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News Roundup: Waymo Debuts Level 4 Autonomous Cars on Public Roads, Renault Touts New Intelligent Driverless System, and More

Waymo goes Level 4-autonomous on public roads in Arizona

Google’s self-driving car spin-off company, Waymo, made headlines this week when it announced they were operating Level-4 autonomous cars on public roads in Arizona (and were the first company ever to do so). Level 4 means no “safety driver” monitoring conditions in the “driver’s” seat. As of mid-October, Waymo reps say their driverless mini-vans have been running empty on Arizona roads with no one in the driver’s seat, but with a Waymo employee riding like a passenger in the back of the vehicle. Soon, Waymo CEO John Krafcik says they will progress to allowing members of its Early Rider’s Program go for rides in the vehicles, and also expand the pilot to areas outside of their current location in Chandler, Arizona, which is a suburb of Phoenix. Read more and see a video on The Verge.

 

Renault: Our autonomous drive system can avoid obstacles as well as a pro human driver

Renault made some big claims this week that are raising eyebrows in the driverless vehicle industry. Reps say their new self-driving system has been tested against a professional driver (human) and that it has consistently been able to avoid obstacles just as well. The system was developed in partnership with Stanford University’s Dynamic Design Lab, led by director and engineer Chris Gerdes, who is a former U.S. Department of Transportation Chief Innovation Officer. Simon Hougard, director of the Renault Open Innovation Lab, said Renault’s goal is to be the first to bring “mind-off” technology to the mainstream consumer, with a goal of doing so by 2020. Read more and see a video on Engadget.

 

South Korea set to open driverless ‘test city’ in 2018

South Korea’s transport ministry announced this week that they will be opening their own mini city for developers to test driverless vehicles in, and that it will be called “K-City.” The city will be 320,000 square meters, and it will be located in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province. Roughly $11 billion won, or approximately $9.77 million U.S., has been invested in K-City so far. Representatives say the first part to be constructed was a testing highway and further plans will include features like “downtown areas, city outskirts and communal environments,” and that they plan to simulate at least 35 different driving conditions such toll gates, tunnels, intersections, construction sites and even train-track crossings. They first plan to open up K-City to Level 3 vehicles, in which a driver in the front seat is prepared to take over control if necessary, and move on from there. Read more from NextBigFuture.com.

Image: Waymo Level 4 self-driving mini-van / Credit: Waymo

Denso, Renesas Help Rocket D20 Stock Index to New Height

Fifteen price gainers, led largely by Renesas and Denso, powered the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index (D20) to a new all-time high this week.

The D20 gained 1.8 percent to close at 260.10. It easily outperformed the Dow, which gained 0.4 percent, and the S&P 500, which added 0.3 percent to close at 2587.84.

The D20 is now up over 50 percent since the beginning of 2017.

Three stocks drove most of the D20’s rise this week–Renesas Electronics (TYO:6723), Denso (DNZOY) and Volkswagen (VLKPY).

News broke this week that Renesas will provide chips to Denso and Toyota (TM) for Toyota’s driverless car program. Toyota has set a goal of 2020 for market availability of its self-driving vehicles.

Renesas Electronic’s stock price jumped 7.6 percent to close at ¥1449 per share while Denso’s ADR gained 7.4 percent to end the week at $28.

For the third consecutive week, Volkswagen’s ADR made positive progress. It rose 7.4 percent this week to close at $37.83. It announced October’s U.S. sales were up 11.9 percent compared to October of 2016.

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

Up-and-Comers:

It has been a good year for investing in Driverless Technology startups, according to a new report put out by TechCrunch. In a report posted on Nov. 4 (see below), TechCrunch states that 2017 investments, already totaling at $1.4 billion, are already more than double the total for all of 2016. According to TechCrunch, Silicon Valley is the most popular place for these investments, followed by Israel.

 

News Roundup: Waymo Gets Patent For Exterior Airbags On Self-Driving Cars, Ford to Test ‘Cellular-V2X’ Tech in San Diego and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

 

Waymo granted patent for exterior airbags

Google’s self-driving car spinoff company, Waymo, has been granted a patent for an airbag system that would be located on the outside of a car. Since self-driving cars are outfitted with sensors, cameras, radar and lidar on the outside of the car, Waymo engineers argue that the car itself can predict an accident even sooner than a human driver can (or can’t, if he or she is distracted). The concept of exterior airbags could protect passengers in the vehicle from an impact, as well as “reduce the likelihood of severe injuries or damage to objects such as pedestrians, bicyclists, animals, other vehicles, or simply inanimate objects.” Read more from Silicon Beat.

 

Mcity autonomous vehicle testing ground gets big investment from automakers, corporations

Mcity, the University of Michigan’s testing ground for autonomous vehicles, has received a total of $11 million in funding from 11 different companies, both corporations and automakers. Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Honda all contributed about $1 million each, and other corporations like State Farm Insurance, Verizon, LG and others. Mcity is a 32-acre man-made “city” where companies can conduct research and test autonomous vehicles. The hub offers a number of varied conditions for vehicles to test in, such as different road conditions, four-lane highways, high-pedestrian streets featuring fake, mechanical pedestrians, and much more. Read more from HybridCars.com.

 

Ford partnering with AT&T, Qualcomm and Nokia to test ‘cellular-V2X’ technology

Ford Motor Co. announced this week that it has formed a partnership with Qualcomm, AT&T and Nokia to test cellular modems that can connect vehicles to each other and to roadside infrastructure to help better navigate in bad weather or construction zones. “Cellular-V2X” technology, as it is called, aims to connect vehicles with traffic lights, roadside beacons and other vehicles on the road to share real-time information about driving conditions. It’s meant to improve safety, as well as help speed up the deployment of self-driving vehicles. Testing is scheduled to take place in San Diego, California before the end of the year. For testing, Ford vehicles will be outfitted with Qualcomm hardware powered by AT&T’s 4G LTE cellular network and Nokia’s computing technology. Read more from Automotive News.

Image: Rendering of self-driving minivan with exterior airbags by Waymo

Will Driverless Cars Usher in a Real Estate Building Boom?

Jennifer van der Kleut

The Center for Real Estate Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released a report this week that has industry analysts and media outlets buzzing. Will a shift toward autonomous vehicles over the next decade or two spur a real estate boom, as garages are leveled to make way for more housing and office buildings, and sidewalks are widened to encourage more walking?

The report, entitled “Real Estate Trends: The Future of Real Estate in the United States,” which was sponsored by Capital One Bank, features research on a number of trends relevant to the advent of the technology and its potential impact on real estate across the nation, including housing affordability and inventory, fluctuations in home values, demographics and more, as well as the current boom taking place in the Internet of Things (IoT) industry.

As industry analysts predict that the advent of autonomous cars will bring about a decline in personal car ownership and a subsequent rise in fleet companies that offer ride-hailing services in driverless cars (which a number of companies are currently working on, including General Motors, Uber and others), they predict it will dramatically change the shape of both urban and suburban landscapes.

With less of a need for parking garages–as, presumably, autonomous fleets will pretty much run rides 24/7–the report predicts many inner-city parking garages will become obsolete, and perhaps actually be demolished to make way for much-needed additional housing.

They also predict sidewalks will be widened; with less of a need for on-street parking, designated “drop-off zones” for autonomous fleet cars will be created instead. Widened sidewalks will encourage more walking by pedestrians who can now live in the increased downtown housing and walk to work or to shopping and restaurants.

“Developers are already starting to target parking structures, gas stations and auto dealerships, betting that they’ll be able to redevelop the sites as car ownership becomes obsolete, said Rick Palacios, director of research at John Burns Real Estate Consulting,” reporters at Bloomberg News quoted this week, in response to the report.

Suburbs won’t go away, though–if they don’t have to fight traffic driving into the city themselves anymore, the MIT report predicts that people will still enjoy living in quieter residential neighborhoods and enjoying a relaxing commute to work every day in an autonomous car, when they can nap, get a jump-start on work or watch TV while their robot taxi keeps an eye on the road.

Rick Palacios authored an article in September that expanded on some of the predictions about how autonomous cars will reshape cities and affect real estate.

He pointed out that increased availability of autonomous ride-hailing would also allow senior citizens and the disabled to age at home longer, which would slow home sales to a certain point, but would then be off-set by the building boom of new housing he mentioned to Bloomberg. In addition, he predicts industries like general contracting and home remodeling may get a boost as people retrofit homes to accommodate seniors and disabled persons living at home longer.

Palacios even suggests that home contracting prices may go down, as transportation costs for shipping materials are reduced. He predicts humans will also enjoy lower personal transportation costs, as hailing robot taxis will cost much less than the regular maintenance and up-keep of owning a car, paying for the insurance on it and filling it with gas (especially if a shift toward autonomous cars also means a shift toward electric cars).

Read the entire report from MIT’s Center for Real Estate Research here.

Image: Pixabay

News Roundup: Alphabet Gets Approval for Its Dream ‘Digital District,’ Two States Push Forward With Driverless Car Testing, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Google’s Alphabet gets a green light to create a ‘digital district’ in Toronto, that includes driverless taxis

One of Alphabet’s spin-off companies, Sidewalk Labs LLC, has signed a major deal with Canada’s Waterfront Toronto to create a miniature “digital city” within the bustling metropolis, in the Quayside area of the Eastern waterfront. The district will take a stab at what the future of transportation looks like by featuring all manner of robotic mobility, including robot taxis, “driverless bike-like vehicles,” robotic delivery vehicles and even autonomous trash collection. Read more about Alphabet and Toronto’s plans from Bloomberg News.

 

GM, Cruise Automation to become the first to test self-driving cars in Manhattan

Officials announced this week that together, General Motors and their newly acquired partner Cruise Automation will be the first to test self-driving cars on public roads in the state of New York. The tests will begin in early 2018. Each test car — a Chevrolet Bolt — will have a pair of humans on board to ensure safety, and will employ Level 4 autonomous technology within a geofenced location. As the editorial staff of Ars Technica put it, GM and Cruise will have their work cut out for them, surely–“Manhattan’s roads are a hellish agglomeration of potholes, double- and even triple-parking, and pedestrian and vehicle traffic unlike anywhere else in the country. Gridlock is routine, and few quarters are given by other drivers before slamming on the horn in displeasure and disgust.” I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Read more from Ars Technica.

 

California may allow self-driving cars to be tested without humans in them by 2018

The Golden State is considering allowing self-driving cars to be tested on roads without humans inside them by the middle of next year, officials announced last week. Officials from the Department of Motor Vehicles proposed a new streamlined timeline for the regulations on Oct. 11, allowing a 15-day comment period from the public. The proposal is expected to be finalized by the end of this year, and approved by the beginning of next year. Then, human-less test cars could be hitting the roads by June 2018 or possibly even sooner, reports indicate. Read more from the Los Angeles Times. 

Image: A line of self-driving Chevy Bolt test cars / Credit: General Motors

NVIDIA Loss Leads to D20 Drop

Even though price gainers outnumbered price losers 11 to nine, a 4-percent drop by NVIDIA (NVDA) led to an overall drop for the Driverless Transportation Weekly Stock Index (D20) this week.

The D20 stepped back from an all-time high after three consecutive weeks of gains by losing 0.2 percent of its value, closing at 226.18. The Dow and S&P 500 followed suit by losing ground as well. The Dow lost 0.9 percent and the S&P 500 gave back 0.6 percent to close at 2461.43.

NVIDIA’s 4-percent share price drop was the primary reason the D20 lost ground this week.  Now at 23.7 percent of the D20’s total value due to its 560-percent rise over the past 18 months, NVIDIA lost $6.77 per share and closed at $163.69 this week.  Even small movements in NVIDIA’s share price seem to move the D20 value considerably.

Daimler AG (DDAIF), the parent of Mercedes-Benz, was the D20’s price percentage gain leader this week. Its share price jumped 6.1 percent as rumors swirled that it is considering a structural organization change that would separate its truck and bus unit.

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

Up-and-Comers:

LiDAR maker Innoviz has secured a $65-million Series B investment, led by D20 components Delphi Automotive (DLPH) and Magna International (MGA). The money will reportedly be used to prepare for large-scale production planned for 2019.  Innoviz’s LiDAR designs use solid-state components and no moving parts, which should make their systems less costly and more reliable than current systems on the market from companies like Velodyne.

Lyft and Drive.ai have teamed up for a pilot of self-driving cars in San Francisco. Founded in 2015, Drive.ai is a Bay Area-based developer of artificial intelligence software for driverless vehicles that uses deep learning algorithms.

News Roundup: U.S. Federal Government Passes Self Drive Act, Startup Uses CCTV Footage to Improve Driverless AI Systems, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A look at some of the biggest headlines to come out of the driverless, connected-vehicle world this past week:

U.S. Houses passes Self Drive Act with bipartisan support

There’s a lot of division in American politics these days, but there appears to be one area where both sides of the aisle can come together–and that is the importance of advancing autonomous vehicles. The federal government on Wednesday passed a bill that takes safety regulations and guidelines of non-commercial, driverless vehicles out of individual states’ hands and makes it a federal issue. The bill blocks states from regulating “the design, construction, or performance” of automated vehicles, arguing that too many individual states have been passing contradictory laws that, together, are hindering the technology’s progress and prevent vehicles from traveling over state lines. The bill does allow technology and vehicle companies to seek exemption from federal safety standards for up to tens of thousands of vehicles at a time, provided that “safety is not downgraded.” For example, if Google’s Waymo doesn’t want to put steering wheels in their self-driving cars (as they have been known not to do), they can apply for an exemption if they can prove it does not diminish the car’s safety. The Self Drive Act does not apply to commercial trucks bigger than 10,000 pounds, or vehicles meant to carry more than 10 passengers or hazardous materials. The trucking industry is a sensitive area for the federal government as it relates so much to the economy, particularly when job losses for human drivers are considered. Read more about the Self Drive Act from the Washington Post.

 

FiveAI using CCTV footage to study intersections to improve driverless car software

UK-based startup FiveAI is using the City of London’s existing CCTV footage of certain intersections and street junctions to study car and driver behavior to create better simulations for improving self-driving car software. In particular, FiveAI’s engineers want to study how human drivers, cyclists and pedestrians react differently to traffic lights from country to country. For example, in one country, cyclists may tend to obey all traffic lights as though they were driving a car, such as by stopping at a red light or observing a stop sign, but in another country where cyclists are more bold, they may breeze right through a similar intersection. Engineers say that by studying this behavior, they can better train artificial intelligence (AI) systems to better predict human behavior in different situations. That encompasses one of the company’s two main focuses currently–prediction. The other focus is perception. FiveAI is working to train AI systems to better sense how far away an object or obstacle is, and overall to create a “dynamic model of the world around it,” to help build a more detailed navigational map of the world. Read more about FiveAI from WIRED.

 

Honolulu to begin testing driverless rail cars

Honolulu rail officials have partnered with Ansaldo Hawaii Joint Venture to build driverless rail cars. Testing of the rail cars was set to begin this week in a short circuit loop on a section of elevated railway in Wapiahu. A human operator will be on board during the testing. In addition, lawmakers approved a bill that would increase the city’s hotel tax by one percentage point to raise another $2.4 billion for the project. The governor is expected to sign the bill. Read more from the Business Journal.

Ford and Domino’s Team Up to Autonomously Deliver Pizza, Uber Promises Self-Driving Taxis in Toronto By the End of the Year, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

Ford and Domino’s team up to deliver pizzas in autonomous cars (sort of)

Ann Arbor, Michigan residents have a chance to get their pizza delivered in a driverless car–sort of. Domino’s teamed up with Ford Motor Co. for a special pilot program to test people’s reactions to receiving their pizza from a robot. However, though the car is fully capable of driving itself, a Ford engineer will still be behind the wheel, just in case. Customers who order pizza in Ann Arbor will be notified when their pizza has arrived and will have to go outside to meet the car and remove their pizza from a warming oven slot in the outside of the car. Both Ford and Domino’s want to gauge people’s reactions to the technology as well as to having to walk outside to get their pizza themselves, rather than have a delivery employee ring their doorbell. Ford said this is the first step toward many autonomous plans they hope to realize in the future, including robot taxis and delivering groceries via self-driving cars. Read more from Bloomberg News.

 

Tesla releases Autopilot update

Earlier this month, Tesla Motors released a new update to the Autopilot software, namely the “2017.32” update, to all vehicles equipped with the second-generation hardware. The sole new feature introduced was Automatic High Beams, which automatically switch back to low beams when oncoming traffic is detected. Other than that, the only changes with the update were general improvements to the Autopilot software. Founder and CEO Elon Musk famously announced in October that a new update would make all cars worldwide fully capable of driving themselves, but it appears that update is still coming. Reports have detailed clashes between Musk and his engineers over the announcement, claiming they were not told the announcement was coming and were unsure of the technology’s safety and reliability, particularly after a July 2016 crash in which a driver utilizing Autopilot was killed in a crash. It remains to be seen when Musk’s promise of a fully autonomous Tesla will come to fruition. Read more from Elektrek here and here, and read more from Inc. Magazine here.

 

Uber promises self-driving taxis in Toronto by the end of the year

Seemingly bouncing back from a hiatus following a crash involving one of their self-driving test cars in March, Uber is getting self-driving cars back on the roads of Toronto. The rollout is starting small with only two vehicles doing mapping and data gathering on the University of Toronto campus to improve efficiency and accuracy, but Uber promises the vehicles will be fully operational and able to pick up passengers by the end of this year. Read more and see a video from Complex Canada.

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

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.