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.

Connected, Autonomous Vehicles On Display in Northern Virginia

Jennifer van der Kleut

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Staff and elected officials from Fairfax County in northern Virginia were treated to an up-close look at connected and driverless car technology at a special event last week on May 3. and our sister company, eTrans Systems, which manufactures connected-vehicle software, took part in the event, which examined the logistics and benefits of advancing the technology and also offered test rides in prototype vehicles.

Representatives from Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), Tesla Motors, eTrans Systems and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) brought vehicles with connected and semi-autonomous technology to demonstrate how they work and to show off some of the benefits.

eTrans Systems showed off some of its V2I technology (vehicle-to-infrastructure) on test rides in a large, closed-off parking lot at the Fairfax County Government Center. Through a tablet mounted on the dashboard, riders could see when the system warned the driver if he was going over the speed limit or when the road was about to curve, and informed him of how soon an approaching traffic signal was going to change or when a collision with another vehicle was possible.

Following the demonstration rides, Fairfax County elected officials convened a discussion panel, moderated by David Zipper from the D.C.-based startup incubator 1776, and featuring representatives from eTrans, VTTI, VDOT and the consulting firm RK&K.

John Estrada, founder of and CEO of eTrans, began remarks by reminding everyone that some autonomous vehicles are already present in Fairfax County and many other spots around the globe.

“Elevators are autonomous vehicles,” he pointed out. “And anyone who has ever traveled in or out of Dulles Airport has ridden in an autonomous tram.”

Estrada said he thinks the key to slowly introducing the technology to the masses is by starting it much that way–by limiting it to smaller, controlled areas in which they can be the only mode of transportation. He offered the nearby shopping and business districts of Tysons Corner as an example, as well as a few busier spots in Reston such as Reston Town Center and up and down the Sunrise Valley corridor.

In addition to providing a valuable opportunity to perfect the technology in a smaller, controlled environment, autonomous vehicles could also help solve the widespread “last mile” problem of public transit in such areas. This refers to how some people shy away from mass transit like Metro, buses or the subway because it only gets them so far, and then they have no way to get the “last mile” to their needed destination.

Dwight Farmer of RK&K, who previously worked for decades as a planning commissioner in Hampton Roads, Virginia, continued the conversation by pointing out many benefits that municipalities like Fairfax County could enjoy with the advent of autonomous vehicles and V2I and V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) communications.

For example, if safe spacing between vehicles could be reduced, the capacity on our highways could double, Farmer said. This refers to the idea that the distance between cars could be automated through technology so that cars could safely travel very close together without the danger of collision, and the constant start-and-stop that often accompanies gridlock traffic.

Farmer added, with automated safe spacing, cars could also safely increase their speeds by 20 percent, getting people to their destinations even faster and more smoothly.

And, with fewer crashes, those municipalities could save a great deal of money that is normally spent on crash response, which could then be rerouted for much-needed infrastructure improvements.

“I think we’re about to witness extraordinary times,” Farmer concluded.

Moderator Dave Zipper agreed.

“I think [connected and driverless vehicles] are going to bring about the most exciting change in mobility since the Model Ts were first rolled out in 1910,” he said.

Images by Jennifer van der Kleut for

Hear From Elected Officials and Tech Innovators and Take Test Rides at Fairfax County, Virginia’s Autonomous Vehicle Event

Jennifer van der Kleut

Fairfax County, Virginia is working on positioning itself at the forefront of transportation technology by hosting an autonomous and connected vehicle event.

On Wednesday, May 3 the county will bring together elected officials, transportation experts and technology developers to discuss the future of transportation in the region in a moderated panel as well as offer demonstration rides.

Among the elected officials attending will be Chairman Sharon Bulova and Supervisor John Foust from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

“Virginia has positioned itself as a leader for technological innovation,” Bulova said this week. “With top researchers road testing their products here, local companies have already begun investing in and advancing this technology and contributing to growth in our economy.”

Among the other panelists will be representatives from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). The institute operates one of the commonwealth’s largest “smart roads,” which is 2.2 miles long and includes three bridges, and allows developers to test autonomous and connected vehicles. Controlled weather stations and varying pavement conditions allow for testing in abnormal conditions.

Many Fairfax County officials say they think innovative technology such as self-driving capabilities and vehicle-to-vehicle communications could benefit the local region in countless ways.

“I think it’s an open road when it comes to how driverless cars will impact the county and country as a whole,” said Supervisor Foust, who chairs Fairfax County’s Economic Advisory Commission. “There are huge economic, safety, environmental and mobility benefits.”

There are many experts who theorize that driverless cars can reduce congestion, reduce the need for so much parking in busier cities, and help reduce the mounting costs brought about by thousands of vehicle accidents each year.

“I’ve seen reports that say the economic impact could be upwards of $1 trillion. Self-driving cars could also improve safety, reducing insurance rates. And, this technology could save millions in fuel consumption,” Foust added. “We’re also hopeful that this technology will benefit the mobility needs of our seniors and people with disabilities.”

Members of the public are invited to come out to the Fairfax County Government Center, located at 12000 Government Center Parkway in Fairfax, on Wednesday, May 3 from 12-5 p.m. The event will offer refreshments and networking opportunities at the start, followed by the panel, open discussions, and demonstration rides in test vehicles at both the start and finish.

Among the featured panelists will be John Estrada, the CEO of eTrans Systems, a Fairfax-based company that manufacturers connected-vehicle software and technology. Estrada is also the founder of Estrada will be displaying and demonstrating some of eTrans Systems’ connected-vehicle technology and offering demo rides during the event.

Space is limited, so advance registration is recommended. People can register through the Fairfax County government website.

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: Serious Crash Involving Self-Driving Uber Car Under Investigation, Why Driverless Crash Liability Should Be Modeled After Vaccine Laws, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of recent headlines to come out of the driverless and connected-car industries over the past week:

Uber’s self-driving test cars return to the roads after 3-day halt following serious crash

Uber’s fleet of self-driving test cars returned to the roads in San Francisco Monday after the entire program was halted for three days following a serious crash in Arizona Saturday. Testing in Tempe, Arizona and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania remains halted as the investigation into the crash continues. Police in Tempe, Arizona said the accident occurred when a normal human-driven vehicle failed to yield to the driverless Uber car in an intersection. The two cars collided, causing the Uber car to roll over. Tempe police reported that the driver of the normal car was cited for the accident. An Uber employee was sitting behind the wheel of the Uber car, and fortunately was not injured. Uber representatives say a more detailed report will be released after the investigation concludes. Read more from TechCrunch. See photos and video from the accident on ABC15 Arizona.


What if driverless vehicle legislation were modeled after vaccine compensation cases?

In this article, Automotive News writer Katie Burke presents an interesting theory, in which legislation regarding liability in driverless vehicle collisions were modeled after the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986. That law created the Office of Special Masters within the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, with the sole purpose of hearing cases in which a family claims their child was injured as a result of a vaccine. The law also created a special fund from which families who prove their child’s injury was caused by a vaccine are compensated. The act marked a turning point for U.S. pharmaceutical companies, allowing them to confidently continue researching and creating new vaccines without fear of losing billions in injury lawsuits. Burke thinks modeling legislation regarding liability in driverless car crashes in a similar way will encourage automakers working on developing the technology to continue their work without similar fears. What do you think of the idea? Read more from


North Dakota Senate unanimously passes law requiring full study of autonomous vehicles

On Monday, the North Dakota Senate passed a new law 45-0 requiring the Department of Transportation (DOT) to work with the technology industry to conduct a study of the use of autonomous vehicles on the state’s highways. In addition, the study will focus on laws surrounding self-driving vehicles, including licensing, registration, insurance, ownership of data, and inspections. Results of the study must be presented at the next general assembly. In the same session, the Senate rejected a related bill that would have made the owner of a driverless vehicle the owner of any data gathered by or stored within the vehicle. Presumably, lawmakers want to encourage driverless vehicle manufacturers to share data collected by the vehicles with transportation agencies to allow for continued improvement of systems. Read more from InForum.


Photo Credit: Uber

News Roundup: California DMV’s New Proposed Driverless Car Regulations, How Alexa and Cortana May Soon Take Over Your Car, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of some of the biggest headlines to come out of the driverless and connected-car industries over the past week:

Many applaud California DMV’s newly proposed regulations for testing driverless cars

This past Friday, March 10, the California Department of Motor Vehicles released new proposed regulations for the testing of driverless cars in public, which look remarkably like laws recently passed in Michigan. Many are applauding all the changes made since releasing a significantly stricter version back in September. DMV reps say they listened closely to a wealth of feedback from stakeholders after the September draft and implemented many of them. In particular, the new regulations reverse their previous requirements that driverless test cars must have a human driver in the car while testing in public, and that prototype vehicles must include a steering wheel and pedals (which reportedly made Google/Waymo executives very happy). However, if the vehicle does not include those conventional features, the manufacturer must show the DMV they have approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A mandatory 45-day comment period is currently in effect, ending April 24, after which a public hearing will take place. DMV representatives said they hope the regulations will officially go into effect by the end of the year. Read more from Bloomberg Technology.


Automakers turn to personal assistance tech like Cortana, Alexa to develop better connected-car voice commands

While systems like Ford’s Sync are already appearing in cars on the market today, many industry analysts say the technology still contains many flaws, with limited available commands and continuous voice recognition difficulties. As connected-car technology becomes more and more in demand, automakers like Ford, Volkswagen and Nissan are turning to personal assistant apps like Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana to improve in-car voice command systems. VW announced they are trying to combine Alexa with their Car-Net system and apps so that, while driving, you can ask Alexa to do things like add items to your ongoing shopping list that is synced between your car and your personal device. Reps say you’ll even be able to ask Alexa through your Amazon Echo at home to tell you how much gas your car has in it. Ford said it is integrating Alexa into its current Sync system, with some paired features debuting this summer. Nissan said they are partnering with Microsoft, but have not announced a launch date yet. Read more from CAR magazine.


Whoa! Intel buys Mobileye for more than $15 billion

In the biggest acquisition of an Israeli tech company to date, Intel announced this week that is acquiring Mobileye for an astounding $15.3 billion, after partnering with them since late last year. Mobileye is known for its computer vision systems for autonomous cars, including sensor fusion, mapping and front- and rear-facing camera technology. They are also working on crowdsourcing data for high-definition maps, as well as getting involved in policies and regulations surrounding autonomous driving. Intel has been getting involved with driverless technology as of late, most recently partnering with Mobileye and BMW and pledging $250 million to invest in the technology, particularly how much data autonomous cars can generate. The sale of Mobileye to Intel is expected to take about nine months to close. Read more from TechCrunch.

News Roundup: Mass. State Senator Introduces Bill to Allow Zero-Emission Driverless Cars, Skipping Driverless Cars and Going Straight to Passenger Drones, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of headlines to come out of the driverless, connected-car industry in the past week:

Massachusetts Introduces Bill to Self-Driving Cars on Public Streets — As Long As They’re Electric

A new bill has been introduced at the state level in Massachusetts that would provide regulations for autonomous cars on public streets–as long as they’re electric. Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) is preparing to file the bill with the State Senate, and says mandating that self-driving cars be zero-emission will help encourage automakers to be more environmentally friendly, which is line with Massachusetts’s priorities. Lewis said the bill would come with a tax of 2.5 cents per mile, to help offset lost state revenue from gas taxes. He said he welcomes ideas and suggestions and hopes the bill’s introduction will prompt “robust debate.” Read more from The Valley Dispatch.


Op-Ed: Forget Driverless Cars — The Future is Driverless Passenger Drones

Check out this opinion piece from Adam Singola. Singola argues almost suggests that simply making cars driverless is a waste of time, when we can take it one step further and make them flying, too. Singola said the future of transportation is flying passenger drones. He points out that one thing that makes human-driven cars so dangerous is the fact that they have to share the road with passengers, cyclists, unexpected objects and poor road quality, not to mention other cars. Therefore, he says driverless passenger drones will be safer, and will render things like parking problems, traffic congestion, and road construction obsolete. He also describes a ride he recently took in an actual passenger drone. Read more on TechCrunch.


U.S. Department of Transportation Identifies 10 ‘Proving Grounds’ for Testing Autonomous Vehicle Technology

In a move that many say will help the U.S. keep up with its Asian and European rivals, the U.S. Department of Transportation this week officially designated 10 sites across the country that officials say will act as “official sites for validating the technology,” as run by top organizations working on the technology. Automakers will be able to share the facilities to test their autonomous prototypes, and officials said they hope working in “close proximity” to others working on the same technology will allow them to share best practices and data. The 10 sites are run by the following organizations across the country: Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute; the Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership; Maryland’s U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center; California’s Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) and GoMentum Station in Concord, California; the San Diego Association of Governments in California; Michigan’s American Center for Mobility (ACM) at Willow Run; the Iowa City Area Development Group; the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partners; and the North Carolina Turnpike Authority. Read more from Bloomberg Technology.

Photo: Acura driverless car being tested at GoMentum Station in Concord, California.

News Roundup: Group Wants a 50-Year Ban on Driverless Cars, Las Vegas Gets a Driverless Shuttle Downtown, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of recent headlines from the driverless and connected-car industries:

Groups advocate for ban on driverless cars due to projected job losses

A number of transportation labor groups are starting to pop up across the U.S., advocating for a ban on driverless cars due to the number of jobs they expect the technology to eliminate. In particular, New York’s Upstate Transportation Agency is seeking a 50-year-ban on the technology, stating they expect 4 million jobs to be lost, or 3 percent of America’s workforce. In addition, the Independent Drivers Group is advocating for keeping the law that requires at least one hand on a car’s steering wheel at all times, which they believe will effectively ban driverless cars as well. Read more from The Daily Dot.


China signs off on plans for world’s largest autonomous driving test zone

Officials in Zhangzhou, China have signed off on plans to designate a 56km-wide zone of the city to act as the world’s largest autonomous drive test area. Chinese news outlets describe the plans as consisting of a “city-level lab road network with complete traffic signs.” The designated zone will also include a 600,000-square-meter closed testing ground and a two-million-square-meter open experimental field. Michigan’s similar testing area, known as Mcity, will reportedly help with Zhangzhou’s plans. Officials said they hope the zone will debut by the end of the year. Read more from China Daily.


Driverless shuttle debuts on Las Vegas streets

Canadian transport operator Keolis has partnered with Navya Technologies to run a driverless shuttle along the streets of Las Vegas. The city of Las Vegas recently designated an “Innovation District” for the testing of cutting-edge technology. Keolis recently purchased four Navya shuttles to test out driverless technology in select areas across Europe, and the two companies ran a trial in Lyon, France in September. The new shuttle, called Arma, is transporting passengers along east Fremont Street between Las Vegas Boulevard and Eighth Street, alongside regular street traffic, and can carry up to 12 passengers. The two-week trial will last from Jan. 11 to 20. The shuttle reportedly travels at a speed of around 15km per hour. Read more from the Las Vegas Sun.

Photo: Arma shuttle by Navya and Keolis drives through Las Vegas. Credit: Navya

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.

News Roundup: A Semi-Autonomous Motorcycle, Driverless Cars Hit Public Roads in England, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of some of the most interesting news to come out of the driverless, connected-car world this week:

BMW says helmets won’t be needed with their self-balancing motorcycle

While most of the world is focused on semi-autonomous features that can make cars safer, BMW has been quietly focusing on a semi-autonomous motorcycle. This week, the auto manufacturer unveiled its design for the Vision Next 100 bike, with features like semi-autonomous steering and self-balancing wheels. Instead of a helmet, the bike will come with a visor that has an internal display super-imposed over the road and surrounding environment. The bike’s connected-vehicle system will give alerts about obstacles and risks on that display. BMW says the self-balancing wheels are so effective, a rider won’t even need to put their feet down on the ground when they stop, and it will be so hard to crash the bike, traditional helmets and padded, protective clothing won’t be necessary. Read more about the Vision Next 100 on CNNMoney.

Driverless cars tested on UK public roads for the first time

As Britain keeps moving toward its goal of having driverless cars on the road by 2020, a test car hit the public streets of Milton Keynes for the first time on Tuesday. Traveling at about 5 km per hour, the small two-seater driverless pod car navigated the streets of the largely pedestrianized southern town, stopping for people that crossed in front of it and safely turning corners. The pod car, heavily adapted from a compact Renault car, was developed by the Oxford University spin-out Oxbotica. Read more about the driverless car’s first public trip from Reuters.

Lots of driverless news out of California this week

According to news outlets like Ars Technica, Wall Street Journal and Elektrek, things are really heating up in California, where the number of companies that have been issued permits to test autonomous vehicles has just climbed to 17, up by three just since the end of summer. The two newest permits were issued to Wheego, an electric vehicle powertrain engineering company, and Valeo, a familiar name in the industry as a longtime tier-one automotive supplier. Also recently, Chinese tech firm Baidu received a testing permit. In other California news, Elektrek was one of the first to spot prototypes of Google’s long-awaited self-driving Chrysler Pacific mini-vans in Mountain View last weekend, and published a few somewhat grainy photos. Read more recent industry news from Ars Technica.

Image: Vision Next 100 semi-autonomous motorcycle prototype, by BMW.