Every human who gets down with the Gregorian calendar can celebrate New Year’s Day, that rare 24-hour stretch when soldiering through a hangover is expected, and precious little work gets done. Too bad that this year, they only got one day before it was back to work. Good thing WIRED’s transportation team was here to cover it all.
Jack provided context for Tesla’s (disappointing, but unsurprising) new production numbers. Alex took a look at secretive self-driving startup Aurora Innovation, which is finally striking some deals with major carmarkers. And I dug into the demise of open source mapping company Mapzen, and ask what’s next for digital cartographers. (Spoiler: They’ll only get more popular.)
Meanwhile, the team prepped for trips to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. Please hang out with us there. Or at least, hang out with us here, while we get you caught up on 2018’s first week of ups and downs.
Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week
After Google self-driving head Chris Urmson departed the super-charged autonomous vehicle unit in late 2016, he went a little silent. No longer: The opening bars of 2018 saw his year-old startup, Aurora Innovation, sign deals with Volkswagen and Hyundai, in order to get its software into commercial service. Driverless taxi and delivery service, long-haul shipping, even microtranist: Alex explains what the deals mean for the parties involved.
Tesla pushes back its production deadlines for the Model 3 once again, Jack reports. CEO Elon Musk had promised the company would grind out 5,000 cars by the end of 2017, then delayed the goal to March. Now it looks like Tesla won’t hit that number until the end of June.
Open source mapping, routing, and search company Mapzen announced it would shut down by February 1. Developers liked the four-year-old startup, owned by a Samsung subsidiary, for its oft-free, oft-pretty software tools, and now they have a few weeks to grab the open data they need before it goes dark. But this does not spell doom for the hot mapping sector, I report, thanks in part to self-driving cars.
America loves a good Ford F-150 pickup. A risky move, then, to sic some talented College for Creative Studies students in Detroit on the beloved design. But Ford did just that last fall, and Jack has the deets, including at least one single-seater and one modular design.
And just in case you missed WIRED’s bang-up end-of-year coverage: Alex looks at how we learn from history (specifically, the 1939 New York World’s Fair) to avoid making the transportation mistakes of yore; Jack argues the age of the electric car has finally arrived; and I zoom in on the subtle scaling back of self-driving car promises, and the hard engineering problems ahead.
New Vehicle-Related Phobia of the Week
I hate to do this to you so early in 2018. But a man in Sydney, Australia found a gigantic snake nestled under the hood of his car, along with a helpful note: “Hi this afternoon a red belly slithered up into front left tyre. Please be careful.”
News from elsewhere on the internet.
- Getting hyped for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas? So are Lyft and Aptiv, Delphi’s self-driving software spin-off. They’re offering autonomous rides during the tech gathering.
- Chinese autonomous vehicle giant Baidu and Blackberry—which serves as a platform for many in-car infotainment systems—announce a partnership. CNET reports Baidu gets to use the Blackberry product in its open-source AV platform, Apollo, while Blackberry gains access to Baidu’s smartphone integration and conversational artificial intelligence platform DuerOS.
- Half of new car registrations on Norway last year were hybrid or electric rides, Reuters reports. An exciting benchmark, sure, but Norway’s policies aren’t easy to mimic. The country makes enough money off oil and gas production to fund the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, which Reuters reports is worth $1 trillion—plenty to balance out the tax breaks that help grow Oslo’s ranks of Tesla drivers.
- Nissan wants in your brain. Next week, the carmaker will unveil its latest autonomous vehicle-adjacent tech, a cap that monitors brain activity and sends that info to steering, accelerations and braking systems. The result: A car that starts to do what you want before your hands begin to move.
- US car sales were down last year by about 30,000—nothing too ugly. But Jalopnik takes a deeper look and finds some unsettling stuff: Americans are putting themselves in more debt to buy cars, car defaults are surging, and gas prices may not stay cheap for much longer. Trouble it seems, is brewing.
In the Rearview
Essential Stories from WIRED’s canon
This time last year, Jack examined a trend that’s only picked up steam—official partnerships between different players in the self-driving space. But that was 2017. What business strategies does 2018 hold? Is this the year everyone decides to go at it alone?