zoox concept for an AV (image courtesy of zoox)  
                                                                      February 2015 

From the Editors

Competition seems to be a key theme emerging this month.  The potential of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) is more widely recognized and the competition to be a leader in the technology and the various sectors and niches is starting to heat up.

Competition was very evident at CES, with Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Nissan and others competing for bragging rights; more below.

However, the most obvious competitive clash in the AV space in the last few weeks is that between Uber and Google.  In the past, we have covered the large investment by Google Ventures into Uber, the fascination that Travis Kalanick (CEO of Uber) has with AVs, their vision to "make car ownership go away", and the joint acknowledgement that Google and Uber have discussed the subject.  Many of us have speculated on how powerful a mobility service partnership between Google and Uber would be.

This seemingly happy accord appears to have been shattered by a story posted by TechCrunch on February 2, 2015 stating that Uber has hired most of the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Robotics Institute staff in order to kick-start autonomous taxi fleet development.  CMU has given us the impression that they were the leading academic-based AV developer, but they have now been brought into the fold of the private sector.

Both Uber and CMU released official statements confirming their "strategic partnership", however a comment on LinkedIn suggests that this was more likely a well played business deal by Uber.

By coincidence (?), a related story by Bloomberg on the very same day stated that the Uber board was shown screenshots of a Google ride-sharing app currently being used by Google employees.

What we do know is that some very deep-pocketed companies are investing heavily in an AV future where private vehicle ownership will be replaced by a service model.  Given the overall socio-economic benefits that this can bring, we believe that competition in the AV space will be a good thing in the long term.

The Automakers (and Tier1s and future OEMs)

Daimler/Mercedes Benz at CES the F 015 was unveiled to great fanfare. A highly innovative and futuristic concept, the F 015 promoted some very interesting discussion. Our Paul Godsmark felt it covered the full spectrum of amazed from "great!" to "why?".

Audi decided to let the car drive itself to CES in Vegas, thus generating the headline "I Rode 500 Miles in a Self-Driving Car and Saw the Future. Its Delightfully Dull".

Nissan announced that they have teamed up with NASA to develop AVs.  Given that Elon Musk famously wants to die on Mars (just not on impact), we wonder if he will be being driven by a Tesla or a Nissan when hes there…

Nissan also demonstrated their autonomous electric Leaf to a journalist by having it drive around Sunnyvale.  The Nissan system uses sparse maps from third parties, in contrast to Googles approach of using very detailed maps.

BMW at CES demonstrated their self-parking i3s, but then dropped the bombshell that they estimate this feature wont be available for another 7 years.  Are they aware of what their competitors are saying?

GM seem open to having a discussion with Google on the subject of AVs.

North American International Auto Show (Detroit) it was very clear that AVs have moved to the forefront.

Bosch outlined their 10-year path to a door-to-door AV.

Google "Google's Self-Driving Car Pals Revealed" which includes "Continental, Roush, Bosch, ZFLS, RCO, FRIMO, Prefix and LG" who helped build their prototype.  For those not familiar with Googles technology this recent article "Roadtesting Googles new driverless car" is a great introduction.

Ford "Ford CEO Expects Fully Autonomous Cars In 5 Years",  but it won't be Ford that makes them in …that time frame "because our approach is when we do, we want to make sure that it is accessible for everyone and not just let's say luxury [car] customers."

Transit / Transportation

An analysis of "Taxi vs Public Transit in major US cities" suggests that in most cities, it is already quicker to catch a taxi. With the advent of shared automated taxi fleets, the costs of taxis will be significantly reduced, resulting in a greater modal shift from transit than is already occurring.

AV Trials

Singapore "Testing of driverless vehicles at one-north expected to start in March".  The trials will be conducted on a 6km network of roads that encompasses both light and heavy traffic routes.

Socio-Economic Impacts of AVs

"I Find Your Lack Of Faith In Autonomous Cars Disturbing" a very enthusiastic article which conveys many of the huge key issues which AVs pose.

Government / Regulatory

The Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) continues to have an interest in allowing testing of AVs on Ontario's public roads.  The first stakeholder consultation meeting was held in February 2014.  The process was interrupted by the Ontario election in mid-2014.  Then, in late 2014, a number of focused consultation meetings were held with a range of stakeholders to address more specific issues.  CAVCOE's Barrie Kirk contributed to both rounds of the consultation process. There is no word from MTO on when their work will be completed, but we can expect their continued effort on this front as highlighted in the Minister of Transportation's publicly available 2014 Mandate letter.

US DOT: "Beyond Traffic: US DOT's 30 Year Framework for the Future" was launched at Google's headquarters in Silicon Valley.  We are very pleased that Secretary Foxx has recognized that Google may play a very important role in this conversation.  We are however concerned with the nature of the conversation.  It underscores critical decision points facing the country, by means of data driven analysis, research, expert opinions and public engagement; means that it will take time and is not intended to arrive at prescriptive solutions.  Meanwhile the date at which AVs will be deployed in earnest is getting closer by the month and USDOT still doesnt allow for the impacts of AVs in any of their expensive infrastructure proposals.  The Draft Report "Beyond Traffic: Trends and Choices 2045" is very interesting, but to find references to AVs you need to search for "automation", "automated", "autonomous", "self-driving" and "driverless".

California DMV held a public workshop to discuss proposed regulations and the technical safety standards for AVs. The press headlines stated that Google were warning CA DMV not to over-regulate AVs and that they, Google, could do a much better job on their own. However a more balanced view emerges from an eye-witness account sent to Prof Alain Kornhauser who included in one of his regular emails:
I was at the CA DMV hearing and was sitting right next to our friends at Google. The reporting around this is, as usual, was taken a bit out of context.  Brian Soublet from the DMV was very clear about the fact that the DMV lacked technical expertise to properly evaluate self-certification by OEM's, and the Google rep was simply repeating that as part of his argument."

The elephant in the room was that the DMV was tasked by the state with the incredibly difficult task of deciding what products to allow on public roads despite the fact that they haven't the budget, expertise, or resources to do so.  In fact, we weren't able to identify anyone who was really capable of doing this, which is why self-certification seemed like the only logical choice.

"Google Says Snow More of Self-Driving Car Snag Than NHTSA" was the headline around comments made by Chris Urmson of Google when he pointed out that NHTSA could ban AVs, but Google didnt think that NHTSA needs to grant permission ahead of time. Google also reiterated its desire for partners to help realize its goals.  (Note the comments from GM above).

North Dakota "Lawmakers opt for study, not regulation of unmanned vehicles". The CNATCA autonomous-friendly corridor concept was recommended for further study.

The Dutch government has approved the large-scale testing of AVs. Dr. Alexander Hars asks: "Netherlands first to operate a self-driving shuttle in public traffic?" to which the answer might be "no" depending on how you view CityMobil2s trial in La Rochelle, France, the Singapore AV Initiative at One-North, or a possible Google trial (in Mountain View?).

Germany developments are summed up by this headline "Germany Declares "Digital Sovereignty", Snubs Google's Self-Driving Cars

UK - The government wants the UK to become a world leader in driverless technology.  It will publish a code of practice in the spring which will allow the testing of autonomous cars to go ahead. The official UK government press release is just as bullish.

"UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) to discuss first international regulatory steps concerning automated-driving."

South Australia wants to become the first state (in Australia) to pass rules that would allow driverless cars on its roads, possibly within years.


The University of Michigan believe that they have developed a lower-cost navigation system for AVs using localization based on 3D interpretation from cameras as opposed to the more expensive LiDAR.

The University of Michigan has also completed its "M City" which includes a network of roads and infrastructure for testing autonomous and connected vehicles.

The "European Roadmap: Smart Systems for Automated Driving" clearly lays out a road-map and a time-line for AVs.  But we note that they dont envisage highly automated driving to be deployed in cities until around 2030.  We remind readers of Googles consistent re-statement of their intentions to have their self-driving technology in public hands by 2017-2020.

A study by Imperial College, London indicates "How Driverless Cars Could Make Traffic Dramatically Worse".   Apparently if AVs accelerate and decelerate smoothly and comfortably at rates similar to trains, then congestion is dramatically increased. Redditor "secondlamp" summed it up thus: "If we make SDCs slow, SDCs will be slow."

"Characterization of the OPAL Obscurant Penetrating LiDAR in various Degraded Visual Environments" is interesting as this high-power LiDAR can still sense objects in snow, dust and fog.  It remains to be seen if it is even possible for much lower-power units to be developed with similar capabilities.

"THz sensing in front of Vehicle (Ground Profiling)" is of potential value to AVs.

"A single self-driving car could take care of multiple people's daily driving needs, so households might not need as many cars", University of Michigan researchers say.  But the way this study is framed, we might also expect more cars on the road during peak periods as it assumes household vehicle ownership and empty vehicle trips between serving family members. We would like to see a similar study that considers the possibility of shared AV fleets similar to what Uber are expecting to provide.

Other AV Articles

The Boston Consulting Group estimates that AV features could represent a $42 Billion market by 2025. But their slide deck clearly shows their assumptions are based on private vehicle sales and that high hardware costs will limit market penetration to about 25%... We suggest that they conduct a further analysis for a shared AV (SAV) scenario where large fleets of SAVs replace private ownership, as Uber and Google are proposing. The automotive analysts dont seem to be factoring in the socio-economic impacts that occur when the vehicle can move people and things.  See the report co-authored by CAVCOE, the Conference Board of Canada and the Van Horne Institute for more background to this.

"Expect driverless insurance tussle: Allstate CEO" is a headline that further indicates how the AV discussion has moved into the boardrooms of many companies that are anticipating direct impacts.

Allianz are also talking about AVs and insurance.

Steve Jurvetson (one of Silicon Valleys most prescient Venture Capitalists) was all smiles when visiting zoox. Interesting…

Brad Templeton has been pondering "Will robocars use V2V at all?" and suggests that "the answer is not certain."  Food for thought.

"Uber CEO explains his companys highly ambitious goal to end car ownership in the world".

Did anyone think of sending an AV themed Valentines card?


At CES NVIDIA unveiled their new Drive PX which has been specifically developed for AVs.  It combines supercomputer-like capability and deep neural learning.

With reference to the NVIDIA unveiling above, Mobileye Co-Founder, Chairman & CTO Prof. Amnon Shashua talked about the future of computer vision and automated driving at the 2015 Deutsche Bank Global Auto Industry Conference and put a strong case for the potential of the Mobileye tech.


Upcoming AV-related Events

April 23-24, 2015: Insurance Telematics Canada 2015; Toronto, Ont.

May 4-7, 2015: AUVSI's Unmanned Systems Conference and Trade Show; Atlanta, Georgia

May 5-6, 2015: 4th Annual Wavefront Summit; Ottawa, Ont.

May 24-28, 2015:  ITS Canada's 2015 Annual Conference and General Meeting; Gatineau, QC.

June 16-19, 2015: CCMTA's Annual Meeting; Whitehorse, Yukon.

June 17-18, 2015: Autonomous Vehicle Test & Development Symposium 2015; Stuttgart, Germany.

July 21-23, 2015: AUVSI / TRB Automated Vehicles Symposium 2015, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MI, USA.

October 5-9, 2015, ITS World Congress, Bordeaux, France



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: Christine Vanstone, Keith Fagan

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CAVCOE provides consulting services, information, analyses and recommendations to stakeholders who are involved in the launch of automated vehicles and those who will be impacted by their arrival.
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