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News Roundup: Waymo Gives Driverless Cars Ears As Well As Eyes, Russia Debuts Autonomous Grain Harvesters, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

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

New self-driving technology by Google’s Waymo gives cars ears as well as eyes

Company representatives from Waymo say new technology they have developed checks off yet another box in the efficiency of driverless cars — being able to sense sound as well as physical objects in the car’s surroundings. Up until now, cars like those developed by Waymo have featured a series of cameras and Lidar and radar sensors to help visually detect obstacles in the car’s way, such as pedestrians, animals, changes in road conditions and the like; but then there’s the matter of sound. For example, human drivers usually hear disturbances like sirens from emergency vehicles or the screeching of tires that can signal a collision may be about to happen, before they see it. Waymo engineers said they felt being able to “hear” obstacles is almost as important as being able to see or sense them, so they have designed a stereoscopic microphone that can pick up sound from twice as far away as their previous cameras and sensors, and can also detect in which direction the sound is coming from, to help pinpoint the source. Test cars featuring the new microphone technology have already been deployed in Chandler, Arizona, and are already showing promise. The cars are already collecting a vast database of sounds from a variety of sources to help future vehicles recognize sounds even faster. Read more from WIRED magazine.

 

Autonomous trucks designed to protect road workers debut in Colorado

According to reports, being a road worker is one of the most dangerous jobs there is. Countless workers are injured or lose their lives every year as they are hit by vehicles in passing traffic while they perform maintenance or repair work on the side of the road. In Colorado last week, autonomous trucks debuted that are designed to follow behind road workers and act as a barrier to protect them. Typically, these types of trucks are driven by other workers, but even that proves dangerous as the trucks are often hit by cars, injuring or killing the drivers. The autonomous trucks now being tested in Colorado are electronically “tethered” to another truck in front of them, and are programmed to immediately pull over if that electronic tether is broken or disconnects. The trucks and their underlying technology were developed by Pennsylvania-based Royal Truck & Equipment, in partnership with Colas UK out of Britain. Read more and see video footage from KGWN-TV.

 

Autonomous grain harvesters debut in Russia

Russia has debuted what is believed to be the world’s first autonomous grain harvester. The machine was designed by Cognitive Technologies and drives itself through a field, pulling up grain–a task that used to be controlled by a human driver/operator. The debut of the machine, called the Rostselmash RSM 181 Torum, took place in Rostov in southeastern Russia. Company spokesperson Andrey Zuev said the machine took five years to develop and is much lower cost than other types of driverless vehicles to build and operate, mostly due to the fact that it only requires a single video camera to detect obstacles and seek out grain to harvest. The machine’s single video camera can sense all five types of obstacles needed to do its job – grain (even as short as 30cm), edges and rows, sloping ground, parts of the machine that are in the path of the camera, and all other objects such as other machines, trees, non-grain plants and more. Cognitive Technologies expects its Rostselmash autonomous grain harvester to be ready for mass production by 2023-24. Read more from Grain Central.

Image: Autonomous trucks follow and protect road workers in Colorado / Credit: CBS

News Roundup: Congress Wants to Bar States From Preempting Federal Driverless Laws, Dutch Startup Amber Generates Big Buzz with Self-Driving Cars, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Here is our roundup of headlines to come out of the driverless vehicle industry this week.

Dutch startup Amber making waves with self-driving cars

Quite a buzz is forming around Dutch mobility startup Amber. The company has positioned itself as strong competition for larger firms like Tesla Motors, Uber, Google’s Waymo and others by announcing plans to add self-driving cars to its on-demand ride service in the Netherlands by mid-2018. Amber was originally the brainchild of students at the Eindhoven University of Technology, which is known for its advanced automotive curriculum. Amber is partnering with five different software companies and research institutes, including Nvidia and Microsoft, that have already developed self-driving software. Automotive consultancy firm Roland Berger recently ranked The Netherlands at the top of its Automotive Disruption Radar. Read more from VentureBeat.

 

Spokesperson: U.S. Congress may introduce bills this week that will bar states from preempting federal driverless laws

A spokesperson for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Subcommittee said members expect driverless vehicle legislation to be introduced as soon as this week. The legislation could then begin debate on the House floor by next week. Rumors suggest one of the biggest provisions of the legislation would bar individual states from setting their own regulations for driverless vehicles that would preempt federal regulations, and would prevent the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from pre-approving self-driving car technologies. It is also believed the legislation will allow for up to 100,000 vehicles per year per manufacturer to be exempt from from federal motor vehicle safety rules that prevent the sale of self-driving vehicles without human controls. Several auto manufacturers that are working on driverless technology, such as Tesla, Google and General Motors, have long been lobbying Congress to preempt state regulations that they feel limit the progress of the technology, particularly in California. Read more from NewsMax.

 

International survey names Tesla, Waymo, Bosch among ‘most investible’ companies in driverless race

International law firm Gowling WLG and economic research agency Explain the Market conducted a year-long survey of investors, asking them which companies they felt the most confidence investing in when it comes to autonomous vehicle technology. Auto manufacturers Tesla Motors (26%) and BMW (22%) earned the most investors’ votes in their category. Google’s Waymo won the IT firm category by a landslide with 36% of votes. The next closest company in the IT category was Apple with 11%. Among tech brands, Bosch left many others in the dust, earning 54% of investors’ votes. Read more from Information Age.

Image: Amber self-driving car, courtesy of Amber

Waymo Taps Rental-Car Giant Avis as a New Self-Driving Car Partner, Russia Enters the Driverless Game, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Our roundup of recent news to come out of the driverless, connected-vehicle industries:

U.S. Congress appears to enjoy bipartisan support for driverless vehicle legislation

News outlets are reporting that discussion of driverless vehicle legislation that would propel forward adoption of the technology was received positively in Congress last week, and that there is a chance some bills could be voted on before the end of the month. Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle appear eager to progress the advent of self-driving vehicles, and make it easier for car manufacturers and tech firms like Ford, Tesla Motors, Google’s Waymo and NVIDIA to bring their products into the market through loosening restrictive laws. They also seek to create a level of consistency from state to state, many of which have widely varying laws for self-driving vehicles. Read more from The Motley Fool.

 

Russia moves full speed ahead toward driverless vehicles, will soon debut bus

Russia will not see itself fall behind the west, and has announced it will be debuting a fully autonomous shuttle bus at the upcoming third Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September. The debut ride will be jointly hosted by the companies behind the project — Bakulin Motors Group (BMG) and the Skolkovo innovation center. The bus is called Matryoshka, and can carry 8 to 12 passengers, carry cargo, or be used as a public utility vehicle. The bus is electric and its battery will allow it to travel a distance of up to 80 miles at speeds of up to 18 miles per hour. Passengers can even call the operator via video call from their seats. Russia does not yet have laws allowing for driverless vehicles on public roads, so all testing thus far has been done on closed courses. Read more from RBTH.

 

Waymo enters agreement with Avis Budget Group to manage its fleet of driverless cars in Phoenix

Avis Budget Group, which owns the rental-car brands Avis and Budget, as well as car-sharing company Zipcar, has been tapped by Google’s Waymo to manage its fleet of self-driving cars in Phoenix. The fleet recently started allowing members of the public to test its vehicles in April of this year through its “early rider program.” The program aims to discover where people most want to be able to use self-driving cars, and has been picking up and dropping off passengers for the past few months. As per the deal, Avis will clean the cars and perform regular maintenance and minor repairs as needed. Read more from the Washington Post.

 

Image by Waymo & Avis Budget Group

News Roundup: A Look at the World’s First Autonomous-Capable Cargo Ship, Apple Creates Buzz With Self-Driving Car News, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Oslo-based company to debut electric, autonomous-capable ship

The company YARA Birkeland out of Oslo, Norway has revealed plans for a zero-emission, remote control-capable and eventually autonomous-capable cargo ship. YARA said the ship will launch in 2019 with the ability to be controlled remotely and deliver cargo unmanned. Within a few years after that, the company said the ship will be capable of operating fully autonomously. The container ship is being built by Kongsberg Gruppen ASA, and many say it will have a huge impact on the maritime industry, which is known for its high amounts of fuel consumption. The container ship will reportedly be used to transport fertilizer. Read more from Bloomberg.

 

Apple’s Tim Cook creates a buzz, offering details of self-driving plans

Apple CEO Tim Cook gave an interview with Bloomberg News last week week, creating quite a buzz as he addressed the company’s work on autonomous car systems. Those are the exact words he used — autonomous systems. Cook made it clear that Apple is no longer working on attempting to build a vehicle, but is instead working on developing the system that would power one. The project has long been called Project Titan internally. Just a couple of months ago, Bloomberg published photos of Lexus SUVs outfitted with Apple’s autonomous technology being tested on San Francisco Bay Area roads. Since Apple veteran Bob Mansfield took over control of Project Titan, engineers have been cut and costs streamlined, but Cook made it clear the project is moving full-speed ahead. Read more from Bloomberg.

 

Bye-bye, Google self-driving bubble car

Google self-driving spin-off company Waymo announced this week it is retiring its famous, signature “bubble” cars. For years the rounded pod cars have been traveling millions of miles around Silicon Valley as the company has been testing and gathering data for its self-driving car system. However, the company has been advancing partnerships with established vehicle manufacturers and says it will now focus on installing its systems into other cars rather than manufacturing any more of the bubble cars. In particular, Waymo’s blog indicates the company is working on outfitting a fleet of 600 Chrysler Pacifica mini-vans. Whereas the “Firefly” bubble-shaped pod car maxes out at a top speed of 25 miles per hour, the mini-vans will be capable of traveling at full speed. Read more from BBC News.

 

Image: Courtesy rendering of YARA Birkeland ship

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

Tesla Leads the D20 to Seventh Consecutive Weekly Gain

Nineteen price gainers, led largely by Tesla Motors, and only one loser helped the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index (D20) to a seventh consecutive weekly gain.

The D20 topped the Dow and the S&P again this week by gaining 2.2 percent and closing at 214.80.  The Dow inched up 0.6 percent while the S&P 500 index rose by 1 percent to close at 2439.07.

In the last seven weeks, the D20 has added 14.6 percent to its value while the Dow has gained only 2.7 percent and the S&P 500 only 3.5 percent.

Although Tesla (TSLA) was the leading D20 percentage price gainer at 4.5 percent, the gains were well distributed as six other stocks were also up by more than 3 percent for the week. Tesla’s Elon Musk made headlines this week by quitting Trump’s Economic Council after the U.S. president made the decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement.

The sole D20 price loser this week was Mobileye (MBLY). It announced first quarter 2017 earnings on June 1 that seemed to spawn some profit-taking. Mobileye lost only $0.02 a share to close the week down 0.03 percent at $61.78.

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

 

Up-and-Comers:

Embattled Uber has fired its head of autonomous driving, Anthony Levandowski.  Levandowski helped embroil Uber and Waymo, Google’s driverless unit, in a lawsuit as he was accused of taking thousands of documents as he left Waymo to form Otto, which was later purchased by Uber for more than $700 million.

Uber’s fortunes need a lift, as its troubles continue.  It announced a $708 million loss for the first quarter of 2017 and the resignation of its head of finance, Gautam Gupta, to join another Silicon Valley start-up.

News Roundup: Driverless EZ10 Shuttle Scheduled to Debut in Taiwan This Summer, Industry Predictions From Australia, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

The latest driverless transportation headlines from the past week, summed up for you:

Driverless shuttle will launch in Taiwan this summer

A new EZ10 autonomous shuttle is scheduled to launch in Taiwan on various campuses of National Taiwan University (NTU) this summer. The vehicle itself was manufactured by French lightweight automobile manufacturer Ligier, and the self-driving technology is the product of another French company, EasyMile–original developer of the EZ10–together with Taiwanese firm 7Starlake. The shuttle has no back or front and can easily change direction at any point on its route. The shuttle can cruise at up to 20 miles per hour, and can carry up to 12 passengers, six sitting and six standing. It is also equipped to carry handicapped passengers. The shuttle is expected to debut first with a single route at the NTU Shuiyuan Campus in July, and will expand to additional routes later. Read more from Euro Transport Magazine.

 

Australia association insists all cars will be driverless, all highways will have dedicated lanes, within 10 years

One major association in Australia is getting mightly confident about the nation’s progress toward driverless cars. A new report from Roads Australia, one of the biggest associations for the nation’s roads, predicts that all new manufactured cars will be driverless within 10 years, and that all Australian roads will feature dedicated lanes for driverless cars within 5 to 10 years. The report also refers to American ridesharing company Lyft in stating that by the year 2025, it will be cheaper to pay to ride in a driverless car than to own and maintain one’s own vehicle, and that vehicle ownership will be all but nonexistent. While many say they are encouraged by Roads Australia’s report, however, plenty of others are calling it “ambitious” and “unrealistic,” including David McCarthy, an executive from Mercedes Benz in Australia. McCarthy said he is more inclined to believe that increasing levels of driving autonomy will happen over the next many years, but that reaching full autonomy across the board within 10 years is unlikely, in his opinion, not only due to the technology’s progress, but also lags in legislation. Read more from Drive.

 

Uber fires head of its self-driving car division

Presumably yielding to mounting pressure during their court battle with Google’s Waymo, Uber has fired Anthony Levandowski, the head of its self-driving car development division. Levandowski was previously the head of Google’s self-driving division, and Waymo alleges that when he left the company to accept the job with Uber, that he downloaded as many as 14,000 files, many relating to Waymo’s Lidar system, which is the key component to its self-driving car technology. Previously, a judge ordered that Levandowski halt working on any driverless car technology until the lawsuit was settled, but this week, Uber opted instead to fire Levandowski, who is still required to cooperate in the court battle and investigation. Uber has replaced Levandowski with self-driving car engineer Eric Meyhofer. Read more from Bloomberg.

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).