News

CTS and CES 2018: Automotive Tech Innovators Ready to Wow in Las Vegas

In just a few days, Las Vegas will be buzzing with tech innovators from not only the world’s top electronics companies, but also dozens of automakers and firms working on connected and automated driving systems.

It all starts with the 2018 Consumer Telematics Show (CTS), which takes place Monday, Jan. 8 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino.

2018 Consumer Telematics Show (CTS)

CTS aims to bring together power players from automakers and technology companies that are working on connected and autonomous driving systems. Attendees can listen to presentations and forums with top executives and engineers from big-name companies, and have the chance to network.

The long list of companies confirmed to attend and/or participate in this year’s event includes Volvo, Volkswagen, Jaguar Land Rover, NVIDIA, AT&T, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Bose, BMW, Denso, Honda, Ford Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Lamborghini, Nissan, and many more.

See an up-to-date list of attendees on the CTS website here.

Highlights from this year’s list of speakers include:

  • Volkswagen of America: Burkhard Huhnke, Senior VP of e-mobility
  • Karma Automotive: Ken Stewart, Chief Business and Technology Officer
  • Hyperloop One: Matt Jones, Senior VP of Software
  • General Motors (GM): Kurt Hoppe, Global Head of Innovation – Connected Cars; and Nick Pudar, Director of Strategic Initiatives
  • Mobileye: Uri Tamir, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives
  • Continental: Lars Shultheiss, Head of Sales & Portfolio, Business Unit Infotainment & Connectivity
  • Audi: Brad Stertz, Director of Government Affairs
  • IBM: Rajiv Phougat, Chief Technologist – Industry Solutions, AAD

Forums and presentations at this year’s event cover a wide array of relevant topics, including the automotive data revolution, next-generation user experiences, the coming reality of autonomous vehicles, connected vehicle cybersecurity concerns, cities and mobility, electric vehicles and more.

The full agenda and schedule for CTS 2018 is available here. 

2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES)

Later in the week, the 2018 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) hits Las Vegas, from Jan. 9-12.

For roughly 50 years, CES has been drawing in technology enthusiasts and producers from all over the world. It is often the place where companies officially unveil their newest products and technologies, with flashy presentations. Many times they also show off lofty concepts that haven’t even been fully developed yet, in a bid to impress.

Two venues–the Venetian’s ballroom and the Monte Carlo’s Park Theater–will play host to a long list of keynote speakers this year, which will hail from companies like Intel, Ford Motor Co., the Huawei Consumer Business Group, Baidu, Qualcomm, Verizon, Comcast, Discovery Communications, YouTube, Hulu, and many more. See a full list of this year’s speakers, as well as videos from many of last year’s speeches, on the CES website here.

Though CES initially started out as an event mostly focused on the latest consumer gadgets, it has come to be quite the showcase for the latest in automotive innovation as well. Specifically, in the last decade, many automakers are choosing to show off the progress they are making toward connected and self-driving vehicles. In fact, it was named one of the 10 best automotive shows worldwide by USA Today recently.

This year, forums on topics such as “Autonomous Vehicles in the Cities of Tomorrow,” “The Future of Mobility and Autonomy” and “Cybersecurity and the Auto Industry” are scheduled to take place this year, with panelists from power players like Deloitte, Mobileye, General Motors, Renesas Electronics, Harman and Movement.ai are scheduled to take part.

Major media outlets like TechCrunch and The Verge predict that the automotive portion of this year’s show will be significant.

“Once again, a number of top car companies will be present, including Ford and Toyota. My guess is you’ll be seeing A LOT of self-driving car demo videos out of this year’s show,” TechCrunch said in an advance article.

“The auto industry is flush with [electric vehicle] and smart mobility startups these days. Tesla is still the most sound competitor to any of the big three automakers, but there’s a CVS receipt-sized list of others trying to fill the space between ‘tech company’ and ‘car company,'” said The Verge in their own preview article. “Many of them will be at CES showing off autonomous shuttles, self-driving technologies, electric scooters, and other futuristic transportation ideas — all things that companies like Ford (or Google, Intel, GM, you name it) are also working on in different capacities.”

In fact, The Verge reports that Byton, a Chinese automaker that has poached a lot of talent from Faraday Future, will be at CES showing off their first car — an all-electric SUV that it’s referring to as a “Smart Intuitive Vehicle.”

Get all the information you could ever need about 2018 CES on the official event page here.

Image: Toyota unveils a concept car at 2017 CES / Credit: CES Photo Gallery

Waymo to Partner With Insurance Startup For Self-Driving Car Passengers

Jennifer van der Kleut

Waymo, Google’s self-driving spin-off company, is reportedly forming a partnership with an startup out of Danville, California to insure passengers of its future self-driving car-hailing service, according to multiple news outlets including the Wall Street Journal.

The startup, based in Danville, California, is called Trov, Inc. Trov CEO Scott Walchek said the company will be working with Waymo “behind the scenes” to insure riders for any medical expenses, property damage or lost property. Walchek also said that, in most cases, the passengers won’t even be aware, since passengers won’t be charged for the service.

Waymo previously said it hopes to launch a test of its driverless ride-hailing service — which will be similar to apps like Uber and Lyft but with a driverless fleet — with at least a few vans in the Phoenix Metro area by next year.

Tesla Model 3 Delivery Rumors Help Keep D20 Stock Index Even

The rumors circulating that deliveries of the Tesla Model 3 have significantly ramped up helped keep the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index (D20) from suffering from a third consecutive weekly loss. 

Hundreds of Tesla Model 3 vehicles have appeared at delivery centers, leading the market to believe that the automaker has conquered its production problems after a slow start, and is finally creating the vehicles at the rate they originally planned.

Tesla stock has responded appropriately, gaining 9.0 percent this week, while being the leading price-percentage gainer for the D20 in each of the last two weeks.

With 11 price losers and nine gainers, the D20 remained unchanged this week, closing at 252.14 and stopping a slide after two consecutive weeks of losses. For the third week in a row it lost ground to both the Dow, which gained 1.3 percent, and the S&P 500, which inched up 0.9 percent and closed at 2,675.81.

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

Up-and-Comers: 

Upstream, an Israeli-based startup, has announced it has landed a $9-million Series A round of funding. The focus of the startup is on security for connected vehicles. It aims to protect vehicles that use services like On-Star with a cloud-based SaaS application versus an on-board security application.

Ouster, a LiDAR startup, announced it has raised $27 million in a Series A, to push its technology into mass production. Its first product, a 64-channel sensor called OS1, is available now and priced at $12,000. The company has focused on design for manufacturability and has monthly production targets of 1,000 in January 2018 and tens of thousands by the end of 2018.

Image: Tesla Model 3 / Credit: Tesla Motors

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

Jennifer van der Kleut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up-and-Comers: 

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

Image: Aptiv car / Credit: Aptiv

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Embark driverless truck / Credit: Embark

Growth by NVIDIA Helps the D20 Stock Index Bounce Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up-and-Comers:

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

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

Jennifer van der Kleut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image via Pixabay

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

Jennifer van der Kleut

Apple publishes snippets of its self-driving car research online

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Uber

Tesla Unveils Electric Semi-Truck and ‘Surprise’ Roadster

Jennifer van der Kleut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images by Tesla Motors

Navya Self-Driving Shuttle Hit By Semi-Truck

Jennifer van der Kleut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit: Navya

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

Waymo goes Level 4-autonomous on public roads in Arizona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer van der Kleut

Waymo granted patent for exterior airbags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.