Daimler and Bosch Will Launch Autonomous Driving Pilot Program in San Jose

Passengers will be shuttled to designated areas of the city in the back of Mercedes-Benz S Class sedans.

Daimler AG - Global Communications Mercedes-Benz Cars—press photo, do not use for advertising purposes

Mercedes-Benz's corporate parent Daimler and automotive supplier Bosch confirmed the launch of an autonomous driving pilot in San Jose, California in the second half of 2019. 

Test vehicles will be used in a ride-hailing service operating in specific parts of the city. This pilot program has been a long time coming, and puts Daimler and Bosch on the same trajectory as companies like Waymo and General Motors' Cruise Automation division.

Modified Mercedes-Benz S Class sedans will operate in the San Carlos and Stevens Creek corridor between downtown and west San Jose, a joint press release stated. The program takes advantage of recent rule changes in California laws that allow prototype self-driving cars to pick up passengers. California was one of the first states to formally legalize the testing of these vehicles on public roads, but only sanctioned giving rides to passengers after neighboring Arizona, another hotbed of autonomous-driving development, did so.

The pilot program will be overseen by Daimler Mobility Services, the recently-created arm of the automaker responsible for services like ride-hailing and car sharing. Daimler is very interested in these services, as it currently operates the Car2Go car-sharing service, has partnerships with or stakes in multiple startups, and an alliance with BMW on mobility services. The company is eager to see how autonomous driving could impact this sector.

In its press release, Daimler noted that autonomous driving could make mobility services more attractive by further increasing convenience. Autonomous driving and ride-hailing are often discussed as trends that will reinforce each other. Self-driving cars should be able to stay on the road longer (they don't get tired or need bathroom breaks, after all), allowing them to generate more revenue for operators. Those operators also won't have to pay human drivers, saving money and avoiding the controversies companies like Uber and Lyft currently face over driver wages.

Bosch and Daimler said employees working on the pilot program will share office space in both the greater Stuttgart area in Germany and Sunnyvale, California, located in Silicon Valley. Daimler said it has been testing prototype "automated vehicles" in the Sunnyvale area since 2014, and in Stuttgart since 2016. Bosch said it has been testing its own tech on public roads in the U.S. and Germany since 2013.

While Bosch and Daimler are testing autonomous ride-hailing, other companies are already working to commercialize it. Waymo has said it will launch a commercial ride-hailing service in Arizona before the end of this year, although the clock is ticking on that promise. GM has said it will be ready to produce cars with no manual controls in large volumes in 2019, while Ford has said it will do so in 2021. Both automakers are eyeing ride-hailing as the primary use for these vehicles.

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