Supplier's initiative to be similar to its service in Singapore
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Delphi Automotive expects to announce plans for a new self-driving taxi service in a U.S. city -- most likely Boston or Pittsburgh -- within the next month or so.
The company had planned to announce the service late last year but needed more time to negotiate with potential partners, said Glen De Vos, Delphi's chief technology officer.
"We are going through the final application process, and we expect approval in the next four weeks or so," De Vos told Automotive News. "In the U.S., we'd like to kick off the service in September."
In June, Delphi will follow up with an announcement of a taxi service in Europe — most likely in Luxembourg or France, De Vos said.
Delphi's U.S. initiative will be similar to the ride-hailing service that it launched in August in Singapore. In that city, Delphi operates a single Audi SQ5 crossover guided by an array of lidar, cameras and radar sensors.
In July, Delphi plans to add two more vehicles to its Singapore fleet, plus an additional pair of vehicles early next year. The Singapore taxis are to carry a trained driver to keep an eye on things. Delphi hopes to begin running vehicles without drivers in 2019.
Late this year or early next year, Delphi will switch over to electric vehicles, De Vos said. He did not identify the model EV of choice.
Ride-hailing services have emerged as the preferred way to test self-driving vehicle technologies. Google has operated a fleet at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., while Uber is fielding a taxi fleet in Pittsburgh.
Taxi fleets offer a good test for the initial wave of automated vehicles, De Vos said. Fleet operators are more willing to pay extra for new technology because it allows them to eliminate the cost of human drivers. Central command centers can monitor the vehicles, and they can schedule regular maintenance checks for their lidar, cameras and radar.
Equally important, untrained motorists would not be allowed in the driver's seat.
"When they re-engage, will they do something stupid?" De Vos asked of untrained drivers of the early technology. "Will they overreact? We want to avoid those gray areas."
In the long run, it might make sense to design a Google-style taxi that lacks a steering wheel, brake pedals or accelerators, De Vos said. But Delphi is not pursuing that now.
"We won't do it in the first wave," De Vos said. "We looked at the cost and said it's probably not worth it. But if you're going to put new technology into a vehicle, one of the most obvious ways to pay for it is to remove everything that is redundant."
That's unlikely to happen until after Delphi completes its beta test, launches commercial service and begins to enjoy economies of scale. But Delphi first wants to demonstrate that its taxis are trustworthy.