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

 

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: 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

News Roundup: U.S. Senate Approves Driverless Car Bill, Federal Government Gives State Millions For Automated Taxi Service, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Driverless car bill passes in the U.S. Senate

Members of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved a bill similar to one already passed in the House of Representatives that will presumably help clear the way for driverless car technology to move forward. The bill keeps approval of driver’s licenses, regulation of insurance and enforcement of traffic laws within the states’ purview, but places oversight of the design and manufacture of driverless vehicles in the hands of the federal government–specifically the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Like the House bill, the Senate bill also permits Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to hand individual auto manufacturers exemptions from federal safety standards for up to 100,000 vehicles per year while they are fine-tuning their technology; and it also places responsibility with tech designers to protect their vehicles from cyber attacks. Read more from the Washington Post. 

 

Federal government giving South Carolina county millions for driverless taxis?

According to a news report from a USA Today-affiliated regional newspaper, the federal government has pledged millions of dollars toward the development of a driverless taxi service in Greenville, South Carolina. Greenville Online says $4 million has been pledged to help develop the nation’s first automated taxi service in Greenville County. In a news conference Thursday, county officials announced the first test vehicle will be deployed on the Clemson University campus, in connection with the college’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR). While the test vehicle is only the size of a golf cart, officials said the program’s expansion will feature typical-size vehicles, as well as possible non-emergency medical vehicles for senior and disabled residents. A group called the Global Autonomous Vehicle Partnership is matching funds to help the development of the autonomous vehicles. Read more from Greenville Online.

 

Driverless startup hires execs away from Google’s Waymo, Microsoft

Driverless vehicle startup Nauto is fresh off a monster round of funding, and is already looking to expand its business both locally and globally. In a first step toward that goal, the startup announced this week that it has hired executives from Microsoft, and Google Alphabet’s self-driving car spinoff, Waymo. Waymo’s former head of business, Jennifer Haroon, has joined Nauto as its new vice-president of corporate development and business operations. Microsoft’s former vice-president of global enterprise sales, Sanket Akerkar, joins Nauto as its new senior vice-president of global fleets and insurance. Nauto most recently raised $159 million in funding from a number of major firms, and already has several lucrative partnerships in place with auto manufacturers such as General Motors, BMW and Toyota. The company currently outfits commercial fleets with accident detection devices (shown in image), and is looking to scale out its geographic operations and commercial business. Read more from Recode.

Image: Nauto accident detection device / Credit: Nauto Inc.

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.

NVIDIA rebound lifts D20

After a down week last week NVIDIA (NVDA) returned to its winning ways, leading the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index to an unlikely rebound. Eight D20 price gainers overcame twelve price losers and forced the improbable bounce as the D20 added 1.3 points or 0.6 percent while both the Dow and S&P lost value.  With the markets jittery about the events in Charlottesville, the Dow dropped 183.81 points to close down 0.8 percent at 21674.51 and the S&P lost 0.6 percent and closed at 2425.55.

NVIDIA was the D20 percentage price gainer adding 3.6 percent to its stock value and closing at $161.50.  Last week’s sell-off despite good news about over achieving on quarterly earnings and sales seems to finally have reversed itself.  In other NVIDIA news, it has invested in Chinese autonomous trucking startup, TuSimple.

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

Up and Comers:

Rumors are that Uber is close to naming GE’s ex-CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, to its recently vacated CEO position.  Uber has gone through a gauntlet of issues starting with sexual harassment accusations of a toxic work environment, to Waymo’s lawsuits claiming that Otto, which Uber acquired last summer, stole trade secrets, and now with a fired CEO founder, Travis Kalanick, and a Board of Directors in open dispute.  If Immelt takes the position he will have the fall-out of those issues and a competitor, Lyft, which has taken advantage of Uber’s public missteps to grow its market share from 15.2 percent last year to 22.9 percent in July, according to Second Measure.

Innoviz, Israeli start-up, has been selected by automotive supplier and D20 constituent, Delphi (DLPH), to be its LiDAR supplier. Delphi has recently declared a shift in focus emphasizing supplying the auto parts market with high tech and driverless solutions.

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