Daimler Embarks on Self-Driving Race With San Francisco Shuttles

(Bloomberg) -- Daimler AG plans to offer autonomous shuttles on public roads in California from next year, adding momentum to the global race for self-driving vehicles with technology giants like Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and rival BMW AG.

The service will start with a test fleet in the second half of 2019 in the San Francisco Bay Area, with users hailing vehicles via an app that’ll prompt the cars to come to them within a defined area, the German manufacturer and Robert Bosch GmbH said Wednesday in a joint statement. The offering, if successful, will join Daimler’s suite of mobility services that includes car sharing, the Mytaxi ride-hailing service and moovel, an app that helps users decide how to get to their destination quickest.

Daimler Embarks on Self-Driving Race With San Francisco Shuttles

Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler and Bosch, the world’s biggest car-component supplier, started working on autonomous vehicles last year. Wednesday’s announcement suggests the technology partners are speeding up plans from an initial target of taking robo-taxis to the road in 2023, as other major players aren’t far behind. By 2019, General Motors Co. expects to deploy electric Chevy Bolt robot taxis in big U.S. cities. Ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies Inc. has also pledged to launch a fleet of self-driving Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicles in that time frame.

“The decisive factor is to introduce a safe, dependable and mature system,” said Michael Hafner, Daimler’s head of automated driving. “If in doubt, thoroughness comes before speed.”

While Waymo and GM pursue ambitious plans for road-worthy robo-taxi fleets, Daimler declined to say how many cars will roam the street on their own. Most shuttles will have a safety driver, the company said.

Another effort, backed by both Toyota Motor Corp. and BMW, has a driverless shuttle ferry workers from a parking garage in Detroit to their office. The slow-lane approach comes after several accidents, including an Uber test car killing a pedestrian in Arizona, prompted some companies to pause robo-taxi tests.

“Developing automated driving to a level ready for series production is like a decathlon,” Stephan Hoenle, a senior vice president in Bosch’s automated driving unit said in the statement. “It’s not enough to be good in one or two areas.”

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