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News Roundup: Ford Teases All-New Hybrid-Electric Self-Driving Car, Ouster Puts Its Autonomous Drive Sensor Up For Sale Online, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Ford teases all-new hybrid-electric car designed specifically as a self-driving model

Ford Motors’s executive vice-president of global products, Jim Farley, gave a small sneak-peek this week as to the company’s plans for a self-driving car. In a blog post posted on Medium, Farley said the company has been hard at work behind the scenes designing an entirely new hybrid-electric model to serve as the company’s flagship driverless car. Farley says it will be suited for commercial deployment in both ride-hailing and delivery fleets. Ford representatives plan to start testing these vehicles in 2018, and said they are currently on track for commercial deployment in 2021. The cars will reportedly be manufactured at the company’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant in southeastern Michigan. Read more from Car and Driver.

 

Ouster: Our self-driving Lidar sensor is better, cheaper, and you can buy it now

It’s no secret that there is intense competition in the driverless transportation industry for the software, hardware and sensors that allow vehicles to navigate without needing human drivers. One startup, Ouster, is making waves this week by announcing to the world that their Lidar sensor is better than anything else currently on the market, is less expensive, and, most notably, it’s available for purchase now. The San Francisco-based firm has put its spinning, 64-laser OS1 Lidar sensor up for sale on its website at a price of $12,000. What’s more, the startup said it has raised $27 million from investors like Ford Motors’s Bill Ford and Cox Enterprises to boost production in anticipation of orders. In comparison, one of the most popular sensors on the market today, Velodyne’s HDL-64 sells for $75,000, and Ouster says its sensor is lighter, smaller and more efficient. Some compare the size of Velodyne’s sensor to a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, whereas Ouster’s sensor is half the size of a standard coffee mug. Read more about Ouster and its sensor from Forbes.

 

Apple exec shows off self-driving technology to large group of researchers

The usually secretive Apple gave a rare glimpse into its work on machine learning last week when the company’s director of artificial intelligence, Ruslan Salakhutdinov, entertained a large group of AI researchers during a conference. Salakhutdinov demonstrated how Apple uses machine learning as a technique for analyzing large stockpiles of data, and how it can be beneficial to self-driving vehicles. VoxelNet, Apple’s machine learning project that pertains to self-driving cars, can reportedly detect obstacles such as pedestrians and cyclists efficiently using 3D scans taken by lidar sensors, as well as cameras that can effectively track a car’s location in real-time. Salakhutdinov demonstrated how the VoxelNet software can detect pedestrians even when they are partially hidden behind parked cars, and during inclement weather when raindrops fell on the sensors. Read more from WIRED.

Image: Ouster sensor on a self-driving car navigating in the rain. / Credit: Ouster

Aptiv Finalizes Spin-Off From Delphi, Joins D20 Stock Index

Delphi Automotive (old DLPH) finalized its spin out of Delphi Technologies PLC, the powertrain portion of its business this week, becoming the newest constituent of the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index (D20).  It then renamed the balance of its business as Aptiv, which will focus on three segments: Electrical / Electronic Architecture, Electronics, and Safety.

For every three shares of Delphi Automotive PLC that were held on Nov. 22, shareholders received one share of the new Delphi Technologies PLC. The new company will trade on the NYSE under the old symbol of DLPH. The balance of the company, under the new name Aptiv, will trade on the NYSE under the symbol APTV.

The D20 will add APTV and drop DLPH, because Aptiv focuses on connected driving and driverless technology components. Aptiv will retain the recent acquisitions nuTonomy and Movimento, which bolster its push into driverless technology.

All this spinout activity didn’t help the D20, though. The index had 14 price losers, and lost 1.8 percent of its value, closing at 252.14.

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

Up-and-Comers: 

Lyft’s driverless pilot in Boston has begun its rollout with nuTonomy’s technology powering it.  After a June announcement, Uber’s primary competition in the U.S. has recently begun providing driverless ride service to some Lyft patrons in Boston’s Seaport area. New D20 constituent, Aptiv, purchased nuTonomy for $400 million in October while it was still part of Delphi Automotive.

Image: Aptiv car / Credit: Aptiv

News Roundup: Driverless Trucks by Embark Will Create Jobs for Truckers Rather Than Eliminate Them, GM Plans to Launch Self-Driving Cars in Major Cities in 2019, and More

Embark plans to create jobs with its driverless truck program, not eliminate them

The unique driverless truck company Embark, which is headed by 22-year-old Alex Rodrigues, says if everything goes to plan, their company will create jobs for truckers, rather than eliminate them. Embark’s driverless trucks can currently operate autonomously on highways, but things get trickier when they exit the highway and have to drive the last few miles of a delivery trip on city streets. Rodrigues says the company’s plan is to operate “hand-off depots” where autonomous trucks can exit the highway and a human driver will take over from there, driving the truck the last few miles to its destination. In early days, the company also plans to have two human drivers in their trucks even on highway miles to take turns overseeing operations, to ensure they are rested and focused, plus an additional engineer. Eventually though, those three humans will not be needed for highway miles. Read more about Embark on FastCompany.

 

GM announces planned release of self-driving cars in major U.S. cities in 2019

On an investor call earlier this week, execs from General Motors announced their plan to release self-driving cars on public roads in major U.S. cities by 2019. The proposed timeline indicated they will start with “dense, urban environments” within two years. GM and its newly acquired company Cruise Automation currently test self-driving cars in San Francisco, Detroit and Phoenix, and have already announced plans to start in Manhattan thanks to legislation recently signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. GM’s plan is to reportedly launch a self-driving taxi service similar to Lyft and Uber. Read more from Geek.

 

California vetoes law that would protect autonomous vehicle makers if equipment is not maintained properly

Consumer advocates are praising the most recent action regarding autonomous vehicles taken by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Earlier this week, the CA DMV vetoed a prop0sed law that would have protected autonomous vehicle manufacturers from being held liable if a vehicle malfunctions because its equipment was not maintained up to proper standards. The rule was originally suggested to the state by General Motors, and if adopted, would have held the vehicle owner responsible if they did not clean the car’s sensors according to instructions. Statewide regulations regarding self-driving vehicles are expected to be enacted in 2018, and the public comment period ends soon on Dec. 15. Read more from StateScoop.

Image: Embark driverless truck / Credit: Embark

 

Growth by NVIDIA Helps the D20 Stock Index Bounce Back

Thanks to its phenomenal growth over that last two-plus years, the initial 5-percent stake in the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index (D20) by NVIDIA (NVDA) has grown to more than 25 percent!

The D20 was reset as a $1,000 investment in 20 stocks in August of 2015. So when NVIDIA drops a D20-leading 8.9 percent in price, like it did last week, the D20 takes a pounding.

The D20 lost 3.5 percent of its value, dropping below 260 to 256.64.  NVIDA wasn’t the only big loser, though — BYD (BYDDY) dropped 7.5 percent to close at $17.64, and Renesas Electronics (TYO:6723) shed 6.7 percent to end the week at ¥1339 per share.

Eleven price losers contributed to the D20 loss. The D20 was outperformed by the Dow, which gained 2.9 percent, and the S&P 500, which added 1.5 percent to its value.

There was some bright news for driverless technology in general this past week. Waymo (GOOG) announced that its driverless vehicles have driven over 4 million miles autonomously on public roads.

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

Up-and-Comers:

Russian software giant Yandex, which has a driverless technology project, announced that it recently test drove its driverless taxi for 300km in the snow. Weather in general, but snow in particular, presents real problems for driverless vehicles. Obscured road markings and slippery conditions can play havoc with driverless algorithms.

eTrans Systems, George Mason University Win Fairfax County Transportation and Mobility Hackathon

Jennifer van der Kleut

Teams from Fairfax, Virginia’s eTrans Systems and students from George Mason University’s College of Science led the winners of the Fairfax County Government’s first Transportation and Mobility Hackathon.

Held just before the Thanksgiving holiday, the contest encouraged teams to present innovative solutions to pressing problems such as traffic, congestion, public safety, advancing of connected and automated vehicle technology, and increasing mobility for senior and disabled citizens.

Submissions were judged over many criteria, including potential for scalability and widespread adoption, use of a diverse set of data in its design and approach, the potential for the biggest impact on local safety and quality of life, and how easily organizations could partner to implement the process.

eTrans Systems presented the idea for the E-Walk smartphone application, which would connect the user to traffic infrastructure and nearby connected vehicles in real time. The application would not only help the average cyclist or pedestrian as they approach traffic intersections, but would significantly improve safety for the disabled and visually impaired, who have a tough time finding that crosswalk button or being able to tell if vehicles or other humans are coming in their direction.

As the first-place winner of the Hackathon, eTrans Systems was awarded $3,000 by the Fairfax County Government for further work in developing the E-Walk app.

Runners-up included second-place winners All Traffic Solutions and third-place winners Qlarion.

The top winners in the student category, the team from George Mason University (GMU), presented their artificial-intelligence-driven early crash warning system, which won them a $1,500 prize.

Other entrants included Go Together, Virginia Department of Transportation, Virginia Tech, Fluxity, Edge360 and Old Dominion University.

See video of many of the pitch presentations on the Fairfax County Government’s Hackathon web page.

Image via Pixabay

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 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

Navya Self-Driving Shuttle Hit By Semi-Truck

Jennifer van der Kleut

Just two hours after officials celebrated the launch of a new self-driving shuttle service in downtown Las Vegas, the shuttle was in a crash with a semi-truck.

The eight-passenger, electric shuttle, built by Navya and operated by Keolis, was launched as part of a study on the efficiency of Level 4 autonomous vehicle technology and the public’s response to it, sponsored by AAA, Keolis North America, the city of Las Vegas, and the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. It is reportedly the first Level 4 autonomous vehicle to be launched on public roads in the U.S.

Early reports of the crash suggest that the fault lies with the other vehicle, however.

According to statements quoted by Car And Driver and the Associated Press, the Navya shuttle was cruising along down the street when a semi-truck began backing out of a driveway. As it was supposed to, the shuttle’s technology detected the obstacle and came to a complete stop. However, the semi-truck continued to back up, and eventually it struck the shuttle on the left-front driver’s side.

“If only the truck had the autonomous technology, this would likely not have occurred,” John Moreno, manager of AAA’s Northern California, Nevada and Utah office, told Car and Driver.

Moreno also told Car and Driver and the Associated Press that police told him they have issued a citation to the driver of the semi-truck.

Within days of the crash, which many are describing as a mere “fender-bender” with no injuries or significant damage, the shuttle was back in business, returning to its route downtown. However, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) plans to investigate the crash further, Car and Driver reports.

The shuttle is set to operate on a 0.6-mile fixed route that includes three pick-up/drop-off spots along Fremont East, located in downtown but separate from the bustle of the main Las Vegas strip. Over the next year, sponsors expect at least 250,000 passengers to take a ride in the shuttle, with each one being asked to complete a public perception survey after their ride. AAA plans to donate $1 for each passenger that rides the shuttle during the study, to benefit victims of the mass shooting that took place in Las Vegas on Oct. 1.

Image Credit: Navya

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

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