Seeking a Smoother Ride, Whether You Drive or Your Autonomous Car Does

Self-driving technology could one day turn your car into a mobile living room. That has companies trying to figure out how to even out the roughest spots of the road to the future.

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BMW and Daimler, Once Rivals, Join Forces to Fend Off Silicon Valley

The German carmakers said they will merge their car-sharing and other digital businesses, amid threats from the likes of Uber and Google.

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California Scraps Safety Driver Rules for Self-Driving Cars

The new regulations in Silicon Valley’s home state are expected to help the wider deployment of autonomous vehicles.

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The Shift: His 2020 Campaign Message: The Robots Are Coming

Alarmist? Sure. But Mr. Yang’s doomsday prophecy echoes the concerns of a growing number of labor economists and tech experts who are worried about the coming economic consequences of automation. A 2017 report by McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm, concluded that by 2030 — three presidential terms from now — as many as one-third of American jobs may disappear because of automation. (Other studies have given cheerier forecasts, predicting that new jobs will replace most of the lost ones.)


Mr. Yang has proposed monthly payments of $1,000 for every American from age 18 to 64. “I’m a capitalist,” he said, “and I believe that universal basic income is necessary for capitalism to continue.” Credit Guerin Blask for The New York Times

Perhaps it was inevitable that a tech-skeptic candidate would try to seize the moment. Scrutiny of tech companies like Facebook and Google has increased in recent years, and worries about monopolistic behavior, malicious exploitation of social media and the addictive effects of smartphones have made a once-bulletproof industry politically vulnerable. Even industry insiders have begun to join the backlash.

To fend off the coming robots, Mr. Yang is pushing what he calls a “Freedom Dividend,” a monthly check for $1,000 that would be sent to every American from age 18 to 64, regardless of income or employment status. These payments, he says, would bring everyone in America up to approximately the poverty line, even if they were directly hit by automation. Medicare and Medicaid would be unaffected under Mr. Yang’s plan, but people receiving government benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could choose to continue receiving those benefits, or take the $1,000 monthly payments instead.

The Freedom Dividend isn’t a new idea. It’s a rebranding of universal basic income, a policy that has been popular in academic and think-tank circles for decades, was favored by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the economist Milton Friedman, and has more recently caught the eye of Silicon Valley technologists. Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen have all expressed support for the idea of a universal basic income. Y Combinator, the influential start-up incubator, is running a basic income experiment with 3,000 participants in two states.

Despite its popularity among left-leaning academics and executives, universal basic income is still a leaderless movement that has yet to break into mainstream politics. Mr. Yang thinks he can sell the idea in Washington by framing it as a pro-business policy.

“I’m a capitalist,” he said, “and I believe that universal basic income is necessary for capitalism to continue.”

Mr. Yang, a married father of two boys, is a fast-talking extrovert who wears the nu-executive uniform of a blazer and jeans without a tie. He keeps a daily journal of things he’s grateful for, and peppers conversations with business-world catchphrases like “core competency.” After graduating from Brown University and Columbia Law School, he quit his job at a big law firm and began working in tech. He ran an internet start-up that failed during the first dot-com bust, worked as an executive at a health care start-up and helped build a test-prep business that was acquired by Kaplan in 2009, netting him a modest fortune.

He caught the political bug after starting Venture for America, an organization modeled after Teach for America that connects recent college graduates with start-up businesses. During his travels to Midwestern cities, he began to connect the growth of anti-establishment populism with the rise of workplace automation.

“The reason Donald Trump was elected was that we automated away four million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin,” he said. “If you look at the voter data, it shows that the higher the level of concentration of manufacturing robots in a district, the more that district voted for Trump.”

Mr. Yang’s skepticism of technology extends beyond factory robots. In his campaign book, “The War on Normal People,” he writes that he wants to establish a Department of the Attention Economy in order to regulate social media companies like Facebook and Twitter. He also proposes appointing a cabinet-level secretary of technology, based in Silicon Valley, to study the effects of emerging technologies.

Critics may dismiss Mr. Yang’s campaign (slogan: “Humanity First”) as a futurist vanity stunt. The Democratic pipeline is already stuffed with would-be 2020 contenders, most of whom already have the public profile and political experience that Mr. Yang lacks — and at least one of whom, Senator Bernie Sanders, has already hinted at support for a universal basic income.

Opponents of universal basic income have also pointed to its steep price tag — an annual outlay of $12,000 per American adult would cost approximately $2 trillion, equivalent to roughly half of the current federal budget — and the possibility that giving out free money could encourage people not to work. These reasons, among others, are why Hillary Clinton, who considered adding universal basic income to her 2016 platform, concluded it was “exciting but not realistic.”

“In our political culture, there are formidable political obstacles to providing cash to working-age people who aren’t employed, and it’s unlikely that U.B.I. could surmount them,” Robert Greenstein, the president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington research group, wrote last year.

But Mr. Yang thinks he can make the case. He has proposed paying for a basic income with a value-added tax, a consumption-based levy that he says would raise money from companies that profit from automation. A recent study by the Roosevelt Institute, a left-leaning policy think-tank, suggested that such a plan, paid for by a progressive tax plan, could grow the economy by more than 2 percent and provide jobs for 1.1 million more people.

“Universal basic income is an old idea,” Mr. Yang said, “but it’s an old idea that right now is uniquely relevant because of what we’re experiencing in society.”

Mr. Yang’s prominent supporters include Andy Stern, a former leader of Service Employees International Union, who credited him with “opening up a discussion that the country’s afraid to have.” His campaign has also attracted some of Silicon Valley’s elites. Tony Hsieh, the chief executive of Zappos, is an early donor to Mr. Yang’s campaign, as are several venture capitalists and high-ranking alumni of Facebook and Google.

Mr. Yang, who has raised roughly $130,000 since filing his official paperwork with the Federal Election Commission in November, says he will ultimately raise millions from supporters in the tech industry and elsewhere to supplement his own money.

Mr. Yang has other radical ideas, too. He wants to appoint a White House psychologist, “make taxes fun” by turning April 15 into a national holiday and put into effect “digital social credits,” a kind of gamified reward system to encourage socially productive behavior. To stem corruption, he suggests increasing the president’s salary to $4 million from its current $400,000, and sharply raising the pay of other federal regulators, while barring them from accepting paid speaking gigs or lucrative private-sector jobs after leaving office.

And although he said he was socially liberal, he admitted that he hadn’t fully developed all his positions. (On most social issues, Mr. Yang said, “I believe what you probably think I believe.”)

The likelihood, of course, is that Mr. Yang’s candidacy won’t end with a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Still, experts I spoke with were glad to have him talking about the long-term risks of automation, at a time when much of Washington is consumed with the immediate and visible.

Erik Brynjolfsson, the director of M.I.T.’s Initiative on the Digital Economy and a co-author of “The Second Machine Age,” praised Mr. Yang for bringing automation’s economic effects into the conversation.

“This is a serious problem, and it’s going to get a lot worse,” Mr. Brynjolfsson said. “In every election for the next 10 or 20 years, this will become a more salient issue, and the candidates who can speak to it effectively will do well.”

Mr. Yang knows he could sound the automation alarm without running for president. But he feels a sense of urgency. In his view, there’s no time to mess around with think-tank papers and “super PACs,” because the clock is ticking.

“We have five to 10 years before truckers lose their jobs,” he said, “and all hell breaks loose.”

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Uber and Waymo Settle Trade Secrets Suit Over Driverless Cars

But Waymo — which was spun out from Google in late 2016 — claimed the deal was part of a plan to steal its laser-sensor technology, a key component for operating self-driving cars. Mr. Levandowski had begun talking with Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive at the time, about the possibility of working together on autonomous-vehicle technology while he was still employed at Google, according to evidence presented at the trial.

Mr. Levandowski was accused of downloading thousands of Google files related to self-driving car technology before he left the company. Uber learned about what he had done but still went ahead with the deal, Waymo claimed. That was the basis of Waymo’s claim that Uber had misappropriated eight trade secrets related mainly to lidar — an abbreviation for “light detection and ranging” — sensors that help self-driving cars see the world around them.

The first few days of the trial revealed a number of embarrassing details connecting Uber with Mr. Levandowski. However, Waymo had yet to deliver on the substantive legal part of the argument that Uber knowingly stole Waymo’s trade secrets for use in its products. The judge, William Alsup, admonished Waymo’s lawyers on Wednesday for not having made much progress on its trade secret misappropriation claims.

Before the trial started, Uber offered to settle with Waymo in exchange for 0.68 percent of the company’s equity, or about $500 million, but its board of directors pulled the offer and allowed Mr. Kalanick to testify, according to two people familiar with Uber’s thinking who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

After testimony on Thursday, settlement talks restarted, and Uber offered the lower percentage, these people said. For Waymo, the financial terms were not as important as scoring concessions on not using Waymo’s technology, said a person familiar with Waymo’s deliberations who was not authorized to discuss them.

The settlement included an agreement that none of Waymo’s confidential information was being incorporated in Uber’s autonomous vehicle technology.

After almost a decade of work on self-driving cars, the Uber stake may be the first substantial money that Waymo has made from the technology. Alphabet was already a major investor in Uber through its venture capital arm, GV. It has also made a billion-dollar investment in Uber’s main rival in the United States, Lyft.

Although it settled the lawsuit, Waymo’s court fight may have succeeded in embarrassing a rival while delivering a unspoken warning to former and current employees to be cautious about leaving the company with know-how developed there. It also struck a deal before Larry Page, Alphabet’s chief executive, who rarely speaks in public, had to testify in court next week.

Waymo’s lawyers presented evidence that entertained the throngs of technology reporters gathered to cover the trial including texts and emails between Mr. Levandowski and Mr. Kalanick using chest-puffing terms like “burn the village” and “second place is first” loser. There were also pictures of notes on whiteboards from a brainstorming “jam sesh” led by Mr. Kalanick, declaring, among other things, that “laser is the sauce.”

The settlement helps resolve one of Uber’s many lingering issues from Mr. Kalanick’s tumultuous time as chief executive, which ended in June. His successor, Dara Khosrowshahi, has said he hopes to change the perception that Uber has been too quick to break rules.

The settlement also clears away a significant legal risk as Uber prepares for an expected initial public offering. It is still dealing with a Department of Justice investigation into its business practices. Although the company insists it did not take any Waymo trade secrets, Mr. Khosrowshahi said in a statement that he regretted the events that led to the litigation.

“My job as Uber’s C.E.O. is to set the course for the future of the company: innovating and growing responsibly, as well as acknowledging and correcting mistakes of the past,” he said in the statement. “The prospect that a couple of Waymo employees may have inappropriately solicited others to join Otto, and that they may have potentially left with Google files in their possession, in retrospect, raised some hard questions.”

Mr. Kalanick released a statement that was not nearly as conciliatory.

“No trade secrets ever came to Uber,” the statement said. “The evidence at trial overwhelmingly proved that, and had the trial proceeded to its conclusion, it is clear Uber would have prevailed.”

The loser in the legal proceeding may be Mr. Levandowski, who was fired by Uber over his refusal to cooperate with the company’s defense. An Uber spokesman, Matt Kallman, said the company had fired Mr. Levandowski in May before Otto could meet any of its performance targets. As a result, he lost out on an estimated $250 million worth of equity in Uber — almost exactly how much Uber paid Waymo.

Judge Alsup referred Mr. Levandowski’s case to the Justice Department, although it was not clear whether a criminal case was being pursued against him. Mr. Levandowski, who received a $120 million bonus for his work on Google’s self-driving car, was expected to refuse to answer questions if he had taken the stand as scheduled next week.

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Secrets or Knowledge? Uber-Waymo Trial Tests Silicon Valley Culture

“Figuring out what’s on one side of the line and what’s on other side is incredibly complicated,” she said.

What Waymo is arguing

TRADE SECRETS. Waymo has accused Uber of colluding with Anthony Levandowski — an early engineer on Google’s self-driving car team who left the company in January 2016 — to steal information about the project. Waymo’s legal argument relies on a less-traveled area of intellectual property law: trade secrets.

Unlike publicly filed patents, trade secrets are, well, secret. They are defined as valuable information that is not generally known and is protected by the company from getting out, like the recipe for Coca-Cola. But because trade secrets can be hard to define, they raise questions about the line between an employee’s skill or knowledge versus intellectual property belonging to an employer.

R&D. Waymo, which started under the Google banner before being spun off as a separate entity, spent years and more than $1 billion on research and development of driverless cars. The technology was so new when Waymo entered the field in 2009 that it had to devise everything from the ground up, including what sensors to use, how to move sensor data into software and how to test it all.

It was a long and tedious process requiring much experimentation to see what worked and what didn’t. Some of those lessons are still considered valuable and closely guarded secrets at Waymo — secrets the company says Uber would have to tap into to meet the ambitious financial targets it has set for Mr. Levandowski.

LIDAR. Waymo has said Uber misappropriated eight of its trade secrets, most of them having to do with lidar — an abbreviation for “light detection and ranging” — devices that measure distances using lasers. Such sensors are critical in the operation of autonomous vehicles. One of the eight secrets was a so-called “negative trade secret” — a term for a valuable lesson about what does and doesn’t work that was learned through time-consuming trial and error.

What Uber is arguing

TRADE SECRETS. Uber says that what Waymo claims are trade secrets actually aren’t. Uber is expected to argue it developed all of its autonomous vehicle technology and know-how independently and that the information Waymo claims are trade secrets are generally known or ascertainable by Uber’s own experts.

It is a position that is fitting with the start-up spirit of Silicon Valley, where engineers move freely from company to company, taking what they know with them. A free flow of ideas and personnel can open the door to claims of theft or copying, but technologists often look down on companies that resort to legal action to kneecap a competitor.

CHANGING JOBS. In a pretrial proceeding with lawyers for Uber and Waymo, Judge William Alsup, who will preside over the trial in federal court, pressed them on how to protect the rights of engineers to advance their careers elsewhere if their former employers designate “everything in the universe” as a trade secret. He cited a hypothetical example of an engineer who learned the best way of doing something through trial and error.

When that engineer moves to another company and is assigned that same task, will that person need to “reinvent the wheel” and go through all the experiments again to make sure they are not using a former employer’s trade secrets? “Is an engineer really supposed to get a frontal lobotomy before they go to the next job? I think the answer has to be no,” Judge Alsup said.

KEEPING SECRETS. Uber’s lawyers are expected to argue that even if the knowledge amounted to trade secrets, it was not misappropriated, because — among other reasons — Waymo didn’t do enough to keep its secrets secret. Besides, Uber can point out that it didn’t benefit from any potential trade secrets because autonomous vehicles are still in development.

Uber will do its best to distance itself from Mr. Levandowski, who was in charge of the ride-hailing company’s autonomous vehicle team when he was fired in May 2017 for refusing to cooperate with its legal defense. Uber has said it repeatedly told Mr. Levandowski not to bring along any Google intellectual property after it bought Ottomotto, the company he started after leaving Google. Uber insists any computer files that Mr. Levandowski may have possessed from his time at Google never reached its computer servers.

Anthony Levandowski: A bender of rules?

For all the philosophical arguments about trade secrets and the role they may play in Silicon Valley’s labor mobility, this case might boil down to the actions of Mr. Levandowski. His willingness to bend the rules seems extreme even by Silicon Valley’s standards.

Waymo claims — and Uber does not dispute – that Mr. Levandowski downloaded 14,000 files before leaving Google and receiving a $120 million bonus from his former employer. At the time, he was already meeting regularly with Uber and Travis Kalanick, the company’s then-chief executive, and had not officially founded his own firm, Ottomotto. Mr. Levandowski is not a defendant in the suit.

In a deposition in July, Larry Page, chief executive of Alphabet, the parent company of Google and Waymo, was asked about the decision to pay Mr. Levandowski a massive bonus. Mr. Page acknowledged that Mr. Levandowski had played “a significant role” in the history of the project, but was a headache for management by the time he left.

When Uber announced the acquisition of Ottomotto for a reported $680 million, Mr. Levandowski had already been consulting with Uber for months. Even during his nine-month stint with the ride-hailing company, Mr. Levandowski demonstrated a willingness to push the envelope when he defied state regulators and forged ahead with autonomous vehicle testing on the streets of San Francisco.

When called to testify, Mr. Levandowski is expected to exercise his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. He hasn’t cooperated with Uber’s lawyers, and Judge Alsup has referred Mr. Levandowski to the federal prosecutors for possible theft of trade secrets. While it’s not clear whether the Department of Justice is investigating his actions, federal investigators confirmed that it was looking into Uber’s business practices.

After he was fired, Mr. Levandowski announced that he would start a religion worshiping a Godhead based on artificial intelligence.

“Let’s stop pretending we can hold back the development of intelligence when there are clear massive short term economic benefits to those who develop it and instead understand the future and have it treat us like a beloved elder who created it,” reads the passage on the website for “Way of the Future,” the religion founded by Mr. Levandowski.

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Automakers Befriend Start-Ups Like Uber, Girding Against a Changing Car Culture

In some American cities, small groups of people are already choosing not to own cars by relying on ride-hailing services like Uber, through which consumers can order a ride through their smartphone, and car-sharing companies like Zipcar, where they essentially pick up a car whenever they need to drive one. Eventually, self-driving cars will be a reality, which would let Uber and others field fleets of driverless vehicles that can operate around the clock and further cut the cost of ride services.

“Ride-sharing has huge potential in terms of shaping the future of mobility,” Shigeki Tomoyama, senior managing officer of Toyota, said in a statement about partnering with Uber. “We would like to explore new ways of delivering secure, convenient and attractive mobility services to customers.”

Karl Brauer, an analyst at the research firm Kelley Blue Book, said there was no sign that car-sharing or ride-sharing — sometimes called “mobility services” — was slowing auto sales today. Auto sales in the United States hit a record high in 2015 and are on the rise this year, and China and other international markets will ensure the global auto market continues to grow.

Nevertheless, auto companies are investing in companies like Uber “to be ahead of the curve” if they do shake up car ownership down the road, Mr. Brauer said. “History has shown that if you wait for the market to decide, you’re dead,” he said.

In January, General Motors invested $500 million in Lyft, the ride-hailing app popular with American users, with a focus on developing networks of autonomous vehicles. Ford Motor is making over its Dearborn, Mich., headquarters into a Silicon Valley-like campus of green buildings connected by self-driving shuttles.

And a few weeks ago, Fiat Chrysler and Google agreed to produce a test fleet of driverless minivans. Both BMW and Mercedes-Benz have started to pilot ride services.

Even other technology companies only tangentially related to automobiles are becoming more involved in ride services. Apple, which is working on its own autos project, said this month it had invested $1 billion in Didi Chuxing, a Chinese ride-hailing company that competes fiercely with Uber.

The scale of ride-hailing as a phenomenon is encapsulated in China. Uber operates in more than 30 Chinese cities with plans to expand to 100 by the end of the year. Didi is in well over 300 cities and towns throughout the country.

Last June, Uber said it had approximately 20,000 regular drivers in the Chinese city of Chengdu alone, on par with the approximately 22,000 drivers in San Francisco and 26,000 in New York at the time.

But global expansion requires capital — lots of it. Companies like Uber have tapped venture capitalists, strategic partners and large institutional investors at the rate of about once every six months to amass enough money to keep introducing operations in new cities. In total, Uber has raised more than $10 billion from several firms to wage its land war across multiple continents.

With the Toyota partnership, Uber gets other perks apart from money. The company, based in San Francisco, which was valued at $62.5 billion in December, plans to expand its vehicle financing program with Toyota, whose cars are among the most popular with Uber drivers. Customers can lease Toyota vehicles through the program and are able to pay down the cost by driving for Uber.

Toyota said that in its work with Uber, the companies would also cooperate on trials in countries where ride-hailing is growing.

The companies also plan to develop in-car apps that support Uber drivers, and to share their knowledge and research, they said.

Volkswagen has been slower to jump on the mobility bandwagon, partly because it has been consumed by an emission-cheating scandal involving its diesel models. After those revelations, Volkswagen replaced its chief executive, about a dozen top managers departed, its VW-brand sales skidded in the United States and it set aside $18 billion to cover scandal-related costs.

Next month, Volkswagen is supposed to detail a plan to buy back or repair about 500,000 diesel models that had the cheating software and were sold in the United States.

About the same time, Volkswagen is also planning to unveil a “Strategy 2025” in which mobility initiatives will play major roles. In April, Volkswagen said it intended to set up a separate mobility company to oversee investments and initiatives on this front.

“We aim to become a world leading mobility provider by 2025,” Matthias Müller, chief executive of Volkswagen, said in a statement.

Shahar Waiser, Gett’s chief executive, stressed the synchronicity his company had with Volkswagen’s European sales, and how the companies were focused on both consumer and business clients. Mr. Waiser said Gett had $500 million in revenue, 30 percent of which came from the company’s 4,000 corporate and business clients, and that it was profitable in some markets.

Gett, which is popular in more than 60 European cities, as well as Moscow and New York, said it planned to use the capital to continue expanding its European operations.

“By now, people realize that the landscape is so big — and every market is so different — there will be more than a monopoly or a duopoly,” Mr. Waiser said. “You will always see two, maybe three major players in this space, wherever you go.”

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Want to Buy a Self-Driving Car? Big-Rig Trucks May Come First

Those costs are coming down, but it will be some time before they have a realistic price for consumers. But a new, big tractor-trailer truck can easily cost more than $150,000, so the added cost of robotic features could make more sense.

In addition, it could make trucking more efficient, allowing, for example, a human driver to rest in the sleeper cabin while the truck takes the wheel.

Still, automating commercial driving is controversial and — potentially — a job killer.

There are more than three million truck drivers in the United States, according to the American Trucking Associations, and about one in every 15 workers in the country is employed in the trucking business.

There is concern that if commercial trucking is completely automated, it would be economically devastating for small towns in America that thrive from supporting the long-haul trucking industry.


Otto’s offices in San Francisco. Credit Ramin Rahimian for The New York Times

“The removal of truckers from freeways will have an effect on today’s towns similar to the effects the freeways themselves had on towns decades ago that had sprung up around bypassed stretches of early highways,” wrote Scott Santens, an independent researcher, in a blog post last year.

Autonomous vehicles have in recent years become one of the tech industry’s favorite projects. Uber sees them as a way to stop dealing with its pesky drivers. Tesla, along with other car manufacturers, sees autonomous technology as an important safety feature to help human drivers.

Even Apple is thought to be working on some sort of self-driving car tech.

Google, in particular, has aggressively advocated and developed autonomous vehicle tech, and its self-driving cars are regularly seen on Bay Area roads. The company also announced a deal earlier this month with Fiat Chrysler to install its technology in a fleet of minivans.

Since the Google car and map veterans, Anthony Levandowski and Lior Ron, founded Otto in January, the company has expanded to 41 employees and has been test-driving three Volvo trucks, logging in more than 10,000 miles.

Over the weekend, Otto tested a self-driving truck in Nevada.

Mr. Levandowski achieved some celebrity in 2004 while he was an industrial engineering graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. He designed a self-driving motorcycle, stabilized by a gyroscope, that was entered in the Pentagon’s first autonomous vehicle contest. Later, his start-up, 510 Systems, was acquired by Google when it began its self-driving car project.

He said that he had decided to leave Google because he was eager to commercialize a self-driving vehicle as quickly as possible.

“Google is very focused on doing what they’re doing and I felt that it was time to see something come to market and I really liked the idea of bringing trucks to market,” he said.

Mr. Ron, Otto’s co-founder, is also a veteran Google software engineer. With a background in Israeli Army intelligence, he was originally the lead engineer for Google Maps.

He also worked in the company’s Motorola mobile phone business for three years and then in its secretive robotics research effort.


Eyal Cohen, a software engineer at Otto, codes in the cab of one of the company’s trucks. Credit Ramin Rahimian for The New York Times

But start-up life isn’t like working for Google on its bucolic Silicon Valley campus.

Otto has set up shop in a rickety auto garage, close to a freeway entrance in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. But the new office has enough space to house the firm’s three new Volvo trucks, which have been equipped with cameras, radars, and spinning laser sensors known as Lidar.

It is basically the same sensor array used on prototype vehicles being developed by Google, Nissan, Baidu and others. But Mr. Levandowski said that costly commercial trucks gave his designers more freedom to add high-quality sensors.

Otto will offer its technology as an upgrade that a long-haul truck owner could purchase, or perhaps as a service a trucking operator could subscribe to.

“Initially there will be certain roads that we know we can drive more safely,” Mr. Levandowski said. “On those roads we’ll tell the driver, ‘You’re welcome to go take your nap or your break right now.’ If that’s 500 miles, that’s 10 hours, so he gets his full rest.”

The co-founders declined to reveal how much has been invested in the new company so far. They also would say only that they intend to “demonstrate commercial viability soon.”

Even as their technology progresses, Otto still faces a regulatory maze and plenty of competition.

A Silicon Valley start-up called Peloton is focusing on truck convoys for fuel efficiency. Last year, Daimler Trucks North America demonstrated a selfdriving truck in Nevada. Volvo and other truck manufacturers have also held autonomous freeway driving demonstrations in Europe.

California motor vehicle regulations prohibit Otto’s vision of a truck traveling on the freeway with only a sleeping driver in the cab, for example. But many states would permit that technical advance.

“Right now, if you want to drive across Texas with nobody at the wheel, you’re 100 percent legal,” said Mr. Levandowski, who as a Google engineer, helped write draft legislation that permitted self-driving vehicles, which later became law in Nevada.

The company is initially aiming for the owner-operators market — truck drivers who own their own rigs and would be able to increase their productivity by sleeping during long-haul trips and dispensing with the need for a second driver.

“It will take a very long time to transition three million people,” Mr. Levandowski said, referring to the number of truck drivers in the United States. “However, it’s also the nature of progress. There used to be elevator operators in New York City and there are not anymore.”

Correction: May 20, 2016

An article on Tuesday about a start-up that is developing self-driving tractor-trailer trucks described incorrectly 15 employees of the start-up, called Otto, who came from Google. Eight of them are engineers, not all 15.

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Bits: What 5G Will Mean for You

According to global tech and telecom companies that are spending billions of dollars, combined, on the new wireless technology:

■ With 5G, downloading feature-length movies could take less than five seconds.

■ With 4G, downloading feature-length movies could take as long as eight minutes.

Such technology will not come cheap. Carriers and telecom equipment makers will have to install new hardware like cellphone towers in rural areas and tiny mobile hot spots in dense urban areas to reach the 10 gigabits per second target. They will also have to increasingly rely on sophisticated software to manage the expected exponential jump in mobile data traffic. So just as most people’s cellphone bills have risen as they watch more videos and access other entertainment on their mobile devices, expect operators to charge a hefty premium for these new ultrafast services.

Networks that connect millions of new devices

5G is not just about speed. Companies are also preparing for millions of new wireless devices — such as smartwatches and other wearable items, as well as sensors embedded in industrial products — to be connected to the next generation of cellphone networks.

These devices will not use a lot of data (a sensor built into a highway, for instance, will need to send only small amounts of digital information across the network every couple of hours). But when combined, these hundreds of millions — potentially billions — of new sensors will require almost universal connectivity, or the ability to go online no matter where they are, forcing operators to extend their networks to practically every corner of a country.

These devices will potentially be an important new revenue stream for carriers worldwide. Many operators, particularly in Europe, are finding it tough to charge customers more for their increased use of mobile data. But if carriers can persuade businesses in industries like health care as well as industrial conglomerates like General Electric to sign up for new mobile Internet services that connect tiny sensors to the Internet, then operators may have stumbled onto a new way of making money.

Driverless cars with extremely fast response times

If 5G can offer ultrafast mobile Internet speeds, then why should you care about how quickly one device can communicate with another? In short, you shouldn’t. And as current mobile networks offer so-called latency, or digital response times, of around 50 to 80 milliseconds (the time it takes for a web page to load on your smartphone), reducing that speed to a mere millisecond — the goal under most companies’ 5G plans — might not add much to users’ mobile experiences.

Yet that extremely fast response time will be essential for many of the new services that will most likely be offered on 5G networks. A prime example is driverless cars. These machines will have to communicate almost in real time with everything around them to avoid cyclists and other obstacles. That can happen only if carriers offer one-millisecond latency, something that may become a lifesaver if autonomous cars become a reality.

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