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News Roundup: U.S. Senate Approves Driverless Car Bill, Federal Government Gives State Millions For Automated Taxi Service, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Driverless car bill passes in the U.S. Senate

Members of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved a bill similar to one already passed in the House of Representatives that will presumably help clear the way for driverless car technology to move forward. The bill keeps approval of driver’s licenses, regulation of insurance and enforcement of traffic laws within the states’ purview, but places oversight of the design and manufacture of driverless vehicles in the hands of the federal government–specifically the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Like the House bill, the Senate bill also permits Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to hand individual auto manufacturers exemptions from federal safety standards for up to 100,000 vehicles per year while they are fine-tuning their technology; and it also places responsibility with tech designers to protect their vehicles from cyber attacks. Read more from the Washington Post. 

 

Federal government giving South Carolina county millions for driverless taxis?

According to a news report from a USA Today-affiliated regional newspaper, the federal government has pledged millions of dollars toward the development of a driverless taxi service in Greenville, South Carolina. Greenville Online says $4 million has been pledged to help develop the nation’s first automated taxi service in Greenville County. In a news conference Thursday, county officials announced the first test vehicle will be deployed on the Clemson University campus, in connection with the college’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR). While the test vehicle is only the size of a golf cart, officials said the program’s expansion will feature typical-size vehicles, as well as possible non-emergency medical vehicles for senior and disabled residents. A group called the Global Autonomous Vehicle Partnership is matching funds to help the development of the autonomous vehicles. Read more from Greenville Online.

 

Driverless startup hires execs away from Google’s Waymo, Microsoft

Driverless vehicle startup Nauto is fresh off a monster round of funding, and is already looking to expand its business both locally and globally. In a first step toward that goal, the startup announced this week that it has hired executives from Microsoft, and Google Alphabet’s self-driving car spinoff, Waymo. Waymo’s former head of business, Jennifer Haroon, has joined Nauto as its new vice-president of corporate development and business operations. Microsoft’s former vice-president of global enterprise sales, Sanket Akerkar, joins Nauto as its new senior vice-president of global fleets and insurance. Nauto most recently raised $159 million in funding from a number of major firms, and already has several lucrative partnerships in place with auto manufacturers such as General Motors, BMW and Toyota. The company currently outfits commercial fleets with accident detection devices (shown in image), and is looking to scale out its geographic operations and commercial business. Read more from Recode.

Image: Nauto accident detection device / Credit: Nauto Inc.

NVIDIA rebound lifts D20

After a down week last week NVIDIA (NVDA) returned to its winning ways, leading the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index to an unlikely rebound. Eight D20 price gainers overcame twelve price losers and forced the improbable bounce as the D20 added 1.3 points or 0.6 percent while both the Dow and S&P lost value.  With the markets jittery about the events in Charlottesville, the Dow dropped 183.81 points to close down 0.8 percent at 21674.51 and the S&P lost 0.6 percent and closed at 2425.55.

NVIDIA was the D20 percentage price gainer adding 3.6 percent to its stock value and closing at $161.50.  Last week’s sell-off despite good news about over achieving on quarterly earnings and sales seems to finally have reversed itself.  In other NVIDIA news, it has invested in Chinese autonomous trucking startup, TuSimple.

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

Up and Comers:

Rumors are that Uber is close to naming GE’s ex-CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, to its recently vacated CEO position.  Uber has gone through a gauntlet of issues starting with sexual harassment accusations of a toxic work environment, to Waymo’s lawsuits claiming that Otto, which Uber acquired last summer, stole trade secrets, and now with a fired CEO founder, Travis Kalanick, and a Board of Directors in open dispute.  If Immelt takes the position he will have the fall-out of those issues and a competitor, Lyft, which has taken advantage of Uber’s public missteps to grow its market share from 15.2 percent last year to 22.9 percent in July, according to Second Measure.

Innoviz, Israeli start-up, has been selected by automotive supplier and D20 constituent, Delphi (DLPH), to be its LiDAR supplier. Delphi has recently declared a shift in focus emphasizing supplying the auto parts market with high tech and driverless solutions.

News Roundup: Self-Driving Car Systems ‘Tricked’ By Vandalized Road Signs, Ultra-Modern Driverless Pods to Debut in Dubai, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Some of the most interesting headlines to come out of the driverless and connected-vehicle industries over the past week:

U.K. government: Car sellers will be held responsible if cars are hacked

In a surprising and bold move, the British government’s Department of Transport on Sunday, Aug. 6 released new guidelines regarding cybersecurity of connected vehicles. In particular, the guidelines state that in cases where a connected vehicle’s system is hacked, the board members of the company that sold the breached vehicle will be held accountable. Furthermore, the guidelines state that “companies should build in-house knowledge of security threats, while getting help from third parties where appropriate,” such as by utilizing open-source platforms and peer-reviewed code when appropriate. The companies “need to be able to support data forensics if something goes wrong,” the department stated. Read more from Fortune Magazine.

 

Researchers discover that graffiti on road signs can trick self-driving cars into driving dangerously

In a rather disturbing new discovery, researchers announced this week that many self-driving car systems can be fooled by simple graffiti on road signs. “Placing stickers or posters over part or the whole of a road sign could be used to trick the smart car into ignoring stop signs, even if visually they appear the same to the human drivers,” said a team of researchers at the University of Washington. In particular, the study revealed that stickers added to a stop sign tricked a self-driving car’s software into thinking it was a speed limit sign for 45, so the car drove right through the stop sign. In another example, by simply altering the color of a right-turn arrow on a road sign, the self-driving car’s software misinterpreted the sign to be a stop sign, and stopped in the middle of traffic. The team said they hope the results of their study help developers to build better defense systems in autonomous vehicles. Read more from The Telegraph

 

Careem’s ultra-modern driverless pods to hit Dubai streets soon

The Middle East is fast becoming a transportation innovation powerhouse. Careem, the Middle East-based tech company behind the highly successful car-booking app of the same name, announced that their sleek, ultra-modern driverless pods will soon be hitting the streets of Dubai. Overall, Careem says they aim to have at least one-quarter of all vehicle trips in the emirate to take place in a driverless vehicle by the year 2030. Careem recently announced the wrapping up of the company’s Series E funding, bringing the company’s total valuation to around $1 billion. Significant recent investors hail from the U.S., Germany and Saudi Arabia. In addition, Careem’s self-driving software was created in partnership with California-based NEXT Future Transportation, and Careem’s navigation system now integrates with Google Maps. In another impressive innovation, Careem contracted with Digital Barriers for its new driver facial recognition system, which will virtually eliminate cases of car theft by preventing cars from operating for anyone other than the car’s owner or other approved users. Careem’s car-booking app operates in 80 cities worldwide, and boasts roughly 6 million users. Read more about Careem from ZDNet.

Image: Rendering of Careem’s driverless pods that will soon hit the streets of Dubai. Credit: Careem

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

News Roundup: Baidu Surprises By Offering Up Its Driverless Technology to the World For Free, Autonomous Trains to Debut in Delhi This June, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

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

Baidu challenges the likes of Google, Tesla by offering its driverless tech to all

Chinese tech giant Baidu surprised industry analysts this week by offering up its driverless vehicle software to the world in what many are calling an attempt to challenge the likes of Tesla Motors and Google. Baidu is naming the project Apollo and says it will offer automakers all the tools they need to build an autonomous vehicle. “Essentially, Baidu is trying to become to cars what Google’s Android has become to smartphones – an operating system that will power a number of driverless vehicles,” CNBC explains. Baidu has been investing heavily in autonomous drive technology over the past year or two. The company has already tested driverless cars on highways in Beijing, and recently obtained a permit to test in California. Read more from CNBC.

 

Driverless Metro trains to debut in Delhi in June

Indian news media is reporting that Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) is putting the finishing touches on a new system capable of operating without a driver, and says the public will be able to ride on it come June of this year. The trains will run on only two lines: Pink, which runs between Mukundpur and Shiv Vihar, and Magenta, which runs between Botanical Garden and Janakpuri west, covering a distance of 96 km. Testing took place between October and December of last year. Additional tracks are also being built, and testing will take place in new areas later this year. Read more from the Hindustan Times.

 

Grand Theft Auto 5 being used as simulation environment for driverless systems?

Possibly, soon. Professor Alain Kornhauser, professor of operations research and financial engineering at Princeton University, described the video game “Grand Theft Auto V” as “the richest virtual environment that we could extract data from” this week when speaking to media outlets. The actions of more than 1,000 virtual drivers and pedestrians in the game, along with “disordered roads” and changing weather offer a wealth of unpredictable conditions that can help teach artificial intelligence of driverless systems to respond safely, making the game a top-recommended game for developers to use as a training simulator. Read more from Engineering & Technology magazine.

Photo: A Metro train in Delhi, by Delhi Metro Rail Corporation

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.

News Roundup: Promising AI for Driverless Cars, Fleet of Driverless Taxis to Hit Singapore, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

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

FiveAI’s artificial intelligence system looks promising for autonomous cars

A Britain-based startup working on artificial intelligence (AI) for autonomous cars could prove to be quite the competitor for companies like Tesla and Google. FiveAI has secured millions in venture capital for its system that is “data light” (unlike Google) and requires no human supervision (unlike Tesla). FiveAI’s project will outfit a car with sensors run by a central computer system that is capable of “machine learning,” or applying what it learns from encounters to constantly improve its operations. Read more about FiveAI on Economic Times.

First fleet of driverless cars set to debut in Singapore

A fleet of driverless taxis is set to debut in Singapore next year. The venture is a joint project between Delphi Automotive and the Singapore Land Transit Authority (SLTA). Delphi will reportedly use a fleet of Audi vehicles equipped with automated driving and mapping systems and develop a cloud-based mobility software suite for managing the fleet. Passengers will be be able to hail the driverless taxis, which will reduce transportation costs in the city to less than 90 cents per mile, versus the current cost of around $3-4 per mile. Read more about Singapore’s driverless taxi fleet on E&T Magazine.

Robot shuttle debuts at Japanese shopping mall

The joint project between France’s EasyMile and Japan’s DeNA has finally come to fruition. The “robot” shuttle debuted on Monday. It is planned to go into full operation, shuttling passengers around Japan’s busy Aeon Shopping Mall in Chiba’s Makuhari district, next month. Read more about the shuttle on DriverlessTransportation.com and read about the shuttle’s debut this week on Japan’s Press-TV.

 

Driverless SmartShuttle in Switzerland is no Cuckoo Clock

Burney Simpson

Switzerland last week officially began offering live rides on the SmartShuttle autonomous, electric vehicle from Navya in the city of Sion.

The transportation system is led by PostBus Switzerland with a fleet management platform from BestMile. The BestMile platform gives PostBus a real-time overview of the fleet, and allows for its remote control.

Navya’s ARMA steering systems use Velodyne’s LiDAR Pucks, GPS RTK navigation devices, stereovision cameras, inertial navigation systems and odometry, according to a press release.

The SmartShuttle can be tracked in real time with a smartphone app or at a kiosk at a station. It was first announced last year and has been in a test mode since then.

“In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock,” Harry Lime in ‘The Third Man,’ 1949.

France’s Navya operated its driverless vehicle on the open road last year during the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress (ITS) in Bordeaux. The vehicle can carry up to 15 passengers at a top speed of 16 miles an hour.

Switzerland-based BestMile is a spinoff from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL in English) in Lausanne. EPFL-developed algorithms enable dispatching and routing, charging management, maintenance planning, and emergency handling, according to BestMile.

OLLI SHUTTLE COUSIN

BestMile was a partner in the June launch in Maryland of the self-driving Olli shuttle by Local Motors (See “New Self-Driving Olli Shuttle ‘Talks’ with Passengers”).

The free service in Sion operates Tuesday through Sunday in the afternoon, carrying passengers on a loop between the Place du Midi and popular cathedrals. Plans call for the service to be expanded and to operate on a regular schedule through the week.

Sion, capital of the canton of Valais in southwest Switzerland, had a population of 33,296 in 2014. Most jobs are in the service sector, and it’s a popular tourist destination.

PostBus is Switzerland’s leading bus company, carrying more than 140 million passengers each year.

SmartShuttle image from BestMile.

Memorable Memorial Day for Self-Driving Vehicles

Burney Simpson

Self-driving car proponents in California and the Netherlands spent the Memorial Day weekend testing the technology, networking with other advocates, and working on the technology.

The first-ever Autonomous Vehicle Track Day self-driving car event was run at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, Calif.

The event attracted about 24 firms, university workshops, and start-ups in the autonomous vehicle space. Innovators including PolySync, Denso, Renovo Motors, Velodyne and Nvidia were set to go.

This event was intended to help some firms address engineering challenges and interact with each other, according to venture investor Joshua Schachter, a driving force behind the Track Day. Schachter has said he would like to it turn into a self-driving car race.

Across the pond, the Grand Cooperative Driving Challenge (GCDC) was held on the A270 highway between Helmond and Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

The GCDC is a competitive demonstration of vehicle automation, along with Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communication.

The vehicles in the challenge demonstrated automated lane changing under three scenarios — vehicles that merge or join a lane of vehicles in a form of platooning; automated crossing and exiting the highway; and automated pace-making for emergency vehicles in a traffic jam.

This video shows some of the 10 student teams in the competition preparing for the event.

“We deliberately chose to test on the A270 public road. Researchers often use their own test environments and their own cars. But you don’t really know if it works until you’ve tried it on public roads, when you have interactions with other cars and the road surface,” Bastiaan Krosse, program manager for Automated Driving at TNO (Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research), said in a press release.

There were four leaders behind the GCDC competition — Eindhoven University of Technology, TNO, Viktoria of Sweden, and INDIADA of Span.

The GCDC is part of the i-Game research project, a European Commission-funded effort to speed the development of autonomous vehicles. It began in October 2013 and is scheduled to end this October.

The i-Game Project objectives include 1) unified architecture and requirements for an interoperable cooperative automated driving platform; 2) supervisory control system for cooperative automated driving applications; 3) standardized messages for interoperable wireless communications based automated driving; 4) and validation tools and events for performance and interoperability testing of cooperative automated driving applications.

Photo by TNO.

Uber Testing Self-Driving Live in Pittsburgh

Burney Simpson

Uber is testing self-driving cars on Pittsburgh roads, and it took a local reporter for a ride recently with John Bares, chief of the company’s local office.

Pittsburgh, in west central Pennsylvania, represents typical North American driving for many. It has four-season weather, is known for its hilly streets, and the area is a combination of older urban and open suburban roads.

“We have the world’s best test site right at our doorstep,” Bares told the Pittsburg Tribune. “We view it as, it’s not quite Everest, but it’s a hard mountain … but the beautiful thing is we do have that mountain right out of our front door to climb.”

Tech Crunch reports that Uber’s hybrid Ford Fusion is equipped with multiple cameras, sensors and lasers that can ‘see’ as far as 100 meters in all directions.

A human is in the driver’s seat at all times during the tests, as required by Pennsylvania law.

The Tribune reports that Uber has been testing the cars on Pittsburgh’s roads for several weeks but that this is the first public confirmation of the live tests.

The car can perform standard driving tasks on its own. It can detect double-parked cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other hazards.

The Fusions are programmed to beep when switching to human-driver mode, or when it senses something it doesn’t understand.

Uber created its Advanced Technology Center in Pittsburgh near the start of 2015. It soon hired several dozen researchers from Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Center, including Bares, its leader at the time.

Uber announced the live tests in a blog post. The post noted that self-driving vehicles have the potential to save the lives of the nearly 1.3 million people that die every year in car accidents.

“While Uber is still in the early days of our self-driving efforts, every day of testing leads to improvements. Right now we’re focused on getting the technology right and ensuring it’s safe for everyone on the road,” according to the post. “We’ve informed local officials and law enforcement about our testing in Pittsburgh, and our work would not be possible without the support we’ve received from the region’s leaders.”

 

Photo by Uber.