Volvo Drive Me Project on Hold

Swedish car manufacturer Volvo has not received authorization for the Drive Me project in Gothenburg.
It was planned for years, but now faces an unclear future: Volvo’s Drive Me project intended to outsource semi-automated XC90 models to families who could use the technology as beta testers in Gothenburg. Tests of this kind were also planned in London and China, but nothing will happen in Sweden for the time being.
The Drive Me project was expected to yield essential insights from the experience of the real world providing 100 families with autonomous vehicles, which would then be used, for example, to commute to work. Production of the pilot-assisted XC90 models began in 2016, with tests scheduled to begin in 2017.
The project was supported by a number of cooperation partners who are also involved in the technology development. One of them is the supplier Autoliv, with whom Volvo has founded a whole new company to market autonomous driving: Zenuity.

Families as Test Objects?

The tests had not been approved yet, but Volvo still expected to get the permission. Therefore the families were already introduced to the technology. Latter was stated as the official reason for the delay, until the Swedish transport authorities (Transportstyrelsen) officially refused their permission for the tests. The reason: semi-autonomous technology is still too unsafe to equip families with.
Swedish authorities cited legal difficulties and the question of liability as reasons for the ban on tests. It can be assumed that the fatal accident in Arizona was also one of the reasons for the provisional end of the tests. Investigations have shown that the driver was watching a TV show on her mobile when her autonomous Uber caused the accident. Uber has received many test cars from Volvo, and the car involved in the crash was one of those. The fear of further accidents in Gothenburg will have played a role in the decision of the authorities.

Reaching Level 4 with the Highway Pilot

Meanwhile, Volvo has announced that it wants to reach Level 4 (high autonomy) by 2021 – at least on highways. The company is now working on the Highway Pilot – the successor of Pilot Assist. Here drivers shall be able to devote themselves to other things while driving.

About the author:

David Fluhr is journalist and owner of the digital magazine “Autonomes Fahren & Co”. He is reporting regularly about trends and technologies in the fields Autonomous Driving, HMI, Telematics and Robotics. Link to his site: http://www.autonomes-fahren.de

Human-Controlled Vs. No Control At All

Some automakers are toying with how to completely eliminate pedals and steering wheels. It sounds interesting on paper, but what if the car’s safety features fail and a passenger needs to intervene? Intervention is thought to be a huge danger to AVs, but would cars really be better off without any human control?

“I think that’s the question everyone has,” said Michael Schuldenfrei, a technology fellow at Optimal+, a big data analytics company. “Even an aircraft, which can do just about everything automatically – takeoff through landing – even then people still have manual overrides for everything. No one is pretending you can do it completely automatically.”

Maybe not, but Christophe Begue, director of solution strategy and business development at IBM’s Global Electronics Industry Team, said that you could argue it’s possible to remove pilots. Automobiles are a whole other story.

“Driving a car is more complicated than flying a plane,” said Begue.

Between traffic lights, intersections, varying road designs and fluctuating speed limits, it’s easy to see why. Planes are also dwarfed by the number of cars jamming the world’s biggest roads, which adds to the complex nature of driving.

“I think it’s going to take quite a bit of time unless it’s in a very controlled environment, like a controlled campus,” Begue added.

Controlled environments are already being tested. But while there are some shuttles that offer low-speed, pedal and wheel-free mobility in a geo-fenced environment, most automakers are not yet willing to drop human controls.

“I think what you see is everyone is being very aggressive about going to completely autonomous level 5 autonomy in the vehicle,” said Schuldenfrei. “And then as soon as something happens, they back away very fast. The Uber [incident] is a classic example.”

Schuldenfrei does not expect an override-free AV to arrive as quickly as the hype suggests. However, he is concerned that no amount of control will keep passengers safe if something goes wrong.

“Even if you have an override, when the car is driving itself, you’re already opening up tremendous risk that the driver won’t even be concentrating,” said Schuldenfrei. “So if something goes wrong, the driver [may not] notice.”

Schuldenfrei also thinks about the classic moral dilemmas faced by human drivers. If a human driver has to crash into a tree to avoid hitting a bunch of kids, he or she will likely do so without thinking twice. It’s a natural instinct. Autonomous cars would have to be programmed to do the same. No amount of machine learning will change that.

“So what do you do: do you drive into a tree and kill the driver or drive into the kids and kill the kids?” Schuldenfrei asked. “On the flipside, where is the liability and to what extent does it play a role? If you look at the statistics, autonomous cars are significantly safer per mile, per kilometer driven than human-driven cars. But it doesn’t mean they’re not going to make a mistake ever or that there won’t be a situation where you’ll be in an accident.”

Begue thought about all this for a moment. It takes a lot to develop an autonomous car, but the progress has been impressive, to say the least. New AV tests are cropping up all over the place.

“I live in San Francisco,” said Begue. “I cannot go out into the street and walk for more than 30 minutes without seeing one or two of these autonomous cars. Five years ago, would I have imagined that I’d see one every day? Probably not. Things are moving pretty fast.”

About the author:

Louis Bedigian is an experienced journalist and contributor to various automotive trade publications. He is a dynamic writer, editor and communications specialist with expertise in the areas of journalism, promotional copy, PR, research and social networking.

Waymo takes the Gloves off

Google’s subsidiary Waymo is considered a market leader for a technology that is not marketable yet. That means Waymo is closest to commercializing autonomous driving, according to several research studies. The company plans to set up on-demand transportation services as a competitor for conventional cabs. Originally based in California, Google/Waymo got the authorization to take the project to Arizona.

Waymo’s vehicles

Initially Waymo wanted to build its own cars but eventually moved away from the idea. Today Waymo’s fleet consists of Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) models, more precisely of Chrylser Pacifica vehicles. Additional collaborations with Jaguar-Land-Rover and Honda are following the same model. It’s likely that the Jaguar models cover the luxury segment, FCA the mid-range segment and Honda the compact car division. Lately Waymo ordered 62,000 new Chrysler Pacifica vehicles that are currently being equipped with autonomous car technology. Waymo said nothing about acquisition and modification costs, but industry experts estimated the costs at about 31 billion USD – for modification purposes only!

Waymo & Uber?

Meanwhile Uber raised its hand and proposed a collaboration with Waymo, which seems utopian after the 2 companies settled a legal dispute forcing Uber to pay Waymo 2.6 billion USD. Subject of the lawsuit: stolen trades secrets, in this case information about a Lidar.

Moreover, Uber has to take responsibility for a fatal crash in Arizona, where an autonomous car ran over a woman due to a deactivated emergency brake system. Therefore, Uber aborted all testing activities in Arizona and won’t resume testing in the state. The incident cost a lot of trust in the technology – this led to stricter testing regulations with the USA.

When is the time?

It is questionable that Waymo will be able to offer an autonomous transport service in 2018. The modification of more than 60,000 FCA vehicles is expected to take more than 1 year. However Waymo should not take the foot off the gas, main competitor GM plans to mass produce a highly-autonomous vehicles (Level 4) in 2019.

About the author:

David Fluhr is journalist and owner of the digital magazine “Autonomes Fahren & Co”. He is reporting regularly about trends and technologies in the fields Autonomous Driving, HMI, Telematics and Robotics. Link to his site: http://www.autonomes-fahren.de

Hyundai’s Connected Car Evolution Continues With In-Car Payments

Hyundai Motor America recently partnered with Xevo to demonstrate an in-car payment concept that would allow drivers to pay for gas, coffee, food and parking without leaving the vehicle. Chevron, Texaco, ParkWhiz and Applebee’s have already signed on as merchants for the potential payment solution.
“The dining case is particularly interesting because those fast casual restaurants are a place where the infrastructure is there already,” said Cason Grover, senior group manager of vehicle technology planning for Hyundai Motor America. “You see those carryout-only lanes, so in a sense they’re kind of ahead.”
Grover said that parking places are exploring options for dedicated lanes, and speculated that chip-equipped license plates could allow for faster service via Bluetooth or DSRC. If, for example, a gas station could identify a vehicle the moment a driver pulls up to the pump, payment could be facilitated automatically.
“It adds convenience today,” he said. “As that infrastructure builds, we’re ready, so the value grows even more as the merchants do more and more.”

Payment Options

Hyundai and Xevo are developing the Hyundai Digital Wallet payment platform that will allow customers to store their payment information. The system goes beyond credit and debit, allowing other options (such as gift cards) to be incorporated.
“Being able to allocate which payment solutions that you would want to add to this Hyundai Wallet is really what we’re talking about being able to do,” said Paul Galle, VP of automotive programs in business development at Xevo.
The specific details are still being worked out, so it’s not yet clear how this will work. When asked if a prepaid card could be scanned directly into the automobile, Galle said he wasn’t sure Xevo and Hyundai would go down that path. More than likely the cards will be added to the wallet in a more traditional manner.

Data Sharing

In addition to its partnership with Xevo, Hyundai also recently joined the Verisk Data Exchange, which will allow customers to share their data for usage-based insurance programs.
Collectively, that’s a lot of information that will pass through Hyundai’s connected automobiles.
“I think certainly over time, as we work toward production we talk about how we share data,” said Grover. “We have some visibility into consumer preferences – who goes where the most. Maybe our brand, for some reason there’s a correlation with this particular merchant that we brought on board. If we see a lot of usage, maybe there’s some co-branding opportunity.”

Vehicle to Cloud

V2X encompasses V2V (vehicle to vehicle) and V2I (vehicle to infrastructure), but Grover is also looking at a third component.
“There’s a whole separate piece that’s really vehicle to cloud, or cloud to vehicle,” he said. “Using connectivity for possibly vastly enhancing our traffic offering or other data use for navigation, that’s the kind of thing I definitely see in the future.”
Looking beyond data that consumers willingly share, Hyundai is also curious about what could be done with anonymized data.
“As with probably every other OEM, we’re investigating that as well,” said Grover. “Genericized data is something we’re certainly studying. And that’s something we want to look at and make sure it’s within our privacy principals.”

About the author:

Louis Bedigian is an experienced journalist and contributor to various automotive trade publications. He is a dynamic writer, editor and communications specialist with expertise in the areas of journalism, promotional copy, PR, research and social networking.

Don’t enter Carwash Facilities with Autonomous Vehicles!

Countless experts and organizations are talking about autonomous driving, although we haven’t seen it in its final form yet. Today, we are still stuck at Level 3 automation, but Level 4 seems to be in reach.
Virtually all players of the autonomous vehicle market are testing their cars on the streets or with simulators. Latter enable companies to simulate any traffic situation imaginable and evaluate the car’s behaviour. However real traffic still holds scenarios that cannot be simulated as seen with the fatal crash of an Uber in Arizona. In this case the misbehaviour was caused by a software bug, but sensors can also fail when they are dirty after a completing a long distance without cleaning.

Pollution as a main Source of Error

Sensors have to be cleaned regularly in order to work properly. If they are covered with dirt, autonomous cars can barely „see“. Now one could think: “No problem, I just let the automatic carwash do the job.“ Unfortunately autonomous vehicles are not allowed to enter carwash facilities as Futurism found out.
The cleaning brushes could dislodge external sensors entirely and strip the car its ability to locate itself, other objects and road users. In addition soap or water leftovers on the car may interfere with the sensors‘ functionality and lead to false interpretations of the environment. It’s also a matter of costs – although Lidar sensors are getting cheaper, they still cost 5-digit sums. Imagine the costs if some autonomous cars got their Lidar swept off the roof now.

Self-Wash your Self-Driving Car

Companies like Waymo and Uber confirmed that they hired personal to clean their fleets manually instead of using automatic carwash. In order to protect sensors, they are treated with mircofiber and special cleaning liquids. Of course this is not a mass-market solution. Just think of future traffic ruled by autonomous vehicles that have to be cleaned by hand. The industry is already working on automatic cleaning units, that start operating as soon as there is dirt or smear detected on a sensor.

About the author:

David Fluhr is journalist and owner of the digital magazine “Autonomes Fahren & Co”. He is reporting regularly about trends and technologies in the fields Autonomous Driving, HMI, Telematics and Robotics. Link to his site: http://www.autonomes-fahren.de

Mobileye and Intel test Autonomous Vehicles in Jerusalem

In March 2017, Intel bought Israeli tech company Mobileye – this was not Intel’s first step towards autonomous driving, but definitely one of the most important ones. Mobileye provides computing capacity and sensors for the area around Jerusalem. The company also uses its expertise to guide several countries on the implementation of autonomous driving. Mobileye’s expertise is undisputable, at the latest since they sent 100 self-driving test vehicles onto the streets of Jerusalem.

The operation’s slogan: If you can do it in Jerusalem, you can do it everywhere, as its traffic is said to be extremely heavy and exhausting for human drivers. Apart from that, Jerusalem is also Mobileye’s company location.

Camera Sensors & True Redundancy

For the moment the testing fleet is only equipped with camera sensors. 8 cameras capture images to detect obstacles and traffic signs and for positioning and mapping. By this the vehicle can develop optimal routes by itself. The procedure of using camera sensors only is called “true redundancy”. The advantage over the use of different kinds of sensors (“real redundancy”) is the small amount of data processed.

KI & RSS

Data is processed by AI and converted into corresponding actions. In order to prevent AI from commanding dangerous maneuvers, Mobileye developed the so-called Responsibility-Sensitive-Safety (RSS) – a mathematical model that aligns AI orders with internal protocols. If a certain action or maneuver is not listed in the safety protocols, RSS prevents the execution. Intel has published the standards behind these protocols.

Computing Power

Today, all testing vehicles are equipped with the EyeQ4 chip. However, Mobileye has already unveiled its successor, the EyeQ5 chip, with a computing power ten times as strong as the current chip. The EyeQ5 will be in full mass production by 2020 and was already ordered by BMW for 2021.

First Troubleshooting

Shortly after sending out the test fleet, first issues emerged. One car ran over a red light despite the efforts of a safety driver. At least Mobileye already discovered the cause of the malfunction and solved it: A TV camera interfered with the transponder signal of the traffic lights. Because of the missing signal, the car crossed the road as if there were no traffic lights.

About the author:

David Fluhr is journalist and owner of the digital magazine “Autonomes Fahren & Co”. He is reporting regularly about trends and technologies in the fields Autonomous Driving, HMI, Telematics and Robotics. Link to his site: http://www.autonomes-fahren.de

Data Sharing with Insurance Companies: Curse or Blessing?

It’s more blessed to share data than to gather – UK startup Oxbotica wants to provide proof of that claim with its unique approach to improve autonomous vehicles.
Oxbotica was founded in UK as a spin-out from Oxford University’s Department of Engineering Science Mobile Robotics Group. Its focus is on sharing data collected by autonomous cars with authorities and insurance companies. What may sound horrifying for data privacy activists is a thought out approach to improve traffic safety. Oxbotica expects to leverage data transparency and commitment by the authorities, which should help accelerating the development of autonomous driving technology.

Testing process and objectives

The startup is running a fleet of 3 autonomous Ford Fusion models to implement their testing activities. The data is transferred via mobile communication and can be accessed by the insurance company XL Catlin, among others. This creates terabytes of data – daily.
Oxbotica decides which kind of data is forwarded to the authorities. The car delivers data about the current position and speed of the car but also data on route complexity. Data is evaluated by their software under the following aspect: What kind of behavior by the car increases safety – and which actions don’t? By analyzing the data, Oxbotica may identify dangerous maneuvers and prevent the cars from executing them.

Volvo is looking for the Critical Mass

The idea to connect vehicles with each other, is also implemented by Volvo in Scandinavia. Connected cars inform each other about potential road hazards or dense traffic. If, for example, a car uses its hazard lights, this is communicated to surrounding vehicles. The more cars participate in the conversation, the safer gets the traffic. However you need a certain amount of cars to provide a certain degree of safety. Volvo is testing in Sweden and Norway to find that critical mass and has invited more partners to participate in their program.

5G let off the leash

The huge mass of data collected on the roads is a tough challenge for the existing network infrastructure. That’s why the industry and politics count on 5G as a communication standard. The 4G LTE successor shall enable a much higher amount of transmitted data and is expected to work more stable with (almost) real-time data transmission.
Recently Germany set up first testing areas in Berlin and Hamburg. In the USA telecommunication giants Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile plan to commercialize the technology as soon as possible. First practical applications will show if 5G can be the door opener for infotainment and autonomous driving.

About the author:

David Fluhr is journalist and owner of the digital magazine “Autonomes Fahren & Co”. He is reporting regularly about trends and technologies in the fields Autonomous Driving, HMI, Telematics and Robotics. Link to his site: http://www.autonomes-fahren.de

VW to introduce Autonomous Parking in Hamburg

Volkswagen approaches autonomous parking, testing the technology in a parking garage in Hamburg, Germany.
Last year Bosch and Daimler already presented their joint valet-parking concept at the IAA which was implemented inside the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. Recently Bosch presented eGo, a similar concept developed at the RWTH Aachen Campus. Now Volkswagen also hopped the trend testing an autonomous valet-service in Hamburg.

Parking today: time- and money consuming

Looking for a parking spot not only costs nerves, but also time and money. According to an INRIX study searching for parking is one of the major hidden costs of driving, devouring more than 3,000$ per driver in the US in 2017. This implies fuel costs that occur for finding a parking space. In New York, a driver yearly spends 107 hours looking for a space on average. A possible solution would be interlinking vehicles and parking spaces in order to save drivers‘ time and money.

Parking in the future

The valet-service concept is based on these goals. Autonomous cars are able to communicate with free parking spaces and can park much closer to each other, because there is no human exiting the car. The search for a spot still may take time, but the driver doesn’t have to care at all, as he exited the car before it entered the parking garage. Watching the cars do their thing won’t be possible anyway – humans won’t have the permission to enter the autonomous parking garages.
VW plans to test autonomous valet parking for the next two years. First the parking garage in Hamburg has been mapped and equipped with signs that guide the autonomous vehicle. The innovative parking lot will work for autonomous car models by VW, Audi and Porsche. Drivers can exit their cars at the entrace gate and initiate the search for a parking space with only one swish on their smartphone. Future plans include mixed traffic, meaning manually controlled vehicles and autonomous vehicles looking for a space in the same parking lot.

Road to ITS 2021: Autonomous trucks and more

Hamburg and VW are conducting a strategic partnership, so there are more projects in the pipeline until 2021, when the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress (ITS) takes place in the city. Soon there will also be autonomous trucks running around the port of Hamburg. VW wants to use the trucks of its subsidiaries MAN and Scania to foster the development of autonomous driving. Nissan and Renault are taking a similar road to push autonomous driving technology development.

About the author:

David Fluhr is journalist and owner of the digital magazine “Autonomes Fahren & Co”. He is reporting regularly about trends and technologies in the fields Autonomous Driving, HMI, Telematics and Robotics. Link to his site: http://www.autonomes-fahren.de