Humans will accompany autonomous shuttles as they take over our cities

CES wouldn’t be complete without a diverse catalog of autonomous shuttles presented as the next breakthrough in public and private transportation. We found at least a dozen of them in the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Most are design studies that haven’t made the leap from the concept stage to the production stage yet, but the companies developing them are working around the clock to turn them into a reality. Realistically, shuttles stand a good chance of becoming the first widespread, real-world application of level-five autonomous technology. They’ll need human help to navigate — and, according to the more bullish analysts, dominate — the world’s megacities, however.

“This is why we brought the shuttle concept to CES, to give people an idea of what could be happening,” Mike Mansuetti, the president of Bosch’s North American division, told Digital Trends during CES 2019. The German firm won’t make its own shuttle, but it wants to provide hardware and software to companies that do. Its expertise could benefit traditional automakers, like Volvo, and it could also help tech companies such as Uber and Lyft get a shuttle service off the ground.

Skeptical observers point out that, at its core, a shuttle moves passengers from point A to point B, so why bother? It’s the on-demand and connected aspects that set them apart from public buses and trains; imagine being able to hail a bus with your smartphone, and decide whether you want to share it with other passengers or ride alone. And, if you choose to ride alone, you can decide whether you want to sleep, party, work, watch a movie, or all four during various stages of the trip. Try doing that on a bus or a train. Recent studies suggest this type of vehicle — which might become a stand-alone segment — could have far-reaching implications on a variety of sectors including tourism, retail, and, of course, mobility.

Most companies plan on rolling out fully autonomous shuttles, and many won’t come with a steering wheel at all, but humans will continue to monitor the overall experience in the foreseeable future to make sure everything goes as planned. For example, trained operators keep an eye on the Nuro R1 autonomous pods that deliver groceries in Scottsdale, Arizona, as part of a pilot program. They’re not physically present in the car, but they can take over control of the vehicle remotely if needed. Mansuetti echoed the need for human involvement; he added it could also help consumers accept the technology and feel comfortable using it.

“We need to help the everyday consumer understand really what these are,” he pointed out, comparing the deployment of autonomous shuttles to the rise of the automatic elevator. Early on, the technology made elevator operators unnecessary but many kept their jobs for years. “Nobody needed the elevator operator, but they were there to create a calming factor. ‘I got to the right floor, I know where I’m going, and if there’s anything that happens I know you’re here for me.’ We’ll see that coming. We might not call them drivers, we might call them concierges,” he predicted.

Emerging Tech

NASA is building an inflatable space robot named King Louie

NASA is funding an inflatable robot called King Louie which could travel to the stars in deflated form and then be blown up when and where required. Here is why that's so exciting.
Smart Home

I have seen the future, and it’s full of salad-making robots

Think that robots bussing tables, tossing salads and baking bread is a futuristic concept? It's actually not as far away as you might think. Robots took center stage at a food robotics summit in San Francisco this week, where they showed…
Emerging Tech

Watch the fearsome DroneHunter X3 pluck rogue UAVs out of the sky

How do you stop enemy drones in their tracks? DroneHunter X3 is a new autonomous anti-drone technology which outruns and then captures rogue drones in midair. Check it out in action.

The Audi AI:me concept shows how a self-driving city car can fight boredom

Audi unveiled a concept named AI:me at the 2019 Shanghai Auto Show. It explores what an electric, autonomous, connected city car could be. It fights boredom with an on-board VR set while taking Audi's tech-savvy interiors to new heights.

More tech and more space make the Mercedes-Benz GLS the S-Class of the SUV world

Mercedes-Benz introduced the second-generation GLS at the 2019 New York Auto Show. The company's biggest and most luxurious SUV gains more tech features in its quest to become the S-Class of the SUV world.

Would you buy the Tarok compact pickup truck? Volkswagen wants to know

The Volkswagen Tarok pickup truck concept will make its United States debut at the 2019 New York Auto Show. The truck first appeared at the 2018 Sao Paulo Auto Show, and VW wants to see what U.S. buyers think of it.

Sick of civilization? Volkswagen’s Atlas Basecamp concept lets you get away

Volkswagen revealed the Atlas Basecamp concept ahead of its debut at the 2019 New York Auto Show. Built for overlanding, this family-hauler was upgraded jointly by Volkswagen and aftermarket manufacturers.

The 2020 Nissan GT-R Nismo sheds weight, uses racing tricks to stay sharp

The 2020 Nissan GT-R Nismo isn't dramatically different from the 2019 model, but Nissan made changes where it counts. The updated GT-R Nismo is lighter and offers better aerodynamic performance, according to Nissan.

Nikola previews $80K NZT off-road EV speedster with 590 horsepower

Nikola Motor is taking reservations for the NZT, a high-performance, all-electric off-highway vehicle (OHV). The $80,000 NZT has 590 horsepower, 775 foot-pounds of torque, and reaches 60 miles per hour in 4 seconds.

Bored with stock? The best tuner cars are begging to be modified

Modification has been around almost as long as the automobile itself. Here are 25 of the best tuner cars you can find, ranging from American muscle standouts to Japanese drift cars.

21 charged in Chicago carsharing heist; 100+ cars stolen, many still missing

More than 100 Mercedes-Benz vehicles belonging to carsharing service Car2Go were stolen in Chicago. Police are still working to recover all of the cars, which are equipped with GPS, and 21 people have been charged.

The VR goggles you wear to shoot alien ships is helping Magna design car parts

Canadian automotive supplier Magna has started using virtual reality in its research and development department. The technology helps engineers get a better view of what they're working on, whether it's an interior part or a powertrain.

From rugged wagons to hot sports cars, the 2019 NY Auto Show brought it all

From city cars to supercars, anything goes at the New York Auto Show. Automakers from all over the globe traveled to the 2019 show to unveil their newest concept cars and production models.

Toyota leads $1 billion investment in Uber’s self-driving tech division

In a move that has been a long time coming, Uber filed its S-1 documents, which sets the stage for the company to finally go public with an initial public offering. The company could be valued at more than $100 billion.