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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.

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.

How Do You Buy a Million Cars When You Can’t Make a Dime?

Burney Simpson

The summer of 2016 is proving a topsy-turvy time for driverless industry as headwinds buffet ridesharing technology firms Uber and Lyft and auto OEMs foresee fully autonomous vehicles in a few years.

Isn’t this supposed to be a quiet time for business? Take a breather, sit by the water, and eat some Michigan cherry burgers.

Not in transportation technology.

For instance, Ford announced it was working to launch fully autonomous automobiles by 2021. BMW, Intel and Mobileye joined to say they will have vehicles in production for the same target date. Ridesharing titan Uber says it will launch this month driverless vehicles in Pittsburgh, though some employees will be in the car to ensure safety.

Forget the 10 years down the road baloney. We’ll be Level 4 Autonomous in three to five years.

Yet for all the excitement there’s been some downer news.

A number of outlets reported that Lyft was seeking a buyer, despite the $500 million that GM pumped into it earlier this year. (Lyft later denied the buyer story, blaming it on archrival Uber). Earlier this year Lyft pledged to its investors to keep its U.S. losses under $50 million a month.

And Bloomberg reported that Uber told its investors it lost $520 million in the first quarter, and more than $750 million in the second. This after losing about $2 billion in 2015. That must have played a part in Uber’s decision to sell its China operations to competitor Didi Chuxing.

SHAKY FOUNDATIONS

It’s valuable to keep in mind the shaky foundations of Uber and Lyft because the two have been touted as an important foundation for the growth of autonomous vehicles.

Supposedly car owners are going to shift to ridesharing to get around, abandon their cars, and start trying out all kinds of shared transportation options. That means mass transit, bike share, car share, semi-customized bus lines, even walking for crying out loud.

No more Single Occupancy Vehicles. American commuters unite. You have nothing to lose but your fat guts and bubbly butts.

The theory is that Uber, Lyft and other transportation providers will buy hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of autonomous vehicles from BMW, GM, Ford, etc.

They’ll phase out their human drivers, the most expensive part of their operations, and offer driverless vehicles that get you to work. For the ride home you’ll be allowed to drink and not drive. Just in time for legal marijuana baby!

Moovel2But if these guys can’t make money now, how do they buy/lease a million high-tech autonomous cars? Does Uber go back to investors like Goldman Sachs and Benchmark Capital for another $16 billion? It sounds like investors have told Lyft to stop the losses, despite whatever it denies.

Look, there’s been some great news for the ride sharers too. Lyft provided nearly 14 million rides in July, while Uber churned out 62 million.

Lyft President John Zimmer told Business Insider his company is on its way to providing $2 billion worth of rides. Uber, valued at $69 billion, will use the $1 billion it received from Didi to get out of China to grow in Southeast Asia or battle Lyft in the U.S.

But consider this – investors can be fickle, as proven by several tech bubbles already this century; Lehman Brothers is just the latest giant to have a huge valuation before it crumbled; and the stock market is hitting record levels.

Transportation technology offers an intriguing mix of glamour and grease that the VC geniuses love. For the rest of us it’s vital to see through the glamourous front so we don’t slip on the grease.

Graphics from Ford, Car2Go.

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.

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.

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.

Video: Driverless Cars Spin Out on a Georgia Track

Burney Simpson

Check out this video from Georgia Tech of an autonomous car test.

It’s not exactly C.L. Pritchett on a dirt track. Course, CL didn’t have algorithms, GPUs, and sensors.

The Georgia Tech researchers are pushing autonomous vehicles to their limits to find how much speed and rough handling they can take before losing control.

These tests, however, stand out from a typical Mcity autonomous run. Georgia’s two test vehicles are one-fifth scale size, and the run at speeds up to the equivalent of 90 mph for a model car.

The cars run at top speed, spin into turns, drift, and even try to jump, according to the Georgia Tech News Center.

The scientists hope to learn just how far an autonomous vehicle can go before it careens out of control.

Learning that can help develop better autonomous cars, according to the researchers from the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering (AE) and the School of Interactive Computing (IC) at Georgia Tech.

“An autonomous vehicle should be able to handle any condition, not just drive on the highway under normal conditions,” said Panagiotis Tsiotras, an AE professor. “One of our principal goals is to infuse some of the expert techniques of human drivers into the brains of these autonomous vehicles.”

(That’s kinda what the Bandit did with the Trans Am. To be clear, the test cars are not chased by Sheriff Buford T. Justice ).

The custom-built vehicles are about three feet long and weigh about 48 pounds.

They use algorithms and are outfitted with sensors to keep them firmly earthbound. The researchers call their method MPPI, for model predictive path integral control.

The MPPI algorithm continuously samples data coming from global positioning system (GPS) hardware, inertial motion sensors, and other sensors, all processed by a GPU on the vehicle.

The system conducts real-time analysis of possible vehicle movements, and controls handling decisions to keep it on the track.

The research was conducted at the school’s Autonomous Racing Facility, and was sponsored by the U.S. Army Research Office.

Here’s a video for dirt track fans.

Photo: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech. Left to right Georgia Tech students Sarah Selim, Brian Goldfain, Paul Drews, Grady Williams.

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.

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.

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