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News Roundup: China’s New Driverless Transit Doesn’t Need Tracks, Trump Administration Addresses Driverless Vehicle Guidelines, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of some of the most interesting driverless industry headlines of the past week:

China shows off new train-bus-tram hybrid that doesn’t even need tracks

Rail transit firm CRRC recently showed off the future of transportation for China. It’s called a “smart bus,” but the industry is describing it as a train-bus-tram hybrid that doesn’t even need tracks. The smart bus can navigate itself without a driver, and needs only lines painted on the ground–no tracks necessary. The prototype vehicle is 32 meters long and can hold a whopping 307 passengers over three connected rail cars, and engineers say rail cars can be added or subtracted as needed. The vehicle can travel at speeds of up to 70km (43.5 miles) per hour and can go a distance of up to 25km (15.53 miles) after charging its lithium battery for just 10 minutes. The official name of the system will be called ART – short for Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit — and government officials say it will debut on a 6.5-km track painted through the city of Zhuzhou beginning in 2018. Officials say it will bring down the costs of public transportation from more than $100 million per km for the existing subway system, to just over $2 million per km for an ART line. Read more from Mashable.

 

Trump administration promises new driverless guidelines by end of year

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao met with automakers in Detroit Monday and spoke briefly about the Trump administration’s plans for driverless cars. Chao promised a revised set of guidelines, different from those released near the end of former President Obama’s second term in September, by the end of this year. Many expect guidelines under President Trump to have a “lighter touch.” Chao pointed to cases such as California, where the number of companies testing the technology is up from just four in 2014 to 30 today, seemingly as proof that looser regulations are helping the technology to progress faster. However, Chao addressed Silicon Valley directly and encouraged more companies to be willing to share data, to help the government learn more about the technology as they work to create the best guidelines for the country. Read more from The Detroit News and The Hill.

 

Lyft adds Boston-based nuTonomy to its list of high-profile driverless car partners

Not long after just announcing a driverless car partnership with Google’s Waymo, ridesharing company Lyft has announced another lucrative project, this time with Boston-based tech firm nuTonomy, for another pilot project. The project will reportedly kick off in the coming months and the first item on its to-do list will be “R&D into the passenger experience,” Lyft CEO and co-founder Logan Green reportedly said in a conference call. Green added, if all goes well, the partnership “could lead to thousands of nuTonomy cars on the Lyft platform.” nuTonomy is known for piloting the world’s first driverless car ridesharing program in Singapore, and recently started testing driverless cars in Boston, where the company is based. Read more from Forbes.

 

Image: Still of Chinese ART rail car from YouTube video by CGTN

News Roundup: Baidu Surprises By Offering Up Its Driverless Technology to the World For Free, Autonomous Trains to Debut in Delhi This June, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of some of the most interesting headlines to come out of the driverless and connected-car industries this week:

Baidu challenges the likes of Google, Tesla by offering its driverless tech to all

Chinese tech giant Baidu surprised industry analysts this week by offering up its driverless vehicle software to the world in what many are calling an attempt to challenge the likes of Tesla Motors and Google. Baidu is naming the project Apollo and says it will offer automakers all the tools they need to build an autonomous vehicle. “Essentially, Baidu is trying to become to cars what Google’s Android has become to smartphones – an operating system that will power a number of driverless vehicles,” CNBC explains. Baidu has been investing heavily in autonomous drive technology over the past year or two. The company has already tested driverless cars on highways in Beijing, and recently obtained a permit to test in California. Read more from CNBC.

 

Driverless Metro trains to debut in Delhi in June

Indian news media is reporting that Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) is putting the finishing touches on a new system capable of operating without a driver, and says the public will be able to ride on it come June of this year. The trains will run on only two lines: Pink, which runs between Mukundpur and Shiv Vihar, and Magenta, which runs between Botanical Garden and Janakpuri west, covering a distance of 96 km. Testing took place between October and December of last year. Additional tracks are also being built, and testing will take place in new areas later this year. Read more from the Hindustan Times.

 

Grand Theft Auto 5 being used as simulation environment for driverless systems?

Possibly, soon. Professor Alain Kornhauser, professor of operations research and financial engineering at Princeton University, described the video game “Grand Theft Auto V” as “the richest virtual environment that we could extract data from” this week when speaking to media outlets. The actions of more than 1,000 virtual drivers and pedestrians in the game, along with “disordered roads” and changing weather offer a wealth of unpredictable conditions that can help teach artificial intelligence of driverless systems to respond safely, making the game a top-recommended game for developers to use as a training simulator. Read more from Engineering & Technology magazine.

Photo: A Metro train in Delhi, by Delhi Metro Rail Corporation

News Roundup: A New ‘Language’ for Driverless Cars That Recognizes Hand Signals, Autonomous Buses Help Paris Address Smog, Traffic Problems, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A look at some of the biggest headlines to come out of the driverless car industry recently:

New ‘language’ for driverless cars helps them recognize pedestrian hand signals

A team of four researchers from Imperial College London and Royal College of Art in the U.K. have developed a new “language” for self-driving cars called “Blink.” They say the language will teach self-driving cars how to recognize pedestrian hand signals. This will make it possible for pedestrians to wave at driverless cars to signal that they want to cross the street in front of the cars, which will trigger the car to stop and display a “green light” on the windshield letting the pedestrian know it’s safe to go. Or, conversely, they can wave the car off, letting the car know it’s safe to keep going. The developers say they hope the technology helps increase humans’ comfort level in interacting with driverless car technology. Read more from Deloitte.

 

Driverless buses arrive in Paris

Two autonomous shuttle buses began transporting passengers between two train stations in Paris in the last few weeks. The buses, built by renowned autonomous bus company EasyMile, can transport 12 passengers each and are completely autonomous, as well as electric. City officials say they are not only excited to try out the EZ10 buses because of their interest in driverless technology, but also because Paris is struggling with problems of smog and traffic congestion, and they are confident this new innovation can help offer solutions to both problems. Read more and see photos from DigitalTrends.com.

 

Ford invests $1 billion in self-driving car company

Ford Motor Co. announced this week that it will invest $1 billion over the next five years in Argo AI, a company that will provide driverless technology for a self-driving car Ford plans to introduce in 2021. Argo AI representative said the company is now looking for a Pittsburgh headquarters, and will hire about 200 people here and in other cities. Ford said the amount of top talent found at Argo AI and in the Pittsburgh auto industry helped solidify the decision for them. Read more from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Photo: An EasyMile EZ10 autonomous shuttle bus / Credit: EasyMile

News Roundup: Ford Introduces ‘SmartLink’ Connected-Car Plug-In For Older Vehicles, U.S. Lawmakers Consider Car Cybersecurity Bill, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of interesting headlines from the driverless and connected-car worlds over the past week:

Ford designs new device to turn older cars into connected cars

Ford Motor Co. has created a new device called SmartLink that can plug into older cars through the OBD link II and turn them into fully connected cars. The SmartLink includes a 4G LTE modem on board, letting it act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to 8 devices in the vehicle. It also enables remote start, lock and unlock functions, and can send alerts to a car owner via a companion web and mobile app to let them check the car’s diagnostic health, and get alerts related to security and service requirements. SmartLink was designed to work with Ford and Lincoln cars built between 2010 and 2016. Read more from TechCrunch.

 

Driverless bus debuts in Atlanta before embarking on U.S. tour

The Alliance for Transportation Authority offered rides in an autonomous, 12-passenger bus in Atlanta on Thursday to kick off a U.S. tour. The tour, which will take the bus to other major cities in states such as Texas and California. Representatives of the Alliance hope the tour, and free rides on the shuttle, will improve public perception of self-driving cars, which they see as one of the biggest barriers to the implementation of the technology. Read more from the Albuquerque Journal.

 

U.S. lawmakers introduce bill to study cybersecurity in connected cars

With at least 90 percent of cars on U.S. roads expected to have connected-car features by 2020, U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a bipartisan bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to study cybersecurity in vehicles. Named “The Security and Privacy in Your Car Act,” the bill requires the NHTSA to work with the Defense Department, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Automotive Information Sharing and Analysis Center, SAE International, and academics and manufacturers in the automotive industry to set a standard for safety in all connected cars. Together, the group will study how to isolate software systems in vehicles, create a system to prevent and detect hacks, determine best practices for storing data and create a timeline for how to implement these standards. Read more from GeekWire.

Photo: Ford SmartLink plug-in / Credit: Ford Motor Co.

News Roundup: Dubai Residents Get Free Rides on Driverless Shuttle, Blackberry Expands Partnership with Ford Motor Co., and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A look at some of the most interesting headlines to come out of the driverless, connected-car world this week:

 

Mercedes exec aims to clarify statement made on whether it would prioritize safety of car occupants over pedestrians in driverless car accidents

It’s an ethics dilemma that has caused controversy for years when it comes to talk of a driverless future–if a driverless car is faced with the choice of plowing ahead into a pedestrian, or veering to avoid the pedestrian but potentially crashing the car into a median and risking the lives of the car’s occupants (or any number of similar no-win traffic situations), which is the right choice? Well, it appeared at a recent public appearance by Christoph von Hugo, Mercedes manager of assistance systems, active safety and ratings, that Mercedes planned to always prioritize the safety of a car’s occupants over a pedestrian when he said, essentially, “save the life you know you can save.” However, Mercedes now appears to be backing away from those comments after backlash from outlets who surveyed consumers and found that many people would be uncomfortable riding in a driverless car programmed to sacrifice the life of the imagined pedestrian. Read more on Mercedes’ position (or lack thereof) from BT.com.

 

Dubai residents treated to sneak-peek rides on driverless shuttle

Dubai pedestrians were treated to a surprise glimpse into the future recently when Road and Transport Authority officials offered them rides in their new driverless shuttle. The vehicle was part of a public transport trial by the emirate’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA). The automated, 12-passenger shuttle bus carried passengers down a 700-metre stretch of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, between a stop opposite Dubai Opera and the Vida Downtown Dubai hotel. After their ride, officials asked passengers to fill out a survey assessing their confidence in the technology, and whether they thought it was a passing fad. Read more from The National.

 

Blackberry expanding partnership with Ford, Ford will replace Microsoft’s Sync with Blackberry’s QNX platform

Since acquiring the QNX platform in 2010, Blackberry is reportedly focusing on a lucrative partnership with Ford and hoping it will pull them in a profitable new direction since abandoning their smartphone business. As part of a new agreement between Ford and Blackberry, reported by Blackberry recently, Blackberry will dedicate a team of engineers to work with Ford on replacing Ford’s current Sync by Microsoft infotainment system with QNX. Industry analysts say this bodes very well for Blackberry’s future as they transition from a hardware to a software company. Read more about the Ford-Blackberry partnership from TechRepublic.

How Do You Buy a Million Cars When You Can’t Make a Dime?

Burney Simpson

The summer of 2016 is proving a topsy-turvy time for driverless industry as headwinds buffet ridesharing technology firms Uber and Lyft and auto OEMs foresee fully autonomous vehicles in a few years.

Isn’t this supposed to be a quiet time for business? Take a breather, sit by the water, and eat some Michigan cherry burgers.

Not in transportation technology.

For instance, Ford announced it was working to launch fully autonomous automobiles by 2021. BMW, Intel and Mobileye joined to say they will have vehicles in production for the same target date. Ridesharing titan Uber says it will launch this month driverless vehicles in Pittsburgh, though some employees will be in the car to ensure safety.

Forget the 10 years down the road baloney. We’ll be Level 4 Autonomous in three to five years.

Yet for all the excitement there’s been some downer news.

A number of outlets reported that Lyft was seeking a buyer, despite the $500 million that GM pumped into it earlier this year. (Lyft later denied the buyer story, blaming it on archrival Uber). Earlier this year Lyft pledged to its investors to keep its U.S. losses under $50 million a month.

And Bloomberg reported that Uber told its investors it lost $520 million in the first quarter, and more than $750 million in the second. This after losing about $2 billion in 2015. That must have played a part in Uber’s decision to sell its China operations to competitor Didi Chuxing.

SHAKY FOUNDATIONS

It’s valuable to keep in mind the shaky foundations of Uber and Lyft because the two have been touted as an important foundation for the growth of autonomous vehicles.

Supposedly car owners are going to shift to ridesharing to get around, abandon their cars, and start trying out all kinds of shared transportation options. That means mass transit, bike share, car share, semi-customized bus lines, even walking for crying out loud.

No more Single Occupancy Vehicles. American commuters unite. You have nothing to lose but your fat guts and bubbly butts.

The theory is that Uber, Lyft and other transportation providers will buy hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of autonomous vehicles from BMW, GM, Ford, etc.

They’ll phase out their human drivers, the most expensive part of their operations, and offer driverless vehicles that get you to work. For the ride home you’ll be allowed to drink and not drive. Just in time for legal marijuana baby!

Moovel2But if these guys can’t make money now, how do they buy/lease a million high-tech autonomous cars? Does Uber go back to investors like Goldman Sachs and Benchmark Capital for another $16 billion? It sounds like investors have told Lyft to stop the losses, despite whatever it denies.

Look, there’s been some great news for the ride sharers too. Lyft provided nearly 14 million rides in July, while Uber churned out 62 million.

Lyft President John Zimmer told Business Insider his company is on its way to providing $2 billion worth of rides. Uber, valued at $69 billion, will use the $1 billion it received from Didi to get out of China to grow in Southeast Asia or battle Lyft in the U.S.

But consider this – investors can be fickle, as proven by several tech bubbles already this century; Lehman Brothers is just the latest giant to have a huge valuation before it crumbled; and the stock market is hitting record levels.

Transportation technology offers an intriguing mix of glamour and grease that the VC geniuses love. For the rest of us it’s vital to see through the glamourous front so we don’t slip on the grease.

Graphics from Ford, Car2Go.

French Shuttle Toddles to Tokyo (Video)

Burney Simpson

About as exciting as French rock and roll.

EasyMile scored another victory in the driverless-shuttle sector, partnering with Japan’s DeNA to announce an August launch of its bus service in a shopping center in the Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo.

The Robot Shuttle will use EasyMile’s EZ10 electric-powered, driverless shuttle that carries up to 12 passengers and tops out around 25 mph.

Here is a video the companies released that is somewhat like watching paint dry or viewing a major golf tournament.

DeNA is an app maker that has made a name for itself in mobile gaming. Its data-processing expertise could prove valuable as it works to expand into driverless transportation. The company reported revenues of $1.4 billion in its fiscal year ending March 2015, according to The Wall Street Journal.

DeNA has teamed with wireless carrier NTT Docomo with plans to take the EZ10 to public roads in the Japanese city of Fukuoka. That could be a gamechanger for Robot Shuttle as it has been used on private roads or in controlled traffic areas like resort communities.

Nikkei Asian Review reports that Docomo’s “fifth-generation mobile communications network (is) 100 times faster than the current standard. … (and it) aims to have a working 5G service by 2020.”

EasyMile is a joint partnership of two French firms, vehicle manufacturer Ligier Group and robotics experts Robosoft.

Robosoft says it has deployed more than 1,000 robots in business applications in the last three decades.

EasyMile driverless shuttles were used this year during the European Project CityMobil2 conference in San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain. They have also been demonstrated in Finland, France, Greece, Italy, and Switzerland.

EasyMile reports that more than 1.5 million passengers have been transported since 2008 in its autonomous shuttle models. The firm claims expertise in multi-sensor localization, obstacle detection, navigation, V2I and V2V connectivity, fleet management, and cybersecurity.

Video courtesy of Impress Watch.

Driverless SmartShuttle in Switzerland is no Cuckoo Clock

Burney Simpson

Switzerland last week officially began offering live rides on the SmartShuttle autonomous, electric vehicle from Navya in the city of Sion.

The transportation system is led by PostBus Switzerland with a fleet management platform from BestMile. The BestMile platform gives PostBus a real-time overview of the fleet, and allows for its remote control.

Navya’s ARMA steering systems use Velodyne’s LiDAR Pucks, GPS RTK navigation devices, stereovision cameras, inertial navigation systems and odometry, according to a press release.

The SmartShuttle can be tracked in real time with a smartphone app or at a kiosk at a station. It was first announced last year and has been in a test mode since then.

“In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock,” Harry Lime in ‘The Third Man,’ 1949.

France’s Navya operated its driverless vehicle on the open road last year during the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress (ITS) in Bordeaux. The vehicle can carry up to 15 passengers at a top speed of 16 miles an hour.

Switzerland-based BestMile is a spinoff from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL in English) in Lausanne. EPFL-developed algorithms enable dispatching and routing, charging management, maintenance planning, and emergency handling, according to BestMile.

OLLI SHUTTLE COUSIN

BestMile was a partner in the June launch in Maryland of the self-driving Olli shuttle by Local Motors (See “New Self-Driving Olli Shuttle ‘Talks’ with Passengers”).

The free service in Sion operates Tuesday through Sunday in the afternoon, carrying passengers on a loop between the Place du Midi and popular cathedrals. Plans call for the service to be expanded and to operate on a regular schedule through the week.

Sion, capital of the canton of Valais in southwest Switzerland, had a population of 33,296 in 2014. Most jobs are in the service sector, and it’s a popular tourist destination.

PostBus is Switzerland’s leading bus company, carrying more than 140 million passengers each year.

SmartShuttle image from BestMile.

Ridesharing Galore: Here Come the Auto OEMs

Dominique Bonte

There’s been an avalanche of ridesharing announcements from auto OEMs in the last seven months:

  • BMW & Scoop– BMW iVentures venture capital arm announced an investment of an undisclosed amount in California-based carpooling service Scoop Technologies.
  • Volkswagen & Gett– VW is investing $300 million in Israel-based, low-cost ridesharing player Gett, which is active in more than 60 cities worldwide, including London, Moscow, and New York.
  • Toyota & Uber– Mainly a strategic partnership with a MoU to explore cooperation, but Toyota also announced an undisclosed investment from Toyota Financial Services Corporation and Mirai Creation Investment Limited Partnership.
  • Apple & Didi Chuxing– Auto OEM in the making? Apple splashing out $1 billion on Uber rival Didi Chuxing (which itself took a stake in Lyft earlier this year).
  • GM & Lyft– GM invested $500 million in Lyft, then said it would launch the autonomous Chevy Bolt taxi based on technology from GM-owned Cruise Automation.
  • nuTonomy & Ford – Driverless car-sharing company nuTonomy raising $16 million through Ford Chairman Bill Ford.

This starts looking like a gold rush, with major auto OEM brands hurrying to partner with the leading car-sharing initiatives, taking the competition to another level by helping them increase their respective ridesharing market shares.

Clearly, the major automotive brands are afraid to miss the boat on ridesharing. Any remaining independent ridesharing outfit must be looking at this trend, greedily waiting for other car brands to move in.

In the margins of this, the ridesharing paradigm keeps evolving at full speed, either adding functionality like Lyft’s Scheduled Rides or increasing safety, with Uber China testing Face++ facial recognition technology to check driver identification.

At the same time, controversy around the on-demand economy is not expected to calm down any time soon. Local initiatives like non-profit RideAustin trying to fill in the ridesharing void left by Uber and Lyft is testimony to the ongoing legal turmoil.

AUTO OEMS SHIFT TO RIDESHARING

Remarkably, auto OEMs seem to be taking a 180-degree turn: from traditional first-generation car sharing, in which many OEMs have invested by setting up their own operations or JVs in the past years (Daimler car2go, BMW DriveNow, Ford partnering with Zipcar), toward taking stakes in ridesharing ventures.

It seems they finally realize “car sharing 1.0” is not scalable, and instead, must move to “car sharing 2.0,” a.k.a. ridesharing. And they are already looking toward the “car sharing 3.0” era of driverless taxis.

Visit ABI Research for more from Dominique Bonte.

While auto OEMs could still own and control first-generation car sharing, in ridesharing they are relegated to a role of minority investors, which still allows them to have a front row seat to observe the dynamics of the unfolding car-sharing economy.

How serious are auto OEMs about embracing the car-sharing paradigm, killing their own century-old, ownership-based business model? Don’t they still want to sell (more) vehicles?

Lyft_PressKit_04Or, are they starting to understand the ultimate transformative paradigm shift their industry will go through: from business-to-consumer to business-to-business commercial models?

In the future, vehicles will no longer be sold directly to consumers but to fleets of shared, electric, driverless cars. It’s hard to think of a more transformative transition.

It becomes increasingly clear that the high-tech vehicles of the future will only thrive in an automotive industry dominated by on-demand business models.

SMART MOBILITY AS A SERVICE

A never-ending series of consumer surveys keeps pointing out that consumers are not really interested in electric or autonomous vehicles.

What they are interested in is simple: convenient, safe, and affordable transportation. In other words, they want “mobility as a service.” Consumers will embrace electrification and autonomy, not as owners, but as users of seamless ride-hailing services.

It is pointless to position automotive technology with consumers; the focus should be on the service. And it seems this message is finally hitting home in the boardrooms of auto OEMs.

Whether future auto OEMs will run their own car-sharing fleets or sell their vehicles to Uber-like organizations doesn’t really matter.

They will have to exit the consumer car-selling business in both cases, either turning into service organizations or supplying vehicles to third-party mobility providers.

The message for the automotive industry is becoming clear: aim for “smart mobility as a service” and all the (technology) pieces of the puzzle will fall into place. It is possible we have just witnessed the very first evidence of the start of this new era, with Toyota joining forces with Uber.

For more information, visit ABI Research.

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