Welcome to Transportation & Logistics Briefing, a new M-W-F morning email providing the latest news, data, and insight on how digital technology is disrupting transportation and delivery, produced by BI Intelligence.
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CALIFORNIA UPDATES SELF-DRIVING REGULATIONS: The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) released updated fully autonomous car regulations earlier this week, allowing fully autonomous cars with no driver on public roads. The state expects that the new rules will take affect by June 2018 after a 15-day public comment period. Here’s what’s new:
- Most importantly, companies will be able to test autonomous cars without a human operator, steering wheel, or pedals — known as Level 5 autonomy — on the state’s highways. In the past, companies were technically able to test fully autonomous cars on the state’s roads as long as they had a permit and received special approval specifically for Level 5 autonomous cars from the state to test the more advanced vehicles. However, no company actually obtained permission to test Level 5. With these updates, companies will still need to have a permit from the state to test or deploy self-driving vehicles, but will no longer need to gain special permission from the state in order to deploy Level 5 autonomous vehicles.
- Additionally, the state no longer requires companies to report instances when a human operator had to take control of the vehicle because its self-driving systems can’t handle the roads. Previously, each company testing self-driving vehicles on public roads needed to report every instance in which this occurred, known as disengagements. The state subsequently made this data public.
- Lastly, companies now need to notify cities and local governments when they plan to test fully autonomous vehicles on their roads. However, these local governments are not permitted to outlaw these tests from their roads.
The change is the result of months of lobbying and negotiations between the state’s DMV and companies testing self-driving cars. Earlier this year the DMV proposed new restrictions on self-driving car tests, but companies like Apple, Tesla, Ford, and GM resisted this effort. These companies subsequently persuaded the DMV to loosen the requirements, and a trade group representing the auto industry said the companies “appreciated the streamlined guidance.”
Overall, the new regulations are an endorsement of the progress companies are making on self-driving technology, and should pave the way for Level 5 tests in the near future. Forty-two companies, including market leaders like Uber, Waymo, Tesla, and GM, are currently permitted to test vehicles with self-driving features in the state. As a result, California’s DMV likely has more data than any other state agency on the safety and progress of self-driving cars. The DMV’s decision to roll back requirements for companies to test the cars is thus a major win for automakers and tech companies. Several market leaders are already preparing to deploy Level 3 or 4 self-driving cars in the next couple of years and may already be looking ahead to Level 5 vehicles. To date, no company has tested Level 5 autonomous vehicles on public roads in the US.
BPOST EXPANDS E-COMMERCE FULFILLMENT CAPABILITIES WITH $US820 MILLION RADIAL ACQUISITION: Bpost, Belgium’s national post and parcel service, acquired US-based e-commerce fulfillment company Radial, formerly eBay Enterprise, for $US820 million, Reuters reports.
The deal will expand bpost’s existing e-commerce fulfillment business with additional services for brands and retailers, as well as Radial’s extensive US logistics network. Radial delivered more than 306 million orders for its 300-plus retail customers in 2016, and operates 24 fulfillment centres across the US. Bpost already had a presence in US e-commerce through its previous acquisition of Landmark Global, which provides cross-border logistics to mid-size retailers in the US. However, the Radial acquisition will greatly expand that US footprint and give bpost a major foothold in the US domestic e-commerce market. Additionally, bpost will gain Radial’s portfolio of tax, payment, fraud prevention, and omnichannel services to offer merchants as well.
Tying together Radial’s services with its existing cross-border offerings will allow bpost to offer a one-stop shop for domestic and cross-border fulfillment to mid-size US retailers. This will give bpost a much more valuable proposition to these merchants, bpost CEO Koen Van Gerven told BI Intelligence after the acquisition. This has become a growing trend among logistics providers looking to entice smaller retailers. Earlier this year, FedEx launched its own e-commerce fulfillment solution for small- and medium-sized businesses that tied together many of its existing retail logistics offerings. And media outlets reported last week that Amazon is contemplating adding a new delivery service, called Seller Flex, to its own fulfillment options, allowing its merchants to get their goods delivered by Amazon from their own warehouses.
Radial’s assets and services will also provide the platform for bpost to grow in Europe as well, according to Van Gerven. In addition to greatly expanding its presence in the US, bpost could eventually bring some of Radial’s services over to Europe to boost its e-commerce fulfillment business there. For example, Radial’s omnichannel solutions that help retailers manage cross-channel sales and fulfillment are in high demand in the US, but European retailers have yet to adopt such tools en masse. As the European retail market evolves and cross-channel fulfillment grows more common there too, bpost will be well positioned to provide support and services for them, Van Gerven said. That could allow the company to play a much bigger role in the European market, particularly when coupled with the company’s existing cross-border expertise.
FAA PANEL FAILS TO REACH CONSENSUS ON DRONE RULES: An FAA advisory panel has reportedly failed to a consensus on recommendations on identifying and tracking individual drones across the country, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Technology for tracking drones in-flight is considered a pre-requisite for large-scale commercial drone use cases in densely populated areas, including drone delivery. Law enforcement agencies have reportedly torpedoed efforts to allow commercial drones to fly over public crowds because of concerns over the ability to track drones remotely. That has raised concerns that new drone regulations that the FAA is expected to release next year may be delayed over security concerns related to remote tracking.
The FAA advisory panel was convened to recommend how to tackle remote tracking, but could not agree on what categories of drones should require tracking. The majority of the panel — made up of about 70 industry, labour, and law enforcement experts — agreed that technology already exists or will soon come to market that can track small drones at low altitudes. However, one faction of the panel wanted tracking technology required for every drone flown in the US, while others wanted smaller hobbyist drones excluded. Still another group advocated for only requiring tracking of more advanced drones specifically designed for longer, autonomous flights.
The panel’s failure to reach a consensus raises further concerns about when the FAA will issue issue new commercial drone regulations. In the end, the committee’s advisory report recommended tracking all drones, using a mix of radio and cell tower signals to continuously monitor more sophisticated ones, while less sophisticated drone models could be tracked intermittently through software modifications. However, about half the panel dissented or disagreed with specific recommendations in the report, which was not released to the public. The FAA reportedly may reconvene the panel in order to reach a consensus around recommendations, and FAA chief Michael Huerta recently called the panel “absolutely critical” in clearing the way for new commercial regulations. If the FAA can’t come up with tracking requirements that garner broad approval, it increases the likelihood that law enforcement agencies will stymie new regulations over security concerns.
In other news…
- Uber is reportedly facing two more criminal probes by the US Justice Department than had previously been known to the public, according to Bloomberg. The department is exploring whether Uber violated price transparency laws with a new pricing scheme it implemented in 2016, and is also looking into the startup’s role in the alleged theft of documents related to its ongoing lawsuit with Alphabet’s Waymo, which is set to go to trial in December. Uber already faces three other criminal probes by the department, in addition to the ongoing Alphabet lawsuit, and several regulatory disputes in Europe, as it starts to steer towards a potential IPO in 2019.
- Toyota’s hydrogen fuel-cell powered semi-trucks will begin making commercial cargo deliveries between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California on October 23, according to Engadget. The trucks are capable of transporting up to 80,000 pounds and can drive up to 200 miles on a single charge. The automaker began testing the vehicle back in April, and hopes that it will be used by shipping companies to transport goods across short distances (a trucking concept known as dryage), such as between ports and distribution centres.
- Canadian auto supplier Magna joined an existing self-driving car consortium between BMW, Intel, Fiat-Chrysler, and auto supplier Delphi, according to Reuters. Magna primarily manufacturers seats and powertrains for American automakers like Ford and GM. The consortium, which aims to bring a self-driving car to market by 2021, has its roots in a partnership between Intel and BMW in late 2016, with Delphi joining this past spring and Fiat Chrysler coming on board this summer.