roads in California from next year, adding momentum to the global race for self-driving vehicles with technology giants like Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and rival BMW AG.

The service will start with a test fleet in the second half of 2019 in the San Francisco Bay Area, with users hailing vehicles via an app that’ll prompt the cars to come to them within a defined area, the German manufacturer and Robert Bosch GmbH said Wednesday in a joint statement.

The offering, if successful, will join Daimler’s suite of mobility services that includes car sharing, the Mytaxi ride-hailing service and moovel, an app that helps users decide how to get to their destination quickest.

Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler and Bosch, the world’s biggest car-component supplier, started working on autonomous vehicles last year. Wednesday’s announcement suggests the technology partners are speeding up plans from an initial target of taking robo-taxis to the road in 2023, as other major players aren’t far behind.

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By 2019, General Motors Co. expects to deploy electric Chevy Bolt robot taxis in big US cities. Ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies Inc. has also pledged to launch a fleet of self-driving Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicles in that time frame.

“The decisive factor is to introduce a safe, dependable and mature system,” said Michael Hafner, Daimler’s head of automated driving. “If in doubt, thoroughness comes before speed.”

While Waymo and GM pursue ambitious plans for road-worthy robo-taxi fleets, Daimler declined to say how many cars will roam the street on their own. Most shuttles will have a safety driver, the company said.

Another effort, backed by both Toyota Motor Corp. and BMW, has a driverless shuttle ferry workers from a parking garage in Detroit to their office. The slow-lane approach comes after several accidents, including an Uber test car killing a pedestrian in Arizona, prompted some companies to pause robo-taxi tests.

“Developing automated driving to a level ready for series production is like a decathlon,” Stephan Hoenle, a senior vice president in Bosch’s automated driving unit said in the statement. “It’s not enough to be good in one or two areas.”