Walmart’s Driverless Pilot Sounds So Depressing

Illustration for article titled Walmart’s Driverless Pilot Sounds So Depressing
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All of this development money, this technological progress, this risk, for what? More range for Walmart pickups? This is what we’ve been building to? All that and more in The Morning Shift for December 16, 2020.


1st Gear: Cutting-Edge Transportation Technology Will Make Walmart Pickups More Available

The dreams of driverless car technology still don’t quite match with the reality of autonomous vehicles at the moment. Nowhere is that more plain than in Walmart’s new press release about continuing to develop self-driving tech with its partner Gatik. What is this pioneering tech being used for? Walmart explains:

Now, we’re expanding our pilot with Gatik to a second location to test an even longer delivery route and a second use case – delivering items from a Supercenter to a Walmart pickup point, a designated location where customers can conveniently pick up their orders. The Autonomous Box Trucks in Louisiana will initially operate with a safety driver.

The operation will begin early next year on a 20-mile route between New Orleans and Metairie, Louisiana. This unlocks the opportunity for customers who live further away from our store in New Orleans to benefit from the convenience and ease of Walmart’s pickup service.

Walmart continues that it will not sleep, it will not stop until there is a Walmart truck driverlessly circling your block at all times ready to shoot cheap bikes and paper towels through your front window:

With 90% of Americans living within 10 miles of a Walmart, a closer store isn’t always the answer. Perhaps it’s just a pickup location, with an autonomous vehicle making deliveries on a constant loop.

I am growing convinced that we will never get consumer driverless cars, just delivery bots hogging the roads.

2nd Gear: Oh Right, Buttigieg To Transpo Secretary

Congrats, y’all. It’s not the guy accused of trying to cover up a police murder. As for what Buttigieg actually has done in his career that we the public don’t know about, that’s a question for a place where I can’t get sued for libel!


My old officemate Aaron Gordon described the development as somewhat of a non-news item, declaring, “Mayor Pete’s Secretary of Transportation Nomination Probably Doesn’t Matter” in Vice:

But the biggest reason Mayor Pete would likely be a perfectly fine transportation secretary is because many people would be a perfectly fine transportation secretary. I know this because the current one, Elaine Chao, is one of the least qualified people imaginable for the job. Unlike Chao, Mayor Pete knows how to talk about the issues affecting transportation in the U.S. without sounding like a poorly programmed robot and doesn’t have several obvious conflicts of interest. And yet, nearly all Americans would be unable to name one transportation policy good or bad undertaken by Chao, least of all who the secretary even is.


I myself would take this time to complain about Mayor Pete, but he will be getting enough of that anyway:


3rd Gear: Accords, CR-Vs, And Insights Among 1.4-Million Honda Recall

This is a big one, and tied up in four different recall campaigns. Some of these are for software issues, others are for power window switches linked to fires, another is about driveshafts rusting out. These are the bad ones, via Reuters:

The Japanese automaker said one recall covers 268,000 2002-06 model year CR-V crossovers to replace power window master switches. Honda said there had been no reported injuries, but 16 fires reported related to the issue.


Honda is also issuing two recalls covering 430,000 Acura and Honda vehicles in 22 U.S. states to inspect and potentially replace front drive shafts. Both are in response to possible breakage of the drive shafts due to corrosion. No injuries have been reported in relation to the recalls, the company said.


Also involved are “about 735,000 2018-20 Accord and 2019-20 Insight vehicles to update the body control module software,” per Reuters. My coworker Erik’s 2008 Honda Fit, an automatic, will miss a shot at some new driveshafts.

4th Gear: BMW Still Hoping For Good News On Brexit For Some Reason

I don’t know how long I’ve been reporting on BMW and other car companies involved in both British production and production elsewhere in the world, but at every turn there are complaints and little actual progress stemming from those complaints. Listen to this weak language, as reported in Bloomberg:

BMW expects its automotive profit margin will be between 2% and 3%, the high end of the range it forecast for the year, Chief Financial Officer Nicolas Peter said Wednesday. Free cash flow will be clearly above the 1.5 billion euros ($1.8 billion) guided previously, he added.

While there’s optimism on earnings, the executive said he’s concerned about trade talks between the European Union and the U.K. The tariffs on autos that would follow a hard Brexit would cost BMW a “mid-three-digit” million-euro amount per year, Peter said. BMW would try to offset the losses by raising prices on cars imported to the U.K. and any Oxford, England-made Mini vehicles sold on the continent.


“We hope the U.K. and the European Union will come to a sensible agreement,” Peter said, adding the company has stockpiled parts to safeguard production.


Good luck with hoping!

5th Gear: VW’s Tesla Obsession Continues

There’s no hard monetary figure attached to this recent pledge from VW CEO Herbert Diess, so it’s difficult to see this as anything but part of a continued Tesla obsession from VW. Bloomberg reports that “VW CEO pits world’s largest auto plant against new Tesla site” today:

Diess said during an internal video conference that VW’s home plant in Wolfsburg, Germany, will be upgraded with the latest electric-vehicle technology and software operations, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the meeting was not public.

The plant is the biggest carmaking facility worldwide, having built more than 800,000 cars annually.


Wolfsburg will become “the pioneering factory” for the highly automated manufacture of electric vehicles and will build a VW brand electric flagship, VW said in a statement on Monday. VW gave no more details about the car except to say that it will be set up similar to the Artemis technology project at Audi, which is developing electric flagships for Audi, Porsche and Bentley under the codename Landjet.


Making more than 800,000 cars per year isn’t enough for Diess? You need to be cool while doing it, too?

Reverse: Oh Cool, It’s Going To Snowstorm Here Today


Neutral: What Do You Think Will Be Your First Autonomous Car Interaction?

Autonomous vehicle delivery kind of makes sense for being our first intro to AV stuff. There’s corporate fleets, corporate money, and a corporate desire to crush human employment. A giant faceless delivery-bot bringing me an Amazon order is my guess over robo-taxis.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.


Half-track El Camino

I think Buttigieg’s nomination is actually pretty interesting, if you care about politics. This is a guy who has just vaulted himself from mayor of a small city, to a Cabinet post running a department that is in itself half the size of said city. He did it by raising his profile with a presidential run—one that was always nearly certain to fail, but where he vastly exceeded expectations, won the Iowa caucuses, and then very smartly endorsed Biden the very instant the political winds shifted in that direction.

And you know what the crazy thing is? I don’t even hate him for it. I never thought during his campaign that he was ready to be president, but he had a lot of good things to say and he looks like the kind of political talent that the Democratic party needs if it’s going to get anywhere in the coming decades. He’s a good speaker, he’s got a first-rate backstory, and as a gay man he’s breaking a lot of historic boundaries. Policywise I think he’s definitely something of a weathervane, but I don’t hate a politician for actually listening to their constituents and then trying to deliver the policies they want rather than sticking to their personal, never-changing ideology.

This Transportation post is obviously something of a test for him. Like, OK, you can run a pretty good campaign—but how will you do when it comes to managing a large, important, but very much unglamorous government bureaucracy day-in day-out for the next four years? Prove to us that you’re not all flash, show us some substance. If you can do the work, maybe you’re for real and will be actual presidential material in a few more cycles. If you suck, we’ll replace you.

Transportation is hardly unimportant, either. One of the big things Pete is going to be doing is spearheading the Biden administration’s push toward an electric transportation future. Incentives, charging networks, all of that will be part of his purview. He’ll also be overseeing the massive and economically critical trucking industry. Not to mention, our nation’s transportation infrastructure is sorely in need of some sprucing up—and Pete will be the guy in charge of trying to make that happen.

Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential bid worked out just great for him—now comes his golden opportunity to prove that he can actually get some shit done. If he succeeds, I won’t be surprised if we eventually do get a President Pete one of these years.