David Fluhr

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

Startup PerceptIn developed an Autonomous Vehicle for less than $10,000

Until now, the race for autonomous driving was mainly about vehicles that can drive on public roads. But there also are alternative models that target other locations.

According to most studies, Waymo (Google’s subsidiary in the Alphabet Group) and General Motors are leading the competition for the introduction of autonomous driving. Both want to develop a driving service with robot taxis that targets vehicles that can drive on all roads.

Competition for Speed

However, this still requires some development work. The faster a car drives, the better the technology must be around it – this also applies to autonomous driving. Fatal accidents can occur at high speed, as the recent accidents involving Tesla and Uber have shown. Fast driving autonomous cars require efficient sensors that are able to “see” what is happening in the distance. This applies to all sensor types such as radar, camera or Lidar sensors.

Additionally, the data collected by the sensors has to be processed promptly in order to initiate the right actions at high speed in an emergency – not to mention the braking distance. This also implies a high computing capacity.

Why not go slower?

The problem is that powerful sensors and high computing capacities are very expensive and this is an obstacle to the technology. That’s why startup Perceptin follows another path, making it possible to significantly reduce the costs for an autonomous vehicle. Former Baidu employee Shaoshan Liu founded Perceptin in 2016 with the goal of creating a reliable vehicle that should not be used on public roads but in confined areas – i.e. on university campuses, on company grounds or in parks.

To this end, the company developed an electric car that can be produced for less than $5,000 in China. Hardware and software for autonomous driving doubles the price. Here the factor speed comes into play again. The slower the vehicle, the less computing capacity is needed. It does not use a Lidar system either, but inexpensive camera, radar and ultrasound technology.

The omission of Lidar sensors is compensated by camera technology that enables a 3D image via point clouds. This is certainly not suitable for high velocities, but is perfectly fine for vehicles not faster than 20 km/h. Its position is determined with an accuracy of 20 centimeters by GPS and an autometry sensor. The medium-range radar can only see 50 meters and the inexpensive ultrasonic sensor has a range of five meters.

Sales and Customers

Perceptin has already found its first customer – ZTE. The Chinese telecommunications company purchased five units, which will be used on its own premises. Overall, Perceptin hopes for sales figures in the six-figure range.

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

Introducing Tesla 9.0

Tesla introduced a new update – autonomous driving features included.
Recently the Tesla project started to falter as it was hit by economic problems, lawsuits and not least by the fatal crash of a car controlled by autopilot. Now Tesla announced a new update to manage the turnaround.
Tesla’s autopilot was one of the first sold in line and offered a Level 2 semi-autonomous driving solution. The cars were able to drive by themselves but the manual requested the human driver to keep their hands on the wheel and stay alert. The driver had to be able to take over control at any time because technology was not ready to master all traffic situations.

Autopiloted accidents

Lately there has been an increase of incidents involving the Tesla Autopilot. Latter seems to tempt humans to lose their attentiveness in traffic and take up other activities. In Great Britain, a driver lost his license for sitting on the passenger seat whilst driving in an autonomous car.
On March 23, 2018 in California, a Tesla Model X car crashed into a freeway divider, killing the driver and causing a fire. Recently the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) of the USA took over the investigations in the case – their report stated that the driving was not paying attention. The car was oriented towards the car ahead and lost its point of reference at the divider. At that point, the driver had to take over control of the vehicle – unfortunately, he didn’t. The car accelerated, pulled to the left and crashed into the divider.
There have been more incidents involving Tesla models causing collisions by accelerating for no apparent reason. One reason for this could be a faulty update. Many users sued Tesla for selling life-threatening technology; these cases have been settled out-of-court. However, the company is facing more lawsuits initiated by consumer protection organizations.

Update 9.0

Elon Musk announced on Twitter that there will be a new update starting in August involving new autonomous driving features. What those are and what autonomy level the Tesla models will reach with them was not communicated. The software update does not provide the integration of a lidar system. A lidar enables a 3D image of the vehicle environment and serves for orientation and position finding. Last year, Tesla was denied the ability to build autonomous cars by a GM manager because Tesla cars aren’t equipped with lidars. In fact, Tesla uses camera sensors above all.
However, researchers at Audi and MIT have developed algorithms that allow 3D information to be calculated from the camera images. Whether that is Tesla’s plan is unclear, but it cannot be ruled out. We can just hope that the update in August will provide more safety. Not only Tesla’s reputation is at stake, but also that of autonomous driving technology as such.

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

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

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

Rio Tinto: Where Autonomous Driving is already Reality

Mine operator Rio Tinto owns a fleet of autonomous trucks that is used to transport mining materials to increase efficiency and lower costs. It’s already been 10 years since the first self-driving dump truck transported overburden to a nearby train station. Back in 2008 the tests were so succesful that the company decided to strengthen its fleet. Over the years the number of autonomous trucks steadily increased – today there are more than 80 autonomous vehicles applied to the Pilbara mine in Australia.

AHS Autonomous Haulage System

The dump trucks were originally produced by the construction machine manufacturers Komat’su and Caterpillar. They are called AHS which stands for Autonomous Haulage Sytem and are controlled from the site’s operations center. Each truck is eqipped with a GPS transmitter so they can be located at any time.
Unlike conventional dump trucks the autonomous ones are in permanent use. That’s a difference of about 700 hours per year which makes 15% of the total runtime. They do not need vacation and cannot be detracted like humans behind the wheel. Rio Tinto representatives also underline the safety aspect – in the whole past decade there was not even one reported injury.

New Milestones

Last year the autonomous trucks carried a quarter of the whole overburden and dumped it into trains. Latter are also automated – if loaded up, they automatically start their journey through the Outback of Australia.
This year Rio Tinto reached the next milestone. The autonomous trucks have now carried one billion ton of soil through the site. Because of the huge success, Rio Tinto plans to implement additional trucks. The goal is to have 140 autonomous trucks driving through the mines of Pilbara until the end of 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

Competition & Collaboration – Who is teaming up for Autonomous Driving?

Competition is good for business, this also applies to autonomous driving. Nevertheless every organization has to keep its eyes open for promising collaboration partners. Both traditional car manufacturers and new market players like Waymo (Google) are looking for suitable cooperations to fill their gaps.

Autonomous driving drives the change

The race towards autonomous driving has affected this trend in particular. Autonomous driving is not just about introducing a new way of driving, it is disrupting the industry. Current automotive profit margins are nothing compared to what companies could earn with driverless taxis. Just imagine the variety of services that can be offered inside an autonomous car.
Car manufacturers are slowly transforming into mobility service providers. But they need help from other companies to perform the change. The outcome: several strong company blocks in competition with each other.

Block building in automotive

The different blocks are fighting for the lead in the race towards autonomous driving. The goal is to offer a robot taxi service by 2021. BMW for example gathered several companies like Continental, Mobileye, Intel and Hyundai in order to bring together their knowledge whereas Waymo has been buying cars from FCA to modify them on their own.
Like BMW, Mercedes-Benz counts on strong cooperations. The Swabians teamed up with Bosch and the Chinese comapny Geely to give Waymo a hard time. A Mercedes-Benz representative recently announced that they plan to build autonomous cars from scratch instead of using modified versions of already existing models like Waymo does.
More blocks worth mentioning are:
– General Motors with Cruise Automation
– Aptiv (Delphi) with nuTonomy and Lyft
– Volvo and Autoliv (marketed as Zenuity)
Another notable block emerged around Baidu in China. The company has more than 70 partners and is currently working on optimizing the platform Apollo: 2.0.

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

Say Farewell to Private Car Ownership

Autonomous driving has not been established yet but still the day may come when private cars will disappear from the streets completely. It is one of the numerous debates within future mobility: Will privately-owned cars exist in future? Many studies confirm that the traditional status symbol will vanish – slowly but surely.

Transportation Services & Private Cars

Last year the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) has already stated that the demand for new cars is decreasing, especially in places where transport services like Uber and Lyft are established. Several car manufactures are currently setting up similar models pushing their transition to mobility service providers. The study shows that people tend to buy new cars when there are no transport services given. This means that the mobility offer in a specific area defines the locals relation to mobility.

Changing Insurance

The insurance industry spotted this trend as well. Various insurance companies are already offering specific telematics rates including discounts for people who avoid accidents for a long period of time or a certain number of driven kilometers. This caused many critics to forecast the quick end of motor vehicle insurance. This scenery additionally alters with the development of autonomous driving. Experts suppose that with autonomous cars established there will be less accidents. But the ones that happen will cause higher damage costs because of the sensors that have to be repaired or replaced for vehicle control.

Swiss Re: Fall of Insurance Fees?

Swiss Re already expects the number of privately insured cars to drop sharply – their analysis predicts a decrease of about 15%. This also impacts the car insurance model, which, according to Swiss Re, soon won’t be profitable anymore. Just like car manufacturers Swiss Re sees the big money within the data that is collected by autonomous cars. As a result Swiss Re started to collaborate with the japanese conglomerate Softbank to in terms of telematics. More details on the deal are yet to be provided.

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