(p. A13) Not surprisingly, optimism leaps off the pages of Lawrence D. Burns’s “Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car–and How It Will Reshape Our World,” a combination of memoir and visionary manifesto. In contrast to “the personally owned, gasoline-powered, human-driven vehicles that have dominated the last century,” Mr. Burns writes, “we’re transitioning to mobility services based on electric-powered and driverless vehicles, paid for by trip or through subscriptions.” These services, he says, will get us around “safely and conveniently.” Meanwhile, we will avoid the “hassles of car ownership” and the time lost in parking and pumping gas, not to mention the costs that having a car entails.
. . .
After leaving GM during its 2009 bankruptcy, Mr. Burns became an ever-more emphatic advocate for the reinvention of the automobile, soon teaming up with Mr. Urmson and other technology pioneers at Google. This front-row seat at the project that popularized autonomous cars informs some of the most lively parts of “Autonomy.” At one point, a milestone goal is thought to be needed, with a payout bonus, so when Larry Page (Google’s co-founder) says, “I want this thing on any street in California to drive one hundred percent autonomous,” the Larry1K challenge is launched. The development of Waymo’s “Firefly” low-speed driverless car takes longer than expected and teaches the Silicon Valley team a new respect for Detroit’s skills. In turned out that “designing a vehicle was comparatively easy,” Mr. Burns writes. What was difficult was ” ‘hardening’ the vehicle’s various components”–making every part work under every driving condition. This was “the process at which Detroit engineering talent excelled.” A deal with Ford Motor Co. fails, but an investment banker and analyst, inspired by one of Mr. Burns’s visionary papers, does join Ford on a driverless-car project. As Mr. Burns recounts, personality clashes eventually blew up Google’s dream team and led to a lawsuit over intellectual-property theft against Uber, which had bought a driverless-trucking company founded by a Waymo veteran.
For the full review, see:
Edward Niedermeyer. “BOOKSHELF; Fast-Tracking A Driverless Car.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, August 28, 2018): A13.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 27, 2018, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Autonomy’ Review: Fast-Tracking a Driverless Car; A period of remarkable progress seems to be giving way to a host of challenges that can’t be solved with engineering talent alone.”)
The book under review, is:
Burns, Lawrence D., and Christopher Shulgan. Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car–and How It Will Reshape Our World. New York: Ecco, 2018.