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AV Update - January 2014

From the Editors

The holiday season itself was relatively quiet in the Automated Vehicles (AV) world, but with both the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) and Detroit Motor Show in early January, it was bound to get active early in the New year.

Did you know that the world’s first low-speed self-driving passenger vehicle capable of unmanned operation has just been made commercially available? See the article below on Induct.

In the other items below, you will see that AVs are being viewed with an ever-increasing interest. There is a clear trend in technology development, private and public sector awareness, and media articles. It looks like it will be a busy and exciting year in the AV space.

At CES, the Automakers Shine, but is an Electric Shuttle the Star?

For us, it was Induct that stole the attention at the CES show in Nevada, as they announced the official launch of their electric low-speed Navia shuttle -- the first commercially available AV in the US. Brad Templeton provided the best insight in our opinion, as well as explaining how Induct has picked the easiest part of the puzzle to solve first.

Also at the CES, Audi demonstrated on public roads their A7 which is self-driving under 40mph. It had the Nevada AV ‘Infinity’ plate ‘046’ and we would like to know if the 41 plates that we don’t know about were all registered for CES, or if there is more AV testing than we previously thought?

Audi seemed very pleased at how compact they had made the book-sized ‘brain’ of their self-driving car.

For the media, it seemed that there was only be one winner at CES: a BMW M235i that ‘drifted’ itself. Somehow we don’t think a ‘drift’ mode should come as standard in future AVs.

The Automaker’s Race to Autonomy – But Semantics is Important

First, we had the Daimler Chief saying fully autonomous vehicles could come to the market by 2025.

Next, we had Nissan CEO saying that they would have totally autonomous vehicles’ on the mass market by 2020. That sounds like Level 4 capable of unmanned operation? Right?...

Perhaps not to be outdone, we then had the Mercedes Benz R&D boss and a seeming counter-claim that we would only have to wait until 2020 for them to launch ‘fully autonomous’ vehicles.

Then we had a clarification from Nissan on the words "totally autonomous" – as in "fully autonomous drive for highway use only".

So that settles it – either Nissan or Daimler in 2020 or 2025….

Articles, Interviews and Presentations this month

The best article this month was probably "Inside the Road Revolution" where we gained some interesting insights from Google and others.

Chunka Mui, the Managing Director of the Devil's Advocate Group, gave an interview on CNBC which explains how AVs are going to change the economy - not just transportation. We looked up Morgan Stanley’s report from last year that said AVs could save the US $1.3 trillion – that’s 8% of the GDP for 2012… anyone disagree with Chunka? We don’t.

"What Will Happen to Public Transit in a World Full of Autonomous Cars?" is a well-written and thought-provoking article. The author explains that AVs are "like personalized mass transit".

Possibly as a counterpoint to our Paul Godsmark’s "Countdown to Autonomy" article in the previous edition of Traffic Technology International (TTI), the latest issue has an article "Ready or Waiting?" which gives a very different, much more sober perspective. Perhaps too sober? Paul has followed up with an article on "Driverless Neighbourhoods" which might be in the next edition of TTI.

At the ITE annual meeting, Mike Krusee (a former Texas politician) explained how AV benefits should be addressed to politicians and possible routes to adoption.

Reports, Studies and Conferences this Month

Mike Krusee also turned up as a joint author of the University of Texas Austin report for the Texas DOT titled "Developing Emerging Transportation Technologies in Texas" in which AVs are featured prominently.

Additional fuel to the discussion has been provided by an IHS report, which they are only releasing to the media. The headlines are that AVs will account for 9% of vehicle sales in 2035. We think that is a gross underestimate for a technology that Morgan Stanley think could save the US about 8% of GDP when fully deployed.

But perhaps clearer thinking was to be found within the recent Rand report which suggested some policy guidelines for lawmakers. This is well worth a read.

At last year's annual TRB meeting, there was very little in the way of presentations about AVs. This year it was standing room only at the various sessions on AVs.. Our favourite paper was by Fagnant and Kockelman "The Travel and Environmental Implications of Shared Autonomous Vehicles, Using Agent Based Model Scenarios"; and our favourite presentation was by Kornhauser: "Urban Planning & Community Design Considerations in an Era of Driverless Cars".

Google is still the Focus of Attention

The patent race is hotting up with Google and Apple applying for 345 patents between them in a seeming race to determine who might govern your next car.

A few months ago, Google invested $258 million in Uber, who will plan for the self-driving car, but not for "many moons". We should point out that if taken literally, this implies months and not years… Meanwhile we wonder, along with the Upstart Business Journal, if Google’s Google's recent acquisition of Bump is related in any way to their self-driving car? Bump co-founder Lieb has developed a sudden interest in telling us about his experiences with car-share and ride-share services like Uber and Flightcar.

Google’s Thrun talked about a future of "wildly safe roads" that included self-driving vehicle "trains".

One of Google’s recent acquisitions, Schaft, won the DARPA Robotic Challenge at a seeming canter. This challenge is not about AVs; note the robot driving a vehicle at the start of this summary video. At some point, a robot will be able to get into a conventional car and drive it better than us humans – we guess 2023. Which would perhaps further upset all of the current forecasts on AV market penetration.

Other Interesting News

The discussion around "driverless cities" is still ongoing, with some speculating that the real headline at CES maybe shouldn’t have been the vehicles, but what they could do for "the street itself". We agree.

The BBC’s Newsnight program asked "Who wants a driverless car?", but could have improved their piece if they hadn’t stuck to the assumption that AVs will evolve from existing technologies. We are grateful that there are developers like Google, VisLab and AutoNOMOS Labs that are aiming for Level 4 directly – the revolutionary approach.

The California DMV held another in their series of public hearings on the subject of the testing of AVs on public roads and will, in a few months, hold another on on the subject of the use of AVs on public roads. Why do they think they need draft regulations in place by 1st Jan 2015?...

Just weeks after signing legislation for Michigan to test AVs, the Michigan Governor announced a partnership between the State and the University of Michigan to boost connected and autonomous vehicles.

AV Update is a free, monthly roundup of news and analysis in the world of automated vehicles and their impact on all levels of government and the private sector.

Editors: Barrie Kirk, Paul Godsmark
Photography: Keith Fagan

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