Next's autonomous, electric pods
From the Editors
The race to provide the public with some form of autonomous vehicle or service heated up considerably in the last few weeks. Uber announced that it will allow some users in Pittsburgh to summon a self-driving car later this month, although it will be supervised by humans. Not to be outdone, Nutonomy in Singapore has lived up to their promise from earlier this year and has started a similar service, again supervised by humans. Meanwhile, a flurry of announcements have been made about when fully autonomous systems/vehicles will be commercially available from Ford (2021) for ride sharing, London startup Five.ai (2019) and a partnership of Delphi and Mobileye (2019). Then Baidu, who have previously stated that they will be mass-producing autonomous vehicles by 2021, revealed their electric test vehicle.
Meanwhile, the investments, acquisitions and partnerships in this rapidly emerging eco-system have also accelerated with Quanergy being added to Cruise Automation as another $1 billion dollar unicorn out of Silicon Valley. Then there is Uber and Volvo, Ford and Baidu investing in Velodyne, Otto being snapped up by Uber (autonomous trucks meets ride-hailing… fascinating) and a whole host of other developments and deals that you can read about below.
And Google? Mostly quiet on the development front, although continuing to see senior staff leave for new challenges. They are still talking with the OEMs as Hyundai’s President was happy to acknowledge, and has just recruited a top executive from Airbnb – which makes sense if the self-driving car project is close to graduating from X (Astro Teller – earlier this year) and is being prepared for commercialization.
On a Canadian domestic note, the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATAAlliance) has published a press release.putting forward a comprehensive set of recommendations to establish Canada as a top innovation nation. This is in response to the call for innovation leadership guidance by Navdeep Bains (Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development), Kirsty Duncan (Minister of Science) and Bardish Chagger (Minister of Small Business and Tourism). The guidance has been set out in 10 thematic areas, one of which is an AV Cluster and Innovation Center, based on a joint CATA-CAVCOE news release a few weeks ago.
Paul Godsmark, CTO at CAVCOE, recently wrote an AV Impacts article, on the compelling business cases around AVs. He brings forward some exciting prospects such as AVs making money for their owners (in tune with Elon Musk’s latest Master Plan) and inevitably developing fleets providing transportation-as-a-service in the coming future, which could lead to extremely rapid market penetration. The article also includes some of the implications for government and businesses.
The Automakers, Tier1s and AV Developers
Uber had a very busy month. Travis Kalanick (CEO of Uber) announced that Uber has “…acquired Otto, a 90-plus person technology startup whose mission is to rethink transportation, starting with self-driving trucks.” He also announced Uber’s new $300M partnership with Volvo that will provide them both with a common base vehicle to which they can add their separate autonomous driving technology. If that was not enough, we were also informed that, starting in late August, Uber will allow some users in Pittsburgh to summon a self-driving car from their phone. This was expected to be a world’s first, however…..
Nutonomy have followed through on their promise earlier this year and have already launched the world’s first public trial of a self-driving car service and ride-hailing app. Just like the Uber service, there will be humans inside to ensure that the taxi performs safely, but a precedent has been set by allowing public access to a vehicle operating on non-fixed routes on public roads.
Ford CEO Mark Fields has also announced that the company is planning to have its own fleet of autonomous vehicles in a ride-hailing service by 2021. He further mentioned that he believes the first application of the self-driving vehicles will be in the commercial space due to high prices of these vehicles. Ford has also invested in four startups to expedite its effort – Velodyne (more below); SAIPS, a computer vision and machine learning company; Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC, a machine vision company; and Civil Maps, a 3D mapping startup. You can read more about the news in this Recode article. Ford and Baidu have announced a joint investment of $150 Million in Velodyne – a Silicon Valley firm that manufactures LiDARs. The investment is expected to lower the production cost of LiDARs for Velodyne and eventually, self-driving technology. Refer to The Verge article for more.
‘A London startup [Five.ai] says it will create driverless cars by 2019, beating Ford and BMW by two years’ according to this Quartz article. They have already received £2.7 Million in funding, and although they may appear to be very ambitious, their CEO Stan Boland has a history of successful ventures.
Delphi and Mobileye have announced a partnership to accelerate production of self-driving cars to 2019. They plan to begin testing a jointly developed turn-key system for self-driving cars in early 2017.
Quanergy, backed by Delphi has now joined the select ‘Unicorn Club’ as its recent $90 Million funding round has pushed its valuation over the $1B threshold. This is based on the expectation that Quanergy to produce a solid state LiDAR under $250 for fully autonomous vehicles.
Baidu has provided the first glimpse of its new electric Chery eQ vehicle modified for autonomous driving. Up until now they had been using a fleet of modified 3-series vehicles from BMW, with tests expanding to the U.S. earlier this year.
Yandex, the Russian equivalent of Google has juts unveiled its own 12-seat autonomous electric shuttle that it says has a range of 200 km, approximately double the range of the Local Motors Olli shuttle currently being used for demonstrations in Washington DC.
Tesla have finally revealed their ‘Master Plan Part Deux’ a long awaited plan that reveals the aspirations of this influential company. Tesla plans that as the technology matures, all their vehicles will have the hardware necessary for fully self-driving. They also expect owners to add their vehicle to a Tesla shared fleet so that it can make money for you when you aren’t using it. Our Paul Godsmark has been presenting on this subject for several years and has written an article explaining why the fact that a vehicle will be able to make money for the owner is a much bigger deal than may be at first apparent.
Hyundai has let it be known that they are in discussions with Google about further partnerships. It is clear that Hyundai is lacking in research and development for fully automated driving, but this lack of investment may make their decision to partner with a technology giant that much easier. The fact that the former Hyundai US Chief, John Krafcik, now leads the Google self-driving project can only smooth these discussions.
Google's long time CTO and Director of Alphabet’s Self-driving Car Project, Chris Urmson, has decided to leave the company. Chris was one of the project’s most prominent public figures and had been a part of the project for 7 years. Two other crucial members, Jiajun Zhu and Dave Ferguson, are also leaving. Here’s the news on 9to5Google.
However, Google has also hired former Airbnb executive Shawn Stewart as a Director of the self-driving car project. Given that Astro Teller of Google let it be known earlier this year that the self-driving car project is close to graduating form the X moonshot factory, it would seem that the new hire’s main role will be to help commercialize the technology. With a sharing economy background with Airbnb, and the future of autonomous vehicles expected to be in shared fleets, this may turn out to be a good fit for both parties.
Uber has decided to invest $500 Million in mapping technology to aid its self-driving technology. The company cites Google Maps’ lack of precise details in some of the key things, such as traffic patterns, pickup and drop-off locations, as one of the reasons to move beyond Google Maps. Here’s an article in USA Today to read more.
A partnership has been announced between Silicon Valley startup, Next Future Transportation and Swiss startup, Best Mile. Next has developed autonomous pods capable of hosting 10 passengers at a time. Each module (see image above) can join and detach with other modules on standard city roads. When joined, they create an open, bus-like area among modules, allowing passengers to stand and walk from one module to another. Next claims that Best Mile can offer a robust cloud platform for intelligent operation and optimization of Next’s autonomous vehicle fleets. You can read more about the announced partnership in this article.
Elektrobit, a subsidiary of Continental, has developed a new software architecture that can reduce the effort and time needed to make different automated driving systems in a car to collaborate with one another. Elektrobit claims that the software can help automakers save 30 percent of the development time for these systems. You can read more about the news in this Car And Driver article.
Israeli startup Innoviz is planning to come up with a $100 solid state LiDAR, specifically designed for AVs by 2018. The company recently announced a $9 Million Series A funding to fund the development of this high performance, low cost product which will offer superior performance and accuracy. For more information, please refer to this IEEE Spectrum article.
Autonomous vehicle phenomenon is fast spreading all over the world. In India, Hi-Tech Robotic Systemz – a technology company specializing in automated guided vehicles – demonstrated a 14 seat autonomous shuttle, Novus Drive, during The Motor Show in Delhi. You can read more on this in Traffic Technology Today article.
One of the big applications of autonomous vehicle technology for the commercial vehicle and freight industry is vehicle platooning - several trucks connected by autonomous and connected vehicle technology and moving together in unison. For readers interested in learning about what platooning is, how it is enabled by advancements in AV technology and the scale of benefits it can offer, please refer to this article on 2025 AD.
Toyota has invested $22 Million in a new Research Institute at University of Michigan, Ann Arbour. The investment will be utilized for research in AVs, artificial intelligence and robotics. Toyota has also hired University of Michigan robotics professors Ryan Eustice and Edwin Olson to support research in AVs. Here’s the Automotive Fleet article to read more.
Head Communications received an award of £1.3 Million for its connected autonomous vehicle research project, i-Motors. Head Communications plans to partner with University of Nottingham’s Geospatial Institute and Human Factors Research Group, Control F1, traffic management specialists InfoHub Ltd, and telecoms guru Huduma for the project. Here is the news from Head Communications’ August 2016 Newsletter.
Other AV Articles
This article on Backchannel presents some interesting points on how the arrival of self-driving cars can help improve our cities. Should the policies and infrastructure not be changed to accommodate for their arrivals, it is possible that self-driving cars will only worsen the current transportation system. The article also mentions some steps that can be taken now to make the most of the arrival of AVs.
On the same note, last month, our Executive Director Barrie Kirk also wrote an article that featured on National Newswatch on the top ten things Canada needs to do now to prepare for the arrival of self-driving cars.
Ontario and Michigan have announced a partnership to promote automotive industry growth and innovation. One of the three potential focus areas is “Technology advancement, including connected cars, autonomous vehicles, lightweight materials and alternative fuels”.
One of the biggest stories to come out in the last month involves Uber selling out its Chinese business unit to Beijing based ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing in a deal that could be worth up to $35 Billion. Here’s the USA Today article to read more.
The ethical dilemma that self-driving cars have to cope with is well known by now. MIT has come up with an exciting platform, Moral Machine, that helps in understanding the extent of dilemma. The platform gives viewers different scenarios that a driverless car faces. As a viewer, we can judge which option seems more acceptable and compare our reactions to other people’s and the car’s.
BCG and WEF have released a report on the autonomous vehicle eco-system. The report offers a perspective on AVs from a consumer’s and policy-maker’s perspective and lists some possible ways self-driving cars will revolutionize our daily lives. Here’s the BCG Perspectives Report to read more.
This Fortune article provides one of the breathtaking stories to come out in the last month, where a Tesla Autopilot System drove the car owner to hospital during pulmonary embolism condition.
Upcoming AV Related Events
Sept 13, 2016: 1st Annual AutoTech Symposium, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Presented by the Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation (WREDC), the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association (APMA), and the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA).
Sep 19-21, 2016: SAE 2016 Convergence; Novi, Michigan, USA.
Sep 26-30, 2016: Fisita World Automotive Congress; Busan, Korea.
Oct 3-4, 2016: TU-Automotive ADAS & Autonomous USA; Novi, Michigan, USA.
Oct 4-6, 2016: SAE 2016 Commercial Vehicle Engineering Congress; Rosemont, Illinois, USA.
Oct 10-14, 2016: ITS World Congress; Melbourne, Australia.
Oct 25-26, 2016: Autonomous Vehicle Safety Regulation World Congress 2016; Novi, Michigan, USA.
Nov 1-3, 2016: UnmannedCanada 2016, the annual conference of Unmanned Systems Canada; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Nov 2-3, 2016: TU Automotive Europe 2016, 14th Annual Conference and Exhibition; Munich, Germany.
Nov 18, 2016: Transport Futures - Mobility Pricing and Automated Vehicles Conference; Toronto, Ontario, Canada. AV Update subscribers are eligible for a 10% conference discount; use discount code CAVC5 in the "DC" box.
Nov 29-Dec 1, 2016: SAE 2016 From ADAS to Automated Driving; Munich, Germany.
Apr 4-6, 2017: SAE 2017 World Congress and Exhibition; Detroit, Michigan, USA.
Oct 29-Nov 2, 2017: ITS World Congress; Montreal, Canada.
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Chief Editor: Geetansh Kakkar
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