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News Roundup: California DMV’s New Proposed Driverless Car Regulations, How Alexa and Cortana May Soon Take Over Your Car, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of some of the biggest headlines to come out of the driverless and connected-car industries over the past week:

Many applaud California DMV’s newly proposed regulations for testing driverless cars

This past Friday, March 10, the California Department of Motor Vehicles released new proposed regulations for the testing of driverless cars in public, which look remarkably like laws recently passed in Michigan. Many are applauding all the changes made since releasing a significantly stricter version back in September. DMV reps say they listened closely to a wealth of feedback from stakeholders after the September draft and implemented many of them. In particular, the new regulations reverse their previous requirements that driverless test cars must have a human driver in the car while testing in public, and that prototype vehicles must include a steering wheel and pedals (which reportedly made Google/Waymo executives very happy). However, if the vehicle does not include those conventional features, the manufacturer must show the DMV they have approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A mandatory 45-day comment period is currently in effect, ending April 24, after which a public hearing will take place. DMV representatives said they hope the regulations will officially go into effect by the end of the year. Read more from Bloomberg Technology.

 

Automakers turn to personal assistance tech like Cortana, Alexa to develop better connected-car voice commands

While systems like Ford’s Sync are already appearing in cars on the market today, many industry analysts say the technology still contains many flaws, with limited available commands and continuous voice recognition difficulties. As connected-car technology becomes more and more in demand, automakers like Ford, Volkswagen and Nissan are turning to personal assistant apps like Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana to improve in-car voice command systems. VW announced they are trying to combine Alexa with their Car-Net system and apps so that, while driving, you can ask Alexa to do things like add items to your ongoing shopping list that is synced between your car and your personal device. Reps say you’ll even be able to ask Alexa through your Amazon Echo at home to tell you how much gas your car has in it. Ford said it is integrating Alexa into its current Sync system, with some paired features debuting this summer. Nissan said they are partnering with Microsoft, but have not announced a launch date yet. Read more from CAR magazine.

 

Whoa! Intel buys Mobileye for more than $15 billion

In the biggest acquisition of an Israeli tech company to date, Intel announced this week that is acquiring Mobileye for an astounding $15.3 billion, after partnering with them since late last year. Mobileye is known for its computer vision systems for autonomous cars, including sensor fusion, mapping and front- and rear-facing camera technology. They are also working on crowdsourcing data for high-definition maps, as well as getting involved in policies and regulations surrounding autonomous driving. Intel has been getting involved with driverless technology as of late, most recently partnering with Mobileye and BMW and pledging $250 million to invest in the technology, particularly how much data autonomous cars can generate. The sale of Mobileye to Intel is expected to take about nine months to close. Read more from TechCrunch.

Renesas Leads Pack of Five Losers for Big Drop in D20 Stock Index

Led by Renesas, five Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index (D20) constituent stocks lost more than 5 percent last week, prompting the D20 to take a nose dive for 3.63 points this week, closing at 181.87.

The D20’s 2-percent loss allowed the Dow, which jumped 1 percent, and the S&P 500, which gained 0.7 percent, to outperform the D20 for the third consecutive week.

Although the D20 had 10 price gainers and 10 price losers, the not-so-fabulous five of Blackberry (BBRY), Magna (MGA), NVIDIA (NVDA), Tesla (TSLA), and Renesas (TYO:6723) drove the D20 to a significant loss.

There seemed to be no central theme for the five losing stocks. Blackberry lost 5.5 percent after announcing its new KeyOne smartphone. Magma missed earnings expectations and dropped 5.4 percent, and profit-taking continued to eat away at NVIDIA’s stock price as it also lost 5.4 percent this week.

Tesla dropped 5.6 percent even though its earnings announcement showed double the revenue from a year ago and a narrowed earning-per-share loss. Renesas lost a whopping 9.5 percent on news that it was close to completing an acquisition of Intersil.

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

Up-and-Comers:

Waymo, Alphabet’s (GOOG) driverless car division, is suing Uber and Otto for theft of trade secrets. Otto, which is owned by Uber and founded by Anthony Levandowski, stands accused of stealing Waymo’s trade secrets surrounding the LiDAR technology that Waymo pioneered. Levandowski, who led Google’s driverless efforts before it was named Waymo and left in 2015, started Otto in early 2016.

News Roundup: Autonomous Volkswagen Bus Debuts at Detroit Auto Show, Britain Makes Progress Toward Insuring Autonomous Vehicles, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of some of the biggest headlines to come out of the driverless, connected-car industry this week:

 

Volkswagen wows at Detroit Auto Show With ‘I.D. Buzz,’ Its New Autonomous VW Bus

Volkswagen is calling it its most “emotional” car ever, as it spells nostalgia for long-time fans of the old VW bus. The I.D. Buzz is VW’s new autonomous car that is debuting at the Detroit Auto Show this week. The bus can seat up to eight people and has trunks in both the back and the front. When the driver switches to autonomous mode, the steering wheel retracts into the dashboard. VW says the I.D. Buzz should hit the market by 2024. Read more and see a video on Deadline Detroit.

 

Google files patent application for autonomous ride-sharing technology

News outlets are reporting that Google filed a patent application on Dec. 22 titled “Determining Pickup and Destination Locations for Autonomous Vehicles.” The patent is reportedly for a new type of technology that would determine the best location for an autonomous vehicle to pick up or drop off a passenger, and if it determines it is not safe, suggest an alternate location. Google’s application says the technology is necessary because self-driving vehicles may not always be able to operate everywhere a human driver would. Many industry analysts have been speculating for some time that Google will plan to use self-driving cars for ride-sharing, much like Uber, and this appears to lend credence to that speculation. Read more from eWeek.

 

British government makes strides toward insurance for autonomous vehicles
The British government last week said it is making progress toward determining guidelines for insurance for autonomous vehicles. In an announcement on Jan. 6, the Department For Transportation said it plans to implement protections for victims of collisions in which it is determined that autonomous vehicle technology was at fault. The report states that the victim will have a “direct right against the motor insurer, and the insurer in turn will have a right of recovery against the responsible party, to the extent there is a liability under existing laws, including product liability laws.” Britain is making big strides in the path toward determining the best course for insuring autonomous vehicles, even moving ahead of the U.S. For example, in January 2016, a number of Britain’s leading auto insurance companies joined together to form the Automated Driving Insurance Group (ADIG), headed by the Association of British Insurers, to determine guidelines for which party should be responsible in crashes of autonomous vehicles–the drivers, or the vehicle manufacturers. Read more from Road Safety GB (Great Britain).

News Roundup: A Semi-Autonomous Motorcycle, Driverless Cars Hit Public Roads in England, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of some of the most interesting news to come out of the driverless, connected-car world this week:

BMW says helmets won’t be needed with their self-balancing motorcycle

While most of the world is focused on semi-autonomous features that can make cars safer, BMW has been quietly focusing on a semi-autonomous motorcycle. This week, the auto manufacturer unveiled its design for the Vision Next 100 bike, with features like semi-autonomous steering and self-balancing wheels. Instead of a helmet, the bike will come with a visor that has an internal display super-imposed over the road and surrounding environment. The bike’s connected-vehicle system will give alerts about obstacles and risks on that display. BMW says the self-balancing wheels are so effective, a rider won’t even need to put their feet down on the ground when they stop, and it will be so hard to crash the bike, traditional helmets and padded, protective clothing won’t be necessary. Read more about the Vision Next 100 on CNNMoney.

Driverless cars tested on UK public roads for the first time

As Britain keeps moving toward its goal of having driverless cars on the road by 2020, a test car hit the public streets of Milton Keynes for the first time on Tuesday. Traveling at about 5 km per hour, the small two-seater driverless pod car navigated the streets of the largely pedestrianized southern town, stopping for people that crossed in front of it and safely turning corners. The pod car, heavily adapted from a compact Renault car, was developed by the Oxford University spin-out Oxbotica. Read more about the driverless car’s first public trip from Reuters.

Lots of driverless news out of California this week

According to news outlets like Ars Technica, Wall Street Journal and Elektrek, things are really heating up in California, where the number of companies that have been issued permits to test autonomous vehicles has just climbed to 17, up by three just since the end of summer. The two newest permits were issued to Wheego, an electric vehicle powertrain engineering company, and Valeo, a familiar name in the industry as a longtime tier-one automotive supplier. Also recently, Chinese tech firm Baidu received a testing permit. In other California news, Elektrek was one of the first to spot prototypes of Google’s long-awaited self-driving Chrysler Pacific mini-vans in Mountain View last weekend, and published a few somewhat grainy photos. Read more recent industry news from Ars Technica.

Image: Vision Next 100 semi-autonomous motorcycle prototype, by BMW.

News Roundup: Bentley Tests On-Demand Gas Fill-Up, Fly-Mode Wins With 3-D Printed Car and Drone Package, and More

A roundup of interesting headlines from around the driverless and connected-car world:

Bentley teams up to introduce on-demand gasoline fill-up service

Imagine your head is hitting the pillow one night, and you’re running through all the myriad errands you’re going to need to make in your car the next day. And then you remember, your gas tank is on empty. Well, if you lived in California and you owned a Bentley, that wouldn’t be a problem. It’s true, Bentley is teaming up with tech startup Filld to test out on-demand fuel delivery in California. With Bentley’s connected-car system, on-demand fuel is available 24/7, without even needing to hand over your keys. A technician will show up and refuel your car through the gas port, and a bill will be sent to your home. So, you could wake up the next morning to a full tank of gas, your car ready to hit the road. Pretty cool! Read more about this from AutoEvolution.

Check out this 3-D printed autonomous vehicle that features a scout drone

Imagine traveling with your car through gridlock traffic (not hard, I know). But then imagine you could send out your car’s drone to fly high overhead and scout out the best route to get around the traffic and get you to your destination faster. That could become a reality soon, thanks to Fly-Mode, a team of inventors that recently won the Essence of Autonomy Challenge, hosted by Local Motors and Mouser Electronics and judged by MythBusters star Grant Imahara.  The quad-motor drone has a landing pad on the rear of the vehicle, and occupants can use a joystick to control the drone, sending it up in the air to scout out surroundings, which Imahara says makes one feel as though they are in a flying vehicle, up in the air along with the drone. The drone’s images are sent to a projection screen inside the vehicle that can be inflated and deflated as needed. Read more about Fly-Mode from Popular Science.

Google inches closer to public release of self-driving cars, hits 2 million miles on public roads

Few companies have invested nearly as much time or money in the development of self-driving cars as Google’s Alphabet Inc. Recently, the company hit 2 million miles of driving on public roads. And in fact, it only took a little more than one year to go from 1 million to 2 million, as the fleet now consists of more than 60 self-driving test vehicles in four states. As news outlets report on the new benchmark, a reporter with Verge describes his recent ride in a Google self-driving car, including how he was a passenger while the car completed an obstacle course that had the vehicle dodge pedestrians, slam on the brakes as other cars cut in front, and navigate cyclists. Read more from Verge.

News Roundup: More Crashes For Google Driverless Cars, Michigan Driverless Car and Hacking Laws Move Forward, and More

Michigan laws that would allow driverless cars on public roads for any reason, address car hacking move forward in House

A law that recently passed unanimously in the Michigan state Senate has been allowed to move forward in the House. The law would allow driverless cars to be driven on public Michigan roads for any reason, not just while being tested. At the same time, another bill moved forward — one that would make hacking into the electronic systems of a vehicle a felony. The next step for the bills will be discussion on the House floor, before deciding if and when to vote. Read more about the two bills on Crain’s Detroit Business.

Google self-driving cars have three collisions in Arizona in August

Google has confirmed that its self-driving test cars were in three collisions in Chandler, Arizona, located in the Phoenix metro area, in August. In two of the accidents, the car was in manual mode, being controlled by a human driver at the time of the crash. One of those collisions involved a drunk driver who rear-ended the Google car, injuring one of its passengers and sending him or her to the hospital with a concussion, according to media reports. In the other, the Google driver was cited in the crash, though investigation suggests the driver of the other car actually ran a red light and hit the Google car while making a left turn. In the third accident, the car was in autonomous mode when it was rear-ended by a human-driven car that was stopped at an intersection. Read more about the collisions from the Associated Press on InsuranceJournal.com.

Utah State University team places in national Autonomous Vehicle Competition

A team of engineering students from Utah State University (USU) took second place in last week’s Autonomous Vehicle Competition (AVC) in Colorado. Their vehicle, called the “USU Cruiser,” was the only one that completed the test course and made it all the way to the end. The team said the secret to their success was a “slow but steady” approach, and how quickly their robotic car was able to course-correct if it lost its orientation or got confused. The team said they hope to improve upon the Cruiser and enter it again in next year’s AVC. Read more about the USU Cruiser on the College of Engineering’s website.

News Roundup: Russia Developing Autonomous Mini-Bus, Velodyne’s Lidar System Takes Off, and Google Car Team Gets a New Director

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of some of the most recent headlines from the driverless transportation industry.

Russia teams up to develop electric autonomous mini-bus

Yandex–otherwise known as the Google of Russia–announced it is working on its own autonomous vehicle, a 12-passenger mini-bus. The company said it is teaming up with Daimler, the government-backed NAMI automotive research facility, and truck manufacturer Kamaz. Yandex is expected to contribute its knowledge in computer vision, artificial intelligence and speech recognition to the project. NAMI has said the minibus could begin testing as early as 2017. The electric mini-bus will be designed to be able to travel up to 200 km, or 124 miles, before it needs recharging. Read more about Russia’s autonomous minibus on Futurism.

Google’s self-driving car team poaches new director from Airbnb

Following the departure of former CTO Chris Urmson, Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving car team announced a new director this week. The team appears to have poached Airbnb’s head, Shaun Stewart, who will be resigning his post as Airbnb’s global head of vacation rentals to take up his new director position at Google. Analysts are speculating that Google plans to speed up its driverless car timeline under Stewart’s leadership–and that, potentially, it could also mean the self-driving car team could spin out and become it’s own company, rather than a division of Alphabet Inc. Read more about Google’s new hiring announcement on Yahoo! Finance.

Velodyne trades out high-end audio systems for Lidar, autonomous vehicles

Velodyne, a California-based company most widely known for its high-end audio systems, is now getting into the autonomous vehicle business. With $150 million in financial backing from both Ford Motors and Chinese search engine giant Baidu, Velodyne is moving full speed ahead with its Lidar systems. With a presence on three continents, Velodyne is  now regularly mentioned in research reports that cite leading companies in the niche field of Lidar. In addition to cars, the systems also have growing potential for agricultural equipment, mining vehicles and military vehicles. Read more about Velodyne’s new partnerships on USA Today.

Image: Autonomous mini-bus under development in Russia, courtesy of NAMI.

News Roundup: Mobileye and Delphi Promise Level 4 or 5 Automation By 2019, Uber Makes 3 Calculated Autonomous-Car Moves in One Short Week, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of some of the most interesting headlines from the driverless and connected-car industries over the past few days.

Mobileye and Delphi Automotive announce plans to leap-frog competitors and achieve Level 4-5 automation by 2019

Auto technology supplier Delphi Automotive and sensor manufacturer Mobileye made a big announcement Tuesday. The two are partnering up for autonomous cars, and made the bold pledge to offer a car capable of at least Level 4 automation–and possibly even Level 5–by 2019, which would likely put them at least a year or more ahead of major competitors such as Google, Tesla and Ford. Level 4 automation, on a scale that goes up to 5, would mean the car could completely drive itself in almost every situation, with little to no assistance. The two companies said they plan to have their product ready to show off at the next Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas in 2017, and be completely production-ready by 2019. Read more about the Mobileye-Delphi announcement on USA Today.

 

Uber makes three bold moves in one week in an effort to push past Google on driverless cars

Ride-hailing supergiant Uber had a busy week last week, moving several puzzle pieces into place to secure itself a slot ahead of Google in the driverless car race. In one short week, the company purchased Otto, the self-driving truck company started by former Google execs; launched a pilot program to try out driverless taxis able to be hailed via an app in Pittsburgh; and ponied up $300 million to secure a partnership with Volvo to design and manufacture autonomous cars by 2021. Read more about Uber’s busy week on Forbes.

 

Intel shows off its intent to get in on the autonomous car industry during San Francisco developer forum

Intel is best known for its computer chips, but the tech giant made it clear during its developer forum in San Francisco last week that it has eggs in several technology baskets at once–including that of autonomous cars. Intel showed off its research and development work in several areas such as Internet of Things and many facets of the autonomous car world such as in-vehicle technology, communications and analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and human-machine interfacing during the forum. Read more about the roughly one dozen demos Intel hosted on Post and Parcel.

Dog Days of Summer Dampen D20

The dog days of August have halted the D20’s six-week run of consecutive gains.

The Driverless Transportation Index’s (D20’s) six consecutive weeks of gains are over, but just barely.  The D20 lost 0.11 points or less than 0.1 percent of its value, closing the week at 158.51.  In a pretty quiet week all around, the Dow and S&P 500 followed suit by losing 0.1 and 0.01 percent of their values, respectively.  With 10 price losers, nine gainers and one unchanged, no D20 component stock lost more than 3 or gained more than 3.5 percent.

Since Aug. 28, 2015, the D20 has gained 6.42 percent in value, while the D20 8-22 graphicDow has added 11.47 percent and the S&P 500 has grown 9.8 percent.  The cumulative percentage change in the graph shows that the D20 never fully recovered from 24 percent plummet that started at the end of 2105 and continued through mid-February in 2016.

Much of the D20’s loss can be blamed on Volkswagen’s (VLKPY) Diesel-gate and Mobileye’s (MBLY) 41-percent drop during that time period.

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

Up-and-Comers:

Uber has made another step towards autonomous vehicles with its purchase of the privately held start-up named Otto.  Otto’s executive team, which is made up of ex-Google autonomous vehicle and mapping veterans, Anthony Levandowski and Lion Ron, is focusing on self-driving kits instead of the whole autonomous vehicle.

In a unique purchase agreement for a start-up, it is rumored that Uber has agreed to share 20 percent of the profits of building an autonomous trucking business with the previous owners of Otto.

News Roundup: Apple Secures First Vehicle Patent, Google Driverless Exec Quits, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of headlines from the driverless and connected-car worlds so far this week:

Apple finally secures its first vehicle patent – but it’s not what we expected

After much of the industry has been holding its breath, waiting for the first real, confirmed news of an Apple car, news finally came on Tuesday–but it’s not what any of us expected. Apple’s new patent is for an “articulated vehicle,” and as oApple-articulated-vehicle-patent-2ne reporter described the plans, it looks like a European-style “bendy bus” with a pivoting mechanism connecting the front and back cabins. Some are saying this could help vehicles steer more efficiently in ice and snow, and would help funnel brake fluid, hydraulics, cardan shaft or other important components through a large vehicle. So while it’s not the self-driving smart car many in the industry were hoping for, as one Gizmodo reporter said, “at least we know Apple engineers are working on things like how vehicles are controlled.” Read the full article on Gizmodo.

Big news from Google: Self-driving car exec leaving the project

Reuters reported big news on Monday: Chris Urmson, who has led Google’s self-driving car initiative for the past seven and a half years, announced Friday will be his last day with the project. Reuters said he has been considering the departure for a while and now is making the move. Urmson said on Twitter he is ready for a “fresh challenge” and the chance to gain some perspective from outside of Google. This is the latest in many departures from Google’s self-driving car project–Anthony Levandowski, the project manager, left earlier this year to launch his own startup with two other former Google employees. Read Reuters’ full story.

Israeli autonomous car Lidar manufacturer raises $9 million

Innoviz, an Israeli company that manufacturers Lidar sensors for autonomous cars, announced this week it has secured $9 million in funding to continue its work. The company’s technology is called High Definition Solid State Lidar and, according to the company, it enables a high level of performance and accuracy compared with other current mechanical solutions. Innoviz says this technology will serve as the basis for the entire sensing system required for autonomous driving. Read more about Innoviz from Globes English.

 

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