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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.

Italy’s Ancient Roads Host Mobility as a Service Test

Burney Simpson

The ancient streets of Ragusa, Sicily recently played host to a test of Mobility-As-A-Service (MAAS) by Mvmant, a provider of a smartphone app with a hybrid cab/bus service.

A posting on Mvmant’s Facebook page claimed it had 2,000 registrants during the three-week test.

Mvmant’s on-demand transportation service is designed for congested urban areas where Millennials eschew privately-owned cars. Mvmant picked Ragusa because its streets are often jammed with tourist vehicles.

Subscribers use their smartphone to book and pay for a Mvmant ride. The trip isn’t door-to-door but the traveler can use the app to find the best route for his trip, according to the Catania, Italy-based firm.

Mvmant uses data analysis to determine the most-in demand routes and the optimum number of seats per route. Monitors in the vehicle display ads and offer free trips, discounts and promotions from local merchants.

This Mvmant You Tube video explains its concept.

The Ragusa test vehicles were supplied by Mercedes Vans, one of Mvmant’s supporters. The vehicles are not autonomous or electric powered. Models in the test included the Sprinter and Vito commercial vans, the panel van-mini MPV Citan and the MPV class V.

Mvmant is a project of Edisonweb, and it has a number of influential partners in addition to Mercedes, according to its website.

Supporters include Samsung, the Italian bank Unicredit, Rome-based environmental group Legambiente, and Frontier Cities, an innovation and technology funding arm of the European Union.

Mvmant says its service reduces congestion because trip takers will use its shared vehicles instead of driving their own car. Reducing congestion can cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Frontier Cities reports that Edisonweb has been approached by the Berlin Agency for Electromobility eMO to support a second Mvmant pilot in Berlin, and from the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) of Dubai. Mvmant plans to test its program in the Italian cities of Messina and Modena.

Cities Should Start Testing Autonomous Transit: Planner

Burney Simpson

Cities should begin testing Level 5 autonomous vehicles now in last mile/first mile transit applications to stay ahead of the coming changes brought by driverless technology, according to Grush Niles Associates, a transportation planning consultant.

Implementing Level 5 transit on an incremental, application-by-application basis will help it to expand and spread as demand grows, the consultants write in “Getting Past the Hype” in the new Thinking Highways, North America.

Level 5 vehicles, defined as fully autonomous and capable of operating without a driver, have been successfully used in several cities in Europe during the CityMobil2 project. Cities include La Rochelle, France; Lausanne, Switzerland; near Helsinki, Finland; and Trikala, Greece.

The providers include EasyMile, Navya, RoboSoft, and 2getthere. Specs vary but a typical vehicle is electric-powered, has a range of 50 miles, and can carry 12 passengers. They have onboard navigation systems and obstacle detection systems, and are monitored from a control room.

EasyMile is scheduled to begin operations at a business park this year in California (“Driverless Shuttle Gives Momentum to GoMentum Station“).

“These vehicles run in controlled loops through residential areas to a work area,” says Bern Grush. “Level 5 (vehicles) are here for constrained, simple transit.”

TRANSIT LEAP

Transit Leap approach from Grush Niles Associates.

Grush calls his approach Transit Leap, where “public-use, robotic, shared-mobility applications” will encourage consumers to shift to transit and away from single-owner cars.

His goal is a transportation system where 40 percent of trips are done on public transit, 40 percent are provided by a private transit owner (Uber, for example), and 20 percent in a privately-owned car.

In comparison, today about 90 percent of trips are done in a privately-owned car, with the remaining 10 percent delivered either by public transit or a private transit provider like Uber or a cab company, says Grush.

Grush’s goal contrasts with the concept seen in the futuristic driverless cars showcased by Mercedes and Volvo at events like CES 2016. These still have a steering wheel and play on the desire by many consumers to own a car, he says.

“If they have a steering wheel, it’s designed to be a (consumer) vehicle,” said Grush. “If not, then it’s transit.”

The future vehicles from the auto OEMs generally have an autonomous technology of Level 3, or conditional automation. Drivers must take the wheel on congested, complicated city roads but the car will run on its own for highway driving.

These vehicles, possibly widely available by 2025, encourage the owner to live further from work, says Grush. That will lead to more car ownership, more congestion, and increased public demand for more large highways.

That’s not the way to go, as Grush Niles explains on its End of Driving website:

“(T)here is a risk to municipalities and their populations to be overwhelmed by a new wave of private, low-occupancy automobile dominance that collectively detracts from community livability, adds to sprawl, increases infrastructure costs, and degrades the environment.”

HYPE CYCLE

While the move to autonomous vehicles seems inevitable, municipal planners still have some time to experiment with the concept. That is, if technology consultant Gartner is right with its Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle.

Last July Gartner put autonomous vehicles at the very top of its Peak of Inflated Expectations in the Hype Cycle. That was when one expert after another said the technology would end hunger, bring peace, and reunite the Ramones.

emerging-tech-hc (2)The next step in the Hype Cycle is for driverless to enter the Trough of Disillusionment, possibly after an accident or cybersecurity breach that shows its fallibility.

However, the technology will comeback, and go on to reach a Plateau of Productivity when it is working efficiently and is widely accepted.

That’s why planners should begin testing CityMobil2-style vehicles now to work out the bugs, says Grush.

“Municipalities need the experience. This is still a few years away,” says Grush. “The Trough gives us the opportunity.”

Sensata, Quanergy Partner to Sell LiDAR Worldwide

Burney Simpson

Auto parts supplier Sensata Technologies has partnered with leading LiDAR developer Quanergy Systems to expand sales of Quanergy’s sensor products.

The two announced in a joint press release that, “Together, Sensata and Quanergy will leverage Quanergy’s substantial intellectual property and current and future technology development to deliver LiDAR sensors that have substantially lower costs, higher reliability, improved capability, and lower power consumption when compared to traditional mechanical LiDAR sensors.”

Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensors are used extensively in autonomous vehicles, and for 3D mobile mapping, and vehicle safety systems. The sensors are commonly seen as the bulb-like devices sticking out from autonomous vehicles.

Quanergy’s LiDAR systems are marketed to auto OEMs and parts suppliers for use in consumer and fleet vehicles, and for digital mapping. Quanergy has partnerships with Mercedes, Hyundai, and Renault-Nissan.

It says its sensors have a 360 degree field of view, a several-hundred meter range, accuracy down to the centimeter, and a 30 Hertz scanning frequency.

Quanergy CEO Dr. Louay Eldada said in the release his firm will “benefit from Sensata’s new product launch and manufacturing expertise, deep customer relationships and global presence as the leading independent sensor supplier.”

The two reached a “strategic partnership and investment agreements” but no dollar value of an investment was released. Sensata will have a seat on Quanergy’s board following the deal.

CONSIDERABLY LARGER

Publicly-held Sensata (ST) is considerably larger than Quanergy.

Sensata is a Netherlands-based holding company and manufacturer and marketer of auto parts, HVAC systems, and other technology. Net revenues totaled $2.9 billion last year, up from $2.4 billion in 2014. Nearly 70 percent of revenues came from auto products in its fiscal 2015 year.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Quanergy is privately held.

It has raised $34.5 million through several invest rounds. A Series A funding round in November 2014 garnered $30 million from Rising Tide Fund, Wicklow Capital, Motus Ventures, Wardenclyffe Partners, and others.

Morgan Hill, Calif.-based Velodyne LiDAR is another major supplier of sensors. It introduced its smaller, lighter Puck Lite sensor last month.

Google Expands to Kirkland and Possibly Contra Costa?

Burney Simpson

Google will begin testing its driverless cars in Kirkland, Wash., joining Mountain View, Calif., and Austin, Texas, as public laboratories for the revolutionary vehicle.

Kirkland is about 12 miles east of Seattle and home to a large Google campus, according to the Associated Press. Google said testing in hilly Kirkland will help its cars better learn how to navigate various elevations.

Meanwhile, farther south on the Pacific Coast, another city could become a test ground for the vehicles.

The California State Assembly may soon hear a bill that appears to have been written specifically to entice the Mountain View-based division of Alphabet.

The proposal, AB-1592, would allow for the testing of autonomous vehicles without a steering wheel, a brake pedal, an accelerator pedal, or a driver in the vehicle, as long as the vehicle goes less than 35 MPH, and the test is conducted at the GoMentum Station or a business park operated by the Contra Costa (California) Transportation Authority.

That pretty well describes the Google car, though it can go over 35, a little. In addition, Contra Costa is a short jaunt from Mountain View.

The measure’s sponsor is Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, a Democrat whose district includes Contra Costa County. The proposal was sent to the Transportation Committee but a hearing hasn’t been scheduled.

NO OFFICIAL POSITION

For its part, Google doesn’t “have a view on (the proposal) at all,” said spokesperson Johnny Luu. “We are aware of it but have no official position on it.”

GoMentum is a 5,000 acre facility with 20-some miles of roads that calls itself “the largest secure test facility in the world.” Formerly a Naval weapons testing area, it opened for vehicle testing in 2014 and signed up Honda and Mercedes as clients.

This summer GoMentum will be part of a test of an Easy Mile EZ10 driverless electric shuttle at the nearby Bishop Park business park (See “Driverless Shuttle Gives Momentum to GoMentum Station”).

GoMentum got a lot of mileage out of a report last August from The Guardian that Apple might start testing a driverless car at the facility. Since then, however, no news.

GoMentum could soon become very attractive for Google as it expands.

According to a recent filing with the Federal Communications Commission Google has already chosen several other places to test (See “Google Reportedly Expanding Self-Driving Car Testing to 4 More Cities”).

Adding Google would be a coup for GoMentum as it competes with Michigan for driverless testing clients.

Michigan last month announced it would create a state-of-the-art autonomous vehicle testing facility in Willow Run, near the 32-acre Mcity, a test bed that opened last July and already is bursting at the seams with business, according to leaders there. (See “Michigan launches 330-Acre Autonomous Vehicle Test Site”).

Does Connected-Car Technology Add to Driver Distraction, or Help Protect From It?

Jennifer van der Kleut

As connected-car features rise in popularity among car buyers, some are questioning whether more connectivity features are providing worse driver distractions, or whether added technology could actually help protect us from distractions.

As The Globe and Mail points out, “The commute to work is getting almost as complicated as flying an airplane – many higher-end cars even have more computing power than a commercial jet.”

With larger dashboard displays, in-car infotainment systems like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto looming on the horizon, and even cars with their own WiFi signals hitting the market, the possibilities are endless when it comes to what you can do in your car.

ITWeb predicts that the number of connected cars on the road will reach 150 million this year, which spells big business for telecommunications companies.

But, is that good news? Driver distraction is still a very real problem, leading to numerous car crashes, injuries and fatalities on roads every day. Are connected cars adding to that?

As The Verge pointed out in 2014, the ideal scenario would be that “your car would drive itself while you and your passengers spend the entire trip fiddling with apps and using precious wireless data. But since self-driving cars are still at least six years from hitting the road, companies must balance the desire to do more things with your car and the need to keep your focus on driving.”

The Verge applauded some companies that put an extra safety measures in their apps that prevent them from working when a car is in motion, such as Ford’s Sync.

Other companies argue that, conversely, connected-car and semi-autonomous drive features are the key to minimizing driver distractions, especially as we move toward autonomous cars.

Denso International, which designs and manufactures many in-car systems that are in cars today, said at the Detroit International Auto Show this week that they are part of a consortium of automakers that are researching ways to measure how distracted a driver is, particularly to ensure that drivers can take over a car that’s in autonomous mode.

Denso also says in-car controls need to be simplified, more intuitive and easier to use, to minimize the time it takes to take one’s eyes off the road or hands off the steering wheel to interact with a vehicle.

BMW’s product manager told The Globe and Mail that larger in-car displays actually help drivers–the larger they are, the less a driver has to move their head or divert their eyes from the road to see it.

Experts from Mercedes said that features that are easier to use and require the least amount of physical interaction with the vehicle are safest, such as thumb controls on steering wheels and voice control. With those, they say, the driver’s hands stay on the wheel and eyes stay on the road, where they belong.

Tell us what you think in the comments–are connected-car features bad news for driver distractions, or the key to solving them?

 

Cars You Can Expect to See at CES 2016 in January

Jennifer van der Kleut

Cars have long been taking over the annual Consumer Electronics Show. While the show was once used as a way to show off the latest performance enhancements, it is now more about the latest connectivity, technology and driver assistance features, including autonomous drive.

As we near showtime in January, news outlets like AutoWeek, CNet and CleanTechnica are giving a preview of what auto companies will be unveiling or talking about during the show:

Ford Motor Co. (Official Show Vehicle): The Ford Mustang GT will be the Official Show Vehicle, and Ford Kia Soul EV be showing off its electronics and connectivity. They are also expected to be discussing autonomous vehicle research, such as the driverless Fusion Hybrids they are currently testing at Mcity in Michigan.

Chevrolet: Chevy is expected to unveil the full production-ready version of the electric Bolt at CES, after a preview version garnered a lot of attention at the Detroit Auto Show earlier in 2015.

General Motors: CEO Mary Barra will give a keynote speech entitled “Redefining Personal Mobility.” The company has declared GM will be the undisputed leader in autonomous cars.

Kia: Kia is expected to show off its autonomous Soul EV.

Hyundai: Hyundai is expected to show off its autonomous, fuel-cell-powered Tuscon.

Mercedes: Mercedes has been a little more mysterious about what it plans to show off, after making headlines showing off its F 015 concept car at last year’s show. Industry analysts speculate Mercedes could unveil its Concept Intelligence Aerodynamic Automobile, or at least a rendering of it, or perhaps its autonomous electric E200 and E300 vehicles.

Faraday Future: The somewhat illusive electric carmaker that analysts are comparing to Tesla has already promised to unveil its first car at the show, which it promises to have in production by 2017.

Toyota: Toyota is expected to debut a new map-generating system, which AutoWeek believes will be similar to Google Maps.

Volkswagen: VW is expected to debut a new electric car. Some rumors say it could be the long-awaited electric microbus.

Audi: Audi is expected to unveil its A8 with autonomous driving capabilities. Audi made headlines last year when its autonomous A7 “drove” itself from Palo Alto, Calif. to Vegas for the show.

AutoWeek says the total number of automotive companies exhibiting at CES is around 12, which is a record, and that a whopping 10 percent of exhibitor space is devoted to car companies.

AutoWeek also reports that CES will feature 10 Tier 1 suppliers, including Valeo, Visteon, Qualcomm, Autoliv, Bosch, Continental and, for the 20th year in a row, Delphi.