Autonomous Truck Debuts on Roadways in Colorado (With Video)

Jennifer van der Kleut

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), in partnership with Kratos Defense and Security Solutions Inc., Royal Truck and Equipment and Colas Ltd., has officially launched the first autonomous truck designed to follow behind road workers and protect them from traffic.

They are calling the vehicle the Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicle (AIPV), also known as the Autonomous Truck Mounted Attenuator (ATMA).

Officials in Colorado said there have been, over the past four years, an average of seven crashes per year in which a passing motorist has hit a CDOT truck, putting the driver in danger.

“This is a dangerously high number when you consider that in some instances, a CDOT employee is sitting in the driver’s seat of the vehicle that was hit. By using self-driving technology, we’re able to take the driver out of harm’s way while still effectively shielding roadside workers,” said Shailen Bhatt, CDOT Executive Director, in an official statement. “Our partnership with Kratos proves that technology can take transportation safety to a new level and forever improve the way we work.”

Nationwide, according to the Federal Highway Administration, there was a crash every 5.4 minutes, 70 crash-related injuries every day, and 12 crash-related fatalities every week, in work zones in 2015, making this technology “a potentially game-changing solution for improving safety and efficiency in the work zone.”

Kratos originally developed the technology for the U.S. Army, and recently leveraged it for non-military use. Prototypes were tested on the roadways in August.

CDOT posted the following video on YouTube, showing off the truck in action.

News Roundup: U.S. Federal Government Passes Self Drive Act, Startup Uses CCTV Footage to Improve Driverless AI Systems, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A look at some of the biggest headlines to come out of the driverless, connected-vehicle world this past week:

U.S. Houses passes Self Drive Act with bipartisan support

There’s a lot of division in American politics these days, but there appears to be one area where both sides of the aisle can come together–and that is the importance of advancing autonomous vehicles. The federal government on Wednesday passed a bill that takes safety regulations and guidelines of non-commercial, driverless vehicles out of individual states’ hands and makes it a federal issue. The bill blocks states from regulating “the design, construction, or performance” of automated vehicles, arguing that too many individual states have been passing contradictory laws that, together, are hindering the technology’s progress and prevent vehicles from traveling over state lines. The bill does allow technology and vehicle companies to seek exemption from federal safety standards for up to tens of thousands of vehicles at a time, provided that “safety is not downgraded.” For example, if Google’s Waymo doesn’t want to put steering wheels in their self-driving cars (as they have been known not to do), they can apply for an exemption if they can prove it does not diminish the car’s safety. The Self Drive Act does not apply to commercial trucks bigger than 10,000 pounds, or vehicles meant to carry more than 10 passengers or hazardous materials. The trucking industry is a sensitive area for the federal government as it relates so much to the economy, particularly when job losses for human drivers are considered. Read more about the Self Drive Act from the Washington Post.

 

FiveAI using CCTV footage to study intersections to improve driverless car software

UK-based startup FiveAI is using the City of London’s existing CCTV footage of certain intersections and street junctions to study car and driver behavior to create better simulations for improving self-driving car software. In particular, FiveAI’s engineers want to study how human drivers, cyclists and pedestrians react differently to traffic lights from country to country. For example, in one country, cyclists may tend to obey all traffic lights as though they were driving a car, such as by stopping at a red light or observing a stop sign, but in another country where cyclists are more bold, they may breeze right through a similar intersection. Engineers say that by studying this behavior, they can better train artificial intelligence (AI) systems to better predict human behavior in different situations. That encompasses one of the company’s two main focuses currently–prediction. The other focus is perception. FiveAI is working to train AI systems to better sense how far away an object or obstacle is, and overall to create a “dynamic model of the world around it,” to help build a more detailed navigational map of the world. Read more about FiveAI from WIRED.

 

Honolulu to begin testing driverless rail cars

Honolulu rail officials have partnered with Ansaldo Hawaii Joint Venture to build driverless rail cars. Testing of the rail cars was set to begin this week in a short circuit loop on a section of elevated railway in Wapiahu. A human operator will be on board during the testing. In addition, lawmakers approved a bill that would increase the city’s hotel tax by one percentage point to raise another $2.4 billion for the project. The governor is expected to sign the bill. Read more from the Business Journal.

News Roundup: Self-Driving Car Systems ‘Tricked’ By Vandalized Road Signs, Ultra-Modern Driverless Pods to Debut in Dubai, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Some of the most interesting headlines to come out of the driverless and connected-vehicle industries over the past week:

U.K. government: Car sellers will be held responsible if cars are hacked

In a surprising and bold move, the British government’s Department of Transport on Sunday, Aug. 6 released new guidelines regarding cybersecurity of connected vehicles. In particular, the guidelines state that in cases where a connected vehicle’s system is hacked, the board members of the company that sold the breached vehicle will be held accountable. Furthermore, the guidelines state that “companies should build in-house knowledge of security threats, while getting help from third parties where appropriate,” such as by utilizing open-source platforms and peer-reviewed code when appropriate. The companies “need to be able to support data forensics if something goes wrong,” the department stated. Read more from Fortune Magazine.

 

Researchers discover that graffiti on road signs can trick self-driving cars into driving dangerously

In a rather disturbing new discovery, researchers announced this week that many self-driving car systems can be fooled by simple graffiti on road signs. “Placing stickers or posters over part or the whole of a road sign could be used to trick the smart car into ignoring stop signs, even if visually they appear the same to the human drivers,” said a team of researchers at the University of Washington. In particular, the study revealed that stickers added to a stop sign tricked a self-driving car’s software into thinking it was a speed limit sign for 45, so the car drove right through the stop sign. In another example, by simply altering the color of a right-turn arrow on a road sign, the self-driving car’s software misinterpreted the sign to be a stop sign, and stopped in the middle of traffic. The team said they hope the results of their study help developers to build better defense systems in autonomous vehicles. Read more from The Telegraph

 

Careem’s ultra-modern driverless pods to hit Dubai streets soon

The Middle East is fast becoming a transportation innovation powerhouse. Careem, the Middle East-based tech company behind the highly successful car-booking app of the same name, announced that their sleek, ultra-modern driverless pods will soon be hitting the streets of Dubai. Overall, Careem says they aim to have at least one-quarter of all vehicle trips in the emirate to take place in a driverless vehicle by the year 2030. Careem recently announced the wrapping up of the company’s Series E funding, bringing the company’s total valuation to around $1 billion. Significant recent investors hail from the U.S., Germany and Saudi Arabia. In addition, Careem’s self-driving software was created in partnership with California-based NEXT Future Transportation, and Careem’s navigation system now integrates with Google Maps. In another impressive innovation, Careem contracted with Digital Barriers for its new driver facial recognition system, which will virtually eliminate cases of car theft by preventing cars from operating for anyone other than the car’s owner or other approved users. Careem’s car-booking app operates in 80 cities worldwide, and boasts roughly 6 million users. Read more about Careem from ZDNet.

Image: Rendering of Careem’s driverless pods that will soon hit the streets of Dubai. Credit: Careem

News Roundup: India Says ‘No’ to Self-Driving Cars, Two Companies Plan Cross-Border Road Test for Driverless Cars, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of recent headlines to come out of the driverless and connected-car industries this past week:

India says No to driverless cars over fear of job losses

India’s transport minister, Nitin Gadkari, told news outlets this past week that driverless cars will not be allowed in India anytime soon, due to the number of job losses it could lead to. Gadkari said India’s unemployment rate is still too high to risk losing jobs to automated vehicles. As it is currently, he said the country is in need of at least 100,000 more commercial drivers and he looks forward to being able to provide the Indian people with so many available jobs. In addition, India officials estimate that the amount of infrastructure changes that would be needed to prepare India for self-driving cars would be far too expensive given the nation’s current economy. Gadkari did say he would not rule out the technology altogether in the future if India’s situation improves. Read more from BBC News.

 

Manhattan proposal wants to transform cross-island highways into roads exclusively for driverless vehicles

Manhattan-based architecture firm Edg has proposed a bold project that they say would reduce urban pollution and congestion in Manhattan and make some major roadways on the island exclusive to driverless cars. The proposal, called “Loop NYC,” wants to take major roadways that cut across the island–namely, 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 57th, 86th and 110th streets–and turn them into roads that are exclusive to driverless cars. Edg says this could cut down traffic time from the current 40 minutes it takes to drive a loop from Grand Central Station to Lower Manhattan and back down to just 11 minutes, with traffic flowing more smoothly thanks to self-driving vehicles. In addition, Loop NYC wants to create enormous green spaces and pedestrian bridges that would cross over the driverless roadways and would be exclusive to pedestrians and bicyclists, improving beauty while reducing pollution, as well as increasing the city’s walkability. As expected, the proposal is still “largely speculative” in nature, particularly given the fact that the federal government still has not approved a nationwide set of laws and regulations for driverless cars. Read more about Loop NYC on ArchDaily.

 

Two companies plan road test for driverless cars across the border from the U.S. into Canada

Two major companies working on driverless vehicle technology, Continental and Magna, are teaming up for a whopper of a road test. The two companies plan to send self-driving cars across the border from Michigan into Sarnia, in Toronto, Canada. The cars will reportedly cross the border at two locations–through the tunnel from Detroit into Windsor, and crossing the Blue Water Bridge into Sarnia. Reps say the cars’ “driverless mode” will be enabled whenever possible but will likely include a few instances when the driver will take over control. They add, crossing an international border makes for incredibly unique driving conditions, which will allow Continental and Magna to collect a lot of valuable data from the cars’ cameras, LiDAR and radar. In addition, the test will reveal future hurdles when it comes to crossing the borders of two different countries with two different sets of laws and regulations. Read more from TechCrunch.

Image: Loop NYC rendering by Edg

News Roundup: Congress Wants to Bar States From Preempting Federal Driverless Laws, Dutch Startup Amber Generates Big Buzz with Self-Driving Cars, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Here is our roundup of headlines to come out of the driverless vehicle industry this week.

Dutch startup Amber making waves with self-driving cars

Quite a buzz is forming around Dutch mobility startup Amber. The company has positioned itself as strong competition for larger firms like Tesla Motors, Uber, Google’s Waymo and others by announcing plans to add self-driving cars to its on-demand ride service in the Netherlands by mid-2018. Amber was originally the brainchild of students at the Eindhoven University of Technology, which is known for its advanced automotive curriculum. Amber is partnering with five different software companies and research institutes, including Nvidia and Microsoft, that have already developed self-driving software. Automotive consultancy firm Roland Berger recently ranked The Netherlands at the top of its Automotive Disruption Radar. Read more from VentureBeat.

 

Spokesperson: U.S. Congress may introduce bills this week that will bar states from preempting federal driverless laws

A spokesperson for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Subcommittee said members expect driverless vehicle legislation to be introduced as soon as this week. The legislation could then begin debate on the House floor by next week. Rumors suggest one of the biggest provisions of the legislation would bar individual states from setting their own regulations for driverless vehicles that would preempt federal regulations, and would prevent the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from pre-approving self-driving car technologies. It is also believed the legislation will allow for up to 100,000 vehicles per year per manufacturer to be exempt from from federal motor vehicle safety rules that prevent the sale of self-driving vehicles without human controls. Several auto manufacturers that are working on driverless technology, such as Tesla, Google and General Motors, have long been lobbying Congress to preempt state regulations that they feel limit the progress of the technology, particularly in California. Read more from NewsMax.

 

International survey names Tesla, Waymo, Bosch among ‘most investible’ companies in driverless race

International law firm Gowling WLG and economic research agency Explain the Market conducted a year-long survey of investors, asking them which companies they felt the most confidence investing in when it comes to autonomous vehicle technology. Auto manufacturers Tesla Motors (26%) and BMW (22%) earned the most investors’ votes in their category. Google’s Waymo won the IT firm category by a landslide with 36% of votes. The next closest company in the IT category was Apple with 11%. Among tech brands, Bosch left many others in the dust, earning 54% of investors’ votes. Read more from Information Age.

Image: Amber self-driving car, courtesy of Amber

Waymo Taps Rental-Car Giant Avis as a New Self-Driving Car Partner, Russia Enters the Driverless Game, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Our roundup of recent news to come out of the driverless, connected-vehicle industries:

U.S. Congress appears to enjoy bipartisan support for driverless vehicle legislation

News outlets are reporting that discussion of driverless vehicle legislation that would propel forward adoption of the technology was received positively in Congress last week, and that there is a chance some bills could be voted on before the end of the month. Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle appear eager to progress the advent of self-driving vehicles, and make it easier for car manufacturers and tech firms like Ford, Tesla Motors, Google’s Waymo and NVIDIA to bring their products into the market through loosening restrictive laws. They also seek to create a level of consistency from state to state, many of which have widely varying laws for self-driving vehicles. Read more from The Motley Fool.

 

Russia moves full speed ahead toward driverless vehicles, will soon debut bus

Russia will not see itself fall behind the west, and has announced it will be debuting a fully autonomous shuttle bus at the upcoming third Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September. The debut ride will be jointly hosted by the companies behind the project — Bakulin Motors Group (BMG) and the Skolkovo innovation center. The bus is called Matryoshka, and can carry 8 to 12 passengers, carry cargo, or be used as a public utility vehicle. The bus is electric and its battery will allow it to travel a distance of up to 80 miles at speeds of up to 18 miles per hour. Passengers can even call the operator via video call from their seats. Russia does not yet have laws allowing for driverless vehicles on public roads, so all testing thus far has been done on closed courses. Read more from RBTH.

 

Waymo enters agreement with Avis Budget Group to manage its fleet of driverless cars in Phoenix

Avis Budget Group, which owns the rental-car brands Avis and Budget, as well as car-sharing company Zipcar, has been tapped by Google’s Waymo to manage its fleet of self-driving cars in Phoenix. The fleet recently started allowing members of the public to test its vehicles in April of this year through its “early rider program.” The program aims to discover where people most want to be able to use self-driving cars, and has been picking up and dropping off passengers for the past few months. As per the deal, Avis will clean the cars and perform regular maintenance and minor repairs as needed. Read more from the Washington Post.

 

Image by Waymo & Avis Budget Group

News Roundup: Congress Set to Weigh 14 Driverless Vehicle Bills, Univ. of Michigan to Get Two Self-Driving Shuttles, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of new headlines to come out of the driverless, connected-car industry this week:

Congress to weigh 14 driverless vehicle bills next week

The federal government is racing to address emerging mobility technology. Their efforts are being led by a series of 14 driverless vehicle bills that will hit the House floor next week. Some of the bills may be swooped up into a larger package the House will be considering. The bills address a number of issues, including whether autonomous vehicles should have to obtain approval for their technology before going to market, establishing guidelines for the sharing of data, and allowing some test vehicles to be exempt from traditional automobile standards. Read more from The Hill.

 

Tesla’s VP of Autopilot, a former Apple engineer, abruptly leaves

A mere six months after joining Elon Musk’s team, former Apple engineer of 12 years, Chris Lattner, has left his position at Tesla Motors as vice president of autopilot software. Lattner announced his departure on Twitter, saying it “turns out Tesla isn’t a good fit for me after all.” He added that he was eager to hear about interesting open roles for “a seasoned engineering leader,” and that his resume was easy to find online. Shortly after, Tesla announced that Lattner’s role was being filled by two people evenly — existing Tesla Autopilot hardware chief Jim Keller, and a new hire, Andrej Karpathy, who reportedly has a PhD from Stanford University in “computer vision.” Read more from The Register.

 

Two driverless shuttles to debut on Univ. of Michigan campus

Mcity, the University of Michigan’s public-private partnership for mobility research including driverless vehicles, will launch a driverless shuttle service on the school’s North Campus this fall. The two shuttles were manufactured by Navya, and are fully automated. Each shuttle can seat up to 15 passengers. “This first-ever automated shuttle service on campus is a critical research project that will help us understand the challenges and opportunities presented by this type of mobility service and how people interact with it,” Huei Peng, director of Mcity and a professor of mechanical engineering at U-M, said in a statement. The shuttles have been being tested since December. Read more from The Detroit Free Press.

 

Image: Still from Univ. of Michigan YouTube video

News Roundup: China’s New Driverless Transit Doesn’t Need Tracks, Trump Administration Addresses Driverless Vehicle Guidelines, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of some of the most interesting driverless industry headlines of the past week:

China shows off new train-bus-tram hybrid that doesn’t even need tracks

Rail transit firm CRRC recently showed off the future of transportation for China. It’s called a “smart bus,” but the industry is describing it as a train-bus-tram hybrid that doesn’t even need tracks. The smart bus can navigate itself without a driver, and needs only lines painted on the ground–no tracks necessary. The prototype vehicle is 32 meters long and can hold a whopping 307 passengers over three connected rail cars, and engineers say rail cars can be added or subtracted as needed. The vehicle can travel at speeds of up to 70km (43.5 miles) per hour and can go a distance of up to 25km (15.53 miles) after charging its lithium battery for just 10 minutes. The official name of the system will be called ART – short for Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit — and government officials say it will debut on a 6.5-km track painted through the city of Zhuzhou beginning in 2018. Officials say it will bring down the costs of public transportation from more than $100 million per km for the existing subway system, to just over $2 million per km for an ART line. Read more from Mashable.

 

Trump administration promises new driverless guidelines by end of year

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao met with automakers in Detroit Monday and spoke briefly about the Trump administration’s plans for driverless cars. Chao promised a revised set of guidelines, different from those released near the end of former President Obama’s second term in September, by the end of this year. Many expect guidelines under President Trump to have a “lighter touch.” Chao pointed to cases such as California, where the number of companies testing the technology is up from just four in 2014 to 30 today, seemingly as proof that looser regulations are helping the technology to progress faster. However, Chao addressed Silicon Valley directly and encouraged more companies to be willing to share data, to help the government learn more about the technology as they work to create the best guidelines for the country. Read more from The Detroit News and The Hill.

 

Lyft adds Boston-based nuTonomy to its list of high-profile driverless car partners

Not long after just announcing a driverless car partnership with Google’s Waymo, ridesharing company Lyft has announced another lucrative project, this time with Boston-based tech firm nuTonomy, for another pilot project. The project will reportedly kick off in the coming months and the first item on its to-do list will be “R&D into the passenger experience,” Lyft CEO and co-founder Logan Green reportedly said in a conference call. Green added, if all goes well, the partnership “could lead to thousands of nuTonomy cars on the Lyft platform.” nuTonomy is known for piloting the world’s first driverless car ridesharing program in Singapore, and recently started testing driverless cars in Boston, where the company is based. Read more from Forbes.

 

Image: Still of Chinese ART rail car from YouTube video by CGTN

Connected, Autonomous Vehicles On Display in Northern Virginia

Jennifer van der Kleut

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Staff and elected officials from Fairfax County in northern Virginia were treated to an up-close look at connected and driverless car technology at a special event last week on May 3.

DriverlessTransportation.com and our sister company, eTrans Systems, which manufactures connected-vehicle software, took part in the event, which examined the logistics and benefits of advancing the technology and also offered test rides in prototype vehicles.

Representatives from Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), Tesla Motors, eTrans Systems and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) brought vehicles with connected and semi-autonomous technology to demonstrate how they work and to show off some of the benefits.

eTrans Systems showed off some of its V2I technology (vehicle-to-infrastructure) on test rides in a large, closed-off parking lot at the Fairfax County Government Center. Through a tablet mounted on the dashboard, riders could see when the system warned the driver if he was going over the speed limit or when the road was about to curve, and informed him of how soon an approaching traffic signal was going to change or when a collision with another vehicle was possible.

Following the demonstration rides, Fairfax County elected officials convened a discussion panel, moderated by David Zipper from the D.C.-based startup incubator 1776, and featuring representatives from eTrans, VTTI, VDOT and the consulting firm RK&K.

John Estrada, founder of DriverlessTransportation.com and CEO of eTrans, began remarks by reminding everyone that some autonomous vehicles are already present in Fairfax County and many other spots around the globe.

“Elevators are autonomous vehicles,” he pointed out. “And anyone who has ever traveled in or out of Dulles Airport has ridden in an autonomous tram.”

Estrada said he thinks the key to slowly introducing the technology to the masses is by starting it much that way–by limiting it to smaller, controlled areas in which they can be the only mode of transportation. He offered the nearby shopping and business districts of Tysons Corner as an example, as well as a few busier spots in Reston such as Reston Town Center and up and down the Sunrise Valley corridor.

In addition to providing a valuable opportunity to perfect the technology in a smaller, controlled environment, autonomous vehicles could also help solve the widespread “last mile” problem of public transit in such areas. This refers to how some people shy away from mass transit like Metro, buses or the subway because it only gets them so far, and then they have no way to get the “last mile” to their needed destination.

Dwight Farmer of RK&K, who previously worked for decades as a planning commissioner in Hampton Roads, Virginia, continued the conversation by pointing out many benefits that municipalities like Fairfax County could enjoy with the advent of autonomous vehicles and V2I and V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) communications.

For example, if safe spacing between vehicles could be reduced, the capacity on our highways could double, Farmer said. This refers to the idea that the distance between cars could be automated through technology so that cars could safely travel very close together without the danger of collision, and the constant start-and-stop that often accompanies gridlock traffic.

Farmer added, with automated safe spacing, cars could also safely increase their speeds by 20 percent, getting people to their destinations even faster and more smoothly.

And, with fewer crashes, those municipalities could save a great deal of money that is normally spent on crash response, which could then be rerouted for much-needed infrastructure improvements.

“I think we’re about to witness extraordinary times,” Farmer concluded.

Moderator Dave Zipper agreed.

“I think [connected and driverless vehicles] are going to bring about the most exciting change in mobility since the Model Ts were first rolled out in 1910,” he said.

Images by Jennifer van der Kleut for DriverlessTransportation.com

News Roundup: Volkswagen Shows Off Sedric the Level-5 Autonomous Car in China, Major Players Weigh In on California’s Proposed Driverless Testing Policies, and More

A look at some of the biggest news stories to come out of the driverless and connected-car world this past week:

Major players weigh in on California’s proposed self-driving testing policies

Representatives from major players in the autonomous drive game, such as Apple, Uber, Tesla Motors and Ford, have been sending comments to California officials on what changes they would like to see made in the Golden State’s proposed policies for testing self-driving vehicles. In particular, Apple wants to change the way companies report “disengagements,” which we assume refers to accidents or collisions. Tesla wrote that they disapprove of the idea of barring testing of vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds. Uber said it should be allowed for people to pay to ride in an autonomous vehicle with a driver behind the wheel in order to provide the company with honest feedback. Tesla also warned that restrictive policies would encourage developers to leave the state. Read more from Business Insider.

 

What to do with the ‘ocean of data’ connected and driverless cars will create each day?

Barclays analyst Brian Johnson said recently that as more and more cars are outfitted with sensors, cameras and LiDAR, the more data they will begin to generate. In fact, a single autonomous car will be capable of generating as much as 100 gigabytes of data per second. “Assuming the entire U.S. fleet of vehicles – 260 million vehicles – has a similar data generation, it would create an ocean of data. To put it in context, one hour’s worth of raw data across the entire U.S. fleet would be around 5,800 exabytes in size,” Johnson said. One exabyte is equivalent to one million terrabytes. That presents a wealth of problems when it comes to the storage, management and analysis of that much data. Many big companies like Tesla, Delphi and Intel have ideas about how to tackle this problem. One idea is “edge analytics,” where information is analyzed close to the sensor itself rather than being sent elsewhere through the cloud. Read more from CNBC.

 

Volkswagen wows with ‘Sedric’ Level 5 autonomous concept car in Shanghai

We first saw “Sedric” the Level-5 autonomous car in March, when Volkswagen showed off renderings of the concept car. Now, Volkswagen is showing off the real thing. The company recently took Sedric to China to show it off at the Auto Shanghai 2017 show. The car is capable of full Level-5 self-driving, and in fact executives said all a passenger has to do it climb in, press a single button to start the car, and then control it throughout the rest of the trip via voice commands. The car has no brakes, controls or pedals. In fact, the car features no “cockpit” at all. See more from Automotive Tires and Parts.

Photo: Interior of Volkswagen’s ‘Sedric’ car / Credit: Volkswagen