Blog Archives

Toyota introduces “e-Palettes”

Toyota Motor Corporation announced today a new mobility service, “e-Palette”, to tackle mobility and delivery services in the age of autonomous vehicles.

“This announcement marks a major step forward in our evolution towards sustainable mobility, demonstrating our continued expansion beyond traditional cars and trucks to the creation of new values including services for customers”, said Akio Toyoda, Toyota Motor Corporation President.

The e-Palette is both an announcement of a mobility alliance and partnership, and a physical concept of that alliance, a blank slate for a variety of transportation needs.  

“The new e-Palette Alliance will leverage Toyota’s proprietary Mobility Services Platform to develop a suite of connected mobility solutions and a flexible, purpose-built vehicle.”

Launch partners include Amazon, Mazda, Pizza Hut and Uber, who will collaborate on vehicle planning, application concepts and vehicle verification activities.

The e-Palette is a fully-automated, next generation battery electric vehicle (BEV) designed to be scalable and customisable for a range of “mobility as a service” businesses. 

It comes in three different sizes, with their lengths ranging from 4 meters to approximately 7 meters and is purposely designed to be flexible and reconfigurable to accommodate a wide range of equipment and an even broader range of uses.

Each e-Palette is also designed to be shared between businesses and to quickly transition between applications.

The e-Palette could serve an Uber during the day and be quickly transformed for shipping packages overnight. The exterior appearance can also be quickly switched by changing the exterior graphics.

Toyota plans to conduct feasibility testing of the e-Palette in various regions, including the United States, in the early 2020s.  It also hopes to contribute to the success of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 by providing mobility solutions like the e-Palette and other innovative mobility offerings.

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World first winter testing facility


The world’s first winter-testing facility for self-driving cars is to be built in New Zealand.

Steve Gould,  manager at the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground, told Wheels Mag earlier in December that planning is well ahead for the facility and has hinted that several companies have already approached them about instigating winter testing for their cars.

Gould says the reason for the facility already gathering attention comes down to car maker’s being nervous about their car’s cameras having to read lane markings and road signs in white out winter conditions.

“Autonomous cars rely on GPS as well, of course, but they check what the radar is reading against that GPS reading, so once the radars are gone, what does the car do then?”

“Meanwhile the cameras are looking for a line down the side of the road and one in the middle, but they’re both covered in snow and ice. It’s going to be a challenge,” said Gould to Wheels Mag.

However, the people at Ford claim they are already having success with autonomous technology tackling winter conditions. Ford uses high-resolution 3D maps of roads, which include detail about where curbs, lane lines, trees and signs are, so the car knows where it is, even if it can’t ‘see’ them.

Despite those claims, Gould believes what we’ll probably see first are some autonomous vehicles being signed off to work in clear conditions, and the next stage will be teaching them to drive in winter’s worst.

“We might see a situation where you can only use the autopilot when the weather is right. When the car knows the temperature has dropped below zero or it’s snowing, it will tell you to take over control,” he adds.

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Australians unsure on autonomous cars

Ford’s latest Trends report reveals that only 52 per cent of Australians are hopeful about the use of autonomous vehicles in the future.

“The global average is 61 per cent supporting it, but the numbers really vary in an extraordinary fashion,” says Sheryl Connelly, Ford Motor Company’s Futurist, and the author of the report.

China is the most hopeful regarding the future of autonomous vehicles at 83 per cent. India comes in at 81 per cent, but then there’s a pretty big drop when it comes to Australia at 52 per cent.

Both China and India are some of the most populated countries in the world, and with the levels of population density in some areas of the city comes extraordinary congestion.

The prospect of having someone drive you around by either, machine or hiring someone could have a substantial impact on how you spend your day.

She continues, “I also think it’s a market there that doesn’t have the same infrastructure of roads, so we know the rates of accidents and road fatalities are higher in those markets, which you would expect because of the population density, and correlation of how big the market is.”

When it comes to Australia’s low score, Connelly believes that a sense of self comes into play. This is also backed by the report’s numbers, which reveal that The United States, Canada and The United Kingdom had far less hope in autonomous vehicles as well – all coming in at 50 per cent or less

“In the Western world, the so called rich world, [we] have a much longer history and deeper foundation of seeing a car as an extension of one’s identity. I hear it from one of my colleagues who loves cars, who says ‘no way will I ever get in an autonomous vehicle. I love the thrill of driving far too much to ever turn it over to someone else.’

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Autonomous cars – drivers aren’t ready

Autonomous cars becoming part of everyday life is a situation that is drawing ever closer, but it seems the end of the driven car may not be as close.

Mazda recently commissioned a study to find out whether or not people would still want to drive even if their cars could drive autonomously.

According to the study it seems as though most drivers would still want to be able to drive their own cars, even with self-driving technology available.

The research, carried out by research firm Ipsos MORI, revealed that 71 per cent of people said they would still want to drive themselves, while only 29 percent would actively welcome the arrival of autonomous vehicles.

Three-quarters still want to drive autonomous cars themselves.

Mazda believes driving is a skill that people want to keep, it is an activity that can be fun as well as functional and many would like to see this skill retained for future generations.

The research also reveals a significant emotional connection between car and driver as demonstrated by the following statistics, 70 per cent of drivers questioned “hoped that future generations will continue to have the option to drive cars”, while 62 per cent of respondents stated that they have driven “just for fun” and 81 per cent of those who enjoy driving saying it is because it “gives them independence”.

Instead of completely autonomous vehicles, Mazda’s opinion is that autonomous car technology should act as a co-pilot that is primarily used to avoid accidents, not take the pleasure away from the act of driving.

Mazda UK Managing Director Jeremy Thomson said, “Yes, self-driving cars are coming and yes they have a role to play, but for us, there is nothing quite like the physical pleasure of driving; the quickening of the pulse, the racing of the heart, the open road, the special moments to treasure and share.”

“If you look at the car industry in general, we believe that many manufacturers are taking a lot of driving pleasure away from drivers. At Mazda we are fighting against this and it’s clear from the research that there’s still a huge percentage of drivers who just want to be behind the wheel.”

But it’s clear that drivers, well three quarters of them, aren’t quite interested in relinquishing control to an automated system just yet.

Data from the consumer research conducted by Ipsos MORI was based on an online survey conducted among adults across 11 European markets (UK, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, with a minimum of 1000 surveys in each market). All interviews were conducted between 7–22 September 2017.

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Significant milestone in autonomous driving

A world first autonomous driving initiative has launched which will ultimately see 100 families testing fully autonomous vehicles on public roads in Sweden.

Autonomous Driving Brain in Volvo’s XC90 Drive Me car.

The first two families from the Gothenburg area have received the specially equipped Volvo XC90 SUVs with which they will support the Drive Me project. Three more families will follow early next year, and over the next four years up to 100 people will be involved.

Drive Me is an autonomous driving experiment that now includes families in Sweden and will be extended to London and China in the future. The goal is to provide Volvo engineers with customer feedback for its first model with Level 4 autonomy, which means the car can drive itself but still has a steering wheel and pedals so that the driver can take control when needed.

The families will contribute to Drive Me with invaluable data by allowing engineers to monitor their everyday interactions and developments with the car, as they drive to work, take the children to school or go shopping for groceries.

Volvo’s NZ general manager, Coby Duggan says the human-centric trial is unique as it involves families driving in a real world environment.

“The Drive Me project is a significant milestone in the development of autonomous driving technology and one that will one day help make roads safer for Kiwi families,” he says.

Duggan says Volvo expects to have a fully autonomous car commercially available by 2021 and the data which is collected in the Drive Me trial will play a crucial role in the development of these vehicles.

The Simonovski family, one of the first two families from the Gothenburg area to have received the specially equipped Volvo XC90 SUV.

Alex Hain, one of the first people to receive their vehicle says the opportunity to be part of the trial was too good to pass up.

“It feels great to be a part of this project. We get the chance to be part of developing technology that will one day save lives,” says Hain.

During these first stages, the families will keep their hands on the steering wheel and supervise the driving at all times when using their cars. But, over time, all participants in the Drive Me project will gradually be introduced to more advanced levels of assisted driving, after receiving special training.

Even then, testing these more advanced cars will initially take place in controlled environments with supervision from a Volvo safety expert. No technology will ever be introduced if there is any question over its safety.

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Production facility for autonomous vehicles in Christchurch

An Auckland company has announced it will establish a production facility to build autonomous vehicles in Christchurch.

Ohmio Automotion launched in Christchurch yesterday with the company showcasing three shuttle buses, which feature self-driving vehicle technology.

Fully operational prototypes of the electric Ohmio Hop shuttles carried passengers including school children as they performed on a circuit around the Christchurch Art Gallery.

Ohmio claims to be one of the first companies whose shuttles can form a connected convoy.

An Ohmio autonomous bus outside the Christchurch Art Gallery.

Ohmio vehicles include self-mapping artificial intelligence. Once they have completed their route once, they are able to self-drive the route over and over.

A range of four Ohmio models is planned for production before 2019, the vehicles will range in size from small to large shuttles and freight pods and vehicles will be customisable to suit their customer. All models will be built around the innovative technology developed by parent company HMI Technologies, a technology company that specialises in Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS).

Richard Harris of HMI Technologies says that he expects the autonomous vehicles would operate well in a confined area, when fully introduced.

“I can imagine them moving around a set space, perhaps a CBD, picking up and dropping people off, rather than shooting out to the airport or somewhere further away.”

HMI has been developing and manufacturing ITS solutions for 15 years, their customers include governments and transport agencies. Their technology includes electronic signs, sensors and software for monitoring transport to aid management of urban and rural transport environments, making transport safer and more efficient.

Being in New Zealand offers the new company a formidable advantage, explains Mohammed Hikmet, founder of HMI Technologies. 

“The testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles elsewhere is slowed down by legislation or requires special permits. Here in New Zealand, the government already allows for testing of driverless vehicles. That gives Ohmio an advantage as we scale up and develop our technology, especially as we understand regulations here and in Australia.”

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel is excited by the Ohmio technology and what it will mean for the city’s future direction.

“And they have done it here in Christchurch where we are seizing the opportunity to become a testbed for emerging technologies. We won’t be swamped by disruption – we will embrace it, learn from it and turn it on its head,” says the Mayor.

“This could help write a regulatory framework for the roads and the signals that provide guidance to the vehicles. We can set the standards for NZ and the world.”


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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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Autonomous cars can’t detect roos

Volvo has announced that its autonomous-driving technology struggles to detect kangaroos.

The Swedish brand has been studying kangaroo detection and collision avoidance for almost two years and stated in 2015 that this was the first research into how the animal affects autonomous vehicle sensors.

The Volvo’s 2017 S90 and XC90 models have large animal detection systems, however elk, deer and other large animals do not move like a kangaroo.
“We’ve noticed with the kangaroo being in mid-flight when it’s in the air, it actually looks further away, then it lands and it looks closer,” Volvo Australia’s head of technology.

Volvo still plans to develop a radar and camera detection system that will identify kangaroos and apply the brakes or steer the car away from the animal.

According to research from RACV insurance, kangaroos are involved in eight out of 10 animal-related car accidents in Australia.

Volvo’s target is that no-one is killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by 2020, which makes this research even more important for people living across the ditch.

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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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The future for NZ vehicles

With the majority of vehicle manufacturers working on autonomous technology, it is no surprise that self-driving vehicles are part of the future.


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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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