Late last month, dozens of automotive and tech journalists across the country got the digital equivalent of a golden ticket in their inbox: an invitation from Waymo to go “Behind Castle Walls.” This week, Alex joined that lucky cohort on an oh-so-rare tour of the abandoned Air Force base where engineers at Waymo (formerly known as Google’s self-driving car project) subject their robocars to crafty tests, all in the name of safer driving. Just like Charlie Bucket’s exploration of the chocolate factory, this tour was revealing not just for what he saw—but in what
Willy Wonka Waymo wouldn’t tell him.
Meanwhile, Jack took a look into the problems that have kept Tesla from producing as many Model 3 cars as Elon Musk had promised, and I got an exclusive sneak preview of how urban designers think US cities should reshape themselves to welcome self-driving cars as well as people.
It’s been a week of revelations, so let’s get you caught up.
Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week
- Roundabouts, piles of rocks, sudden volleys of cardboard boxes—such are the obstacles Waymo’s self-driving cars face inside the company’s secretive California testing ground. Alex got a look at the passenger experience Waymo has planned, once it decides to finally let members of the public inside these things. But company still won’t answer questions a bunch of questions: When will that be? Where? And how is Waymo going to make money off these things, anyway?
- Tesla’s also facing a ton of questions, after missing its quarterly production goals by a cool 80 percent. But on an earnings call this week, CEO Elon Musk pledged to right the semiautonomous ship/car. Jack asks: How patient will shareholders be?
- OK, so this self-driving bus concept from design studio Teague is a well-researched solution in need of a problem. But it’s also an excellent litmus test for autonomous tech. Once parents are sticking their kids in driverless buses, you’ll know the age of autonomy has arrived.
- Urban planners worry autonomous vehicles might make life worse, pushing cities to double-down on car travel instead of environmentally friendly, active transportation alternatives, like biking and walking. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Cities are already starting to think about creating streets for self-driving cars—but mostly, for the humans who will use them.
- Figuring out how AVs will interact with their environments is hard in the US. It’s even harder in developing countries, which have their own driving cultures and conventions. Kaveh Waddell talks to autonomy experts about what will need to happen before driverless cars can tackle a city like Beirut, Lebanon, where he lives.
Spooky Halloween Costume of the Week
This week, transportation nerds gathered at the National Association of City Transportation Officials conference in Chicago, and they did not let Halloween go to waste. Paul Supawanich, a transportation planner with the public transit software startup Remix, costumed himself as the more frightening transportation specter of all: a ticket vending machine that doesn’t give change.
News from elsewhere on the internet.
- After this week’s terror attack in New York City, CityLab’s Laura Bliss argues vehicular attacks aren’t inevitable. Structures like barricades, speed humps, and narrowed lanes could help protect urban pedestrians and cyclists when the worst happens—and on regular days, too.
- As the first barrage of autonomous vehicle legislation wends its way through Congress, the National Highway Safety Administration says it’s looking for help tracking down the “unnecessary regulatory barriers” standing in the way of this tech’s development.
- NHTSA might also nix proposed regulations requiring automakers to equip their vehicles with tech that would help them “talk” to each other. Safety advocates say this will help prevent road deaths, even before self-driving arrives, but others complain it’s too expensive, and that cheaper options are in the pipeline.
- As China’s electric vehicle market gets a kick in the bumper from the country’s regulators, entrepreneurs are trying to figure out how to recycle batteries. It could be a $4.68 billion market by 2023, assuming these folks can figure out how to keep waste treatment and other costs down.
In the Rearview
Essential stories from WIRED’s canon.
Speaking of touring chocolate factories: Check out this vintage Alex Davies peek behind the scenes at General Motors, and its race to build a mass market electric car. OK, it’s from February 2016. But that feels like an eternity ago, right?