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Wednesday, 08 April 2020 17:23

Coronavirus Puts Ambitious Plans for Self-Driving Cars on the Shelf

Written by Joann Muller, Axios
Coronavirus Puts Ambitious Plans for Self-Driving Cars on the Shelf Sarah Grillo/Axios


In two weeks, the coronavirus has brought the entire U.S. auto industry to a screeching halt. When it finally sputters back to life, many companies may be forced to change, defer---or even abandon---their ambitious plans for self-driving vehicles.

The big picture: Auto factories are shut down across North America to prevent the spread of the virus among workers, while stay-at-home orders have kept car shoppers away from showrooms. The resulting financial shock means carmakers have shifted their focus to survival, not investing in expensive technologies with no clear payoff.


The uncomfortable truth about self-driving cars is that there's no clear business model yet.


Most carmakers, tech giants and startups racing to develop the technology assume urban robotaxis are a good place to start, because their 24/7 operation makes the economics work better.


But after this pandemic, shared anything seems less appealing, especially a car where there's no driver available to disinfect between passengers.


Spray disinfectants and ultraviolet lighting, along with antimicrobial materials, could help, along with more voice commands to replace touchscreens.


Even so, "I think there's a very good chance that autonomy for robotaxis may be reexamined," said Gartner Group Vice President Mike Ramsey.


Autonomous delivery seems made for a pandemic like this, on the other hand. People who are afraid to go out have discovered the convenience of home delivery in huge numbers.


Small delivery robots like Starship, Kiwibot and Amazon's Scout were already piloting delivery services before the coronavirus hit.


Nuro, whose low-speed driverless delivery vans just received federal approval, could be the beneficiary of exquisite timing.

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