autonomous cars

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A call for law change

Law change is needed to ensure autonomous vehicles can be used legally on New Zealand roads, a major Law Foundation study has found.

Study author Michael Cameron says a complete overhaul of law and policy around driverless vehicles is required, with targeted reform needed more urgently.

“Certain types of driverless vehicles, such as the taxi fleets being deployed by General Motors next year, may not legally be allowed on New Zealand roads, regardless of how safe they are,” says Cameron.

“Law change to reduce this uncertainty is desirable soon if New Zealand wants to ensure the life-saving benefits of driverless technology are not needlessly delayed. Such change would help New Zealand become a leader in driverless technology, with all the economic benefits that would entail.

“As we have shown with rockets in the North Island and autonomous air taxis in the South, our country can contribute to the development of world-beating technology – but only if we have receptive laws.”

He says that despite recent publicity over the first pedestrian death involving a driverless vehicle, the safety of all road users will ultimately be improved by full adoption of the new technology.

“Many hope that driverless vehicles will eliminate traffic accidents, end congestion, spark economic growth and provide cheap and convenient mobility for all. But countries that want to fully realise these benefits, and avoid the pitfalls, will need to ensure their legal houses are in order,” he says.

Also, driverless vehicle manufacturers should prepare safety assessments for New Zealand, as they do in the United States, so our authorities can better utilise existing consumer protection and land transport rules to protect the public.

Click here to read the full report. 



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Alibaba joins autonomous car race

Alibaba Group’s Headquarters

The Alibaba Group has confirmed it has been conducting self-driving vehicle tests.

Alibaba joins its rival internet giants Baidu and Tencent (BAT) in the artificial intelligence-driven industry. The company is looking to hire 50 more self-driving specialists for its AI research lab, said an Alibaba spokeswoman to the South China Morning Post. 

It is understood that Alibaba is now running road tests of autonomous cars on a regular basis and has the capabilities for open road trials, and that its goal is to achieve Level 4 autonomous capability, which means cars can self-drive in most conditions without human intervention.

BAT is already working on Level 4 capabilities and was also identified by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology as national champion in China’s efforts in self-driving cars.

China is likely to emerge as the world’s largest market for autonomous vehicles and mobility services, worth more than US$500 billion by 2030, according to a McKinsey report released on Monday.

Alibaba’s research into the technology dates back to March last year when Wang Gang, a former associate professor of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and specialist in computer vision and autonomous driving, was recruited as chief scientist of Alibaba AI Labs to lead the project.

The move is seen as an extension of Alibaba’s ambitions to connect devices and manage city traffic via “smart brains”.

“Our vision is to build an intelligently connected world through transformative [internet of things] technologies,” Simon Hu Xiaoming, the president of Alibaba Cloud, said on the sidelines of a cloud computing conference last month, adding that the plan was to build a network of 10 billion connected devices within the next five years.

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Ford’s self-driving cars to launch ‘at scale’

Miami Mayor Carlos A. Giménez announces collaboration with Ford Motor Company to test its self-driving vehicle business model on the streets of Miami and Miami Beach.

Ford seems determined to meet its 2021 deadline to launch a service in the United States using its self-driving cars. This won’t be a small test operation in a single city, it wants to launch and operate its own service “at scale,” with all the necessary components in place to ensure it’s both efficient and profitable.

Ford’s Jim Farley recently told the Financial Times in an interview that the automaker’s self-driving car network will be running “at scale” in 2021.

Farley also emphasised that this would be a truly Ford-run service. While Ford does have self-driving car partnerships with companies like Lyft, it intends to “own the fleet” for its own services. That’s somewhat similar to Renault-Nissan, but a sharp contrast with Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo and others focused on selling vehicles to outside services.

The company’s own efforts are focused more on delivery than on passengers. However, it’s not entirely surprising that the company would push for a large, in-house driverless network.

Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification, said that his company is developing its very first “autonomous vehicle operations terminal” to maintain and securely house its vehicles.

The site, located a short distance from downtown Miami, is set to include facilities to wash the vehicles, including their all-important sensors, with routine maintenance also carried out.

To help drive its autonomous-vehicle ambitions, Ford last year invested US$1 billion in artificial intelligence company, Argo A.I.

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California hints at removing backup drivers

The California Public Utilities Commission, a regulatory body that deals with transportation companies, has indicated that they will allow autonomous car companies to transport passengers without a backup driver – a huge step forward for developers, just as the industry faces scrutiny due safety concerns.

The commission has issued a proposal that means companies such as Alphabet Inc’s Waymo and General Motors Co can give members of the public a ride in a self-driving car without any backup driver present.

The proposal, which is set to be voted on at a meeting next month, would clear the way for autonomous vehicle companies to do more testing and get the public more closely acquainted with driverless cars in a state that has closely regulated the industry.

It also comes at a time when regulators across the country are analysing the autonomous technology in the aftermath of a fatal crash in Arizona where a self-driving Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian.

The proposed California rules require that companies hold an autonomous vehicle testing permit for at least 90 days before picking up passengers.

The service must be free and passengers must be 18 years or older.


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Global concern over cybersecurity

59 per cent of connected car owners are concerned the car they own could be cyber-attacked.

As the number of connected cars on the road grows, their interaction with the environment around them and other connected devices becomes important.

New features that both simplify or amplify the car driving experience can introduce vulnerabilities that hackers could abuse.

The cybersecurity challenge presented above could be a major issue in the current race for car manufacturers to build and develop the most connected vehicle.

A recent survey by Irdeto, the Global Consumer Connected Car Survey, examined consumer ownership and purchasing plans for connected vehicles, awareness of cyberattacks targeting connected cars and cybersecurity concerns for both connected cars and autonomous vehicles.

The research was conducted online late last year and surveyed 8,354 adults, aged 18 and over, in six countries, including Canada, China, Germany, Japan, UK and US.

The key findings from the survey included:

Consumers are aware that a connected vehicle has the potential to be targeted by a cyberattack. Of the consumers surveyed, 85 per cent indicated that they believe any connected car has the potential to be targeted by a cyberattack. In addition, the survey found that 59% of connected car owners are concerned that their vehicle could targeted by a cyberattack.

The survey results also found that most consumers are aware that autonomous vehicles introduce security risks, with only 12 per cent stating that they don’t have any cybersecurity concerns about buying an autonomous vehicle.

Of those consumers who plan on purchasing a vehicle, more than half indicated that they are likely to research if the car they are buying is able to protect itself against a cyberattack. These results indicate that cybersecurity may be a key factor for many consumers when they are purchasing their next vehicle.

China led all markets in the number of consumers who are planning on buying a connected car, with 67 per cent indicating that they either own a connected car or plan on buying one in the future. Consumers in Japan were the least likely to buy a connected car, with only 22 per cent stating that they own or will buy a connected car.

In addition, millennials, aged 18-24 are the most likely to buy a connected car in the future, with nearly half surveyed indicating they will purchase a connected vehicle. However, as respondents increased in age, the desire to purchase a connected car in the future decreased. Only 20 per cent of consumers aged 55 and over indicated that they would buy a connected car in the future.

It is safe to say that cybersecurity is on the mind of consumers who plan on buying an autonomous vehicle, with most consumers across the globe having at least one concern, if not several.

Automakers need to start thinking about how they implement cybersecurity into autonomous vehicles before adoption rates take off. 

Click here to read the Global Consumer Connected Car Survey.

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GM to launch autonomous ride-share vehicles

General Motors, GM has announced they are set to launch commercial autonomous ride-share vehicles at scale within two years.

This is all down to GM wanting to reduce the costs of self-driving technologies and move into service-based operations such as ride sharing.

The automaker expects to deploy the fleets in “dense urban areas” by 2019, GM President Dan Ammann said during an investor event Thursday in San Francisco.

Revenue from the fleets, he said, is forecast to be in the billions soon after launch.

The comments during the investor event are the first public confirmations that GM plans to enter ride-sharing against Uber and Lyft, which the automaker invested $500 million in last year.

GM did not specify where the fleets will launch.

The company is currently testing a third-generation of self-driving vehicles in several states in the United States and has plans to begin testing in New York City next year.

Ammann said GM expects to the cost-per-mile of its autonomous ride-sharing vehicles under $1 by 2025 — a key, he said, to achieving profitable scale. 

“We see a pretty clear path on how we can do that,” he told investors, citing GM’s plans for “Rideshare 2.0” with autonomous vehicles that don’t require paying drivers a majority of their revenue.


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Volvo to supply autonomous vehicles to Uber

Volvo Cars and Uber join forces to develop autonomous driving cars

Volvo has signed a non-exclusive agreement with Uber to sell tens of thousands of vehicles with autonomous driving capabilities.

“We’re thrilled to expand our partnership with Volvo,” said Jeff Miller, Uber’s head of auto alliances.

“This new agreement puts us on a path towards mass produced self-driving vehicles at scale.”

The vehicles are developed with Volvo’s fully modular, in-house developed Scalable Product Architecture (SPA). SPA is one of the most advanced car architectures in the world. It is currently being used on Volvo’s 90 series cars and the new XC60 midsized SUV.

The agreement enables a strategic partnership between both parties and marks a chapter in the merging of Silicon Valley-based technology companies and international car makers.

“The automotive industry is being disrupted by technology and Volvo chooses to be an active part of that disruption,” said Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive.

“Our aim is to be the supplier of choice for AD ride-sharing service providers globally. Today’s agreement with Uber is a primary example of that strategic direction.”

By working together Volvo and Uber’s engineering teams have developed the XC90 SUV, which incorporated all necessary safety, redundancy and core autonomous driving technologies.

The autonomous cars are to be sold between 2019 and 2021.

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On-road tests next step for self-driving car

Jaguar Land Rover is taking part in the UK’s first road tests for autonomous and connected vehicles, bringing an intelligent vehicle one step closer to reality.

The NZ$38 million UK Autodrive project entails testing a range of technologies that will allow for communication between cars as well as roadside infrastructure.

The trials will demonstrate how connected and autonomous vehicles can replicate human behaviour and reactions when driving.

The company’s overall vision is to make the self-driving car viable in the widest range of real-life, on and off-road driving environments and weather.

Nick Rogers, Executive Director of Product Engineering at Jaguar Land Rover, commented, “Testing this self-driving project on public roads is so exciting, as the complexity of the environment allows us to find robust ways to increase road safety in the future. By using inputs from multiple sensors, and finding intelligent ways to process this data, we are gaining accurate technical insight to pioneer the automotive application of these technologies.”

There are currently 12 other cities, apart from Conventry that are conducting tests on public roads globally.

UK Autodrive is the largest of the three associations launched in order to support the introduction of autonomous vehicles into the UK. The consortium has already proven these research technologies in a closed track environment and the start of real-world testing is the next step to turning the research into reality.

The trials will carry on into 2018.


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GM challenges Tesla

General Motors Co plans to launch a series of electric vehicles in 2021 that will cost less to develop and build, and will furthermore, make a profit for the U.S. No. 1 automaker, Chief Executive Mary Barra told investors earlier this week.

Mary Barra at the 2017 GM Annual Stockholders Meeting

Her plans demonstrate an aggressive electrification strategy and direct challenge to electric vehicle specialist Tesla Inc, which is struggling to get its more affordable Model 3 launched.

“We are committed to a future electric vehicle portfolio that will be profitable,” Barra said at the Barclays Global Automotive Conference in New York.

Electric and autonomous vehicles will underpin the future of transport; however, Tesla and other manufacturers are still trying to understand how to gain a profit from them.

GM is looking to break through this by creating an all-new electric vehicle family that will accommodate multiple sizes and variations, to be sold by different GM brands in the United States and China, Barra said.

GM’s cost reduction efforts on electric vehicles revolve around the creation of a cheaper new battery system.

By 2021 the company aims to make its lithium-ion batteries less than $100 per kilowatt-hour, instead of the current $145 per kilowatt-hour battery. This would bring the overall cost of electric vehicles closer to gasoline-engine equivalents.

GM announced that the batteries would be able to hold more energy and charge quicker. With the aim to boost the kilometre range to more than 483 km with the new batteries.

GM’s new electric vehicle platform will act as a base for at least nine derivatives, ranging from a compact crossover to a large seven-passenger luxury sports utility vehicle and a large commercial van.

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Fiat-Chrysler, BMW and Intel collaboration announced

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, BMW Group and the Intel Corporation have reached an agreement to work together to develop self-driving vehicle technology.

In July of 2016, BMW Group and Intel announced they were partnering to develop self-driving technologies, and yesterday the group announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding to collaborate with Fiat Chrysler.

“In order to advance autonomous driving technology, it is vital to form partnerships among automakers, technology providers and suppliers,” said Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. “Joining this cooperation will enable [Fiat Chrysler] to directly benefit from the synergies and economies of scale that are possible when companies come together with a common vision and objective.”

The group hopes to bring new technologies that enable highly automated and fully automated driving by 2021. In a statement released yesterday, the group announced that they are on-track to deploy 40 autonomous test vehicles on the road by the end of 2017.

Waymo’s pilot vehicle, based on Fiat’s Pacifica minivan.

Professor Amnon Shashua, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer of Mobileye, an Intel Company says that the combination of Intel’s vision sensing and mapping technologies with the industry knowledge of BMW and Fiat Chrysler will bring cost efficient safety and versatility, across varied settings.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles also signed a separate agreement with Google’s parent company Alphabet last year, and the two companies have launched a trial under the Waymo brand in the United States. Waymo has developed a self-driving car based on Fiat’s Pacifica minivan. The passenger vehicle is a likely attempt to produce a self-driving ride hailing service, the market for which could be worth $2 trillion by 2030, Reuters reports.

Fiat Chrysler New Zealand is a relatively new player in the NZ vehicle market. Established in May 2013 and owned by local distribution company Ateco Automotive, who also distributes vehicles in Australia and South Africa.

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Tesla driver says Autopilot didn’t cause crash

The driver of a Tesla vehicle involved in a crash in the US over the weekend said it was not due to the Autopilot system, according to an email released by Tesla on Monday.

A local Minnesota Sheriff’s Department said on Sunday that the driver of the 2016 Tesla told authorities when he engaged the Autopilot system, it caused the vehicle to suddenly accelerate and roll over, which resulted in minor injuries for himself and four passengers.

Shares in the car maker fell on Monday at the news, but the driver wrote in an email he believed he had disengaged the Autopilot system at the time of the crash.

“I did not intend to put the blame Tesla or the auto pilot system as I am aware that I need to be in control of the vehicle regardless if the auto pilot system is engaged or not,” Clark wrote.

In a statement, Tesla said the company had no reason to suspect the system was at fault.

“Every time a driver engages Autopilot, they are reminded of their responsibility to remain engaged and to be prepared to take immediate action at all times, and drivers must acknowledge their responsibility to do so before Autopilot is enabled,” the car maker added.

It’s not the first time Tesla’s Autopilot function has been involved in an on-road incident. Last year, Joshua Brown was killed in Florida when his Model S collided with a truck while engaged in Autopilot mode.

In January, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it found no evidence of defects with the Autopilot system.

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