By the time Google gets to Phoenix, I’ll be sleeping (at the wheel)

Turn your back for a minute on the autonomous-vehicle revolution and a whole slew of reports on the latest advancements comes in from all four corners of the globe, including big news from Google.

Take today’s offerings, for example:

“A fleet of trucks just drove themselves across Europe,” exclaimed the headline in Quartz.

 Reuters weighed in with: “Volvo plans to test up to 100 self-driving cars in China experiment.”

And then Google announced plans to expand its own self-driving project.

And that’s just this morning!

With the explosion in innovation in the autonomous-vehicle field rippling out from places like nearby Mountain View, where Google has been testing driverless cars now for some time, it seems not a week passes without some auto manufacturer or tech giant or municipality or big government pushing the autonomous envelope with more and more “tests.”

Eventually, one would surmise, you test something enough times and you end up with a fully tested product ready for prime time.

Let’s start with the news from China, where Volvo, as we speak, is poking around, looking for a city that would be agreeable to the Swedish automaker’s proposal to launch up to 100 self-driving cars, an idea it unveiled earlier today at a Beijing event lead by Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson.

The planned autonomous drive experiment will see local drivers test the cars on public roads in everyday conditions, and will be conducted in limited driving situations such as on express roads and highways, company executives told Reuters.

“I think we need to build up (consumer) trust in the technology,” Samuelsson said. “So you have to bring it out and demonstrate it.”

Volvo is taking China up on its word that the county intends to play a big-time role in this new technology. Being the world’s largest auto market comes brings the country a certain gravitas. So Samuelsson was keen to take an equally big first-mover step into this car-crazed culture.

The move is part of the Swedish company’s efforts to take advantage of the pledges central government policymakers in China, the world’s biggest auto market, have made to embrace futuristic technologies such as self-driving cars.

Volvo, wholly owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co [GEELY.UL], is currently scouting for a city that could provide the necessary permissions, regulations and infrastructure to allow the experiment to go ahead, the company said.

“It has to be a big city where there are lots of consumers… wasting an hour a day in the cars (sitting in traffic),” Samuelsson said. “That’s I think realistically where this function can be sold commercially.”

Then there’s the story from Quartz  about a fleet of trucks from Volvo and Daimler that recently completely a European road trip that would have been fun to take part in, assuming one of the non-existent truckers would have let you come along for the ride. Quartz called the experiment “the first such major exercise on the continent”:

The trucks set off from their bases in three European countries and completed their journeys in Rotterdam in the Netherlands today (Apr. 6). One set of trucks, made by the Volkswagen subsidiary Scania, traveled more than 2,000 km and crossed four borders to get there.

The trucks were taking part in the European Truck Platooning Challenge, organized by the Dutch government as one of the big events for its 2016 presidency of the European Union. While self-driving cars from Google or Ford get most of the credit for capturing the public imagination, commercial uses for autonomous or nearly autonomous vehicles, like tractors from John Deere, have been quietly putting the concept to work in a business setting.

Here’s a video of the road trip: (Check it out to the end, if only for the sheer exuberance of the organizers, the cool jazz trio, and the very animated opera singer welcoming the trucks to Rotterdam!)

Meanwhile, here back at home in Silicon Valley, Google announced it was expanding its own driverless-car experiment to Phoenix. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said it was branching out, bringing its cars to that sprawling metro area in the Sonoran Desert. This would make Phoenix the fourth U.S. city to be used as a testing-ground for one of the coolest, if controversial, tech developments in years. Google cars have been a familiar feature on the streets of Mountain View for six years now, while the vehicles began doing their thing last summer in oh-so-hip Austin, Texas. Then last month, Kirkland, Washington, joined the roster.

And now Phoenix.

And to paraphrase the legendary crooner Glen Campbell, by the time Google’s driverless cars get to Phoenix, let’s hope someone monitoring these human-less experiments stops at lunch and gives us a call. Just to be sure.

Photo:  A Google self-driving car in 2012. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)


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