News Roundup: Apple Publishes Self-Driving Car Research, Uber Makes Big Purchase For Self-Driving Fleet, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Apple publishes snippets of its self-driving car research online

In spite of its highly secretive past when it comes to whether or not the company is investing in the development of self-driving technology, Apple scientists this week published some of their research findings online. The paper, written by Yin Zhou and Oncel Tuzel, was submitted to the Japanese news outlet arXiv. It mostly discusses the two scientists’ ideas as to how self-driving cars could better spot human obstacles such as pedestrians and cyclists while at the same time using fewer sensors using only LiDAR. Zhou and Tuzel call their newly-dreamt-up software approach “VoxelNet.” In April, Apple filed an application for the testing of self-driving vehicles in California. Read more from Reuters.

 

Uber inks deal to purchase 24,000 Volvos for self-driving fleet

As the company deals with major blowback over its alleged cover-up of the theft of 57 million users and drivers by hackers, Uber is still moving ahead with big plans. Namely, one of its big plans that made headlines this week was a billion-dollar-deal with Sweden’s Volvo Cars to purchase 24,000 of the automaker’s XC90s for the forming of its own self-driving fleet. Uber representatives will reportedly add their own sensors and software to the cars to give them the ability to operate “pilot-less.” Uber previously agreed to use 100 XC90s for self-driving tests in Pittsburgh. Read more from SFGate.

 

UK’s new budget includes big investment to get driverless cars on public roads within the next few years

The UK’s Treasury announced this week that the government is including millions of pounds in its next budget for technology, with a significant portion earmarked for the advancement of driverless vehicle technology. The package will reportedly include 75 million for “artificial intelligence,” 160 million for the development of 5G mobile technology, and 100 million for the training of more computer science teachers throughout the nation. Interestingly, a press release by the Treasury also promised “bold reforms” and a huge investment of 28 billion for the advancement of driverless technology that means “nobody behind the wheel.” In particular, the British company FiveAI, which develops self-driving software, is already hard at work aiming to have driverless cars on public roads by 2019, though still with humans behind the wheel for emergencies. However, within just two years after that, FiveAI representatives say they expect to have fully-autonomous cars ready for the public that would include “remote supervision.” Read more from BBC News.

Image by Uber

Tesla Semi, Roadster Reveals Not Enough to Push D20 Stock Index to Gain

A four-percent stock price jump by Tesla Motors led the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index’s (D20) this week.

Tesla’s (TLSA) reveal of the new Tesla Semi electric big-rig dominated industry headlines this week, helping the company’s stock jump from $302.99 to $315.05 per share. In a big surprise, Tesla CEO Elon Musk also revealed a new Roadster during the same event, which no one was expecting.

Tesla’s real financial fate still hangs on whether or not they can untangle the production problems they have on the Model 3, their reasonably-priced, mass-market electric vehicle.  Their target production rate for the Model 3 is 20,000 cars a month by the end of December. Tesla only produced 260 Model 3s in the last quarter.

Unfortunately, the rest of the D20 didn’t fare so well this week. Eleven price losers dominated the Index and caused it to lose 0.7 percent, closing the week at 259.27.

The Dow and S&P 500 both outperformed the D20 this week. The Dow only dropped 0.3 percent, while the S&P 500 dipped just 0.1 percent to close at 2578.85.

Visit the Driverless Transportation D20 Stock Index page to learn more about it and its component stocks.

Up-and-Comers:

Optimus Ride, a Boston-based startup, announced that it raised $18 million in series A funding. Reps from the MIT spin-off company said they will utilize the additional capital to increase their vehicle fleet and make strategic hires. Optimus Ride has received approval from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to test highly automated vehicles in the commonwealth.

Tesla Unveils Electric Semi-Truck and ‘Surprise’ Roadster

Jennifer van der Kleut

Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk made two huge unveilings this week, revealing a new electric semi-truck that can reportedly travel up to 500 miles on a single charge, and an electric sports car.

The big-rig, named the Tesla Semi, can reportedly go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in about five seconds. According to the Washington Post, it puts the driver at the center of the cab, much like a race car, and features touchscreens like the company’s Model 3.

Musk told the crowd at Thursday night’s event that the truck’s design makes for a simple, smooth ride, even if one is not trained to drive a large commercial truck.

“What does it feel like to drive this truck? It’s amazing! It’s smooth, just like driving a Tesla,” he said. “I can drive this thing, and I have no idea how to drive a semi.”

Musk touted the benefits of the Tesla Semi and how it will not only be kinder to the environment, but will also be at least 20 cents a mile cheaper to operate than diesel trucks, which he compared to “economic suicide.”

Musk promised the Tesla Semi will be available for purchase beginning in 2019.

While news outlets were prepared for the unveiling of the semi-truck Thursday night, Musk shocked many when he said during the event that he also had “one more thing” to show them, and brought out the new electric Tesla Roadster.

Fortune Magazine said even a majority of Tesla Motors’ roughly 30,000 employees weren’t aware of the surprise reveal.

Chief designer Franz von Holzhausen and a team of employees reportedly worked on the roadster in secret in a facility in Hawthorne, California, near where Musk’s other company, SpaceX, is headquartered.

Von Holzhausen drove the roadster prototype out of the back of one of the Tesla Semi trucks at the end of the big reveal event Thursday.

According to Fortune reporters who were at the event, the new iteration of the roadster “is roomier at four seats, comes with a removable top, and is faster. A lot faster. The car will travel a whopping 0 to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds [with] a top speed of 250 mph (or even more, Musk said).”

The roadster will reportedly be able to go up to 620 miles on a single charge, which is double the distance all of Tesla’s other vehicles can currently travel.

The roadster will be available in 2020, but the company is already taking reservations. The sports car will have a base price of $200,000, and those interested will have to put down $50,000 as a deposit to reserve one.

Meanwhile, as Tesla continues to unveil these “surprise” new inventions, one can’t help but wonder why the company continues to add new products to its already-overwhelmed line when it is so behind in delivering vehicles people have already reserved and are still waiting for.

Barely a week or two ago, Musk was lamenting the company’s “production hell” on the Model 3, which was released in July. In the first quarter following the Model 3’s release, the company had expected to deliver 1,500 of the vehicles, and only managed to produce 260.

Musk blamed the production lag on challenges with “robot callibration” and battery packs at the company’s Gigafactory production facility in Nevada, according to the Washington Post.

Musk describes the process of building a Model 3 car as “intensely automated,” pointing out that each car is assembled from scratch and includes more than 10,000 separate parts.

Images by Tesla Motors

China’s BYD Company Powers D20’s 2nd Consecutive Weekly Gain

Six price gainers, led by China’s BYD Company and Renesas Electronics, overcame 14 price losers to boost the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index (D20) 0.4 percent to 261.21.

For the second consecutive week, The D20 outperformed the Dow, which lost 0.5 percent, and the S&P 500, which dipped 0.2 percent.

BYD was the D20’s leading price percentage gainer, adding 7 percent to its value and closing at $18.36. This is a slight turnaround from previous losses this fall, due to fierce competition in the global market over electric and hybrid vehicles, and the Chinese government’s indecision over whether to mandate all new vehicles in the country be electric.

NVIDIA rolled to a six consecutive week of gains by climbing 3.6 percent and ending the week at $216.14 a share.  Renesas has also been on a roll with a six week positive streak by adding 2.7 percent and finishing at ¥1488 per share on the Tokyo Exchange.

Visit the Driverless Transportation D20 Stock Index page to learn more about it and its component stocks.

Up-and-Comers:

Chinese Electric vehicle start-up, Nio, has raised $1 billion in its latest round of fund-raising. The round was led by Tencent Holdings Ltd., the investment arm of Chinese computing giant Tencent.  Tencent and Baidu seem to be locked in a battle for supremacy of the driverless market leadership in China, with escalating investments and announcements.

News Roundup: Waymo Debuts Level 4 Autonomous Cars on Public Roads, Renault Touts New Intelligent Driverless System, and More

Waymo goes Level 4-autonomous on public roads in Arizona

Google’s self-driving car spin-off company, Waymo, made headlines this week when it announced they were operating Level-4 autonomous cars on public roads in Arizona (and were the first company ever to do so). Level 4 means no “safety driver” monitoring conditions in the “driver’s” seat. As of mid-October, Waymo reps say their driverless mini-vans have been running empty on Arizona roads with no one in the driver’s seat, but with a Waymo employee riding like a passenger in the back of the vehicle. Soon, Waymo CEO John Krafcik says they will progress to allowing members of its Early Rider’s Program go for rides in the vehicles, and also expand the pilot to areas outside of their current location in Chandler, Arizona, which is a suburb of Phoenix. Read more and see a video on The Verge.

 

Renault: Our autonomous drive system can avoid obstacles as well as a pro human driver

Renault made some big claims this week that are raising eyebrows in the driverless vehicle industry. Reps say their new self-driving system has been tested against a professional driver (human) and that it has consistently been able to avoid obstacles just as well. The system was developed in partnership with Stanford University’s Dynamic Design Lab, led by director and engineer Chris Gerdes, who is a former U.S. Department of Transportation Chief Innovation Officer. Simon Hougard, director of the Renault Open Innovation Lab, said Renault’s goal is to be the first to bring “mind-off” technology to the mainstream consumer, with a goal of doing so by 2020. Read more and see a video on Engadget.

 

South Korea set to open driverless ‘test city’ in 2018

South Korea’s transport ministry announced this week that they will be opening their own mini city for developers to test driverless vehicles in, and that it will be called “K-City.” The city will be 320,000 square meters, and it will be located in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province. Roughly $11 billion won, or approximately $9.77 million U.S., has been invested in K-City so far. Representatives say the first part to be constructed was a testing highway and further plans will include features like “downtown areas, city outskirts and communal environments,” and that they plan to simulate at least 35 different driving conditions such toll gates, tunnels, intersections, construction sites and even train-track crossings. They first plan to open up K-City to Level 3 vehicles, in which a driver in the front seat is prepared to take over control if necessary, and move on from there. Read more from NextBigFuture.com.

Image: Waymo Level 4 self-driving mini-van / Credit: Waymo

Denso, Renesas Help Rocket D20 Stock Index to New Height

Fifteen price gainers, led largely by Renesas and Denso, powered the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index (D20) to a new all-time high this week.

The D20 gained 1.8 percent to close at 260.10. It easily outperformed the Dow, which gained 0.4 percent, and the S&P 500, which added 0.3 percent to close at 2587.84.

The D20 is now up over 50 percent since the beginning of 2017.

Three stocks drove most of the D20’s rise this week–Renesas Electronics (TYO:6723), Denso (DNZOY) and Volkswagen (VLKPY).

News broke this week that Renesas will provide chips to Denso and Toyota (TM) for Toyota’s driverless car program. Toyota has set a goal of 2020 for market availability of its self-driving vehicles.

Renesas Electronic’s stock price jumped 7.6 percent to close at ¥1449 per share while Denso’s ADR gained 7.4 percent to end the week at $28.

For the third consecutive week, Volkswagen’s ADR made positive progress. It rose 7.4 percent this week to close at $37.83. It announced October’s U.S. sales were up 11.9 percent compared to October of 2016.

Visit the Driverless Transportation D20 Stock Index page to learn more about it and its component stocks.

Up-and-Comers:

It has been a good year for investing in Driverless Technology startups, according to a new report put out by TechCrunch. In a report posted on Nov. 4 (see below), TechCrunch states that 2017 investments, already totaling at $1.4 billion, are already more than double the total for all of 2016. According to TechCrunch, Silicon Valley is the most popular place for these investments, followed by Israel.

 

News Roundup: Waymo Gets Patent For Exterior Airbags On Self-Driving Cars, Ford to Test ‘Cellular-V2X’ Tech in San Diego and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

 

Waymo granted patent for exterior airbags

Google’s self-driving car spinoff company, Waymo, has been granted a patent for an airbag system that would be located on the outside of a car. Since self-driving cars are outfitted with sensors, cameras, radar and lidar on the outside of the car, Waymo engineers argue that the car itself can predict an accident even sooner than a human driver can (or can’t, if he or she is distracted). The concept of exterior airbags could protect passengers in the vehicle from an impact, as well as “reduce the likelihood of severe injuries or damage to objects such as pedestrians, bicyclists, animals, other vehicles, or simply inanimate objects.” Read more from Silicon Beat.

 

Mcity autonomous vehicle testing ground gets big investment from automakers, corporations

Mcity, the University of Michigan’s testing ground for autonomous vehicles, has received a total of $11 million in funding from 11 different companies, both corporations and automakers. Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Honda all contributed about $1 million each, and other corporations like State Farm Insurance, Verizon, LG and others. Mcity is a 32-acre man-made “city” where companies can conduct research and test autonomous vehicles. The hub offers a number of varied conditions for vehicles to test in, such as different road conditions, four-lane highways, high-pedestrian streets featuring fake, mechanical pedestrians, and much more. Read more from HybridCars.com.

 

Ford partnering with AT&T, Qualcomm and Nokia to test ‘cellular-V2X’ technology

Ford Motor Co. announced this week that it has formed a partnership with Qualcomm, AT&T and Nokia to test cellular modems that can connect vehicles to each other and to roadside infrastructure to help better navigate in bad weather or construction zones. “Cellular-V2X” technology, as it is called, aims to connect vehicles with traffic lights, roadside beacons and other vehicles on the road to share real-time information about driving conditions. It’s meant to improve safety, as well as help speed up the deployment of self-driving vehicles. Testing is scheduled to take place in San Diego, California before the end of the year. For testing, Ford vehicles will be outfitted with Qualcomm hardware powered by AT&T’s 4G LTE cellular network and Nokia’s computing technology. Read more from Automotive News.

Image: Rendering of self-driving minivan with exterior airbags by Waymo

Volkswagen Comeback Leads D20 to Small Gain

A strong comeback has made Volkswagen (VLKPY) the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index’s percentage price gainer of the week.

It appears that market analysts are beginning to think that Volkswagen is a “buy” again.  After a little over a year of stock market punishment that saw Volkswagen lose 42 percent of its market value in less than a month due to “Diesel-gate,” Volkswagen is making a comeback.

Volkswagen stock has almost made it back to where it was in early September of 2015–around $36 per share–which is when the bad news broke. Volkswagen’s stock jumped 5.45 percent this past week, closing at $35.22.

Thirteen price gainers just barely overcame seven large losers, to nudge the D20 up 0.17 points to close the week at 255.44. The D20’s 0.1 percent gain was not enough to beat the Dow which added 0.5 percent to its value or the S&P 500 which inched up 0.2 percent.

Chinese electric vehicle maker, BYD (BYDDY) was the D20’s stock price percentage loser this week. Its price dropped from $19.52 to $17.71, a 9.3-percent drop. Global competition in the electric and hybrid vehicle market continues to heat up and hurt BYD’s stock price.

Another D20 lowlight was Tesla (TSLA), whose stock price dropped 7 percent in advance of its earnings release this coming Wednesday, as the number of Model 3s produced in this quarter was 80 percent less than targeted.

Visit the Driverless Transportation D20 Stock Index page to learn more about it and its component stocks.

Up-and-Comers:

Nutonomy, the Boston-based driverless car software company, has announced that it was purchased by D20 constituent Delphi (DLPH) for $450 million. The purchase doubles the number of engineers working for Delphi on driverless technology to 200.  Nutonomy’s previous partnerships with Lyft and Peugeot will continue.

Blickfeld, a German start-up focused on developing LiDAR systems for driverless vehicles, announced that it has received $4.25 million in venture seed funding. Blickfeld’s approach is to use off-the-shelf components and silicon, which should lower the cost per unit when they are put into production in vehicles. One of the investors is Fluxunit, part of Osram/Sylvania, one of the world’s leading lighting technology companies.

Volvo is the D20’s Bright Spot This Week, As Orders For New Trucks Surge

Though Volvo AB announced promising quarterly earnings and both the Dow and S&P 500 hit new highs, the D20 Stock Index lost ground this week.

Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 Index reached all-time highs this week.  The Dow did so in spectacular fashion, broaching the 23,000 mark for the first time and adding 2 percent to its value while closing the week at 23,328.63.  The S&P 500 Index gained 0.9 percent and finished at 2,575.21, a new record as well.

With only six price gainers and 14 price losers, the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index (D20) lost 0.4 percent of its value, closing down 1.1 points at 255.26.  The last week the D20 lost ground while both the Dow and S&P 500 stayed even or rose was the week ending July 28, 2017.

One bright spot for the D20 was Volvo AB (STO: VOLV-B), whose announced quarterly earnings beat market profit expectations as orders for its trucks surged. Shares prices for Volvo AB, which are traded on the Stockholm exchange in SEK, jumped from 155.5 to 165.9, a 6.7-percent increase.

Visit the Driverless Transportation D20 Stock Index page to learn more about it and its component stocks.

Up-and-Comers:

Lyft continues to make positive headlines, as Alphabet–the parent company of Google and Waymo–announced it is leading a $1-billion investment round in Lyft. Lyft continues to trail Uber in both market share and valuation, but not in positive press. Uber and Waymo are currently litigating over trade secrets allegedly stolen by a former Waymo employee who later joined Uber.

News Roundup: Alphabet Gets Approval for Its Dream ‘Digital District,’ Two States Push Forward With Driverless Car Testing, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Google’s Alphabet gets a green light to create a ‘digital district’ in Toronto, that includes driverless taxis

One of Alphabet’s spin-off companies, Sidewalk Labs LLC, has signed a major deal with Canada’s Waterfront Toronto to create a miniature “digital city” within the bustling metropolis, in the Quayside area of the Eastern waterfront. The district will take a stab at what the future of transportation looks like by featuring all manner of robotic mobility, including robot taxis, “driverless bike-like vehicles,” robotic delivery vehicles and even autonomous trash collection. Read more about Alphabet and Toronto’s plans from Bloomberg News.

 

GM, Cruise Automation to become the first to test self-driving cars in Manhattan

Officials announced this week that together, General Motors and their newly acquired partner Cruise Automation will be the first to test self-driving cars on public roads in the state of New York. The tests will begin in early 2018. Each test car — a Chevrolet Bolt — will have a pair of humans on board to ensure safety, and will employ Level 4 autonomous technology within a geofenced location. As the editorial staff of Ars Technica put it, GM and Cruise will have their work cut out for them, surely–“Manhattan’s roads are a hellish agglomeration of potholes, double- and even triple-parking, and pedestrian and vehicle traffic unlike anywhere else in the country. Gridlock is routine, and few quarters are given by other drivers before slamming on the horn in displeasure and disgust.” I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Read more from Ars Technica.

 

California may allow self-driving cars to be tested without humans in them by 2018

The Golden State is considering allowing self-driving cars to be tested on roads without humans inside them by the middle of next year, officials announced last week. Officials from the Department of Motor Vehicles proposed a new streamlined timeline for the regulations on Oct. 11, allowing a 15-day comment period from the public. The proposal is expected to be finalized by the end of this year, and approved by the beginning of next year. Then, human-less test cars could be hitting the roads by June 2018 or possibly even sooner, reports indicate. Read more from the Los Angeles Times. 

Image: A line of self-driving Chevy Bolt test cars / Credit: General Motors