Canada Spotlight Special
When we started this update, we thought that the AV market opportunity for tech companies in Canada was not receiving as much attention as it should. Although we are not aware of any concrete examples of a Canadian company that will develop and market a complete AV, there are tech companies who can provide sensors, other hardware and software to the global AV market.
We were therefore delighted to learn that Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca had this to say on the subject of AVs following a lunch speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade:
The potential reductions in vehicle collisions, the implications for the auto insurance industry or the litigation or the health care industry are enormous. Ontario also needs to embrace the job creation value of the new technology.Adam Jonas of Morgan Stanley predicts that the traditional auto industry as we know it is winding down because of AVs, but this will be replaced by cars in which up to 60% of the value will be in technology. This creates significant opportunities for Canadian technology companies.
Sensors are just one example of this. On the software side, one success story is QNX. Their software is used by the automotive industry for a range of use cases, including advanced driver assistance systems.
We at CAVCOE believe that there is a large potential market in the global AV space for Canadian tech companies, but there is probably still insufficient awareness of the status, trends and potential. We look forward to working with the tech industry in Canada to help create an AV ecosystem. We will provide more details as we move forward.
Our Barrie Kirk was delighted to be interviewed for ‘The Current’ on CBC radio. The show was titled ‘Driverless cars set to be on public roads in 5 years. Are we ready?’ and focused on excellent contributions from Steve Buckley, General Manager of Transportation at the City of Toronto and from Volvo. It is very clear that Toronto will be playing a very important role in leading the way in Canada.
The City of Edmonton Transportation Committee recently passed a motion:
That Administration provide a report on the steps that are being taken to stay informed and educated on autonomous vehicles and the potential impacts to our roadway and transit network.Meanwhile in Vancouver, we are awaiting the results of a transport plebiscite on a 0.5% levy for city transportation. AVs have been an aspect of the discussion – certainly to a much greater degree than in any other previous vote of this nature in North America..
The Central North America Trade Corridor Association (CNATCA) continue to promote the autonomous friendly corridor concept – described in a CBC article as:
Trucks hauling cargo from Canada through the United States to Mexico and back navigate border crossings without the need for passports, visas or even a driver to steer them.CAVCOE continue to be a keen strategic partner of this initiative, along with a growing number of Canadian organizations.
In summary, the last couple of months in Canada have seen the subject of AVs enter politics and municipal and provincial discussions in a meaningful way.
The Automakers, Tier 1s and AV Developers
The Verge reports that Uber gutted Carnegie Mellon’s top robotics lab to develop self-driving cars. The background is that in January 2015, people began disappearing from robotics center.at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). At first it was only a few individuals, mostly software developers. Then it became an entire team, and eventually the group included the center's director. The Verge explains that, just around the corner, Uber had set up shop in a renovated building that used to be a chocolate factory. Most people at CMU's National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) didn't even know it yet, but in a building that shared the very same parking lot, the ride-hailing company had embarked on a multi-year project to replace human drivers with computers. And to do that, they needed all the help they could get. So Uber got to work hiring many of CMU's most talented staffers.
Uber: the first sighting of an Uber AV research vehicle was reported by the Pittsburgh Business Times.
Apple has also made an acquisition. Cult of Mac reports that Apple has confirmed its acquisition of Coherent Navigation, a GPS company with expertise in mapping and self-driving vehicles. Unlike regular GPS, which is accurate only within meters, Coherent Navigation's iGPS has a much higher level of accuracy and can provide geographic positioning data within centimetres. Interestingly, the San Francisco Bay Area company also has experience working on autonomous navigation and robotics — opening up the possibility that they could be useful for the rumoured Apple Car.
Nissan will have cars equipped with autonomous driving technology by 2020, reports the International Business Times. The company’s CEO, Carlos Ghosn, said that whether the vehicles will be released to consumers by that time will depend on government regulators’ final decision. “Starting from late next year, we plan to offer what internally we are calling the ‘Traffic Jam Pilot,’ a feature that allows the car to drive autonomously and safely in heavy, stop-and-go traffic. This eventually will be offered across a wide range of our Nissan, Infiniti and Renault vehicles.” Nissan is expected to introduce more comprehensive AV technology, which will allow a car “to autonomously negotiate hazards and change lanes” in 2018. By 2020, according to Ghosn, the company plans to introduce vehicles that can find their way without human intervention in “nearly all situations, including complex city driving.”
zoox: We have been keen followers of zoox and were very interested to read this excellent article on them and their experimental vehicle.
A Barclays' analyst report on AVs predicts that auto sales will plummet and that vehicle ownership will fall by 50%.
As we have said before in AV Update, the introduction of autonomous vehicles and driverless taxis will have a profound effect on the business case for many transit infrastructure projects. We recommend that all these projects have an AV impact analysis
The full OECD report is available at no cost here.
AV Road Trains
Both ‘Next – the future of transportation’ and the EO 2 from the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence develop the idea of AV pods forming road trains. Such a concept goes a long way to addressing the major imbalance in road space per person that the car experiences versus bicycles, buses, light rail and trams. We think that AV road trains are a really important concept that needs to be followed closely as it adds very significant benefits to the AV transportation-as-a-service model and can have a very significant impact on plans for conventional transit.
Government / Regulatory
Some brief news items from leading US government officials:
- The former Mayor of San Francisco says that Muni, the SF transit system, is a "lost cause" and suggests that driverless cars will be better.
- The Mayor of Los Angeles wants to hire a "Ride-Share & Driverless Czar".
- US Transportation Secretary Foxx has taken his most positive stance on AVs to date in an article in Thinking Highways magazine: "Widespread adoption of automated vehicles would change transportation as we know it."
Our point is that if these leaders are saying these things, then perhaps the planning and design community should be taking the possible impacts of autonomous vehicles on board and considering these possibilities when planning and designing for the future.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is putting the finishing touches on new operational rules for autonomous cars, reports the San Jose Mercury News. California will be the first government in the world to create a detailed handbook for AVs.
The dynamic and fast-moving AV space has given the regulators the challenge of balancing the rules that are needed now -- as the technology is still being developed -- with a future when fully autonomous vehicles become more common.
"This is our very first time we've had to do something like this, and not many states are in our situation," said Bernard Soriano, the DMV deputy director in charge of drafting the new rules. "There are a lot of eyes on what we're doing." The draft rules were due several months ago and will be released soon, Soriano said, and will be followed by a public hearing this summer. Nevada, Michigan and Florida also have established rules, but mostly for testing and none are as detailed as what California is preparing.
In an article where the New Zealand Transport Minister is talking about AVs, the New Zealand Herald makes a currently un-verified statement:
“Google's California staff have expressed an interest in testing driverless cars in New Zealand.”
Other AV Articles
My Ride in a Self-Driving Car is an excellent article by Newt Gingrich on a drive he took with Chris Umson of Google in a self-driving car. As Newt says:
The car drove itself significantly better than a new teenage driver, and better than a lot of experienced drivers, too. It traveled the speed limit, anticipated the moves of other drivers (often long before we would have noticed), and made complex judgements about whether it had time to turn safely across a lane of oncoming traffic or continue through a yellow light.
Stephen Harris wrote an article for The Engineer in which he referred to the rumour that Apple is developing its own car. He also wrote about the changes promised by autonomous vehicles: fewer accidents; greater mobility for those who can’t drive; more free time to work or play if you don’t have to keep your eyes on the road. What’s more, Stephen wrote, it’s feasible to imagine a world where today’s brand car manufacturers essentially become subcontractors and component suppliers. Apple may be a technology firm but it does no manufacturing itself. The same goes for Google, which has already become one of the leading developers of autonomous vehicle technology, although Google’s business model remains largely that of a software provider.
Google has been awarded a US patent for a system that detects that an autonomous vehicle is in a stuck condition, such as in snow.
Another Google patent addresses the ability to read and understand cyclist hand signals. The patent, as described in The Drum, describes how Google plans to keep tabs on a cyclist’s posture and register whether they are signalling to turn left or right or braking. The key is a visual recognition algorithm that can accurately differentiate a cyclist from other roadside objects before monitoring changes in appearance to deduce intent and actions. To do this an onboard computer calculates the height of objects which could correspond to a cyclist before measuring the distance between the cyclist’s head and the pavement at differing ranges. Armed with this information it is then possible to identify the angle at which an outstretched hand is bent and the system can also be configured to identify similar vehicles such as scooters and mopeds.
Quanergy says it will offer low cost sensors for AVs in 2016. The light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensor is predicted to cost only US$250 and be the size of a credit card. A further prediction is that by 2018, it will be postage stamp-sized and cost US$100 or less. This is another important step in in reducing the cost of the tech for a mass-market AV.
DARPA has demonstrated a new single-chip LiDAR according to an article in LiDAR News. Although this solid state LiDAR has very limited capability now, by removing the moving parts and driving costs down, we anticipate that developments like this are going to help blow the LiDAR sensor market wide open – which is good for all autonomous robot applications.
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Editors: Barrie Kirk, Paul Godsmark
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