Business Insider series on AVs, Bloomberg, more

Business Insider recently launched a special series called “Autonomous World”that covers self-driving cars. It’s thorough!  Articles include:

From the Denver Post, By Dana Hull,Bloomberg News

There was, in hindsight, a clear element of risk to Tesla Motors’s decision to install Autopilot hardware in every car coming off the production line since October 2014. It paid a price, with federal regulators probing the deadly crash of a Model S while in driver-assist mode and critics slamming Tesla for rolling the technology out too soon.

But there was also a reward. The company has collected more than 1.3 billion miles of data from Autopilot-equipped vehicles operating under diverse road and weather conditions around the world. And in the frantic race to roll out the first fully functional autonomous vehicle, that kind of mass, real-world intelligence can be invaluable. In that way, for now, the electric-car maker has a leg up on competitors including Google, General Motors Co. and Uber Technologies Inc.

“There’s no question that Tesla has an advantage,” said Nindhi Kalra, a senior information scientist at the Rand Corporation. “They can learn from a wider range of experiences and at a much faster rate than a company that is testing with trained drivers and employees behind the wheel.”

Of course, not all miles are created equal: there are semi-autonomous as well as fully self-driving ones, real-world vs. simulated, highway vs. those racked up in tricky urban environments. Still, Tesla is “in a very unique position to push the state of the art of algorithmic driving and machine learning in personal transport,” said Adam Jonas, the lead analyst at Morgan Stanley for autos and shared mobility, in a recent note to clients.

The autonomous autos Google developed have covered 2 million real-world miles — with employees on board — since 2009, according to the company. Parent Alphabet Inc. last week spun the self-driving project into a business called Waymo.

Uber, which has been piloting self-driving rideshare vehicles in Pittsburgh, recently deployed a fleet in San Francisco in its partnership with Volvo Cars. Each SUV is staffed with two employees, one ready to grab the wheel and the other on the lookout for pedestrians. (Uber made the move without approval from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, and state prosecutors have threatened to seek a court order to force the company to stop. An Uber executive said it’s acting “just like Tesla.”)

As for GM, it’ll be putting its flotilla on the streets in Michigan, now that Gov. Rick Snyder has signed a law allowing public-road testing of cars without steering wheels, gas or brake pedals — or any need for human control. But GM engineers will be in the front seats, as they are in test trips that have been taking place in Arizona and California. Ford Motor Co. has been doing its controlled runs on Michigan roads since 2015, including when it’s snowing.

When Autopilot is turned on, a Tesla car is able to do things like change lanes and parallel-park itself. Tesla stresses to owners that they’re in charge — and must always have hands on the wheel — but the company is effectively trying out evolving technology with people who may not fully comprehend they’re expected to maintain control or who may ignore Tesla’s instructions.

The fatal accident occurred in May when a man drove his 2015 Model S under the trailer of an 18-wheeler on a Florida highway. Neither the driver nor Autopilot noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake wasn’t applied, according to the company. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating.

The 1.3 billion miles of data Tesla said it has collected represents those covered by its vehicles even when Autopilot isn’t switched on — it operates in “shadow mode,” with sensors tracking real-world data when it’s off. In May, a Tesla executive said at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology conference that the cars had driven 100 million miles with Autopilot actively engaged. In October, Musk said on Twitter that the number of cumulative Autopilot-on miles was 222 million.

“Whether they are ahead or not, Tesla certainly has tons of data,” said Richard Wallace, director of transportation systems analysis at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. “They will be able to analyze that six ways from Sunday and continue to tweak their algorithms.”

Musk said in October that the upcoming Model 3, due out in late 2017, as well as all Teslas now being made at the company’s Fremont, Calif., factory, will ship with an improved hardware suite that will enable total self-driving. While he’s said he wants to demonstrate an autonomous cross-country drive within a year, other automakers have generally ruled out total self-driving capability until sometime after 2020.

“Most car companies and tech companies don’t want to give away how far along they are. Elon, of course, is the exception — he’s always out there claiming how far ahead of everyone else he is,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher for Kelley Blue Book. As companies boost their intelligence gathering, “the level of data that will be generated is on a scale that is hard for us to conceive. This is the tip of the iceberg.”‘


Car companies see a future in selling mobility

For the companies that are building the next generation of smart, automated vehicles, technology isn’t the only big shift set to radically re-arrange the marketplace. Many experts expect that current ideas of ownership will soon seem as quaint and old-fashioned as tail fins. As a Ford executive told Curbed earlier this year, the firm wants to become both a mobility company and an automaker, a nod to the rapidly decreasing rate of car ownership among younger generations.

 As auto firms invest in ridehailing companies and start their own carsharing services, the landscape continues to shift. Some firms, such as Apple and Google’s self-driving car division, which spun-off as Waymo earlier this month, see a future in developing and licensing technology, while those building the cars see ownership models evolving and changing. As it gets easier to treat mobility as an a la carte service, the shakeup in the automotive industry will continue.
Drive.AI rendering
Proposed automated vehicle safety and communication system under development by Silicon Valley startup Drive.AI

Safety becomes a key part of the automated vehicle sales pitch …

Setting aside Uber’s embarrassing San Francisco fiasco for a moment, self-driving cars are increasingly seen as a way to make our roadways safer and more pedestrian-friendly. The USDOT made safety a key part of its pitch for proposed automated vehicle regulations, arguing that better technology and design can prevent the epidemic of traffic deaths on our streets. Safety and pedestrian communication are both focuses of current technological development, and Uber’s Pittsburgh trials appear to have a great safety record. If done well, a system with fewer human drivers should mean safer rides for everybody.

Buses are also welcoming the impact of automated technology, which has the potential to turn the experience of waiting on slow, standardized routes into a more personalized, speedy transportation service. Trials in Helsinki and Amsterdam are starting to show the promise of fast, flexible, and automated bus service, and U.S. firm Local Motors has started manufacturing 3D-printed, self-driving buses called Olli at two domestic factories.

Our roads and neighborhoods are already changing to welcome AVs

Driverless cars are still a long way from rolling out in any meaningful numbers, but that hasn’t stopped architects, planners, and city officials from imagining how this technology will reshape the look of our cities. From impacting density and sprawl to changing the way our roads and even our highways operate, automated vehicles may provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reclaim parking lots and roadways and develop more walkable, pedestrian-friendly cities. Smart planners are already thinking ahead about how smarter cars may actually lead to a new type of automated urbanism that can help develop human-scale cities.

Luxembourg to offer service to facilitate car-sharing for private individuals

Adding to the known problems is the inefficiency of the use of cars. While most cars have at least five seats, they only transport 1,2 passengers on average. The advantages a more effective car-sharing could bring seem obvious.

The Transport Ministry therefore decided to create a “portail de covoiturage” which is going to work as a website and an application, in order to put potential car-sharers into contact. This service will be accessible to everybody, it will be free, and it will be exclusively for private individuals.