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


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.


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

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

Jennifer van der Kleut

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

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


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

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


Driverless bus taking passengers around site of 2012 London Olympics

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

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

News Roundup: GM Opens Network to Infotainment App Developers, Lyft Announces Plans for Its Own Self-Driving Car Division in Palo Alto, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A look at major headlines to come out of the driverless and connected car industries over the past week:

GM opens network, allows app developers to test infotainment apps in real vehicle environment

General Motors (GM) has announced a move to make it easier for app developers to test their infotainment apps in a real test vehicle environment. GM announced that it is offering up its next-generation infotainment software development kit–NGI SDK–to the general development community. This will give developers access to GM’s Dev Client, and allow them to test their creations in a real-life test vehicle early in the process, which GM claims is the first time an automaker has done so. Mashable explains, once a developer is ready to make something, “they can download the new SDK, which has been available since January, to build out their app and begin emulating the in-car environment to kick things off.” GM says the open developers network is ready and open for new applicants. Read more from Mashable.


Lyft forms autonomous vehicle division in Palo Alto, California

Ride-hailing app Lyft announced it is setting up its own division dedicated to self-driving cars in Palo Alto, California. Reports indicate Lyft will focus on developing its own software network, including a navigation system, with plans to open up the network to the general public, allowing other tech companies and automakers to use the network, and potentially even share data. Industry analysts believe Lyft will likely monetize the program by taking a cut of ride-sharing fees collected by companies using their network. A Lyft spokesperson said a big motivation for the move is to help bring the environmental and safety benefits of autonomous vehicles to the world sooner. Read more from SFGate.


Microsoft joins Baidu’s driverless-car alliance, ‘Project Apollo’

Chinese tech giant Baidu and Microsoft have announced that they will be working together on driverless cars. Microsoft has reportedly joined Baidu’s Project Apollo. “Our goal with Apollo is to provide an open and powerful platform to the automotive industry to further the goal of autonomous vehicles,” said the president of Baidu, Zhang Yaqin, in news reports. Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, Azure, will reportedly be “instrumental” in the Apollo initiative. As much as 50 other famous firms and automakers, including Ford, Daimler, 13 car manufacturers from China, and many ride-sharing operators, component providers and suppliers have also announced plans to join Project Apollo. Read more from Investor NewsWire.

Image by Lyft

Renesas Electronics Leads D20 Rebound

Led by Renesas Electronics (TYO:6723), TomTom (TOM2), and General Motors (GM), the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index (D20) bounced back last week.

A three-to-one ratio of gainers to losers over the 20 D20 stocks helped bring an end to its three-week slide. The D20 gained 0.95 points, rising 0.5 percent to close at 182.81.

Although finally back in the black this week, the D20 lost ground against the Dow and S&P 500. The Dow jumped 0.9 percent to push past the 21,000 mark, closing at 21005.71, while the S&P 500 rose 0.7 percent, ending the week up 15.78 points at 2383.12.

Completing its purchase of Intersil last week, Renesas’s stock price reacted by jumping 9.2 percent and closing at ¥1024 a share on the Tokyo exchange. That made Renesas the week’s D20 leading price-percentage gainer.

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



Starsky Robotics, a privately held start-up whose mission is to “make trucks autonomous on the highway and remote-controlled by drivers for the first and last mile,” is focused solely on the trucking business. One of the differences, compared to competitor Otto, is that not only are they focused on autonomous driving on the highway, Starsky is developing remote-controlled technology that would allow drivers to move trucks around remotely.  This would speed up jockeying of trailers at freight yards in distribution centers.

News Roundup: MIT Rolls Out a Driverless Scooter, Mich. Gets a New Automated Vehicle Test Site, 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.

MIT rolls out a driverless scooter

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has developed a self-driving mobility scooter, and the systems and algorithms that power it could have positive implications for other types of driverless vehicles as well. So far, it is said the scooter works well both outdoors and indoors. The new scooter made its public debut in April when more than 100 people were invited to take it for a spin as part of a test of the software. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the safest, test-riders ranked the scooter’s safety on average between 3.5 to 4.6. Read more about MIT’s driverless scooter from


Willow Run site in MI has been purchased for a new driverless vehicle test site

The news has been expected for nearly a year, and news outlets are reporting this week that it has finally happened–The former World War II bomber factory known as Willow Run in Michigan’s Ypsilanti township has been purchased by the new American Center For Mobility (ACM) for $1.2 million. Plans are to transform the 335-acre site into a state-of-the-art driverless vehicle test site. Conceptual plan designs have already been finalized, and construction could begin before the end of the year, according to Michigan state officials. The ACM anticipates the site opening for business in December, 2017. Read more from the Detroit News.


Texas A&M engineering students transform Ford F-150 into self-driving truck

Using only the on-board GPS system that came with the truck, a group of Texas A&M students have transformed an old 2005 F-150 Ford truck into a self-driving one. As the head chair of the engineering department, Professor Reza Langari explains, they devised a way to communicate a set path to the on-board GPS system and use that to help the truck navigate itself. With more than $100,000 invested in the vehicle, engineers will soon equip the truck with cameras and other devices which will allow the truck to drive even more fully on its own, Langari said. Read more about Texas A&M’s self-driving truck from NBC 5.

Image: MIT’s driverless scooter prototype, courtesy of MIT.


Latest GM Recall Leads the D20 Down

Investor concerns that the U.S. federal reserve may raise interest rates forced a major stock sell-off last week,  knocking 2.2 percent off the Dow and dropping the S&P 500 by 2.4 percent last week.

The Driverless Transportation Stock Index (D20) fared slightly better, sliding 1.4 percent.  Fifteen losers and only five gainers locked in the D20’s loss, down 2.3 points at 158.06.

General Motors (GM) led the way by losing 5.2 percent per share after it announced a safety recall affecting 4.3 million vehicles.  The recall will correct software that in some instances prevents the proper deployment of safety devices such as airbags or seat belts.  GM’s stock closed at $30.48, down $1.68.

Volvo AB (VOLV-B) was one of the few bright spots for the D20.  Rumors that a Chinese firm is interested in acquiring its Bus and Construction Equipment units drove Volvo AB’s stock up. Volvo AB’s stock, which is traded on the Stockholm Exchange, closed at SEK 96.65, up SEK 3.05 or 3.3 percent.

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



SpotHero, the on-demand parking application which raised $2.5 million in 2012 and $20 million in Series B funding in 2015, is turning its attention to autonomous vehicles. Its current system,, caters to reserving paid parking spots for manually driven cars.  SpotHero’s team is beginning to plan for the day where autonomous vehicles will need to have available spots to drive to and park while they wait for their next assignment.

Volvo Car Group, owned by Chinese Automotive manufacturer Geely, and Autoliv, vehicle safety system manufacturer, have formed a joint venture to create autonomous driving systems.  The new company will have start out with around 200 employees and will be based in Gothenburg, Sweden.  They will focus their attention on creating advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous drive (AD) systems for Volvo as well as other vehicle manufacturers.


Will Bolt EV Give a Jolt to GM Earnings Call?

Burney Simpson

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV may include autonomous technology and Lyft drivers will get the first models off the production line, according to a flurry of news reports.

GM executives are considering addressing these topics during the auto OEMs second-quarter conference call on Thursday even though the Bolt EV won’t be officially released until late this year.

First, the electric-powered Bolt will include technology from Cruise Automation, the developer of self-driving systems that GM bought early this year, reports Motley Fool.

The Verge reported in May that Bolts outfitted with autonomous tech sensors were being live tested on San Francisco streets and Cruise co-founder Kyle Vogt was behind the wheel of one of them.

Second, the 2017 Bolt EV may be offered initially to Lyft drivers in California and Colorado through the ridesharing firm’s Express Drive program, Fortune disclosed. GM invested $500 million in Lyft in January.

Express Drive offers special rental prices on select GM vehicles to Lyft drivers who complete a certain number of rides per week. The Express Drive program has been over-subscribed since it was launched in Chicago and expanded to three more cities. Los Angeles and San Francisco may offer the program this fall.

Full production of the 2017 Bolt EV could begin in October according to Green Car Reports. Plans call for a base price of $37,500 and a production level of about 25,000 vehicles.


GM President Dan Ammann said at a Fortune conference this month that both rideshare and autonomous vehicles are interesting “and it gets really interesting if you put the two together.”

GM’s call to analysts to discuss second quarter results is scheduled to begin this Thursday at 10 a.m. Eastern time.

Along with revenues and earnings numbers, GM will tell analysts the price it paid for Cruise, a figure it has kept under wraps. Many press accounts estimated San Francisco-based Cruise cost GM $1 billion.

Proponents believe the 2017 Bolt’s 200-mile range will alleviate consumer concerns about running out of power. It is set to compete with two other electrics in the mid-$30,000 range – the Tesla Model 3 and the remade Nissan Leaf.

The Bolt may get the glory if it comes out first. The Model 3 has garnered about 400,000 reservations even though it won’t be put into production until the fall of 2017. The Leaf is scheduled for the 2018 model year.

Driverless Cars a Decade Away: MotorWeek’s Davis

Consumer acceptance of autonomous autos will be slow and widespread use may be a decade away, according to experts at a conference held this week by the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, D.C.

John Davis, executive producer, creator and host of the long-running MotorWeek TV show, told the conference that testing of the technology could go on for quite a while.

Autonomous systems “may be a decade away, maybe longer,” said Davis. “The public is all charged up about something that may be a ways off. We need to temper that enthusiasm.”

Davis cautioned regulators from forcing autonomous safety equipment on car buyers. For instance, consumers did not warm to airbags for years, said Davis. 

The recent fatal crash involving a Tesla vehicle using its Autopilot automated-driving system is raising more concerns, said Davis.

Davis spoke and led a panel at the 2016 Sustainable Transportation Summit, held by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). The summit primarily focused on electric vehicles and efforts to increase their use but autonomous technology interested many in the crowd.

GM’s Mary Beth Stanek wouldn’t commit on the consumer acceptance of electric vehicles outfitted with autonomous systems. She noted consumers generally look for proven technology when buying a car.

“Consumers don’t want too big a change from what they are doing today. If they like an internal combustion engine, they will stay with that,” said Stanek, director of vehicle technologies and government relations.

However, Stanek predicted that people will turn to autonomous and electric vehicles as mapping systems improve and communications technology like DSRC and 5G become widespread.


For that matter, “self-driving vehicles could lead to fuel conservation, they could force us to become smoother drivers (with) less stop and start,” said Davis. “It will take a while for the concept of not driving like a maniac to take hold,  (but it) will bring more fuel economy and people will like that.”

The view of Davis runs counter to that of auto OEMs Toyota and BMW with each pledging to have an automated or autonomous vehicle on the road by 2020 or 2021.

That coming-soon theme was echoed at the conference by Ford’s Ken Washington. Ford is testing autonomous vehicles in Michigan and Arizona, and soon in California, said Washington, vice president of research and advanced engineering.

Ford is developing SAE Level 4 High Automation vehicles, where the vehicle navigates itself — and its passengers — safely to their destination.

“In the next four years this is a reality that is very near,” said Washington.

One autonomous technology proponent at the conference was Chunka Mui, a business strategy consultant and author of “Driverless Cars: Trillions are Up for Grabs.”

Mui took a bottom-line approach, pointing to a study by Barclays that found that a driverless electric vehicle providing a car-share service could reduce operating cost-per-mile by as much as 80 percent compared with a standard vehicle.

And some locales offer rich ground for autonomous vehicles, Mui said. For example, the congested island-nation of Singapore is now testing driverless cabs developed by MIT-offshoot nuTonomy.

The Singapore government is supporting the concept, the population there is aging, the test is in a dense, high-population area, the country seeks to be a ‘knowledge capital of the world’ and nuTonomy has been preparing for the test for years, said Mui.


Along those same lines, new technology investor Mark Platshon encourages the US to think creatively as it promotes electric and autonomous vehicles.

“I’d like to see Hawaii as a test bed. An all renewable (energy), all electric island,” said Platshon, managing director of The Autonomous World Fund. “Make autonomous vehicles a top priority.”

Platshon was on a panel led by Mui that also featured executives from Federal Express and Local Motors.

olli-tool-tips2Federal Express is looking to reduce costs for its ground-vehicles, according to Russell Musgrove, managing director of global vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles show promise because FedEx research has found that the driver accounts for 15 percent of fuel use, said Musgrove.

The package delivery firm would like government permission to operate longer trucks so it could take more trucks off the road, and it is trying to find a manufacturer that can deliver a mini-fleet of electric trucks.

“We now have 110,000 vehicles worldwide. We need electric vehicles. We tried to get that first 100. We can’t find a manufacturer that will meet our specs. People think we can just go to an EV store,” said Musgrove. “This is a niche space, manufacturers can’t make enough money making this.“

Mui suggested that maybe Local Motors could help. The firm custom creates vehicles using 3D printers and other equipment. It recently launched Olli, a driverless shuttle that carries about a dozen passengers.

Local is the opposite of Detroit’s assembly line style of mass production, said Justin Fishkin, chief strategy officer.

“We make vehicles locally. It takes about eight weeks to build and put on the road,” said Fishkin. “Our cars have about 500 pieces while (auto OEMs) use about 50,000 and about 500 suppliers are involved.”

Musgrove and Fishkin agreed to talk after the conference.

Photo: Chevy’s electric Bolt.


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.


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.


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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