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New Self-Driving Olli Shuttle ‘Talks’ with Passengers

Burney Simpson

Another firm joined the autonomous vehicle world today as Local Motors rolled out its Olli self-driving shuttle that comes with IBM Internet of Things (IoT) technology.

The electric-powered vehicle carries up to 12 passengers and was designed by Edgar Sarmiento. It is manufactured by Local Motors at its headquarters in Chandler, Ariz., and comes with more than 30 embedded sensors.

The Olli was officially launched in Oxen Hill, Md., in suburban Washington, D.C., at a new Local Motors outlet.

Local Motors is a tech firm that created the Strati, a 3D printed car.

The Olli is designed for multi-passenger transit, and resembles a similar autonomous, electric vehicle from France’s Navya Technology.

Plans call for the Olli to operate on some Washington-area roads, and operate later this year in Miami-Dade County and Las Vegas.

Local Motors says that Olli is the first vehicle to utilize the cloud-based cognitive computing capability of IBM Watson IoT giving it the capability to analyze and learn from transportation data.

The vehicle also uses four Watson developer APIs — Speech to Text, Natural Language Classifier, Entity Extraction and Text to Speech – so passengers can talk to the vehicle as it is moving.

IBM reports that the shuttle can “understand and respond to passengers’ questions as they enter the vehicle, including about destinations (“Can you take me downtown?”) or specific vehicle functions (“how does this feature work?”).”

Olli will also give recommendations on restaurants or places to visit.

“Cognitive computing provides incredible opportunities to create unparalleled, customized experiences for customers, taking advantage of the massive amounts of streaming data from all devices connected to the Internet of Things, including an automobile’s myriad sensors and systems,” Harriet Green, an IBM Watson general manager, said in a press release.

Local Motors lists a number of partners on the Olli, in addition to IBM. They include German engineering firm Roding, driving system provider Paravan, composite manufacturer Forward Engineering, autonomous-vehicle company Meridian Autonomous Systems, and others.

Many Challenges to MAAS in the U.S.

Burney Simpson

The developers behind the Babcock Ranch in Florida face challenges as they position it as the first planned community for driverless transportation. It is to feature electric-powered self-driving vehicles and public transit on-demand with an Uber-type app. (“America’s First ‘Truly Sustainable’ Town Will Run on Driverless Transit”).

Transportation in Babcock is a step towards Mobility As A Service (MAAS) where consumers give up their own vehicle and rely instead on a combination of public transit, rideshare (i.e. Uber), biking and walking.

A user will pay a monthly subscription fee to access with their smartphones the MAAS door-to-door transportation service.

Once onboard, the subscriber researches, books, and pays for their best transportation option among a slew of transportation providers, which may also include car share (i.e. zipcar), van pool, cabs, bikeshare, and possibly a limo service.

The real-time service means the subscriber can preplan a journey, or find, pay for, and jump on the best option on the fly.

top-slides-maas4A MAAS subscription may prove cheaper than the money spent buying or leasing a vehicle, along with gas, insurance, maintenance, parking, various state licensing fees, tickets, ad nauseam.

Savings alone makes MAAS intriguing but it comes with large challenges. Selling the concept in the U.S. may be especially difficult as car ownership is ingrained with 80 percent of all trips taken in personally-owned-vehicles.

In Europe, MAAS Finland plans to offer a monthly subscription and a single journey payment system, though it hasn’t launched yet. This video from the Finish Ministry of Transport and Communication neatly describes MAAS in animated form.

Information is vital to a MAAS system.

For example, schedules and fees of the transportation providers will have to be online, integrated and continuously updated. That goes for weather and road condition information.

The subscriber’s payment account and any special transport needs must be on hand.

That presents a hurdle for any MAAS operator in the U.S., according to transportation consultant Carol Schweiger’s presentation “Bringing Mobility as a Service to the U.S.: Opportunities and Challenges” where she outlines issues.

  • In practice, some public transit providers don’t share information with other providers, whether internally or externally. That is, the bus division doesn’t communicate well with the subway system, and neither talks to the bus system operated by the county next door.
  • Can a transit system with this kind of institutional mindset share its performance data with an Uber or a Velib bikeshare program?
  • Public transit organizations will also have to find the funds to build and maintain this 21st Century communications system, and to accept electronic payments.
  • Should there be a single regulator for an entire MAAS system, or do you keep separate offices such as one for transit and another for cabs?
  • Publicly-owned transportation providers must determine how to include travelers that don’t have smartphones and a payment card.
  • And then there’s such technical issues as cybersecurity, and providing service in the event of a system failure.

There are efforts to address some of these issues.

The transit app Moovit announced this month it would be integrated into Uber’s app in 131 cities in 22 countries.

MAAS COLLABORATION

Moovit users plan local travel options by checking their transit provider’s route data. Adding Uber is designed to help Moovit-ites better navigate the first mile/last mile of their journey.

A number of transit systems are considering using Uber to provide some part of their service for riders with disabilities.

The largest MAAS project in the U.S. now may be the one conducted by Joint Venture Silicon Valley that focuses on commuting in the San Francisco Bay area.

Joint Venture’s MAAS is collaborating with Palo Alto, San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA).

It seeks to integrate mobility apps with work transportation programs provided by employers like Enterprise Commute Trip Reduction (ECTR). It claims six important stakeholders in its commuting ‘ecosystem’: cities, transit agencies, mobility service providers, large employers, small employers, and ECTR software providers.

It plans this year to launch a Mobility Aggregation smartphone app that might support public and private transit, Carma ridesharing; Motivate bike share; Lyft Line and Flywheel; Car2Go, DriveNow, and Zipcar car sharing; and smartphone e-ticketing.

A second app might support public and private transit; Motivate bike share; UberPool; Car2Go and DriveNow; and smartphone e-ticketing.

Graphic is by Sampo Hietanen, CEO of MAAS Finland; One Seamless App by Joint Venture Silicon Valley.

Mobility as a Service (MaaS) Growing in the EU

Burney Simpson

The Mobility as a Service concept is gaining adherents in Europe.

The start-up MaaS Finland garnered 2.2 million Euros ($2.4 million) in an early funding round last month with hopes of going back to investors for more this fall, according to release from the firm.

French transportation giant Transdev and Turkey’s commercial auto manufacturer Karsan Otomotiv Sanayii and Ticaret AS, each own 20 percent of MaaS Finland.

MaaS Finland officially opened its doors in February. It plans to deliver its services in Finland and two other countries this year, then expand in 2017.

Proponents believe MaaS will bring greater efficiency to transportation services, lower public reliance on autos, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The European Mobility as a Service Alliance says that MaaS offers travelers “tailor made mobility solutions based on their individual needs. … for the first time, easy access to the most appropriate transport mode or service will be included in a bundle of flexible travel service options for end users.”

HOW IT WORKS

Consumers access their MaaS provider through a smartphone app. The provider creates and manages a trip for the user by finding the right solution with a combination of public transport, car-sharing, ride-sharing, taxi, and bicycle-sharing.

In one business model the gateway firm purchases the rides/transport on a volume basis from the individual providers. The gateway firm also conducts data analysis on the subscriber’s preferences, and uses the information to develop more efficient trips for the customer.

The consumer receives either a single bill for the trip, or becomes a monthly subscriber to the service.

The MaaS concept takes advantage of the move away from car ownership by millennial consumers, and the corresponding growth in transportation sharing services like Uber and BikeShare.

“(A)sk yourself: ‘What would happen if I gave up my car?’” MaaS Finland CEO Sampo Hietanen, who holds a 10 percent stake in the company, said in a release.

“For one hundred euros [per month], you could have unlimited access to public transport services plus limited access to taxi rides and a rented car for a given number of kilometers.”

Other MaaS Finland shareholders include InMob Holdings of Cyprus; Neocard; Korsisaari; GoSwift; MaaS Australia; Goodsign; IQ Payments; and Delta Capital Force, according to a company release.

The European Mobility as a Service Alliance was launched at the 2015 ITS World Congress in Bordeaux, France. The Alliance was founded by 20 organizations, including AustriaTech, Ericsson, Helsinki Business Hub, Connekt, MOBiNET, Xerox, and ITS Finland and ITS Sweden.

The early provider UbiGo tested its MaaS service in Gothenburg, Sweden. It reported 70 subscribers made 12,000 transactions in six months. No customers cancelled the service after the test. Volvo was one of the partners in the test.

UbiGo says consumers pay only for what they use, without the hassle of owning a car.

Last May UbiGo was awarded the Promising Innovation award by the International Transport Forum of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development.

Photo: (Untitled) by Caitlin H, 2011.

Time for Driverless and a Guide for Governments

Burney Simpson

It’s Time for driverless vehicles. And government types just got a helping hand on understanding what’s coming down the pike.

Time magazine this week has a two-part cover story on the promise of driverless vehicles, and it is very positive, “The Increasingly Compelling Case for Why You Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Drive”.

This may be the article you share with friends and family when they ask what the heck it is you work on. But, as of today, the stories were not free online.

The article’s view in a nutshell is, “They’re going to change everything. The economic and safety benefits will be staggering. … Safer, smarter, faster, more comfortable. Why not?”

Much of the material has already been covered but the writing is breezy, informative, and pretty thorough.

There’s the promised benefits of greater safety, reduced deaths and accidents, cuts in congestion, and improved productivity.

On the challenge side there’s licensing questions, the ethical choice of hitting the kid or a wall, the possible end of auto insurance, cybersecurity threats, and data privacy issues.

The second part gets into technology like AndroidAuto and CarPlay and how this is already transforming driving. There’s a graphic on sensors and cameras, a snapshot of Virginia Tech’s testing grounds, and a mention of Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) technology.

PRIMER FOR POLITICOS

Parsons Brinckerhoff has released “Driving Towards Driverless: A Guide for Government Agencies” (this links to an intro page with a link to a document pdf).

The guide is brief and free.

It offers a handy, readable introduction to and overview of the industry for public officials. The timing is right considering somewhere around 30 states are looking at the technology in their current legislative sessions (See “Careful Steps on Driverless Laws for Tennessee, Virginia”).

The approach is a big picture view of planning issues that transportation departments and 20-year urban plan writer-types are thinking about.

It is written for government officials, from local to federal, including legislators and staff with DOTs, planning organizations, police, insurance, and so on; in other words all those offices that will be impacted by this coming technology.

Transportation consultants, auto OEMs, suppliers and others on the business side that interact with government could find it helpful as well.

The guide doesn’t get into the latest autonomous technology, connected vehicles, or specific issues like cybersecurity.

PB is a long-time consultant on transportation issues. The author is Lauren Isaac, a PB manager of sustainable transportation based in the firm’s San Francisco office.

GM: Give the Car Away, Sell the Connection

Burney Simpson

GM has fully embraced ridesharing and car-sharing as the future of consumer ground travel, according to comments last week from three top executives.

Consider this from Mary Barra, GM’s chairman and CEO, during the automakers 2015 fourth quarter conference call with analysts. She begins with a quick recap of a great quarter — revenues of $40 billion, record net income of nearly $10 billion. But what does she want to talk about?

GM’s $500 million investment in Lyft.

We gained considerable momentum in the fourth quarter and early this year on game-changing personal mobility initiatives. First, let’s talk about ridesharing.

“Our announcement with the strategic alliance with Lyft is very significant because we believe together we can work and put an autonomous fleet of sharing vehicles available for use quicker than anyone else. We also believe in the short term the arrangement that we have with Lyft will allow us to capitalize on providing and being a preferred provider for short-term-use vehicles for Lyft drivers that will support not only General Motors’ performance, but also Lyft’s performance.”MBarra1

These on-demand transportation services are growing as the young and urban populations decide they don’t want to own a car, and they aren’t satisfied with expensive, highly-regulated cab companies.

Barra noted that GM has a carpooling pilot in Shanghai with 500 employees. And she gives a plug to its just-launched Maven car-sharing service, now operating in Ann Arbor, Mich., and set to begin in New York City and Chicago.

Now check out this interview with Jon Lauckner, GM’s CTO and chief of its venture capital group.

“So Lyft is built off of the concept that the automotive ecosystem is changing. We’ve had this owner-driver model in place for I don’t know how many years. Now we see ride-sharing really gaining traction,” Lauckner told Business Insider.

“We see the startup companies in this country. We see ridesharing in Israel. We see it starting to take hold in South America. And so we see this as not a phenomenon that is not unique to the US. In fact, every geography has experienced this whole concept of ride sharing,” he said.

AUTOMOBILE AS DIGITAL PLATFORM

To Lauckner, GM began creating the connected-vehicle future in the 1990s with the introduction of its OnStar communications service providing emergency, navigation, and security products. OnStar’s connected capabilities have been limited but that is changing as GM expands its 4G LTE services.

Lauckner is looking a few years ahead, when the combination of GM and Lyft, along with the coming connected capabilities brought by 5G technology, means selling wireless services to vehicle riders of all stripes.

“(The automobile) has been directly tied to connectivity. Connectivity has opened a lot of doors to create an automobile as a digital platform,” said Lauckner.

Meanwhile, at the Connected Cars USA 2016 conference in Washington, D.C., GM’s Harry M. Lightsey said the Lyft and GM deal represented “the future of personal mobility” with the two partners one day offering a ride-sharing service with on-demand autonomous vehicles.

GM believes car-sharing and ridesharing will “grow substantially. We want to be part of that. We see ourselves as a personal mobility company,” said Lightsey, GM’s executive director of global connected customer experience.

He came to the automaker from ATT, where he experienced the sometimes stodgy telecom industry transformed by technology.

“Before I left ATT, we were no longer a land-line firm. We’d became a wireless firm. You see the auto industry doing the same thing,” said Lightsey,

GM is changing and could one day “sell the connection, and give the car away,” said Lightsey. “Ride sharing is kind of like that. We have to be open to all possibilities.”

 

Photos copyright GM. Cadillac CT6 2016 offers a number of connectivity features, including 360-degree camera view, Enhanced Night Vision, park assist, 4G LTE with WiFi.

Consumers Insist on Steering Wheels in Driverless Cars, and Canadians Say Yes to Driverless Tech, Sort Of

Burney Simpson

Two new surveys indicate the public has high demands but mixed feelings about driverless vehicles, though they are aware of some of the challenges that auto manufacturers face as they develop the technology.

Nine out of 10 consumers demand that autonomous vehicle occupants have the ability to override the vehicle controls at any time, according to a survey of 10,000 consumers worldwide commissioned by Volvo.

At the same time, 81 percent say the auto OEM should be responsible for an accident that occurs when the vehicle is in autonomous driving mode. Further, 90 percent say that an autonomous car should pass a driving test just like a human driver.

“People have told us that they need to feel in control and have the choice of when to delegate driving to the car,” said Volvo’s Anders Tylman-Mikiewicz, in a press release. “Today, that need is ultimately fulfilled with the presence of a steering wheel. … Therefore, a steering wheel is necessary until those needs change.”

A survey of Canadian consumers found mixed feelings there as well.

About 25 percent of Canadians are excited about the cars, about 25 percent are wary, and about half say it depends on the technology, according to a survey from Kanetix.ca, an online insurance comparison shopping site based in Toronto.VolvoSafer_drive_VCC08684_ListItem2

Canadian men are twice as likely as women to say they would use a driverless car, and people aged 18-34 are the most enthusiastic about the technology. These advocates say the cars will mean safer roads, more relaxing drives, and easier parking.

And nearly one in five Canadians think driverless cars would be just “plain cool,” Kanetix reports.

Folks in Canada’s two Eastern provinces – Quebec and Ontario – are more excited about driverless than those in the West.

That is fortunate as Ontario on January 1 officially began allowed the testing of driverless vehicles, joining states like California and Michigan. As of last October, the province and partner businesses had promised they would invest about $3 million in the testing.

The Ontario Centres of Excellence Connected Vehicle/Automated Vehicle program is coordinating business and government investments in the activity.

Latest KPMG Report: Connectivity More Important Than Horsepower in Cars of the Future

Jennifer van der Kleut

Luxury, gas mileage and horsepower–features such as those have long been the deciding factors for consumers when picking the car for them.

The latest report from research/consulting firm KPMG says those features are starting to move toward the back burner, though–and that the future is all about connectivity.

According to KPMG, processing capability and connectivity will be more important than horsepower in the cars of the future.

In the report, KPMG analysts go so far as to theorize that technology is completely taking over auto innovations, and that within a decade, automakers will no longer exist as independent companies, implying that OEMs will join together with tech companies like Apple and Google to continue manufacturing cars, or perhaps tech companies will even even acquire car companies.

Mobility-on-demand (such as ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft) and autonomous cars are two areas of auto innovation that KPMG says are experiencing the biggest push right now–largely by tech companies.

In short, KPMG’s report says that tech companies, not car companies, are the ones most focused currently on what consumers really want, and that is why they are poised to take over automakers.

In addition, KPMG says companies like Apple–perhaps best known for its smartphones these days–are more accustomed to high levels of production, cranking out hundreds of millions of units each time a new product comes out, in comparison to automakers’ mere millions.

“Maybe automakers should start thinking about behaving like phone companies,” comments columnist Patrick Nelson of Network World.

D20 Stock Index week ending November 27 2015

VW’s Dead Cat Bounce Lifts D20 Index

Driverless Transportation

With 13 gainers, six losers, and NVIDIA (NVDA) unchanged, the Driverless Transportation Stock Index (D20) gained 0.6 percent last week to close at 162.24. In a relatively quiet week for the indexes, the D20 edged out the Dow Jones Industrials decline of 0.1 percent and the virtually unchanged S&P 500.

Leading the D20 Index this week, Volkswagen (VLKPY), in a typical ‘dead cat bounce’, gained a whopping 17.2 percent to end at $26.36. There was little news other than Volkswagen’s refusal to compensate European vehicle owners for the rigged emissions tests, so the only explanation for the price jump is that short investors bought stock to cover their bets. Volkswagen has lost 31 percent of its value since early September.

The biggest loser for the D20 this week was the Chinese electric car and battery maker BYD (BYDDY), shedding 13 percent of its value and closing at $10.56. BYD’s share price continues its rollercoaster ride, plummeting to a low of $7.70 and rising to a high of $12.53 in the last 12 weeks, a range of almost 63 percent.

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

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