autonomous vehicles


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Samsung follows Intel into auto drive tech

South Korean electronics giant Samsung is looking to enter the autonomous vehicles market, Reuters reports.

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd is building on its recent USD$8 billion acquisition of audio and auto parts supplier Harman.

Samsung announced on Thursday at the Frankfurt Motor Show that is has set up a new business unit to research and develop autonomous driving technologies. It has also created a USD$300 million fund to invest in automotive start-ups and technology.

Samsung’s competitors have also moved to enter the autonomous vehicles market. Intel announced plans to purchase Israeli technology company Mobileye in March.

“It’s time to communicate our intent to enter the autonomous driving market,” Young Sohn, the company’s president and chief strategy officer, told Reuters. “Samsung has been incubating this business for quite a while.”

Sohn says that Samsung’s hugely diverse electronics business, and its recent acquisition of Harman, provides the company with the technical expertise and experience it needs to succeed in the autonomous vehicle market.

Samsung’s two biggest rivals have also moved into the connected car market over the past year, at greater cost: Intel Corp paid $15.3 billion last month to acquire Mobileye, the current market leader in collision-detection ADAS software, while Qualcomm Inc is seeking regulatory approval for its USD$47 billion deal to buy NXP Semiconductors NV, the world’s biggest maker of automotive-grade chips.

Sohn said the Autonomous/ADAS business unit will absorb hundreds of engineers Samsung already has working on autonomous driving technologies.

The new unit will sit within the connected car business of Harman, an independent subsidiary of Samsung, a spokesman added.

In recent months, Samsung has secured licenses for autonomous driving pilot projects in South Korea and California.

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Autonomous flying taxi to take off

Dubai will debut the world’s first autonomous flying taxi late this year in collaboration with Volocopter. The German start-up has received $40 million from Daimler, tech investor Lukasz Gadowski and other parties to develop the all-electric ‘flying car’.

“The strong financial commitment of our new investors is a signal as well as proof of the growing confidence in the newly emerging market for electrically driven VTOLs to be put to use as a personal air taxi,” said the managing director of Volocopter, Florian Reuter.

“We deliberately sought a mix of investors with strategic and entrepreneurial backgrounds and were able to implement this perfectly with Daimler and Lukasz Gadowski.”

Volocopter has been developing the aircraft for seven years, and the latest model is able to travel a maximum distance of 27km at 70km/hr. The all-electric motor can be fully recharged in less than two hours.

Other flying vehicles are in development around the word, including the Kitty Hawk Flyer, which has been backed by Google founder Larry Page, and the Terrafugia X, designed by a group of MIT graduates.

The project is being supported by the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority. The Volocopter is not the first piece of futuristic vehicle technology to be trialled by the wealthy Middle-Eastern city – Dubai police have announced they will use an autonomous vehicle to assist them with their duties last month.

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Tech boosts pedestrian safety

Australian tech firm Cohda Wireless has trialled its radar-powered vehicle-to-pedestrian technology on city streets for the first time.

The technology was initially developed for use in autonomous vehicles, and has since been adapted for motorcycles.

Cohda has partnered with Bosch, Ducati and autonomous tech firm Autotalks to create the technology, which forms a ‘digital protective shield’, warning drivers and riders of nearby traffic.

While Bosch is commercialising the technology in its Ducati motorbikes, Cohda says the radar could be retrofitted to any vehicle.

Bosch says that motorcyclists are 18 times more likely to be killed in a collision than car drivers, but the new radar could prevent nearly a third of all motorcycle accidents.

Manading director of Cohda Paul Gray says the technology was a safety step up from seatbelts and air bags.

“Technologists have gone as far as they can in terms of minimising harm during an accident, and now it is about avoiding the accidents before they even happen,” he said.

“If a motorcyclist is riding down the street, it will be alerted when a car turning onto the same road creates an opportunity for an accident. This can also happen when the car moving onto the road is not visible to the rider.

“The radar will also alert drivers who are changing lanes if someone is in their blind spot, which is quite an issue for motorcyclists.”

The radar technology will eventually be in every autonomous vehicle as well, says Gray.

The new technology has been trialled in South Australia, the first state across the ditch to introduce laws allowing for autonomous vehicle trials.

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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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Apple confirms plans for self-driving cars

An artist impression of an Apple AV

Apple is developing a self-driving car system, CEO Tim Cook has confirmed.

Cook told Bloomberg the technology corporation was concentrating its efforts on self-driving technology, and said “it’s a core technology that we view as very important.”

“We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects,” he added. “It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects to actually work on.”

Cook wouldn’t be drawn on whether the company was also considering manufacturing its own self-driving car

“We’re not saying from a product point of view where it will take us, but we are being straightforward that it’s a core technology that we view as very important,” he said.

In October 2016, Blooomberg reported that Apple scaled back its ambitious plans to create a driverless vehicle, cutting hundreds of jobs, and chose instead to focus on developing an autonomous driving system.

At the time, executives were given until late 2017 to prove that it was feasible to continue pursuing autonomous technology.

Apple first received a permit from the California state government to trial self-driving cars in March this year and is one of a growing number of car makers and tech companies working towards launching autonomous vehicles in the near future.

Ford, Honda, Google, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Toyota, Uber, Volvo, Jaguar-Land Rover, BMW, Nissan, GM, Audi, Hyundai, Bosch, and the PSA Group have all began developing self-driving cars, or have committed to putting fully autonomous vehicles on the road in the next five to 15 years.

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500 Chrysler minivans join AV trial

Local residents can test the self-driving cars

Google’s self-driving car project, recently renamed Waymo, is set to expand in Phoenix, Arizona, with Fiat Chrysler confirming an extra 500 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans will join the 100 already on American roads fitted out with Waymo’s autonomous technology.

Waymo has also announced that members of the public can use the fleet of self-driving cars for everyday travel, and is taking applications from Phoenix residence who want to use the service.

“The collaboration between FCA and Waymo has been advantageous for both companies as we continue to work together to fully understand the steps needed to bring self-driving vehicles to market,” says Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.

“The addition of 500 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans is a further acknowledgement of the hard work put forth by both engineering teams.”

Waymo CEO John Krafcik says the collaboration is “helping both companies learn how to bring self-driving cars to market, and realise the safety and mobility benefits of this technology.”

The Chrysler minivan’s electrical systems, powertrain and chassis has been modified to accommodate Waymo’s hardware, which has racked up nearly 3 million miles on on-road testing.

With self-driving technology shifting from simulation software to the roads, traditional car companies are teaming up with tech firms to ensure their stake in the rapidly growing business.

Uber’s self-driving trial in partnership with Volvo began in December last year, and stole headlines after an SUV crashed while in autonomous mode. The vehicle was found not to be at fault, and the trial quickly resumed two days later.

Ford teamed up with start-up Argo in February, and plans to begin testing AVs in Europe this year. General Motors bought out Cruise automation in 2016 to bolster their self-driving ambitions, and recently partnered with Lyft to launch self-driving Chevrolet Bolts on the road, currently planned for 2018.

Despite some public unease around self-driving cars, experts are confident autonomous technology is a safer option than human drivers – of the 1.2 million deaths that occur on roads every year, 94 per cent are attributed to human error.  

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Uber resumes AV road tests

Uber’s autonomous Volvo XC90 SUV

 

Uber have cleared its self-driving cars and resumed its pilot programme three days after one of its vehicles was involved in a crash in Tempe, Arizona.

An Uber spokeswoman told Reuters the trials will resume in Tempe, San Francisco and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The programme was suspended last Saturday.

The incident occurred after another car – driven by a human – failed to give way to the turning autonomous vehicle. At the time, the Uber car was in self-driving mode, and a driver and engineer were in the front seats.

“The vehicles collided, causing the autonomous vehicle to roll onto its side,” a spokeswoman for the Tempe police department, Josie Montenegro, said in an email to journalists. “There were no serious injuries.”

The Uber Volvo SUV was deemed to be not at fault in the collision. No other such incidents have been reported in Uber’s self-driving pilot programme.

Although some other accidents have been reported in global trials, experts insist that AVs are ultimately safer than human-driven vehicles, and note that the majority of such AV crashes are very minor and down to human error.

 “Driverless cars keep getting better the more they drive, whereas humans have a roughly constant safety record over the years,” Hod Lipson, a professor of mechanical engineering and roboticist at Columbia University, told Reuters.

He estimated there were about 23,000 traffic fatalities per week globally.

So far, one person has been killed driving an AV in autopilot mode – 40-year-old Joshua Brown, when his Tesla Model S crashed into a truck on an American highway last May. Prosecutors decided not to charge Tesla earlier this year.

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Australia set for AV road trial

Australian technology company Cohda Wireless has received a $2.2 million government grant to test its radar system on public roads.

The grant from the South Australian Government’s Future Mobility Lab Fund will enable Cohda to test the technology on the streets of Adelaide by purchasing two autonomous cars to fit out with Cohda’s radar system.

The cars will contain the V2X-Radar developed by Cohda, which will allow them to detect buildings, road signs and older vehicles not equipped with car-to-car communications.

Previously, the V2X-Radar was trialled on a closed road on the outskirts of Adelaide. This test, however, will occur in the CBD and other urban roads, which will remain open.

Cohda’s system is a first in that it can ‘see’ around corners thanks to its radar technology, and is unaffected by rain, fog or snow.

Approval for the trial comes after South Australia became the first state to introduce laws allows for trials of AVs on open public roads.

Cohda CEO Paul Gray said South Australia was an ideal base for its company, as the new law meant the technology could be tested in real-world situations once it was developed.

“The sensor suites in autonomous vehicles today are still not perfect, and there are still some issues,” he said.

“We basically developed a range of applications that improve CAV (Connected Autonomous Vehicles) localisation and CAV sensor fidelity. It also reduces the cost, because it uses existing infrastructure, and we simply put in additional software to create greater accuracy,” he added.

Gray said Cohda’s technology could be programmed into AVs to increase sensor capabilities, potentially reducing the overall cost.

The V2X-Radar uses wireless signals of current V2X systems to share sensor information between vehicles and infrastructure.

These radio signals bounce off walls, road signs and other vehicles as they travel from transmitter to receiver, and the V2X-Radar can use these radio waves to identify objects within that environment, including non-V2X equipped vehicles.

The radar technology, combined with a 3D map, can provide highly accurate positioning and can instantly detect vehicle speeds.

 “Imagine driving down a row of park cars with a pedestrian standing in between two of them, about to head into traffic,” Gray said.

“This scenario is something that cameras, radars and LIDARs have problems picking up. This government fund would help to improve that, branching from technology that turns Wi-Fi into a form of radar.”

Gray hopes the trials would begin in the coming months, pending the official allocation of the grant.

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Intel buys Mobileye for $22 billion

Intel have announced plans to purchase Israeli technology company Mobileye at the cost of $22.09 billion.

Mobileye is a market leader in the field of autonomous vehicle technology, developing vision-based advanced driver assistance systems such as collision detection by reading inputs from cameras, radar and laser sensors.

The Jerusalem-based company has contracts with 27 different car makers and controls about 70 per cent of the market for software that runs autonomous emergency braking and semi-autonomous cruise control systems in passenger vehicles, according to the Associated Press.

 “This acquisition essentially merges the intelligent eyes of the autonomous car with the intelligent brain that actually drives the car,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said in a statement.

Krzanich added Intel can provide higher levels of internet connectivity and access to bigger data centres.

“If you put all of that together, you really get an end-do-end solution for autonomous driving,” said Mobileye Chairman and co-founder Amnon Shashua, who will continue leading the combined autonomous car unit.

Intel will purchase each share of Mobileye for (US)$63.54, 34 per cent higher than its Friday closing price. Both companies still need to approve of the transaction at board level.

Mobileye’s stock jumped 30 per cent at the news to (US)$61.25. Intel shares, however, fell 2.4 per cent to (US)$35.06.

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US to allow full self-driving trials

 California, the largest car market in the U.S. and a hub of autonomous technology development, has proposed plans to allow testing of self-driving cars on public roads without human back-up drivers by the end of the year.

The Californian Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is seeking public comment on regulations for driverless testing and the public use of vehicles that will no longer require manual controls such as pedals and steering wheels.

“Since the adoption of the current testing regulations, the capabilities of autonomous technology has proceeded to the point where manufacturers have developed systems that are capable of operating without the presence of a driver inside the vehicle,” the department said in their initial statement.

So far, the state has granted 27 companies licences to test driverless vehicles on public roads, including large businesses such as Tesla, BMW and Uber, and small start-ups such as Zoox and AutoX.  

Companies who wish to test AVs without a steering wheel and back-up driver must apply for an exemption from the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration if they do not meet current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

Numerous car makers have expressed plans to deploy AVs on U.S roads by 2020.

The Californian DMV has opened the regulations to comments from the public and will hold a hearing on April 25.

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Ford invests in autonomous technology

Ford Motor Co has announced plans to invest $1.4 billion in tech start-up Argo AI over the next five years to help reach its goal of producing a self-driving vehicle for commercial ride-sharing fleets by 2021.

Argo AI, based in Pittsburgh, was founded by former executives on automation teams at Google and Uber. The investment makes Ford the largest shareholder in the company. Argo AI will help build the virtual driver system, which is integral to the fully autonomous car Ford plans to develop within the next five years.

“With Argo AI’s agility and Ford’s scale, we’re combining the benefits of a technology start-up with the experience and discipline we have at Ford,” Ford CEO Mark Fields said at a press conference.

Once the technology is developed, executives said it could be licensed to other companies.

This is the largest investment Ford has recently made in transportation technology, following the purchase of a minority stake in Velodyne, a manufacturer of laser-based sensing systems for self-driving cars, for $100 million last year.

Ford’s chief American rival, GM, also recently invested $1.4 billion in self-driving start-up Cruise Automation, based in Silicon Valley.

 

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