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News Roundup: Google Forms Self-Driving Car Company Called ‘Waymo,’ Uber Starts Testing Driverless Taxis in San Francisco Without Permission, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

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

Google spins out driverless car arm into its own company: Waymo

It’s finally happened–Google has officially launched its own self-driving car company, known as Waymo. Google officially announced the formation of Waymo this week on Dec. 13, 2016, along with the launch of Waymo’s own website. Using the same fleet the company has been testing in four U.S. cities over the past few years, Waymo says its next steps will be to start allowing people to test drive its self-driving cars “to do everyday things like run errands or commute to work.” Read more on Waymo’s website.

 

Uber starts testing self-driving taxis in San Francisco without DMV’s permission

The industry marveled when Uber rolled out self-driving cars in Pittsburgh earlier this year, but the government was less than happy when the ride-hailing giant began trying out autonomous taxis in San Francisco this week–without the DMV’s permission. Not to mention, some people are reporting seeing the driverless cars make traffic violations such as running red lights. News reports indicate the California DMV is currently trying to get Uber to halt the use of the driverless cars in California until testing permits are finalized. Read more from Business Insider.

 

Univ. of Iowa to use USDOT grant to research autonomous cars, pedestrians

The University of Iowa will share a $1.4-million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation with four other institutions, and says one of the areas it will focus on with the research money is the safety and viability of self-driving transportation. Dr. Joseph Kearney, a computer science professor at the school, said “There’s work being done and work that will be done, that will look at interactions between pedestrians and bicyclists, and automated vehicles and semi-automated vehicles, in order to see how pedestrians respond.” Read more and see video footage from KCRG-TV.

British ‘What Would You Do in Your Driverless Car’ Survey Yields Unexpected Results

Jennifer van der Kleut

When South London-based logbook lender Varooma set out to find out what activities Britons would most like to do in their driverless cars once they no longer have to drive their vehicles themselves, they got some unexpected results.

Instead of giving expected answers like sleep, work or watch videos, most Britons said–they wouldn’t be in a driverless car in the first place.

A whopping 73 percent of Britons surveyed said they prefer to drive themselves over taking a driverless car.

Along the same vein, 38 percent of responders said they would not purchase a driverless car, even if they were readily available for purchase and were the same price as regular cars.

Are autonomous vehicles better suited to future generations? Varooma suggests their survey results may indicate just that. Results said that 18- to 24-year-olds would be most comfortable and “chill” engaging in other activities rather than paying attention to the road in a driverless car.

Then, after skipping a generation or so, acceptance of the idea of driverless cars gains traction again as people enter their senior years. The survey results show that people of ages 55 to 64 are more likely to want to purchase a driverless car than adults age 45 to 54.

The idea of autonomous vehicles have long been touted as a solution for aging drivers, as well as those with physical disabilities.

However, those open to the idea of driverless cars did have a few ideas of what they would like to do on their commutes if they didn’t need to pay attention to the road.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 24 percent of men age 18-24 said they would “catch Pokemon.” Twenty-two percent said they would “catch up on sleep.”

Almost all responders said they would love to read a book or watch a movie.

Interestingly, more women said they would be a little distrusting of the technology and would probably keep one eye on the road (22.3 percent) than men (16.3 percent).

What jobs would Britons trust their car to do without them, while they were at work?

Another popular idea in regards to autonomous vehicles is the idea that your car could perform simple jobs for you while you are otherwise engaged, such as daytime work hours. So, Varooma also asked their survey takers what jobs they would feel comfortable sending their car to do while they were at work.

The number-one response from middle-aged men was “send their car to the car wash.”

The top answer from women of the same age was to send their car to pick up take-out food.

When it came to driving around their children, though, the numbers were a lot lower. Only around 4 percent of responders said they would feel comfortable having their autonomous car drive their children to school without them.

Even fewer said they would feel comfortable sending their car to deliver cash to someone–3.6 percent.

Varooma’s survey was conducted through Google consumer surveys. Their survey netted 1,591 online responses.

 

News Roundup: Tesla Launches Improved Autopilot 8.0, Driverless Taxis Hit the Streets of Singapore, and More

A look at some of the most interesting recent headlines across the industry:

 

nuTonomy partners with taxi-hailing app Grab to offer robot taxis

Singapore-based taxi-hailing app Grab announced it is partnering with software startup nuTonomy to test out robot taxis to its customers on a trial basis. As of this past Friday, Sept. 23, “Robo Car” is an option offered to customers using the Grab app to hail a taxi in one area of the city-state. The robot taxi must be hailed in advance, and only one passenger is allowed to ride at a time. The passenger will be joined by a safety driver and a support engineer to ensure the ride is problem-free. There are currently two vehicles operating, which had previously been in testing since April. If all goes well, Grab and nuTonomy said they hope to have a fleet of 12 robot taxis on the road by the end of the year, and as many as 100 operating by 2018. Read more from Mobile World Live.

 

As Tesla releases Autopilot 8.0, Elon Musk says ‘perfect driverless-car safety is impossible’

After a few highly publicized accidents with the previous iteration of Autopilot–one of which killed the car’s driver–Tesla Motors released the new and improved version, Autopilot 8.0, this past Wednesday, Sept. 21. Reports indicate the new version offers better visibility in weather conditions such as fog, improved emergency braking, and auditory alerts that remind drivers to pay attention to the road. In fact, if four warnings within one hour are ignored, the car will reportedly shut down its semi-autonomous features and only allow them to be turned back on if the driver pulls over, parks, shuts off the car and restarts it. Regardless, CEO Elon Musk told media outlets that “perfect driverless car safety is impossible,” and some outlets are saying they agree with that statement. Read more from the Orlando Sentinel.

 

Verizon pushes to be the top provider of self-driving and connected-car fleet management

Telecommunications giant Verizon is working to position itself as a top manager of self-driving and connected-car fleets. Verizon is becoming a strong provider of telematics services, offering a combination of telecommunications, vehicular technologies and real-time wireless data that are central to connected cars and self-driving vehicles. Verizon most recently made moves to acquire Fleetmatics Group PLC for $2.4 billion and Telogis Inc. for an undisclosed amount. Both companies offer services for managing and operating vehicle fleets, which many believe to be the gateway for acceptance of self-driving cars. Once both deals are closed, Verizon will control about 25 percent of the telematics market, making them the largest provider world-wide. “You can’t have autonomous vehicles if they’re not connected to the Internet, which our best-in-class networks enable. That connection becomes ever more important — the reliability of it, stability of it, security of it — as the stakes associated with autonomous vehicles goes up,” commented Andres Irlando, the CEO of Verizon Telematics Inc. Read more about Verizon’s progress on The Detroit News.

Image: Tesla Motors Autopilot

U.S. Government Greenlights Self-Driving Vehicles, Issues Formal Regulations

Jennifer van der Kleut

The United States federal government essentially gave self-driving vehicles a green light on Tuesday, Sept. 20 by issuing formal regulations as to how they can be tested and eventually introduced to the mass market.

In a conference call hosted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority (NHTSA), followed by a formal statement, the government outlined a four-part policy that guides regulations at the federal level and makes recommendations for the states.

In essence, the policy says that any vehicle that can pass a 15-point safety inspection can move forward on the road to public adoption. The guidelines then outline how states can legally allow manufacturers to introduce the vehicle to the mass market.

The four main parts of the new policy are:

  • 15-Point Safety Assessment: “The Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles for manufacturers, developers and other organizations includes a 15-point Safety Assessment for the safe design, development, testing and deployment of automated vehicles.” The assessment examines several areas of performance, such as cybersecurity concerns, how the car reacts to and recovers from system failures, ethics dilemmas, post-crash sharing of data with the NHTSA, and much more.
  • Model State Policy: “Delineates the federal and state roles for the regulation of highly automated vehicle technologies as part of an effort to build a consistent national framework of laws to govern self-driving vehicles.”
  • Current NHTSA Regulations/Options for Expediting Introduction: “Outlines options for the further use of current federal authorities to expedite the safe introduction of highly automated vehicles into the marketplace.”
  • Modern Regulations/Identifying and Removing Obstacles: “Discusses new tools and authorities the federal government may need as the technology evolves and is deployed more widely.”

The statement points out that the new policies address both lower levels of automation, as well as vehicles capable of full automation.

The policy also addresses how recalls of automated vehicles should be handled, if they are ever necessary.

Of note is a section of the policy that appears to address a vehicle’s capability of taking evasive measures to avoid a collision if a driver is distracted or not paying attention and fails to take back control of the car.

The government’s statement appears to indicate a car’s failure to take evasive measures itself, without the assistance of the car’s main occupant (formally known as “the driver”) creates an “unreasonable risk.”

“In particular, [the policy] emphasizes that semi-autonomous driving systems that fail to adequately account for the possibility that a distracted or inattentive driver/occupant might fail to retake control of the vehicle in a safety-critical situation may be defined as an unreasonable risk to safety, and subject to recall,” the statement reads.

Both Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind praised the new guidelines, and said they look forward to the adoption of autonomous vehicles, particularly for their potential to save lives by lowering instances of collisions.

“Automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives, driving the single biggest leap in road safety that our country has ever taken,” said Foxx. “This policy is an unprecedented step by the federal government to harness the benefits of transformative technology by providing a framework for how to do it safely.”

“Ninety-four percent of crashes on U.S. roadways are caused by a human choice or error,” said Rosekind. “We are moving forward on the safe deployment of automated technologies because of the enormous promise they hold to address the overwhelming majority of crashes and save lives.”

Foxx added that he understands many are still wary of the technology, but pointed out that long ago, citizens were similarly wary of innovations we all take for granted today.

“New technologies developed in the 20th century, like seat belts and air bags, were once controversial but have now saved hundreds of thousands of American lives,” Foxx said. “This is the first in a series of proactive approaches, including the release of a rule on vehicle-to-vehicle communications, which will bring life-saving technologies to the roads safely and quickly while leaving innovators to dream up new safety solutions.”

The government’s statement says the formal policies issued Tuesday were the result of “significant public input and stakeholder discussions, including two open public meetings this year and an open public docket for comments.”

The Department of Transportation indicated it is also soliciting additional public comments for the next 60 days on the policy, which can be read in its entirety online.

“Through a series of next steps and in response to public comments, DOT intends to update the policy annually,” the statement indicated.

Image: Rendering of people in a self-driving car, by Rinspeed.

Europe Plans Autonomous Track Days

Burney Simpson

Europe plans to hold a series of autonomous vehicle track days starting this November 15-16 at the Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground in Leicestershire in the United Kingdom.

The Self Driving Track Days (SDTD) are the first of their kind in Europe, according to event organizer Sense Media Events.

The first four track days are scheduled for tracks in the UK, Austria and France. Plans call for them to continue every quarter across the Continent.

The track days offer a public venue where developers, mechanics, engineers, manufacturers, and hobbyists can gather and test their technology on safe grounds away from the office or garage. The events are open to researchers but not to spectators.

“Teams at commercial, academic or hobbyist level can explore autonomous vehicle technology in a safe, affordable and collaborative environment, and have access to specialist training that only experienced industry professionals can deliver,” Alex Lawrence-Berkeley, co-founder of the SDTD and a Sense Media marketing manager said in a release.

NO RACING

Organizers have set safety standards for the events. All vehicles must have a ‘kill switch’ that can be operated remotely; drivers and passengers must wear helmets, gloves and boots; the event “will not at any time, include any element of racing,” are a few of the listed rules.

The European track days follows an Autonomous Track Day held last May at the Thunderhill Raceway Park in Northern California (See “Driverless Innovators Gather at Autonomous Track Day”).

Joshua Schachter and leaders from Harbrick (now PolySync), Renovo, and Innovect organized the Thunderhill event. It brought in firms active in autonomous vehicles, drivetrain innovation, sensors and cameras, software and algorithms, and connected cars.

The schedule for Self Driving Track Days includes:

  • Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, Leicestershire, UK, November 15-16; includes 1.6 km multilane motorway straight;
  • Driving Center Castellet, Provence, France, February 21-22, 2017; racing circuit with separate handling areas;
  • Longcross Test Track, Surrey, UK, May 10-11, 2017; surfaced and unsurfaced test circuits;
  • Zentrum Teesdorf, Vienna, Austria, July 28-29, 2017; flagship event with four circuits, including a road-training center, handling circuit, off-road area and others, plus multiple face-to-face training workshops, networking.

Organizers are also holding free meet-ups on the SDTD September 16 at Google Campus London and September 20 at AutoWorld Brussels.

Sense Media is the organizer of the AutoSens Conference being held September 20-22 in Brussels.

Photo: Zentrum Teesdorf track.

Automated Driving Tech Could End Rise in Road Deaths

Burney Simpson

Deaths in traffic accidents are on the rise but these fatalities could be reduced if automated technology were installed in passenger vehicles.

That’s the conclusion after reading the major findings in two recent reports –

  • Road deaths rose about 8 percent in 2015;
  • Adding three types of currently-available automated technology to passenger cars could reduce accidents by about 25 percent.

Starting with bullet two, a study from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) found that the installation of blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and forward collision warning systems could stop or make less severe 1.3 million crashes a year.

Those crashes cause 10,000 fatalities and 133,000 injuries annually, the researchers report.

It would cost about $600 per light-duty vehicle to install the technology, according to “Cost and benefit estimates of partially-automated vehicle collision avoidance technologies” by Corey D. Harper, Chris T. Hendrickson, and Constantine Samaras. The three are with CMU’s Civil and Environmental Engineering department.

It would cost about $13 billion to install this technology in all light-duty vehicles in the U.S. but this investment would bring an $18 billion benefit in the first year alone.

TRAFFIC FATALITIES RISING

The CMU study comes just as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 2015 traffic fatalities rose nearly 8 percent from 2014 following decades of decline.

An estimated 35,200 people died in traffic accidents in 2015, while total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) rose 3.5 percent to 107.2 billion miles, according to NHTSA.

The fatality rate per 100 million VMT last year rose to 1.12, up from 1.08 in 2014.

Those who weren’t even in passenger vehicles saw “significant increases” in deaths from traffic accidents, NHTSA found.

For instance, traffic fatalities rose 13 percent for bicyclists, 10 percent for pedestrians and 9 percent for motorcyclists last year, while fatalities of drivers and passengers rose by 6 percent and 7 percent respectively.

The 2015 findings remain estimates. An annual statistical report will be released later this year.

The numbers for last year run counter to long-term trends. From 1973 to 2013 crash fatalities dropped about 40 percent due to the use of seat belts, the installation of air bags, education campaigns on the dangers of drunk driving, and greater police enforcement.

However, these improvements have largely stayed the same since 2009 (See “Road Safety Hits a Plateau: Fed Traffic Stats“).

Photo: Flipped car at 22nd and Hawthorne by Aaron Parecki, 2010.

Hype-less AVS 2016 Asks the Right Research Questions

Burney Simpson

Is this the show for autonomous driving nerds? No, that’s not quite fair. The Automated Vehicles Symposium 2016 is for the research types, the folks that dig deep to develop the systems that are going to bring driverless cars to fruition.

If that’s a nerd, wear the name proudly.

The AVS organizers must be doing something right. Last year it drew 870 attendees, a 50 percent rise from 2014. This year it looks to bring more than 1,000 academics, researchers and government staff to the San Francisco Hilton at Union Square on July 19-21, with ancillary meetings on the 18th and 22nd.

The conference is managed by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), and the Transportation Research Board (TRB), a division of the National Research Council.

The Symposium calls itself the “largest gathering in the world of professionals involved with making automated vehicles a reality.”

Jim Misener acknowledges there’s a certain nerd factor to the show, but that’s because it is heavily weighted to engineers, scientists and deep thinkers.

“This show is less about the hype, and more about understanding what the research questions are,” said Misener, a director of technical standards with Qualcomm Technologies, the telecom giant’s chip design and R&D arm.

IMPORTANT MATTERS

There are two parts to the AVS, notes Misener.

In the morning there are short speeches on big topics by the likes of U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, and reps from Ford and Nissan. Speakers cover ‘important matters’ like ethics, regulations, and autonomous activities around the globe.

After lunch you get the real action with 4-hour multipart breakout sessions that include presentations, Q&As, panels, videos, the ubiquitous PowerPoints, and general discussion. These sessions are designed to encourage frank interaction, and are closed to the media.

Misener helped to organize two of the 22 breakouts.

Enabling Technologies focuses on the foundational technology for driverless vehicles – mapping, algorithms, communications, sensing (sensors), and data.

In brief, the seminar is designed to educate on the strengths and limitations of each of these five technologies in 2016, and how they might work together in successful autonomous vehicle deployments. The discussion can lead to an understanding of technology gaps, and the research needed to close the gaps.

The ultimate goal is to define state of the art driverless technology, and determine how we can advance to that, said Misener.

He also helped organize a workshop on the aftermarket technology for autonomous vehicles.

AUVSI14aThe average car in the US is 11 years old, making aftermarket devices an important way to get autonomous technology into vehicles already on the roads.

“There could be a market for these devices. They could usher in safety and mobility services that get us to automated vehicles,” said Misener.

Other breakouts will address such topics as sustainability, cybersecurity, shared mobility, you get the drill, the usual.

Many attendees will come early for the Monday, July 18 ancillary meeting of the engineering organization SAE On-Road Automated Vehicle Standards Committee. The second ancillary meeting is on Friday, July 22, with the EU-US-Japan Automation in Road Transportation Working Group.

In addition, the AUVSI is holding on July 18 the Startup Connection at the Hilton. It offers demonstrations, presentations and networking for firms in unmanned systems and robotics, and investors looking for new companies.

Google’s June – Two Dings, 82,000 Miles, and Room for Bikes

Burney Simpson

Google had 58 self-driving cars on public roads last month at its test areas in Austin, Texas, Kirkland, Wash., Mountain View, Calif., and Phoenix.

The Google cars have traveled 1.7 million miles in the autonomous mode, and another 1.5 million in manual (or human driver) mode since it started its push into driverless tech in 2009.

The stats are from the monthly report for June from Google on its self-driving efforts.

The vehicles have averaged between 15,000 and 17,000 miles per week in autonomous driving mode. The cars drove nearly 82,000 miles in June.

Google operated 34 of its prototype Koala cars and 24 Lexus RX450h SUVs as part of its test in June.

TWO DINGS

The test vehicles were in two accidents in June, both in the Austin. Both appear to be the fault of the other driver and neither resulted in an injury, going by the Google accident report.

In one, the other driver crossed over into the Google car’s lane and lightly sideswiped the test car. In the second, a human-driven car tapped the Google car in the rear when it was stopped at a light.

Google has a chip on its shoulder about reporting accidents. It makes a point that it reports all its accidents, even though as much as 55 percent of all accidents go unreported.

SHARING WITH BICYCLISTS

The report puts a special focus on sharing the road with bicyclists.

“Cyclists are fast and agile — sometimes moving as quickly as cars — but that also means that it’s hard for others to anticipate their movements.”

Google reports its cars are taught to be especially conservative around bikes, giving them extra room, and respecting their right to own their lane.

The report claims that Google cars can sense a bicyclist’s hand signals, and differentiate between bikes depending on their size and shape.

Aftermarket RearVision Could Cut Back-Up Accidents

Burney Simpson

An autonomous aftermarket product called Pearl RearVision offers a strong focus on safety and could be on cars before the end of the year.

The camera system from Pearl Automation was officially launched in June, the brainchild of three former Apple executives.

Pearl RearVision is a backup camera and alert system that offers a 175 degree HD view in both day and night. It streams a video to the driver’s smartphone that is mounted at eye-level. New features to the system are sent automatically.

RearVision retails for $499 and includes three parts — a camera frame with two cameras, a car adapter and a phone mount. Users also have to download an app.

The camera frame is uni-body aluminum and fits standards license plate frames. It has two HD cameras installed, one for daytime, and one for night.

The adapter weighs 1.5 ounces and is about half the size of a cigarette pack. It plugs in the car’s on-board diagnostic port and sends both visual and multi-tone alerts when it senses an obstacle.

The driver’s phone provides the visual feed. The phone mount means it’s hands-free.

The RearVision can be installed in minutes, according to its makers. A short video provides a step-by-step description.

However, the product won’t be shipped until September and is only available in the US.

Users need to have a car that is 1996 or newer. The user will have to download the app, and have an iPhone 5 or newer, with iOS 9 or newer. Select Android phones work but must have Bluetooth 4.0 and Lollypop 5.0 or newer.

THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY

The Pearl RearVision addresses a major safety problem – backing up, especially in driveways and parking lots.

Nearly 18,000 people are injured annually in back-up crashes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Back-up collisions are the leading cause of non-traffic fatalities for children, according to kidsandcars.org.

All new vehicles under 10,000 pounds must have backup cameras by May 2018 (the 2019 model year), under National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rules.

Pearl Automation says it wants to get autonomous technology into vehicles now.

“While much of the industry is focused on bringing new car features to new cars, we believe everyone deserves access to the latest technology, especially those features that make the driving experience more enjoyable, less stressful and safer for everyone on the road,” according to a blog from CEO Bryson Gardner.

Pearl raised $50 million in Series A & B funding from Accel, Shasta Ventures, Venrock, and Wellcome Trust, according to Santa Cruz Tech Beat.

The three co-founders include Gardner, COO Brian Sander and VP of Engineering Joseph Fisher.

Older Drivers Seek Driverless Tech to Stay on the Road

Burney Simpson

Want to sell your driverless tech? Make it attractive to the ol … er, mature guys. And to do that you’ve got to appeal to safety concerns and the older driver’s desire to stay on the road as they age.

Keep in mind the average age of a new car buyer was 52 in 2014, USA Today reported.

A new survey from insurer The Hartford and the MIT AgeLab found that 76 percent of drivers age 50+ who plan to buy a new car in the next two years will look for advanced safety features.

Nearly 90 percent want a blind spot warning system, and 85 percent want a crash mitigation system.

About 80 percent sought lane departure warning systems, while 78 percent want smart headlights designed to improve night driving.

Older consumers are aware of the safety features of driverless technology, and many would consider investing in it in their next car purchase.

For example, 56 percent would buy the driverless tech if it was proven to be as safe as their own driving. And nearly 50 percent would like to use the technology if their health prevented them from driving.

In other results, 35 percent of drivers age 50+ would use a driverless car if they could no longer drive safely.

On the downside, 42 percent are unsure of the technology, and 24 percent would not be willing to use a driverless car.

KEEPING THEM ON THE ROAD

Many older drivers avoid driving at times or on certain roads if they don’t feel safe. Technology that addresses these concerns would keep many on the road longer.

For instance, 50 percent of those who currently limit their driving said they would be more willing to drive on the highway if they had crash mitigation systems.

And 41 percent would be more willing to drive long distances if they had adaptive cruise control.

The Hartford teamed with AARP Driver Safety to jointly develop a vehicle technology education program designed for older drivers.

Program goals including helping older drivers understand evolving vehicle safety technologies and how to use them; recognize how the new tech could enhance driver safety and extend driving years; and find those safety oriented technologies that fit their driving style.

Photo: Baby you can drive my car, 2011, by laurs.

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