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

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.

PlugFest 2017 Helps Vendors, Manufacturers Make Progress on Connected, Driverless Technology

Jennifer van der Kleut

Representatives from several technology firms and equipment manufacturers say they walked away from last week’s PlugFest By the Bay in California feeling optimistic about the progress being made in the connected and driverless vehicle industries.

Companies from around the globe gathered in Fremont, California in the San Francisco Bay Area October 16th to 20th for another iteration of PlugFest, which allows different vendors to literally plug their equipment into each other’s to test interoperability and functionality as they work toward certification by OmniAir.

OmniAir is an independent, nonprofit industry consortium that has created a certification program that sets forth a series of standards for DSRC equipment (Dedicated Short Range Communications). The group encourages companies to bring their equipment up to their standards, which helps increase consistency throughout the industry, and the likelihood that one certified product will be able to function in tandem with others.

Once a product or piece of equipment is certified by OmniAir’s connected-vehicle program, it is added to the organization’s list of certified vendors, plus it allows the manufacturer access to test records and reports for other certified products.

In addition, OmniAir’s website indicates that many local, state and federal agencies–including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)–are already starting to require proof of OmniAir certification in order to submit to requests for proposals or to work on pilot programs.

At the 2017 PlugFest in Fremont, companies such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Dekra, 7layers, IntertekDanlaw and eTrans Systems brought their products to test functionality and interoperability with other vendors as they work toward certification.

Andrew Donaldson from Danlaw, a Michigan-based company that designs and manufactures connected-vehicle telematics, DSRC systems and V2X systems (vehicle-to-traffic system), participated in PlugFest in two ways–by testing their own products together with other products, and also to support other laboratories that use Danlaw’s systems as they work toward certification.

“We allowed them to test in two-hour slots and see if their systems are ready, and if not, why not,” Donaldson explained.

He said he was significantly impressed with the progress he saw from vendors that he had seen at another PlugFest event just a few months ago.

“Vendors are much further on than they were at the last PlugFest in May in Texas,” he said. “Some of the longest-term vendors are already passing tests.”

In addition, Donaldson said he was also encouraged by how many new vendors he saw.

“There are lots of vendors just getting into the space,” he said.

Though it will be a while before these newest vendors achieve certification and are ready for deployment, Donaldson said that is why events like PlugFest are so important, and so valuable for the industry as a whole.

“Some of the newer faces are still struggling a little bit, but we all were in the beginning. So it’s to be expected,” he explained. “But I think the industry has moved forward considerably over the past 12 months.”

Donaldson said confidently that attending three different PlugFests over the past year has helped Danlaw products make significant progress.

“We are getting very close to being ready for deployment,” he said. “That was one of the goals of this event–our devices and equipment are in good shape to do that.”

Rob Baily of eTrans Systems said he felt the same way after leaving PlugFest last week.

“The event allows us [vendors and manufacturers] to sit down together and ‘plug in,’ in order to ensure that [our products and systems] can talk to each other using defined standards,” he explained.

eTrans Systems brought their unique V2X software to last week’s PlugFest in order to test it with other vendors, as well as to support two companies that use eTrans software with their products–Danlaw, and Renesas Electronics.

“There were several vendors there running test systems and pre-certifcation testing, and we were working together with them, running tests on some of our devices like our DSRC radios, and various levels of our software,” Baily explained.

He too said he was impressed by the obvious progress that PlugFest events is bringing about in the connected-vehicle industry overall.

“It’s come a long way from last year, when people were struggling to get the very basics in place, so this year we were able to do a lot more advanced testing,” he said. “So it really shows how far the industry has come just in the last year.”

To learn more about OmniAir, click here.

To learn more about eTrans Systems, click here.

To learn more about Danlaw, click here.

Images: Credit/OmniAir.org

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.

Will Driverless Cars Usher in a Real Estate Building Boom?

Jennifer van der Kleut

The Center for Real Estate Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released a report this week that has industry analysts and media outlets buzzing. Will a shift toward autonomous vehicles over the next decade or two spur a real estate boom, as garages are leveled to make way for more housing and office buildings, and sidewalks are widened to encourage more walking?

The report, entitled “Real Estate Trends: The Future of Real Estate in the United States,” which was sponsored by Capital One Bank, features research on a number of trends relevant to the advent of the technology and its potential impact on real estate across the nation, including housing affordability and inventory, fluctuations in home values, demographics and more, as well as the current boom taking place in the Internet of Things (IoT) industry.

As industry analysts predict that the advent of autonomous cars will bring about a decline in personal car ownership and a subsequent rise in fleet companies that offer ride-hailing services in driverless cars (which a number of companies are currently working on, including General Motors, Uber and others), they predict it will dramatically change the shape of both urban and suburban landscapes.

With less of a need for parking garages–as, presumably, autonomous fleets will pretty much run rides 24/7–the report predicts many inner-city parking garages will become obsolete, and perhaps actually be demolished to make way for much-needed additional housing.

They also predict sidewalks will be widened; with less of a need for on-street parking, designated “drop-off zones” for autonomous fleet cars will be created instead. Widened sidewalks will encourage more walking by pedestrians who can now live in the increased downtown housing and walk to work or to shopping and restaurants.

“Developers are already starting to target parking structures, gas stations and auto dealerships, betting that they’ll be able to redevelop the sites as car ownership becomes obsolete, said Rick Palacios, director of research at John Burns Real Estate Consulting,” reporters at Bloomberg News quoted this week, in response to the report.

Suburbs won’t go away, though–if they don’t have to fight traffic driving into the city themselves anymore, the MIT report predicts that people will still enjoy living in quieter residential neighborhoods and enjoying a relaxing commute to work every day in an autonomous car, when they can nap, get a jump-start on work or watch TV while their robot taxi keeps an eye on the road.

Rick Palacios authored an article in September that expanded on some of the predictions about how autonomous cars will reshape cities and affect real estate.

He pointed out that increased availability of autonomous ride-hailing would also allow senior citizens and the disabled to age at home longer, which would slow home sales to a certain point, but would then be off-set by the building boom of new housing he mentioned to Bloomberg. In addition, he predicts industries like general contracting and home remodeling may get a boost as people retrofit homes to accommodate seniors and disabled persons living at home longer.

Palacios even suggests that home contracting prices may go down, as transportation costs for shipping materials are reduced. He predicts humans will also enjoy lower personal transportation costs, as hailing robot taxis will cost much less than the regular maintenance and up-keep of owning a car, paying for the insurance on it and filling it with gas (especially if a shift toward autonomous cars also means a shift toward electric cars).

Read the entire report from MIT’s Center for Real Estate Research here.

Image: Pixabay

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

NVIDIA Unveils New Pegasus AI Computer, Boosting Stock and Taking D20 With It

This week marked a new all-time high for NVIDIA (NVDA), whose stock price soared 7.3 percent to close at $194.59 a share after the company unveiled its new Pegasus AI computer, which is designed for driverless vehicles.

The license plate-sized computer is 10 times more powerful than its predecessor, the NVIDIA Drive PX 2, and is driven by four high-performance, GPU-embedded AI processors.

Thanks to the incredible performance by NVIDIA, the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index (D20) jumped 1.7 percent to 256.36, its fifth consecutive weekly gain.

As a percentage of value, the D20 has now beaten or tied the Dow and S&P 500 for eight straight weeks. The Dow increased 0.4 percent and closed at 2871.72 this week, while the S&P 500 inched up to 2553.17, a 0.2-percent gain.

In other D20 news, after gaining 75 percent in the last five weeks, BYD Company’s (BYDDY) stock reversed itself and was the D20’s leading price-percentage loser last week. It lost 4.1 percent and closed at $20.11 as rumors subsided about China mandating all vehicles be electric–like those made by BYD–in some of its cities.

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

Up-and-Comers:

Velodyne, the most established LiDAR manufacturer, has announced that they have quadrupled production capacity of their high-performance LiDAR sensors to meet growing demand. This production increase was made possible by Velodyne’s investment in a 200,000-square-foot mega-factory in San Jose, California.

In other LiDAR news, General Motor’s (GM) driverless division, Cruise, has acquired Strobe, a LiDAR sensor maker which, while trying to reduce cost and complexity, has reduced its LiDAR sensor array to one chip.