News

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

Smart Traffic App ‘ThruGreen’ Aims to Make Every Light Green For You

Jennifer van der Kleut

Aside from being able to nap–without the fear of crashing, of course–during the entire ride to and from work each day, what’s one of the biggest dreams most drivers have about their daily commute?

We’d have to guess, it would be green lights all the way.

Well, if the Washington, D.C.-based startup ThruGreen has its way, that won’t be a dream, it will be a mere tap of an app away.

David Nguyen, founder of ThruGreen, describes himself as “obsessed” with the challenge of finding ways to reduce congestion, particularly as someone who lives in one of the most congested areas of the country. Nguyen said he often marvels at the fact that we still rely on decades-old, analog traffic systems that can’t think intelligently in ways to more efficiently process commuters through intersections and down highways without huge backups.

“There are ways we can work on improving this, and that’s largely what we’re focused on,” he said. “Basically, traffic lights nowadays just don’t have enough info, so the lights never seem to match up with real conditions.”

Nguyen compared the situation to how connected and self-driving prototype cars need to gather a lot of user data to learn and improve their software–but today’s traffic lights aren’t built to gather and learn from data.

“Plus, human drivers are very unpredictable. And then, add on top of that the sheer number of cars on the roads during peak hours in the D.C. area,” he added. “We’ve got so much more capability now. So that’s what I’m working on – applying modern technology to something that’s been relatively unchanged for 40 to 50 years.”

ThruGreen is working on an app that is basically like registering one’s trip with all the traffic lights on the way ahead of time, Nguyen explained.

“The vision is, you get into your car, tell your phone or car where you’re going, and all the traffic signals on your way will be green for you,” he said.

“The app communicates your route and destination to a server, and that server collects [route information like that] from multiple people using the app, and works out logistics and figures out the best way to route everyone so that the lights turn green for everyone as they are approaching,” he said.

Nguyen’s startup, ThruGreen, is just one example of a life that largely centers around all things transportation. Nguyen has already had a long career in the industry, having worked in regulatory affairs in the trucking and auto industries for many years.

As a self-proclaimed transportation nut, Nguyen and his buddies, Greg Rogers from the ENO Center for Transportation, also based in D.C., love to talk about transportation issues. So they started what they like to call Connected CarTalk mobility-themed happy hours earlier this year through the site Meetup.com.

Those who join the group on Meetup meet for happy hour at various locations in D.C., network, and talk about all things to do with traffic, transportation, and the advent of connected-car technology. Nguyen said the group has been thriving since it sprouted.

“We’ve had pretty consistent attendance, with around 40 people at each event, and it seems people are making good connections at these events,” he described.

In fact, the meetups have been so successful, yet another idea came out of them.

“Eventually Greg and I thought, why don’t we have a podcast so we can have some really good conversations?”

Thus, The Mobility Podcast was born. Rogers and Nguyen, together with Greg Rodriguez and Pete Gould, have been broadcasting 30- to 60-minute conversations rounding up industry news, trading opinions on legal issues and ideas for dealing with traffic, and more, for a few months now.

Last month, the group even welcomed their first on-air interview, with Courtney Erlichman of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University and Roadbotics.

Nguyen said he, Gould, Rodriguez and Rogers are encouraged by the response they are getting to The Mobility Podcast so far, and are working toward making their broadcast a regular affair, with a 30-minute show being uploaded to their website every two weeks.

In the meantime, Nguyen said ThruGreen is plugging away, working hard, and hopes to have its first pilot project in a number of intersections up and running in a U.S. city within the next few months. ThruGreen has been working in partnership with eTrans Systems.

“We’re really excited about it,” he said.

See a demo video of the ThruGreen smart traffic app on their website.

Check out the Mobility Podcast online.

Learn more about eTrans Systems online.

General Motors Makes Waves, Pushes D20 Above 250 For First Time

An 11.3-percent stock price jump by General Motors (GM) this week helped push the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index (D20) to a fourth consecutive weekly gain and a new record high.

General Motors has been making waves in the automotive market recently, and it’s paying off in regards to its stock price. General Motors is committing to “zero emissions” and “zero crashes” in the company’s drive toward a totally electric vehicle line-up and its investment in driverless technology. GM’s driverless division, Cruise Automation, has increased the number of driverless cars it is testing in California to 100 in the past three months.

The D20 outpaced the Dow and S&P 500 again this week. It rose 2.3 percent to close over 250 for the first time ever, at 251. 97. The Dow managed a 1.6-percent increase while the S&P 500 moved up 1.2 percent.

Nissan (NSANY) continues to reel from its recall news.  It was the D20’s largest price-percentage loser this week. Its stock price fell 1.8 percent on news that it will recall all new cars sold in Japan in the past 3 years.

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

Up-and-Comers:

Voyage, an off-shoot of the on-demand learning company Udacity, has announced an agreement to test its driverless cars at Villages Golf and Country Club in California.  The San Jose retirement community has 4000 residents and about 15 miles of private roads. Voyage believes that retirement communities are good targets for its technology to help seniors remain independent in terms of transportation.

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.

Blackberry’s Stock Price Explodes, Taking the D20 Stock Index With It

BlackBerry (BBRY) exploded for a 22.5-percent gain in stock price this week, helping the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index (D20) achieve its third consecutive weekly gain.

The BlackBerry share price rose from $9.13 to $11.18 this week, helping eight other gainers overcome 11 price losers and push the D20 up 0.7 percent to close the week at 246.20.

BlackBerry made an announcement  this week that it expects the company will beat a $19-million quarterly profit expectation, pushing Blackberry’s stock price to levels not seen since November of 2014.

The D20 outpaced the Dow’s 0.2-percent gain and matched the S&P 500’s 0.7-percent gain. Since April of 2017, the Dow has risen 8.5 percent while the D20 has skyrocketed 32.5 percent.

Nissan (NSANY) was the D20’s largest price-percentage loser last week. It lost 5.6 percent of its value on news that 11.21 million Nissan cars in Japan will have to be recalled.

Delphi (DLPH) has announced that is going to spin off its automated driving and electrification business in March, and that it will call the new business Aptiv. The D20 will be modified to reflect Delphi’s changes and convert Delphi’s position to Aptiv’s when the spinoff is formalized.

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

Up and Comers:

Luminar, has emerged from stealth mode and announced that one of its current major partners is the Toyota Research Institute (TRI). TRI has just updated its driverless test car to its latest version, 2.1, which now includes Luminar’s LiDAR technology. Luminar’s approach to Lidar has been to design everything from scratch to enable their product to “see” further, to detect black matte surfaces better and yet still be safe for the human eye.

Podcar City Conferences Aim to Change Future Transportation For the Better

Jennifer van der Kleut

As the 11th annual iteration of the Podcar City conference gets ready to kick off November 8th in Las Vegas, organizer Christer Lindstrom says he is feeling encouraged by how much support for the event and the ideology it stands for has grown over the past decade.

Concerned about growing traffic and congestion in cities all over the world, Lindstrom and others got together in the early 2000s and started a think-tank of sorts to discuss ideas for more efficient and sustainable forms of public transportation.

“We wanted to come up with ideas for how to get people around in better, safer, faster ways,” Lindstrom explains.

The International Institute of Sustainable Transportation (INIST) and its annual Podcar City conference came out of that think tank.

The goal of the annual Podcar City conferences is getting stakeholders from four key areas–academia, cities/governments, and technology and planning consultants and specialists–to the table together to discover ways of working together to improve urban landscapes for the future.

For more than a decade now, Podcar City has been doing just that–bringing together people from universities, tech companies, planning departments, civil engineers and architects, as well as consultants and specialists, to collectively look toward the future and design cities that feature more efficient transportation, largely based around the idea of the “podcar.”

Lindstrom and his fellow think-tankers were the first to coin the phrase “podcar” back in the early 2000s. It refers to electric, self-driving, on-demand transportation that can shuttle people around cities and metropolitan areas quickly and efficiently, largely eliminating the need for so many parking garages, and dramatically reducing traffic, congestion and pollution.

For many, that may conjure up images of summoning a small, driverless Uber or Lyft car to pick you up in the morning, drop you off in front of your office, and then take you home at the end of the day. But Lindstrom says, it’s not all about self-driving cars.

“Self-driving cars can’t solve all problems, we need sustainable public transportation as well,” he says.

The advent of new forms of public transportation and on-demand podcars would mean cities and urban landscapes that look dramatically different in the future. That is what the annual Podcar City conferences want to examine, and inspire.

A new addition to the Podcar City itinerary last year, which will be making an appearance again in 2017, is the Urban International Design Conference (UIDC), in which cities look toward the future and how the “podcar” ideology of sustainable transportation would work and change their cities for the better. Cities from around the world are encouraged to form groups of university students and faculty, planners and government officials, and technology specialists to create a presentation of how this technology might work in their city, and how their city might look in the future based on these dramatic changes.

Their design is shared via a kind of virtual reality simulation on a computer in which the user can virtually move around the city by using transportation ideas of the future.

“It’s a kind of planning exercise of how shared-use automation would look like in your city,” says Matthew Lesh, a former mobility expert for the U.S. Department of Transportation and a strategic advisor to Coast Automation, one of the sponsors of this year’s Podcar City conference.

“Each competing city designs a virtual reality simulation of what their city would look like in the future with the introduction of podcar technology –  so it functions kind of like a computer game, in which you can walk and move about the city in the future,” Lindstrom explains.

This year, six cities hailing from the U.S., Australia and Sweden will take part in the UIDC. Lindstrom already says support for the contest has been so great, they are planning to invite 12 cities to take part in 2018.

Much the same, Podcar City conferences themselves are growing exponentially every year, Lindstrom says. Since the beginning, the conferences have alternated years in the U.S. and Europe, but Lindstrom said this week that demand is growing so strong that they may start adding smaller conferences in additional cities each year.

The difference Podcar City is making in the world’s outlook for the future is not difficult to see, both Lesh and Lindstrom have said.

“It’s definitely expanding the audience that’s talking about advanced public transportation,” Lesh said. “It’s no longer just technology providers talking about it. So many times tech providers are the ones running the show – but this annual event allows them to do what they do, but also work together with planners and architects and the people who use the system, and gets everyone to listen to each other.”

“[The event] has contributed a better understanding of what is possible, and kicked off a series of studies in cities around the world,” he added.

“This is something that takes time. Public transportation doesn’t change overnight. But definitely, in the last one or two years, things have started to change dramatically,” said Lindstrom. “People are starting more businesses, more consulting work, and a lot of cities are looking into this more deeply, and talking to each other about it.”

Lindstrom said he is definitely encouraged by the formation of organizations like KOMPASS, a league of cities in Sweden that has joined together to work toward planning sustainable transportation for the future, as well as a group of five cities in California he has heard about that are combining resources and working together in a similar way.

“It’s really growing,” he said.

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“2017 Podcar City and Advanced Transit Conference: Smart City, Smart Transit, Smart Energy” takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada from Nov. 8 to 10, 2017.

Visit our Events page for more information.

You can also visit the official event website.

Images courtesy of Podcar City.

BYD Company Leads D20 to New High For 2nd Week in a Row

Sixteen price gainers out of the 20 Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index (D20) stocks, largely led by BYD Company, ensured this week was a positive one for the D20.

The index jumped 1.7 percent to end the week at 244.4, outpacing the Dow, which rose 0.4 percent, and the S&P 500, which inched up 0.1 percent.

BYD led the D20 for the second week in a row, continuing to ride the rumor wave that the Chinese government is considering phasing out fossil-fuel-based vehicles in some markets in favor of electric vehicles like those that BYD designs and manufacturers.

BYD’s ADR (BYDDY) price jumped 22 percent this week. It has soared 47 percent in value over the past two weeks, moving from $12 per share to $17.60.

Delphi (DLPH) has announced that it will be using Blackberry’s (BBRY) QNX system as the basis for its driverless technology platform. These two D20 companies are working towards a 2019 availability date and will integrate Blackberry’s QNX OS into Delphi’s Centralized Sensing and Location Planning (CSLP).

QNX’s reputation for security was one of the primary reasons Delphi selected it for its driverless operating system.

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

Up-and-Comers:

Baidu, the Chinese search and AI giant, has announced that it has put together a $1.5-billion fund that will focus on driverless technology.

It also announced an upgraded version of its free Apollo driverless operating system, which includes new features like obstacle perception, planning, cloud simulation, high-definition (HD) maps and end-to-end deep learning in this version, numbered 1.5. Who will be Baidu’s first investment?

Autonomous Truck Debuts on Roadways in Colorado (With Video)

Jennifer van der Kleut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Roundup: GM and Cruise Automation Announce ‘Mass-Production-Ready’ Autonomous Car, Renault Teases a Driverless Electric Car That Can Power Your Home, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

GM and Cruise Automation announce ‘mass-production-ready’ self-driving car

Cruise Automation and its parent company, General Motors, which acquired the startup last year, announced this week that their latest self-driving car is ready for mass production. Kyle Vogt, CEO of the San Francisco-based Cruise Automation, said that their latest model has “full redundancy” throughout the autonomous system, so that it’s ready mechanically, and from a sensor and software perspective, to “fail operationally and be safe.” The vehicle itself will be based on GM’s Chevrolet Bolt, and will be manufactured at the company’s plant in Orion, Michigan. GM and Cruise are currently getting everything in place at the plant to be prepared to roll out hundreds of thousands of vehicles per year that, from the outside, look like a normal Chevy Bolt, but on the inside, feature a sophisticated system capable of full automation with no help needed from a human driver. Read more from TechCrunch.

Renault Symbioz is a driverless car that doubles as an extra room in your connected house

Renault’s latest autonomous concept car is much more than that. The “Symbioz” is a sleek, ultra-modern, autonomous vehicle whose seats can rotate to face each other and form a comfortable lounge of sorts. In addition, Renault has designed a smart home that pairs with the car. The car can pull into an open space in the house and become an extension of the room. Both doors can open outward in opposite directions so the car morphs into a pod or smaller room within the room, with the rotating seats providing extra seating. In addition, as an electric car that stores energy in the floor of the vehicle, the car can also serve as a backup power source for the home, providing power in an electrical outage, or supplementing with extra power during peak hours of power usage. Read more and see photos from Car and Driver.

Driverless bus taking passengers around site of 2012 London Olympics

Navya is debuting a self-driving bus in London this week, taking as many as 14 passengers at a time on a loop around the park that was the site of the 2012 Olympics. Though the buses are capable of traveling at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, they will be capped at just 5 miles per hour while operating around Olympic Park. The entire loop around the park takes 12 minutes. Alistair Gordon, CEO of Keolis, the company that is supplying the buses, said the ride is proving to be very smooth and feels like “gliding.” “You’d never know there was no driver in the vehicle,” he told V3. So far, passengers are telling news outlets that they have enjoyed the ride and found it to be “the perfect way to try out an autonomous vehicle” at a slow speed in an environment they found much safer than being on the open road. Read more from V3.

Image: The interior of a Renault Symbioz car, inside a Renault Symbioz smart home. Credit: Renault

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.

Ford and Domino’s Team Up to Autonomously Deliver Pizza, Uber Promises Self-Driving Taxis in Toronto By the End of the Year, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Ford and Domino’s team up to deliver pizzas in autonomous cars (sort of)

Ann Arbor, Michigan residents have a chance to get their pizza delivered in a driverless car–sort of. Domino’s teamed up with Ford Motor Co. for a special pilot program to test people’s reactions to receiving their pizza from a robot. However, though the car is fully capable of driving itself, a Ford engineer will still be behind the wheel, just in case. Customers who order pizza in Ann Arbor will be notified when their pizza has arrived and will have to go outside to meet the car and remove their pizza from a warming oven slot in the outside of the car. Both Ford and Domino’s want to gauge people’s reactions to the technology as well as to having to walk outside to get their pizza themselves, rather than have a delivery employee ring their doorbell. Ford said this is the first step toward many autonomous plans they hope to realize in the future, including robot taxis and delivering groceries via self-driving cars. Read more from Bloomberg News.

Tesla releases Autopilot update

Earlier this month, Tesla Motors released a new update to the Autopilot software, namely the “2017.32” update, to all vehicles equipped with the second-generation hardware. The sole new feature introduced was Automatic High Beams, which automatically switch back to low beams when oncoming traffic is detected. Other than that, the only changes with the update were general improvements to the Autopilot software. Founder and CEO Elon Musk famously announced in October that a new update would make all cars worldwide fully capable of driving themselves, but it appears that update is still coming. Reports have detailed clashes between Musk and his engineers over the announcement, claiming they were not told the announcement was coming and were unsure of the technology’s safety and reliability, particularly after a July 2016 crash in which a driver utilizing Autopilot was killed in a crash. It remains to be seen when Musk’s promise of a fully autonomous Tesla will come to fruition. Read more from Elektrek here and here, and read more from Inc. Magazine here.

Uber promises self-driving taxis in Toronto by the end of the year

Seemingly bouncing back from a hiatus following a crash involving one of their self-driving test cars in March, Uber is getting self-driving cars back on the roads of Toronto. The rollout is starting small with only two vehicles doing mapping and data gathering on the University of Toronto campus to improve efficiency and accuracy, but Uber promises the vehicles will be fully operational and able to pick up passengers by the end of this year. Read more and see a video from Complex Canada.