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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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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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LEAF AV trialled in London

A modified Nissan LEAF AV took to the streets of London in the company’s first public self-driving vehicle test in Europe.

The AV travelled at speeds of up to 80km/h and negotiated roundabouts, multi-lane motorways and local streets with varying levels of traffic.

The autonomous system is activated inside the car with a single button. The Nissan LEAF is fitted with over 20 cameras, radars and lasers to guide the car on the road.

Nissan chose London for the test thanks to Britain’s recent flexibility in regulating AVs on the road. Britain announced changes in insurance law, which means a single policy can cover motorists driving conventionally and autonomously.

“It’s not everywhere in Europe that we can go and drive on the road,” Nissan’s director of research in the US, Maarten Sierhuis, told Reuters.

The trial took place near the ExCel exhibition centre and London City Airport east of the central business district. “You don’t want to go to the most difficult parts of London when you start. The system has to be tested,” Sierhuis said.

A previous driverless trial took place last year in Milton Keynes, but at a much lower speed.

There’s no word yet on when the LEAF AV will be available to the public.

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GM and Honda to produce a hydrogen fuel cell

Honda Motor Co Ltd has announced it will jointly produce pollution-free hydrogen fuel-cell power systems with General Motors Co from around 2020. At a press conference in Detroit, GM executive Mark Reuss said the fuel cells could be used in autonomous vehicles as well by ride-sharing companies such as Lyft.

Honda said fuel cell vehicle development is a vital component to its goal of new-energy cars making up two-thirds of its line-up by 2030, which is currently at 5 per cent, according to Reuters.

Both companies have produced hydrogen fuel-cell cars in the past. Honda first launched the Clarity in Japan last autumn at a cost of $95,820. The car has a fuel economy rating of 3.4 litres per 100km. Just 118 have been produced so far, with the hydrogen cell currently manufactured in Japan. Production will eventually shift to the US. Last October, GM unveiled the Chevrolet Colorado ZH2, a pickup truck test vehicle designed for the US military.

Honda and GM have been working together after announcing a collaboration agreement in July 2013, when the car manufacturers integrated their development teams and shared hydrogen fuel cell intellectual property. “Over the past three years, engineers from Honda and GM have been working as one team with each company providing know-how from its unique expertise,” said Toshiaki Mikoshiba, chief operating officer of the North American region for Honda, in a statement.

The venture will be overseen by a board of directors that includes three executives from each company and a rotating chairperson and president. Fuel Cell System Manufacturing will operate within GM’s existing battery pack manufacturing facility in Brownstown, Michigan. Both companies are making equal investments of $116 million in the project.

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