New business deals bring autonomous vehicles a step closer

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Two technology giants announced major new investments in self-driving vehicles Thursday, bringing the world a step closer to a time when autonomous cars are a part of everyday life — a reality that General Motors aims to achieve in some places as early as next year.

The deals, and other ongoing negotiations, show that the technology is authentic and it’s accelerating.

“It’s all starting to coalesce into something that’s more real,” said Navigant Research analyst Sam Abuelsamid, who closely follows autonomous vehicle developments.

SoftBank, a giant Japanese tech investment firm, announced Thursday it would spend $2.25 billion for a 20 percent stake in GM’s autonomous vehicle business. Then Waymo, Google’s self-driving operation, said it would buy up to 62,000 more minivans from Fiat Chrysler to expand its soon-to-start ride-hailing venture.

Not to be outdone, Uber’s new CEO said at a Wednesday conference that he’s in talks with Waymo about adding Waymo self-driving vehicles to the Uber network to carry passengers, although there was no indication that was imminent.

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