As self-driving vehicle experiments are launched in a few cities around the United States, Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler AG and a prominent auto supplier are launching a new one in the place that would seem most receptive: Silicon Valley.
Daimler and auto components maker Bosch will start a self-driving vehicle shuttle service in one of the cities south of San Francisco that comprises the heart of the nation’s tech industry beginning in the second half of 2019.
The move marks a concrete step forward for a partnership announced in April 2017 with the ultimate goal of delivering a self-driving car by 2021.
Daimler and Bosch will begin their service as a pilot project offering rides for free on “selected routes” to a limited number of customers, said Uwe Keller, head of autonomous driving for Daimler.
The partners also did not reveal the exact location of the pilot, saying they still are in negotiations with city officials.
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“The most urgent and difficult work is to develop a system which will work reliably, safely, daytime and nighttime under all circumstances and conditions,” said Michael Fausten, head of urban autonomous driving for Bosch.
The service would join several other real-world autonomous vehicle pilot projects open to the public in the United States. Companies conducting tests in cities so far include:
• Waymo: Google’s former self-driving car project is offering self-driving car rides in the Phoenix area and is set to expand its offering to Atlanta.
• General Motors: The nation’s largest automaker plans to offer a similar service in undisclosed cities in 2019.
• Uber: The ride-hailing service has some autonomous cars in Pittsburgh offering rides to passengers, though the company ended its Arizona program after a woman was killed in March when the vehicle and safety driver failed to notice her crossing the street at night.
Besides these major projects, multiple other limited-scope autonomous vehicle shuttles are in various locations throughout the United States.
Keller said it is too early to say how many vehicles will be involved in the Daimler-Bosch project.
Engineers are testing autonomous technologies on Mercedes S-Class luxury sedans and other vehicles, but it is unclear which will be featured in the pilot project.
Daimler and Bosch have engineers working together in Silicon Valley and around Stuttgart, Germany, where they are collaborating on self-driving vehicle technologies.
The pilot will be offered through an entity called Daimler Mobility Services.
Daimler and Bosch picked high-tech data processing company Nvidia as a key supplier for the project.
A rival alliance featuring BMW, Intel and Delphi also has set its sights on making a self-driving car by 2021. Most other automakers have self-driving cars in the works, as well.
Automakers are racing to be among the first that can field reliable, safe self-driving cars. No automakers or tech companies are ready for total autonomy, in which a car can handle any circumstance in any location at any time on its own.
Several, namely Waymo and GM, have debuted or announced vehicles that can handle most situations in environments that are digitally mapped in advance to help prevent incidents.