Why regulators love Nuro’s self-driving delivery vehicles

Nuro’s delivery autonomous vehicles (AVs) don’t have a human driver on board. The company’s founders Dave Ferguson (president) and Jiajun Zhu’s (CEO) vision of a driverless delivery vehicle sought to do away with a lot of the stuff that is essential for a normal car to have, like doors and airbags and even a steering wheel. They built an AV that spared no room in the narrow chassis for a driver’s seat, and had no need for an accelerator, windshield or brake pedals.

So when the company petitioned the U.S. government in 2018 for a minor exemption from rules requiring a rearview mirror, backup camera and a windshield, Nuro might have assumed the process wouldn’t be very arduous.

They were wrong.

If Nuro is to become the generation-defining company its founders desire, it will be due as much to innovation in regulation as advances in the technology it develops.

In a 2019 letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) “[wondered] about the description of pedestrian ‘crumple zones,’ and whether this may impact the vehicle’s crash-worthiness in the event of a vehicle-to-vehicle crash. Even in the absence of passengers, AAMVA has concerns about cargo ejection from the vehicle and how Nuro envisions protections from loose loads affecting the driving public.”

The National Society of Professional Engineers similarly complained that Nuro’s request lacked information about the detection of moving objects. “How would the R2X function if a small child darts onto the road from the passenger side of the vehicle as a school bus is approaching from the driver’s side?” it asked. It also recommended the petition be denied until Nuro could provide a more detailed cybersecurity plan against its bots being hacked or hijacked. (R2X is now referred to as R2)

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (now the Alliance Automotive Innovation), which represents most U.S. carmakers, wrote that the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) should not use Nuro’s kind of petition to “introduce new safety requirements for [AVs] that have not gone through the rigorous rule-making process.”

“What you can see is that many comments came from entrenched interests,” said David Estrada, Nuro’s chief legal and policy officer. “And that’s understandable. There are multibillion dollar industries that can be disrupted if autonomous vehicles become successful.”

To be fair, critical comments also came from nonprofit organizations genuinely concerned about unleashing robots on city streets. The Center for Auto Safety, an independent consumer group, thought that Nuro did not provide enough information on its development and testing, nor any meaningful comparison with the safety of similar, human-driven vehicles. “Indeed, the planned reliance on ‘early on-road tests … with human-manned professional safety drivers’ suggests that Nuro has limited confidence in R2X’s safe operation,” it wrote.

Nuro-R2-specs-infographic

Nuro’s R2 delivery autonomous vehicle. Image Credits: Nuro

Despite such concerns, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) granted Nuro the exemptions it sought in February last year. Up to 5,000 R2 vehicles could be produced for a limited period of two years and subject to Nuro reporting any incidents, without a windshield, rearview mirror or backup camera. Although only a small concession, it was the first — and so far, only — time the U.S. government had relaxed vehicle safety requirements for an AV.

Now Estrada and Nuro hope to use that momentum to chip away at a mountain of regulations that never envisaged vehicles controlled by on-board robots or distant humans, extending from the foothills of local and state government to the peaks of federal and international safety rules.

If Nuro is to become the generation-defining company its founders desire, it will be due as much to innovation in regulation as advances in the technology it develops.

Regulate for success

“I don’t think any of the credible, big AV players want this to be a free-for-all,” said Dave Ferguson, Nuro’s co-founder and president. “We need the confidence of a clear regulatory framework to invest the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars necessary to manufacture vehicles at scale. Otherwise, it’s really going to limit our ability to deploy.”

#alliance-of-automobile-manufacturers, #auto-safety, #automation, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #av, #california, #dave-ferguson, #department-of-defense, #ec-1, #extra-crunch, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #google, #government, #lyft, #national-highway-traffic-safety-administration, #national-science-foundation, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #startups, #transport, #transportation, #u-s-department-of-transportation, #united-states

How Nuro became the robotic face of Domino’s

Pandemic pizza was definitely a thing.

U.S. consumers forked out a record-breaking $14 billion to have pizza delivered to their doors in 2020, and nearly half of that total was spent with just one brand: Domino’s.

“Domino’s is the home of pizza delivery,” said Dennis Maloney, Domino’s chief innovation officer. “Delivery is at the core of who we are, so it’s very important for us to lead when it comes to the consumer experience of delivery.”

U.S. consumers forked out a record-breaking $14 billion to have pizza delivered to their doors in 2020, and nearly half of that total was spent with just one brand: Domino’s.

In its latest TV ad, an order of Domino’s pizza speeds to its destination inside a Nuro R2X delivery autonomous vehicle (AV). The R2X (now known as R2) deftly avoids potholes, falling trees and traffic jams caused by The Noid — a character created by Domino’s in the 1980s to symbolize the difficulties of delivering a pizza in 30 minutes or less.

The reality is much more sedate. Domino’s currently has just one R2X that operates from a single Domino’s store on the generally calm streets of Woodland Heights in Houston, Texas. And since the AV’s introduction in April, The Noid has yet to put in an appearance.

“The R2X adds a bunch of efficiencies while not taking away from any existing capabilities,” Maloney said. “As we start getting the bot into regular operation, we’ll see if it plays out the way we expect it to. So far, all the indications are good.”

Nuro-Domino

Nuro and Domnio’s launched the autonomous pizza delivery service in Huston in April this year. Image Credits: Nuro

Partnerships are key for Nuro. The company’s business model is to sign contracts with established brands that either have their own branded vehicles or use traditional delivery companies like UPS or the U.S. Postal Service.

Nuro is carrying out trials and pilot deliveries with a number of companies, including fast casual restaurant chain Chipotle, Kroger grocery stores, CVS pharmacies, bricks-and-mortar retail behemoth Walmart, and, most recently, global parcel courier FedEx. While it is a dizzyingly impressive list for a company less than five years old, their interest was driven as much by global trends as by Nuro’s technology, admits Cosimo Leipold, head of partnerships at Nuro.

“Everybody today wants what they want and they want it faster than ever, but frankly they’re not willing to pay for it,” Leipold said. “We’ve reached a point where almost every company is going to have to offer delivery services, and now it’s just the question of how they’ll do it in the best possible way and with the most possible control.”

Nuro’s delivery AVs — aka bots — offer the tantalizing promise of safe, reliable and efficient delivery without sacrificing revenue and customer data to third-party platforms like Grubhub, DoorDash or Instacart. Alongside Nuro’s stated aim of driving the cost of delivery down to zero, it is little surprise that Nuro now finds itself in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose the partners it wants — and the less enviable position of having to choose which partner to prioritize.

Here’s the story of how one of Nuro’s biggest partnerships came to be, and the lessons and companies that will drive its future growth.

Deliveries with extra cheese

Domino’s has a long history of innovating in delivery, usually accompanied by a strong marketing campaign. In the 1980s, the company bought 10 customized Tritan Aerocar 2s, a Jetsons-styled three-wheeler, for use as delivery vehicles. In 2015, the company unveiled the DXP, a Chevrolet Spark modified with a single seat and a built-in warming oven, designed specifically for transporting pizza.

#autonomous-vehicles, #av, #dominos-pizza, #ec-1, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #ford-motors, #greylock-capital, #john-lilly, #kroger, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #refraction-ai, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #startups, #transportation, #united-states, #walmart

Apple Watch lead Kevin Lynch shifts focus to car development

An Apple logo has been photoshopped onto an empty road at night.

Enlarge / A potential Apple car or self-driving vehicle platform is still years away, but a key executive has shifted his focus to it. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Another executive shuffle is underway at Apple, according to Business Insider. Kevin Lynch, a key Apple VP overseeing health and the Apple Watch, is moving into a new role working on Project Titan, Apple’s car project.

Lynch has been one of the most visible Apple leaders at the company’s various product unveiling events and WWDC. He has been the one of the faces of Apple’s health initiatives and the Apple Watch.

The report does not go into much detail about exactly what he will be doing on the car project. Recently, the Apple’s automotive product development has been led by the company’s AI chief, John Giannandrea.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#apple, #apple-car, #apple-watch, #automotive, #kevin-lynch, #self-driving-car, #tech

Widespread AV adoption starts with driver assistance systems consumers can trust

In the past year, many of the conversations around autonomous vehicles (AVs) have been dominated by the same question: When will self-driving cars be the norm on public roads?

While industry leaders talked a big game on AVs monopolizing our roads back in 2016, today some experts have put widespread Level 4 adoption over a decade away. However, even that timeline only works if automakers overcome significant barriers — both technical and behavioral. The challenge of bringing AVs to consumers will be tougher than anticipated, with a central part of the effort being focused on earning the public’s trust.

Consumer confidence and mass adoption of AVs go hand in hand. To meet the projected timelines and start building this critical trust today, automakers should accelerate the adoption of autonomous capabilities into advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

The challenges facing current ADAS technologies

The truth is that consumers do not yet trust the ADAS capabilities in their vehicles. A 2021 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey found that 80% of drivers wanted current vehicle safety systems, like automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance, to work better, noting the lack of confidence consumers feel around current offerings.

While consumers seem to be aware that AV technologies are advancing quickly, this lack of trust from users will be a major barrier to full adoption and can pose a threat to the industry — no matter how far along the technology develops.

Despite significant recent advancements in the industry, including announcements from Cruise gaining permission to give rides in driverless test vehicles to passengers in California, AAA studies indicate that still only one in 10 drivers would be comfortable riding in a self-driving car. While consumers seem to be aware that AV technologies are advancing quickly, this lack of trust from users will be a major barrier to full adoption and can pose a threat to the industry — no matter how far along the technology develops.

To aid in building the public’s confidence, the industry must focus today on more advanced and reliable ADAS to meet consumer demands. However, current offerings face major challenges that must be resolved before the majority of consumers will get on board:

  1. Lack of reliability in common adverse conditions: Technologies including lidar and camera are limited to what they can “see” around them. These systems can be easily obstructed by snow, dirt and debris covering the vehicle’s sensors. Additionally, without clear, crisp lane markings — in the event of snow, heavy rainfall or off-road conditions — or strong GPS signals, the typical sensors tracking vehicle location will not function properly.
  2. Poor detection: There have been several cases where ADAS technologies have been unable to detect degraded lane markings, pedestrians, other vehicles or common on-road objects, resulting in injury and even death for drivers and pedestrians.
  3. Low understanding by the general public: While some ADAS features are designed to operate independently, there is still a consistent lack of public knowledge when it comes to understanding how to best utilize the systems’ abilities to maximize safety. This lack of awareness poses an unnecessary threat to drivers who inadvertently misuse the technology as well as to those with whom they share the roads.

Addressing these challenges and creating better automated driving experiences for consumers is a critical step to mass adoption of future AV technology. The most immediate opportunity to move the needle with consumer acceptance in this area is to target improving reliability and user experience — especially with dynamic vehicle safety systems. To do so, automated and autonomous vehicles need improved sensors and software that enhance today’s systems and, as a result, boost consumer confidence in the safety of automated capabilities.

A fresh perspective on vehicle positioning

In the last decade, the industry has made various advancements in positioning systems, which locate a vehicle to the centimeter on roadways and are critical additions to traditional hardware stacks. As a result, experts have been placing bets on technologies such as ground-penetrating radar and novel mapping techniques as the final missing piece to robust vehicle positioning due to their ability to operate in adverse driving conditions and navigate highly dynamic environments.

While it is clear there are different avenues AVs can take to increase their reliability on the road, automakers are still trying to determine which approach can unlock the change in performance required for broad adoption.

When taking a closer look at the differentiators that make these technologies stand out, a common thread is how they address three critical issues: the absence of roadside features such as on open highways, within parking lots or when a car is boxed in by trucks and vision is limited; the reliance of camera-based systems on clear, consistent lane markings; and quickly changing environments in which the scene on the surface looks different from one moment to the next and HD maps quickly become unusable. These common challenges have left consumers frustrated with inconsistent and unreliable ADAS features.

One way to overcome these critical gaps is to explore other avenues for reliable vehicle positioning such as ground-penetrating radar — which allows vehicles to determine their precise location in adverse weather or in rough terrain, amid poor GPS availability and other common barriers faced by automated systems today — to show improved autonomy is possible. By adding these novel approaches into vehicles, automakers can create more reliable and accurate ADAS features — safeguarding the automated driving experience.

Leaning on ADAS as a vehicle for consumer confidence and mass AV adoption

A recent study from Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE) found that consumers familiar with ADAS technology were more likely to feel positive about autonomous cars and that 75% who currently own a vehicle with ADAS features say they are excited about future safety technology. This shows consumer engagement in today’s ADAS features can lead to more positive attitudes on tomorrow’s AV adoption.

As an industry, where do we go from here? Many are finding that there is a unique opportunity to resolve the future issues of autonomous vehicle operations by attacking them head-on in present-day ADAS systems — where they will otherwise be a future problem that will block mass adoption.

We need to address these critical issues with ADAS technologies and create better driving experiences to earn the public’s trust. By using higher-performing ADAS as a pathway to mass AV adoption, we can arrive at the destination safely.

The industry, along with consumers, can build a safe autonomous future.

#adas, #automation, #automotive, #av, #column, #opinion, #self-driving-car, #tc, #transport, #transportation

Scale AI CEO Alex Wang weighs in on software bugs and what will make AV tech good enough

Scale co-founder and CEO Alex Wang joined us at TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility 2021 this week to discuss his company’s role in the autonomous driving industry and how it’s changed in the five years since its founding. Scale helps large and small AV players establish reliable “ground truth” through data annotation and management, and along the way, the standards for what that means have shifted as the industry matures.

Good data is the “good bones” of autonomous driving systems

Even if two algorithms in autonomous driving might be created more or less equal, their real-world performance could vary dramatically based on what they’re consuming in terms of input data. That’s where Scale’s value prop to the industry starts, and Wang explains why:

If you think about a traditional software system, the thing that will separate a good software system from a bad software system is the code, the quality of the code. For an AI system, which all of these self-driving vehicles or autonomous vehicles are, it’s the data that really separates an amazing algorithm from a bad algorithm. And so one thing we saw was that being one of the stewards and shepherds of high-quality data was going to be incredibly important for the industry, and that’s what’s played out. We work with many of the great companies in the space, from Aurora to Nuro to Toyota to General Motors, and our work with all of them is ensuring that they have really a solid data foundation, so they can build the rest of their stacks on top of it. (Time stamp: 06:24)

#adas, #alex-wang, #alexandr-wang, #artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #av, #cybernetics, #ec-techcrunch-tc-mobility, #electric-vehicles, #mobility-2021, #nuro, #robotics, #scale-ai, #self-driving-car, #tc, #transportation

For vehicle safety, the future is now

Every day in the United States, more than 100 people die because of a car crash. Some are teenagers, like the daughter of writer Michael Lewis and Tabitha Soren, and her boyfriend, who died in a wrong-way crash. Some are well known, like Kevin Clark, who played the drummer in “School of Rock,” who was hit and killed by a driver while biking. Others are not household names, like Janell Katesigwa, who was killed by a drunk driver in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and left behind four children.

Something else happens every day, too: a lack of congressional urgency to require available technology to prevent the next tragedy.

Sadly, what is stopping advanced technology from preventing these deaths is business as usual in Washington, which means a lot of talk about saving lives, but little action.

Vehicle safety is based on using layers of protection that have led to a five-fold reduction in the occurrence of car crash deaths in the United States over the last 50 years.

Existing advanced vehicle safety technology, such as driver monitoring systems, automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warnings, can dramatically reduce crashes like the three described above — and the thousands of others that are a result of drunk, drugged, drowsy and distracted driving.

But only if the technology becomes standard equipment in new vehicles. When technology — underwritten by standards, bolstered by oversight and backstopped by accountability — can annually spare tens of thousands of families from tragedy, our federal government must act.

Over the coming weeks and months, Congress will debate the future of motor vehicles in the United States. The debate will be focused on renewing the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act, which is also referred to as the “highway bill.”

But make no mistake: While issues such as the future of the gas tax and arcane parliamentary procedures will grab headlines, vital decisions will be made about whether the growing and preventable public health crisis of car crash deaths will be prioritized or once again considered non-essential.

Despite the estimated 38,680 highway fatalities last year, which represented a 7.2% increase over 2019, some federal policymakers have failed to focus on available remedies that would result in fewer funerals and a reduction in lifelong debilitating injuries.

Perhaps the delay is a result of too many in Congress who believe the only available solution is rushing unsupervised driverless vehicles into the marketplace. Even if a green light for mass driverless vehicle production were given today, it would be decades before they could make a significant impact on improving overall safety. This single-minded focus on a unicorn to fix all transportation issues misunderstands the technical challenges and misreads the public mood.

A recent AAA survey found 86% of respondents would not trust riding in driverless vehicles, while another found consumers do not feel comfortable sharing the road with them. The technology industry’s habit of beta-testing unproven software on the public, combined with car companies’ track record of delaying safety in exchange for profit, will not increase consumer trust of the safety, inclusivity and equity of driverless technology.

Vehicle safety is based on using layers of protection that have led to a five-fold reduction in the occurrence of car crash deaths in the United States over the last 50 years. Seatbelts and airbags protect you when you crash. Electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes help you avoid rolling over. Regulations provide minimum levels of performance and recalls serve as a backstop to provide oversight when there is a defect.

It is hard to remember, but there was once a time when dual braking systems, intended to provide a safe stop even in the event of a catastrophic failure of one braking system, were considered revolutionary. Now such a layer of protection is standard.

At a time when the promise of automated vehicle technology could make or break America’s place atop the automobile industry, many in Congress want to ignore history and cut away layers of protection to rush driverless vehicles into the marketplace. One Senate proposal creates a fast track for manufacturers to sell tens of thousands of automated vehicles based on a flimsy promise that their vehicle is as safe as the least safe vehicle meeting current minimum standards. No one should forget that the Ford Pinto met all the minimum standards when it was recalled for exploding upon impact when hit from behind. Driverless vehicles should be held to a higher standard than the minimum.

Congress has an opportunity to help build public trust in the safety of driverless technology by requiring existing innovations that will be the building blocks of driverless vehicles into cars right away, with immediate benefits. For example, in the future, automated vehicles will need driver monitoring systems to make smooth handoffs between machine and driver, automated braking to avoid crashes and lane-keeping technology to keep vehicles where they belong. Today these systems, when working correctly, can help limit crashes by assisting human drivers, just as someday these features may assist computer drivers. Using technology to save lives now does not preclude saving more lives later.

As Congress begins to actively debate the future of the automobile industry, there is a lot of talk about upgrading roads, encouraging electric battery-powered vehicles and accelerating the introduction of driverless cars. Yet, there is not nearly enough talk about what is needed to make us all safer sooner.

There have been a variety of reasonable bills introduced to help the U.S. catch up to the rest of the developed world when it comes to vehicle safety and safeguarding pedestrians. They include improving the safety of our back-seat passengers in crashes, better recall procedures, and more robust and transparent data collection, along with requiring advanced safety features now common around the world.

Unfortunately, we have a long way to go and no time to waste. The European Union, despite a larger population and an almost identical number of vehicles and land size, had under 19,000 crash deaths last year, less than half of the U.S. death toll. Further, the EU’s record-low vehicle-related deaths came without a single driverless vehicle on the road, but with robust consumer information and a regulatory scheme that mandates safety.

In the U.S., however, car manufacturers concerned about challenges from new market entrants — foreign and domestic — are lobbying for looser regulations and immunity from responsibility for automated vehicle crashes. Congress must push the industry to move quickly to protect lives before profits and stand behind their products when things inevitably go wrong. The best time to appropriately assign accountability regarding who will be held responsible if a car with a computer driver kills your loved ones, or a systemwide defect impacts an entire driverless fleet, is before the crash.

Moreover, history demonstrates that thoughtful requirements for all vehicles, crafted in a way to keep pace with major innovations in the automobile industry, have always been necessary to ensure vehicle safety is not reserved for the rich alone.

Federal legislation requiring objective performance standards based on data collected from driverless cars being tested on public streets can provide a path to this future. Yet Congress seems poised to do little, or nothing, once again. It is time for policy makers to reconcile the notion that the long-term viability of the driverless vehicle industry and keeping public roads safer now with incremental improvements, federal oversight and legal responsibility are not opposing ideas but necessary partners.

There is no question the U.S. can lead in the coming era of vehicle innovation while improving safety for all drivers, passengers and pedestrians. Success in this ambitious task will require moving forward quickly with existing safety technology and dispensing with the idea that innovations, safety and accountability are incompatible when, in fact, each is integral to the long-term success of the other.

#adas, #autonomous-vehicles, #column, #driverless-vehicles, #mobility, #opinion, #road-safety, #self-driving-car, #tc, #transportation

5 Reasons you need to attend TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Get ready to spend a full day rubbing virtual elbows with the global mobility community’s best and brightest minds and makers. TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place June 9, and we’ve packed the agenda with experts, interviews, demos, panel discussions, breakout sessions and a metric ton of opportunity.

Pro tip: It’s not too late to book a ticket. Grab yours here and save with groups of 4+.

If you’re still on the fence, here are five excellent reasons you should attend TC Sessions: Mobility 2020.

Leading Voices
TC Sessions: Mobility represents a broad range of companies and topics within the mobility space.

Want to know what’s happening in self-driving delivery? We’ve got Ahti Heinla (CTO @ Starship), Apeksha Kumavat (Co-Founder @ Gatik), & Amy Jones Satrom (Head of Ops. @ Nuro).

Want to get the low-down on Commuter Cars? We’re talking with Jesse Levinson (Co-Founder & CTO @ Zoox).

Want to see what’s in the future for passenger aircraft? Then you’ll definitely want to watch the session with JoeBen Bevirt (Founder @ Joby Aviation) and Reid Hoffman (Co-Director @ Reinvent Technology Partners)

Check out the full agenda here.

Trendspotting

Mobility is a fast-moving target, and success depends on a company’s or individual’s ability to spot possibilities before they become mainstream. At TC Sessions: Mobility you’ll meet with exhibitors, founders, and leaders to figure out what’s coming next.  Here’s what our attendees are saying:

“Attending TC Sessions: Mobility helps us keep an eye on what’s coming around the corner. It uncovers crucial trends so we can identify what we should be thinking about before anyone else.”
— Jeff Johnson, vice president of enterprise sales and solutions at FlashParking.

1 on 1 Global Networking

At TC Sessions: Mobility you can take advantage of CrunchMatch, our free, AI-powered networking platform (think speed dating for techies) makes connecting with like-minded attendees quick and painless — no matter where they’re located. A virtual conference means global participation, and you might just find your next customer, partner, investor or engineer living on a different continent. It takes only one connection to move your business forward.

Early Stage Expo & Pitch

30 early-stage startups will showcase their mobility tech in our virtual expo. Peruse the exhibitors, peek at their pitch decks, schedule a demo, start a conversation and see where it leads. During the show, you can also check out the pitch sessions where startups will present their company to a panel of TechCrunch editors.

TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9 is sure to be a blast and a great opportunity for you to expand your knowledge and network within the mobility industry. Book your tickets today as prices go up at the door. 

#artificial-intelligence, #co-founder, #cto, #engineer, #forward, #head, #jeff-johnson, #jesse-levinson, #nuro, #reid-hoffman, #reinvent-technology-partners, #self-driving-car, #tc, #zoox

Only 3 startup demo booths left at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Listen up mobility mavericks. TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 is right around the corner of your calendar (June 9). If you want to place your ground-breaking, edge-cutting, envelope-pushing (no extra charge for clichés) early-stage startup in front of the world’s leading mobility movers, shakers and makers you gotta hustle. You have just one week left to buy one of our remaining three Startup Exhibitor Packages.

Here’s what the $380 package includes, plus a few suggestions on ways to take full advantage of the virtual platform’s capabilities and boost the opportunity factor. Note: Exhibitors must be pre-Series A, early-stage startups in the mobility field.

  • Virtual booth space
  • Lead generation
  • 4 conference passes
  • Full event access
  • Videos on-demand
  • Breakout sessions
  • Networking with CrunchMatch

Hopin, our virtual platform, lets you tap into your creativity. Include a product walk-through video — complete with links to your website and social media accounts — at your virtual booth. But get this. Your booth also includes live stream capability. Make the most of that opportunity. Share your screen, host a live demo or a product tutorial and moderate the chat area.

Maybe you’d like to host and live stream your own Q&A session. Go for it. Or why not establish yourself as a subject matter expert? Choose your topic and combine your virtual booth and CrunchMatch, our AI-powered networking platform, to send invitations to the people you want to impress and get the conversation started. And of course, you can always schedule 1:1 video calls.

Since you’ll have four event passes, you and your team can tend to booth business and take in a range of presentations. Here are just two examples of what’s in store. Check out the event agenda and plan your schedule now.

Supercharging Self-Driving Super Vision: Few startups were as prescient as Scale AI when it came to anticipating the need for massive sets of tagged data for use in AI. Co-founder and CEO Alex Wang also made a great bet on addressing the needs of lidar sensing companies early on, which has made the company instrumental in deploying AV networks. We’ll hear about what it takes to make sense of sensor data in driverless cars and look at where the industry is headed.

AVs: Past, Present and Future: TechCrunch Mobility will talk to two pioneers, and competitors, who are leading the charge to commercialize autonomous vehicles. Karl Iagnemma, president of the $4 billion Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture known as Motional, and Chris Urmson, the co-founder and CEO of Aurora, will discuss — and maybe even debate — the best approach to AV development and deployment, swap stories of the earliest days of the industry and provide a few forecasts of what’s to come.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place on June 9, but you have just one week left to reserve your virtual demo booth. Grab this opportunity and get your startup in front of the industry’s top movers and makers.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#alex-wang, #aptiv, #artificial-intelligence, #aurora, #automation, #av, #chris-urmson, #consumer-electronics-show, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #hyundai, #karl-iagnemma, #president, #private-equity, #robotics, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-car, #startup-company, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #techcrunch, #technology

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 early bird price extended for one more day

I feel the need — the need for speed.” That could be the official mobility startup founder credo, amirite? Speed and agility are important, but don’t move so quickly that you miss the chance to save $100 on a pass to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 on June 9.

We’ve extended our early-bird price for just one more day. Slow your EV roll, reroute your autonomous vehicle or dock your scooter just long enough to buy a pass before the extended deadline expires on May 7, at 11:59 pm (PT).

TC Sessions: Mobility is where you’ll learn about the latest trends and tech advancements across the mobility spectrum — autonomous trucks, AI, EVs, the future of flight, regulatory issues, micromobility, robotics and more — from the brightest minds, makers and investors around the world.

Don’t just take our word for it. Here are what past attendees shared with us about their TC Sessions: Mobility experience.

“The virtual dynamic gave the conference a relaxed, conversational vibe. The speakers and TechCrunch editors were more accessible, and that was a welcome surprise.” — Rachael Wilcox, creative producer, Volvo Cars.

“TC Sessions: Mobility exceeded my expectations in terms of useful content. Every panel discussion I attended, every interaction I had was relevant to my work or to my daily life — because we don’t stop living at 5 pm.” — Jens Lehmann, technical lead and product manager, SAP.

“People want to be around what’s interesting and learn what trends and issues they need to pay attention to. Even large companies like GM and Ford were there, because they’re starting to see the trend move toward mobility. They want to learn from the experts, and TC Sessions: Mobility has all the experts.” — Melika Jahangiri, vice president at Wunder Mobility.

Did someone say experts? Here are just a few of the leading voices in the mobility ecosystem who will offer their invaluable insight and advice.

  • Kameale Terry, co-founder and CEO at ChargerHelp! Inc.
  • Ahti Heinla, co-founder, CEO and CTO at Starship Technologies
  • Clara Brenner, co-founder and managing partner at Urban Innovation Fund

Check the event agenda and start planning your schedule now. Your pass includes both live-stream and video-on-demand, so you won’t miss a minute of startup action.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place on June 9, and you have just one last shot to save $100 on the price of admission. Buy your pass before the price goes up and the savings disappear on May 7, at 11:59 pm (PT).

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#automation, #automotive, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #techcrunch, #volvo-cars

Less than 24 hours to save $100 to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Calling all frazzled procrastinators, feet-draggers, lollygaggers and last-minute decision makers. The best price on passes to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, which takes place on June 9, disappears in mere hours.

It’s now o’clock, baby. Shift your EV into gear, hail a robotaxi or tell Mr. Scott to beam you up — whatever it takes to buy your pass before the early bird deadline expires tonight, May 6, at 11:59 pm (PT).

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 gathers the very best people in the mobility startup ecosystem to discuss the rapidly evolving trends, opportunities and challenges that come from inventing new ways to move populations — and all their stuff — around the planet and beyond.

This one-day deep dive will help you drive your startup forward, understand emerging trends and gain insight on what investors want and where they’re placing bets. Engage in hyper-focused networking and discover opportunities anywhere in the world.

We have a great line up, and here are just a few examples of the interviews, inter-active panel discussions and breakout sessions waiting for you. Don’t forget to check out the event agenda here.

Mobility’s Robotic Future: Automotive manufacturers are looking to robotics as the future of mobility, from manufacturing to autonomy and beyond. We’ll be speaking with James Kuffner, CEO, Toyota Research Institute – Advanced Development, the head of robotics initiatives at one of the world’s largest automakers, to find out how the technology is set to transform the industry.

The Rise of Robotaxis in China: Silicon Valley has long been viewed as a hub for autonomous vehicle development. But another country is also leading the charge. Executives from three leading Chinese robotaxi companies (that also have operations in Europe or the U.S.) will join us to provide insight into the unique challenges of developing and deploying the technology in China and how it compares to other countries.

Will Venture Capital Drive the Future of Mobility? Clara Brenner (Urban Innovation Fund), Quin Garcia (Autotech Ventures) and Rachel Holt (Construct Capital) will discuss how the pandemic changed their investment strategies, the hottest sectors within the mobility industry, the rise of SPACs as a financial instrument and where they plan to put their capital in 2021 and beyond.

What are you waiting for? It’s now o’clock and time to save $100 — but only if you purchase your pass to Mobility 2021 before the price increase goes into effect tonight, May 6 at 11:59 pm (PT). Let the learning, networking and scaling begin!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#automation, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #ceo, #china, #clara-brenner, #europe, #james-kuffner, #motorola, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #robotaxi, #robotics, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-car, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #technology, #toyota, #toyota-research-institute, #united-states, #urban-innovation-fund

Just 72 hours left to save $100 on passes to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

So much can happen in 72 hours, and it’s easy to get distracted — especially when you’re building a startup in the fast lane that is mobility tech. But listen up: you have just 72 hours left to save $100 on your pass to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 on June 9.

Don’t let “busy” distract you. Buy your pass to Mobility 2021 before the price increase goes into effect on Thursday, May 6 at 11:59 pm (PT).

Why should you attend TC Sessions: Mobility 2021? It’s where you can tap into the latest trends, regulatory concerns, technical and ethical challenges surrounding the technologies that will forever change how we move people and material goods across towns, cities, states, countries — and space.

Or, as Jens Lehmann, technical lead and product manager at SAP, told us:

“TC Sessions Mobility is definitely worth your time, especially if you’re an early-stage founder. You get to connect to people in your field and learn from founders who are literally a year into your same journey. Plus, you can meet and talk to the movers and shakers — the people who are making it happen.”

Take a gander at just some of the fascinating people and topics waiting for you and see the event agenda here.

  • Supercharging Self-Driving Super Vision: Few startups were as prescient as Scale AI when it came to anticipating the need for massive sets of tagged data for use in AI. Co-founder and CEO Alex Wang also made a great bet on addressing the needs of lidar sensing companies early on, which has made the company instrumental in deploying AV networks. We’ll hear about what it takes to make sense of sensor data in driverless cars and look at where the industry is headed.
  • EV Founders in Focus: We sit down with the founders poised to take advantage of the rise in electric vehicle sales. We’ll chat with Ben Schippers, co-founder and CEO of TezLab, an app that operates like a Fitbit for Tesla vehicles (and soon other EVs) and allows drivers to go deep into their driving data. The app also breaks down the exact types and percentages of fossil fuels and renewable energy coming from charging locations.
  • The Future of Flight: Joby Aviation founder JoeBen Bevirt spent more than a decade quietly developing an all-electric, vertical take-off and landing passenger aircraft. Now he is preparing for a new phase of growth as Joby Aviation merges with the special purpose acquisition company formed by famed investor and Linked co-founder Reid Hoffman. Bevirt and Hoffman will come to our virtual stage to talk about how to build a startup (and keep it secret while raising funds), the future of flight and, of course, SPACs.

Pro tip: Between the live stream and video on demand, you can keep your work schedule on track without missing out.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place on June 9, but you have only 72 short hours left to save $100 on all the info and opportunity that TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 offers. Kick distractions to the curb. Buy your pass before the early bird price disappears on Thursday, May 6 at 11:59 pm (PT).

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#alex-wang, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #automotive, #av, #ben-schippers, #co-founder, #electric-aircraft, #emerging-technologies, #fitbit, #joby-aviation, #reid-hoffman, #renewable-energy, #robotics, #sap, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-car, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #technology, #tezlab, #video-on-demand

Walmart invests in self-driving startup Cruise

Walmart invests in self-driving startup Cruise

Enlarge (credit: Walmart)

Walmart is investing in self-driving startup Cruise as part of a massive $2.75 billion investment round in the company—an expansion of the $2 billion round announced in January. That original announcement featured three other big names: GM, Honda, and Microsoft.

Cruise was originally an independent startup but was acquired by GM in 2016. GM has poured billions into the company and has increasingly sought additional financial support from outside investors.

Recently, Cruise has been signaling that it is just a couple of years away from launching its technology commercially. Earlier this week, Cruise announced that it would launch a self-driving taxi service in Dubai in 2023. Cruise CEO Dan Ammann then told Bloomberg that he expected to launch a commercial service in San Francisco prior to launching in Dubai.

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#cars, #cruise, #self-driving-car, #walmart

Google spinoff Cartken and REEF Technologies launch Miami’s first delivery robots

Self-driving and robotics startup Cartken has partnered with REEF Technologies, a startup that operates parking lots and neighborhood hubs, to bring self-driving delivery robots to the streets of downtown Miami.

With this announcement, Cartken officially comes out of stealth mode. The company, founded by ex-Google engineers and colleagues behind the unrequited Bookbot, was formed to develop market-ready tech in self-driving, AI-powered robotics and delivery operations in 2019, but the team has kept operations under wraps until now. This is Cartken’s first large deployment of self-driving robots on sidewalks.

After a few test months, the REEF-branded electric-powered robots are now delivering dinner orders from REEF’s network of delivery-only kitchens to people located within a 3/4-mile radius in downtown Miami. The robots, which are insulated and thus can preserve the heat of a plate of spaghetti or other hot food, are pre-stationed at designated logistics hubs and dispatched with orders for delivery as the food is prepared.

“We want to show how future-forward Miami can be,” Matt Lindenberger, REEF’s chief technology officer, told TechCrunch. “This is a great chance to show off the capabilities of the tech. The combination of us having a big presence in Miami, the fact that there are a lot of challenges around congestion as Covid subsides, still shows a really good environment where we can show how this tech can work.”

Lindenberg said Miami is a great place to start, but it’s just the beginning, with potential for the Cartken robots to be used for REEF’s other last-mile delivery businesses. Currently, only two restaurant delivery robots are operating in Miami, but Lindenberger said the company is planning to expand further into the city and outward into Fort Lauderdale, as well as other large metros the company operates in, such as Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and eventually New York.

Lindenberger is hoping the presence of robots in the streets can act as a “force multiplier” allowing them to scale while maintaining quality of service in a cost-effective way.

“We’re seeing an explosion in deliveries right now in a post-pandemic world and we foresee that to continue, so these types of no-contact, zero-emission automation techniques are really critical,” he said.

Cartken’s robots are powered by a combination of machine learning and rules-based programming to react to every situation that could occur, even if that just means safely stopping and asking for help, Christian Bersch, CEO of Cartken, told TechCrunch. REEF would have supervisors on site to remotely control the robot if needed, a caveat that was included in the 2017 legislation that allowed for the operation of self-driving delivery robots in Florida.

“The technology at the end of the day is very similar to that of a self-driving car,” said Bersch. “The robot is seeing the environment, planning around obstacles like pedestrians or lampposts. If there’s an unknown situation, someone can help the robot out safely because it can stop on a dime. But it’s important to also have that level of autonomy on the robot because it can react in a split second, faster than anybody remotely could, if something happens like someone jumps in front of it.”

REEF marks specific operating areas on the map for the robots and Cartken tweaks the configuration for the city, accounting for specific situations a robot might need to deal with, so that when the robots are given a delivery address, they can make moves and operate like any other delivery driver. Only this driver has an LTE connection and is constantly updating its location so REEF can integrate it into its fleet management capabilities.

Image Credits: REEF/Cartken

Eventually, Lindenberger said, they’re hoping to be able to offer the option for customers to choose robot delivery on the major food delivery platforms REEF works with like Postmates, UberEats, DoorDash or GrubHub. Customers would receive a text when the robot arrives so they could go outside and meet it. However, the tech is not quite there yet.

Currently the robots only make it street-level, and then the food is passed off to a human who delivers it directly to the door, which is a service that most customers prefer. Navigating into an apartment complex and to a customer’s unit is difficult for a robot to manage just yet, and many customers aren’t quite ready to interact directly with a robot. 

“It’s an interim step, but this was a path for us to move forward quickly with the technology without having any other boundaries,” said Lindenberger. “Like with any new tech, you want to take it in steps. So a super important step which we’ve now taken and works very well is the ability to dispatch robots within a certain radius and know that they’re going to arrive there. That in and of itself is a huge step and it allows us to learn what kind of challenges you have in terms of that very last step. Then we can begin to work with Cartken to solve that last piece. It’s a big step just being able to do this automation.”

#artificial-intelligence, #atlanta, #automotive, #cartken, #ceo, #chief-technology-officer, #dallas, #doordash, #driver, #fleet-management, #florida, #food, #google, #grubhub, #los-angeles, #machine-learning, #miami, #new-york, #postmates, #reef-technologies, #robot, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #tc, #transportation

Another self-driving startup got gobbled up by incumbents

Promotional image of two men standing next to an electric car.

Enlarge / Cruise CTO Kyle Vogt and Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron. (credit: Voyage)

Two weeks ago, I wrote about reports that Cruise—a self-driving venture co-owned by GM and Honda—was on the verge of buying startup Voyage. Now it’s official: Cruise is acquiring Voyage.

Voyage’s strategy was to launch its first self-driving taxi service at the Villages, a massive retirement community in Florida. The Villages is large enough that people need a car to get around, yet many of its residents are at or near the age where they can’t drive safely. The community had a speed limit of 25 miles per hour, reducing the risk that anyone would be killed if a self-driving car malfunctioned.

In a piece two years ago, I suggested that focusing on a relatively easy application of self-driving technology like this could allow a startup like Voyage to succeed while their larger rivals floundered. I argued that once a company like Voyage has a viable commercial service in a limited area, expanding over time to a larger area and higher speeds would be relatively easy.

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#cars, #cruise, #oliver-cameron, #self-driving-car, #voyage

MIT researchers develop a new ‘liquid’ neural network that’s better at adapting to new info

A new type of neural network that’s capable of adapting its underlying behavior after the initial training phase could be the key to big improvements in situations where conditions can change quickly – like autonomous driving, controlling robots, or diagnosing medical conditions. These so-called ‘liquid’ neural networks were devised by MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab’s Ramin Hasani and his team at CSAIL, and they have the potential to greatly expand the flexibility of AI technology after the training phase, when they’re engaged in the actual practical inference work done in the field.

Typically, after the training phase, during which neural network algorithms are provided with a large volume of relevant target data to hone their inference capabilities, and rewarded for correct responses in order to optimize performance, they’re essentially fixed. But Hasani’s team developed a means by which his ‘liquid’ neural net can adapt the parameters for ‘success’ over time in response to new information, which means that if a neural net tasked with perception on a self-driving car goes from clear skies into heavy snow, for instance, it’s better able to deal with the shift in circumstances and maintain a high level of performance.

The main difference in the method introduced by Hasani and his collaborators is that it focuses on time-series adaptability, meaning that rather than being built on training data that is essentially made up of a number of snapshots, or static moments fixed in time, the liquid networks inherently considers time series data – or sequences of images rather than isolated slices.

Because of the way the system is designed, it’s actually also more open to observation and study by researchers, when compared to traditional neural networks. This kind of AI is typically referred to as a ‘black box,’ because while those developing the algorithms know the inputs and the the criteria for determining and encouraging successful behavior, they can’t typically determine what exactly is going on within the neural networks that leads to success. This ‘liquid’ model offers more transparency there, and it’s less costly when it comes to computing because it relies on fewer, but more sophisticated computing nodes.

Meanwhile, performance results indicate that it’s better than other alternatives for accuracy in predicting the future values of known data sets. Th next step for Hasani and his team are to determine how best to make the system even better, and ready it for use in actual practical applications.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #artificial-neural-networks, #computing, #emerging-technologies, #neural-network, #neural-networks, #science, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-car, #tc

Tesla is willing to license Autopilot and has already had “preliminary discussions” about it with other automakers

Tesla is open to licensing its software, including its Autopilot highly-automated driving technology, and the neural network training it has built to improve its autonomous driving technology. Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed those considerations on the company’s Q4 earnings call on Wednesday, adding that the company has in fact already “had some preliminary discussions about licensing Autopilot to other OEMs.”

The company began rolling out its beta version of the so-called ‘full self-driving’ or FSD version of Autopilot late last year. The standard Autopilot features available in general release provide advanced driver assistance (ADAS) which provide essentially advanced cruise control capabilities designed primarily for use in highway commutes. Musk said on the call that he expects the company will seek to prove out its FSD capabilities before entering into any licensing agreements, if it does end up pursuing that path.

Musk noted that Tesla’s “philosophy is definitely not to create walled gardens” overall, and pointed out that the company is planning to allow other automakers to use its Supercharger networks, as well as its autonomy software. He characterized Tesla as “more than happy to license” those autonomous technologies to “other car companies,” in fact.

One key technical hurdle required to get to a point where Tesla’s technology is able to demonstrate true reliability far surpassing that of a standard human driver is transition the neural networks operating in the cars and providing them with the analysis that powers their perception engines is to transition those to video. That’s a full-stack transition across the system away from basing it around neural nets trained on single cameras and single frames.

To this end, the company has developed video labelling software that has had “a huge effect on the efficiency of labeling,” with the ultimate aim being enabling automatic labeling. Musk (who isn’t known for modesty around his company’s achievements, it should be said) noted that Tesla believes “it may be the best neural net training computer in the world by possibly an order of magnitude,” adding that it’s also “something we can offer potentially as a service.”

Training huge quantities of video data will help Tesla push the reliability of its software from 100% that of a human driver, to 200% and eventually to “2,000% better than the average human,” Musk said, while again suggesting that it won’t be a technological achievement the company is interested into keeping to themselves.

#automation, #automotive, #car, #ceo, #driver, #elon-musk, #neural-network, #neural-networks, #self-driving-car, #tc, #tesla, #tesla-autopilot, #transport, #transportation

Waymo CEO: Building safe driverless cars is harder than rocket science

Waymo CEO: Building safe driverless cars is harder than rocket science

Enlarge (credit: Waymo)

Last year was the most significant yet in Waymo’s 11-year effort to develop a driverless car.

The Google sister company raised $3.2 billion, signed deals with several partners, and launched the world’s first truly driverless taxi service in Phoenix, Arizona.

Even so, the widespread rollout of fully autonomous vehicles remains slow, staggered, and costly.

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#cars, #self-driving-car, #waymo

Improving sound for hardware giants, Sweden’s Dirac finds its niche in China

The rise of U.S.-China tensions has accelerated the bifurcation of global technology, with the two superpowers each working on their own tech systems. While the rift might be discouraging cross-border investment and business expansion between the rivals, the countries that are in-between — like those in Southeast Asia and Europe — are still finding opportunities.

Sweden’s Dirac is such an example. The 15-year-old firm has been licensing sound optimization technology to mobile, home entertainment, AR/VR, automotive, and other businesses where sounds are critical. The geopolitical complications “have not impacted” the company at all, its founder and chief executive Mathias Johansson told TechCrunch in an interview.

Based in the university city Uppsala of Sweden, Dirac has deep ties to China, offering solutions to the country’s smartphone leaders from Huawei, Oppo, Xiaomi, to Africa-focused Transsion. More than 50% of its revenue come from China today.

Dirac’s interest in China stems in part from the founder’s early fascination with the country. When Johansson visited China for the first time through his PhD program two decades ago, he was impressed by the “rapid evolution” in the tech industry there.

“The audio industry put a lot of manufacturing in China first, but then more and more on development and design. We realized this is a market that’s absolutely key for the entire consumer electronics ecosystem,” Johansson said.

The entrepreneur had since been traveling to Asia, especially Japan and China where electronics were flourishing. In 2010, he hired Dirac’s first China manager Tony Ye, who previously worked for Swedish software firm IAR Systems in Shanghai. At the time, the revolutionary iPhone 4 was making waves across the world, but Johansson and his team were also bullish about China.

“We thought that China is going to be the leader in smartphones eventually. We thought that with Android and with Arm processors [China] is going to be a very different market. So we really went in there and focused on the market. And we thought that [Chinese] would be more hungry, more interested in trying out new things, simply because they were newcomers just like we were pioneers,” the founder said.

“It turned out to be the right bet.”

Though the Chinese government has been advocating for technological autonomy, the national efforts are prioritizing strategic areas like 5G and AI. In smaller and less politically charged fields, imported technologies are still seeing demand. These solutions are often cutting-edge and built upon years of research and development, but they are too niched for big corporations to invest the money and time. That is true for certain video enhancement solutions (see TechCrunch’s profile of Imint, also an Uppsala-based company), or advanced sound optimization in the case of Dirac.

Johansson began researching the audio technology behind Dirac some 20 years ago during university, which made it harder for latecomers to catch up, the founder asserted. Dirac fixes audio like how glasses correct vision. Its team would first send out a test signal through the target speaker system, records it with a microphone, generates a digital fingerprint of audio, and measures the acoustic information. It then makes an exact “mirror universe” of the distortions created by the system, sends pre-distorted audio back to the speakers and the users will eventually get the distortion-free version of the sound.

The research and development cycle at Dirac is long, but working with Chinese companies has forced the Swedish firm to adapt.

“It challenged us to come up with new, more efficient ways of doing the same thing and to keep that innovation pace ahead of the competitor, whether it’s domestic Chinese, or the U.S., or wherever,” the founder admitted.

Dirac maintains its cashflow by licensing its intellectual property to clients and charges royalty fees per unit of device shipped. It also operates a B2B2C model, whereby the end-user can upgrade the sound system of a device, say, a speaker, by paying a fee, which is then divided between Dirac and its client, i.e. the device maker. Its latest big-name customer is the Chinese electric carmaker BYD, a deal that the company sees as an important step in furthering its automotive ambitions.

“Traditional carmakers are being challenged and the whole ecosystem is changing,” Johansson observed. “With software upgrades, cars are becoming something very different. They’re becoming much more like mobile phones and much more software-centric. The whole entertainment aspect and the audio experience in cars are becoming almost the most important part of the car because the noise is so low, the car is so quiet and you’re maybe driving a self-driving car. The audio experience you will get from cars will be outstanding in a couple of years.”

#asia, #automotive, #china, #consumer-electronics, #dirac, #europe, #hardware, #huawei, #manufacturing, #oppo, #self-driving-car, #speaker, #sweden, #transsion, #xiaomi

Approaching commercialization for its autonomous radar nav system, Lunewave raises $7 million

Lunewave, the Arizona-based startup developing a novel technology for radars for autonomous vehicles, has raised $7 million in financing as it gets ready for the commercial rollout of its systems.

The company’s latest financing came from Proeza entures, Blue 9 Capital, Tsingyuan Ventures and Intact Ventures, the company said.

With the latest funding Lunewave will continue to work with Tier 1 suppliers to establish strategic partnerships and jointly manufacture the company’s radar sensor, according to chief executive and co-founder John Xin.

The 3D printed Luneburg lens pitches features like broad bandwidth, high gain, and a capacity for forming multiple high-quality beams in all directions. The company said two of its sensors could replace 20 radar sensros used today.

The Lunewave radar has already gone through several pre-development projects with original equipment manufacturers and with ride hailing companies. “We’re very close to establishing a formal contractual partnership to commercialize our product,” said Xin. “By the end of the first quarter we will be able to announce a strategic partnership with a global tier 1 supplier.”

For Xin, the big pillars within sensors are cameras, lidar and radar, and he says that radar is the only one that works well in inclement weather conditions. “In the industry these days it’s becoming a philosophical discussion,” said Xin. “But we believe in sensor fusion. The more safety the better. Our job is to be the vendor choice for radar solutions.”

Xin said the new financing would go to staff up the company’s product development and sales teams as it looks to continue to refine its technology. The company’s product development currently operates on two tracks. One is a pure “a-dash” system and the other is geared toward level three, four, and five autonomy in vehicles.

The company is also hoping to continue its penetration of the industrial vehicle market — another area where Xin says the Lunewave is beginning to see real traction.

“We believe that ADAS and AV systems will continue to make their way into vehicles, leading to a strong growth in radars as they are a core component of both systems,” said Rodolfo Elias Dieck, managing director, Proeza Ventures. 

The company boasts that its technology offers 180-degree field of view in the horizontal plane and can detect objects surrounding a car with 6 times the resolution available today — even at long range and in poor weather.

As part of the funding, former BMW director Peter Schwarzenbacher and former Delphi executive James Zizelman will be taking seats on the company’s board of directors. Zizelman, who currently serves as the president of Stoneridge Contro Devices, was previous the vice president of engineering for Aptiv and an exec at Delphi Automotive.

“The technology that Lunewave is bringing to market provides the ultimate in value proposition,” said Zizelman. “Not only does this innovation bring truly superior technical capability in field of view, resolution, and other attributes, it also offers the opportunity to replace multiple radar units with a single Lunewave device—better and more cost effective.”

 

#air-traffic-control, #aptiv, #arizona, #av, #delphi, #director, #executive, #president, #proeza-ventures, #radar, #self-driving-car, #targeting, #tc, #technology, #wireless

Honda to mass-produce Level 3 autonomous cars by March

Honda claims it will be the first automaker to mass-produce vehicles with autonomous capabilities that meet SAE Level 3 standards, with plans to begin producing and selling a version of its Honda Legend luxury sedan with fully approved automated driving equipment in Japan from next March. Honda announced the news via press release (via Reuters) and this follows the approval by the Japanese government of the company’s ‘Traffic Jam Pilot’ autonomous tech, which for the first time will allow drivers to actually take their eyes off the road while it’s engaged.

Honda’s Pro Pilot Assist is the feature that predates this forthcoming one, but it’s a Level 2 feature per the SAE scale, which means that while it can automatically control both speed and steering, drivers behind the wheel have to be constantly ready to take over manual control should the system require it. SAE Level 3 is the first that falls under a categorization that most experts feels qualifies as actually autonomous – wherein a driver can fully allow their vehicle to take over control. Level 3 still requires that a driver be able to take over driving when the system requests, while Levels 4 and 5 have no such requirement.

Tesla has also launched its own ‘full self-driving’ feature in its vehicles in a beta program that it’s expanding to more drivers gradually, but critics suggest that despite it’s name, it’s not actually a fully autonomous system, and it isn’t yet classified as such according to regulations. Honda’s launch of its Level 3 Legend in March 2021 will be one watched by regulators and ordinary drivers alike around the world as one of the first true tests of a mass-produced and regulator-approved autonomous vehicle system.

#artificial-intelligence, #automation, #automotive, #cars, #driver, #driving, #emerging-technologies, #honda, #japan, #japanese-government, #legend, #pilot, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #tc, #tesla, #transport, #transportation

Tesla has increased the price of its “Full Self-Driving” option to $10,000

Tesla has made good on founder and CEO Elon Musk’s promise to boost the price of its “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) software upgrade option, increasing it to $10,000 following the start of the staged rollout of a beta version of the software update last week. This boosts the price of the package $2,000 from its price before today, and it has steadily increased since last May.

The FSD option has been available as an optional add-on to complement Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance technology, even though the features themselves haven’t been available to Tesla owners before the launch of the beta this month. Even still, it’s only in limited beta, but this is the closest Musk and Tesla have come to actually launching something under the FSD moniker – after having teased a fully autonomous mode in production Teslas for years now.

Despite its name, FSD isn’t what most in the industry would define as full, Level 4 or Level 5 autonomy per the standards defined by SAE International and accepted by most working on self-driving. Musk has designed it as vehicles having the ability “to be autonomous but requiring supervision and intervention at times,” whereas Levels 4 and 5 (often considered ‘true self-driving’) under SAE standards require no driver intervention.

Still, the technology does appear impressive in some ways according to early user feedback – though testing any kind of self-driving software unsupervised via the general public does seem an incredibly risky move. Musk has said that we should see a wide rollout of the FSD tech beyond the beta before year’s end, so he definitely seems confident in its performance.

The price increase might be another sign of his and the company’s confidence. Musk has always maintained that users were getting a discount by handing money over early to Tesla in order to help it develop technology that would come later, so in many ways it makes sense that the price increase comes now. This also obviously helps Tesla boost margins, though it’s already riding high on earning that beat both revenue and profit expectations from analysts.

#automation, #automotive, #ceo, #driver, #elon-musk, #emerging-technologies, #hyperloop, #mobility, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #tc, #tesla, #tesla-autopilot, #transport, #transportation

Waymo finally launches an actual public, driverless taxi service

Close-up photograph of a hand holding a smartphone.

Enlarge

After covering Waymo for several years, I’ve learned to take the company’s announcements with a grain of salt.

In 2018, for example, Waymo said it would launch a fully driverless commercial service by the end of the year. Waymo did release a service called Waymo One in December 2018, but it came with a couple of huge asterisks: every vehicle had a safety driver, and the service was only open to a small group of people.

But today Waymo finally seems to be launching the taxi service it promised two years ago: one that’s fully driverless and open to the public. Waymo told Ars that the service will initially operate in a 50-square-mile area in the Phoenix suburbs of Chandler, Tempe, and Mesa.

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#cars, #driverless, #phoenix, #self-driving-car, #waymo

Autonomous vehicle reporting data is driving AV innovation right off the road

At the end of every calendar year, the complaints from autonomous vehicle companies start piling up. This annual tradition is the result of a requirement by the California Department of Motor Vehicles that AV companies deliver “disengagement reports” by January 1 of each year showing the number of times an AV operator had to disengage the vehicle’s autonomous driving function while testing the vehicle.

However, all disengagement reports have one thing in common: their usefulness is ubiquitously criticized by those who have to submit them. The CEO and founder of a San Francisco-based self-driving car company publicly stated that disengagement reporting is “woefully inadequate … to give a meaningful signal about whether an AV is ready for commercial deployment.” The CEO of a self-driving technology startup called the metrics “misguided.” Waymo stated in a tweet that the metric “does not provide relevant insights” into its self-driving technology or “distinguish its performance from others in the self-driving space.”

Why do AV companies object so strongly to California’s disengagement reports? They argue the metric is misleading based on lack of context due to the AV companies’ varied testing strategies. I would argue that a lack of guidance regarding the language used to describe the disengagements also makes the data misleading. Furthermore, the metric incentivizes testing in less difficult circumstances and favors real-world testing over more insightful virtual testing.

Understanding California reporting metrics

To test an autonomous vehicle on public roads in California, an AV company must obtain an AV Testing Permit. As of June 22, 2020, there were 66 Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permit holders in California and 36 of those companies reported autonomous vehicle testing in California in 2019. Only five of those companies have permits to transport passengers.

To operate on California public roads, each permitted company must report any collision that results in property damage, bodily injury, or death within 10 days of the incident.

There have been 24 autonomous vehicle collision reports in 2020 thus far. However, though the majority of those incidents occurred in autonomous mode, accidents were almost exclusively the result of the autonomous vehicle being rear-ended. In California, rear-end collisions are almost always deemed the fault of the rear-ending driver.

The usefulness of collision data is evident — consumers and regulators are most concerned with the safety of autonomous vehicles for pedestrians and passengers. If an AV company reports even one accident resulting in substantial damage to the vehicle or harm to a pedestrian or passenger while the vehicle operates in autonomous mode, the implications and repercussions for the company (and potentially the entire AV industry) are substantial.

However, the usefulness of disengagement reporting data is much more questionable. The California DMV requires AV operators to report the number and details of disengagements while testing on California public roads by January 1 of each year. The DMV defines this as “how often their vehicles disengaged from autonomous mode during tests (whether because of technical failure or situations requiring the test driver/operator to take manual control of the vehicle to operate safely).”

Operators must also track how often their vehicles disengaged from autonomous mode, and whether that disengagement was the result of software malfunction, human error, or at the option of the vehicle operator.

AV companies have kept a tight lid on measurable metrics, often only sharing limited footage of demonstrations performed under controlled settings and very little data, if any. Some companies have shared the occasional “annual safety report,” which reads more like a promotional deck than a source of data on AV performance. Furthermore, there are almost no reporting requirements for companies doing public testing in any other state. California’s disengagement reports are the exception.

This AV information desert means that disengagement reporting in California has often been treated as our only source of information on AVs. The public is forced to judge AV readiness and relative performance based on this disengagement data, which is incomplete at best and misleading at worst.

Disengagement reporting data offers no context

Most AV companies claim that disengagement reporting data is a poor metric for judging advancement in the AV industry due to a lack of context for the numbers: knowing where those miles were driven and the purpose of those trips is essential to understanding the data in disengagement reports.

Some in the AV industry have complained that miles driven in sparsely populated areas with arid climates and few intersections are miles dissimilar from miles driven in a city like San Francisco, Pittsburgh, or Atlanta. As a result, the number of disengagements reported by companies that test in the former versus the latter geography are incomparable.

It’s also important to understand that disengagement reporting requirements influence AV companies’ decisions on where and how to test. A test that requires substantial disengagements, even while safe, would be discouraged, as it would make the company look less ready for commercial deployment than its competitors. In reality, such testing may result in the most commercially ready vehicle. Indeed, some in the AV industry have accused competitors of manipulating disengagement reporting metrics by easing the difficulty of miles driven over time to look like real progress.

Furthermore, while data can look particularly good when manipulated by easy drives and clear roads, data can look particularly bad when it’s being used strategically to improve AV software.

Let’s consider an example provided by Jack Stewart, a reporter for NPR’s Marketplace covering transportation:

“Say a company rolls out a brand-new build of their software, and they’re testing that in California because it’s near their headquarters. That software could be extra buggy at the beginning, and you could see a bunch of disengagements, but that same company could be running a commercial service somewhere like Arizona, where they don’t have to collect these reports.

That service could be running super smoothly. You don’t really get a picture of a company’s overall performance just by looking at this one really tight little metric. It was a nice idea of California some years ago to start collecting some information, but it’s not really doing what it was originally intended to do nowadays.”

Disengagement reports lack prescriptive language

The disengagement reports are also misleading due to a lack of guidance and uniformity in the language used to describe the disengagements. For example, while AV companies used a variety of language, “perception discrepancies” was the most common term used to describe the reason for a disengagement — however, it’s not clear that the term “perception discrepancies” has a set meaning.

Several operators used the phrase “perception discrepancy” to describe a failure to detect an object correctly. Valeo North America described a similar error as “false detection of object.” Toyota Research Institute almost exclusively described their disengagements vaguely as “Safety Driver proactive disengagement,” the meaning of which is “any kind of disengagement.” Whereas, Pony.ai described each instance of disengagement with particularity.

Many other operators reported disengagements that were “planned testing disengagements” or that were described with such insufficient particularity as to be virtually meaningless.

For example, “planned disengagements” could mean the testing of intentionally created malfunctions, or it could simply mean the software is so nascent and unsophisticated that the company expected the disengagement. Similarly, “perception discrepancy” could mean anything from precautionary disengagements to disengagements due to extremely hazardous software malfunctions. “Perception discrepancy,” “planned disengagement” or any number of other vague descriptions of disengagements make comparisons across AV operators virtually impossible.

So, for example, while it appears that a San Francisco-based AV company’s disengagements were exclusively precautionary, the lack of guidance on how to describe disengagements and the many vague descriptions provided by AV companies have cast a shadow over disengagement descriptions, calling them all into question.

Regulations discourage virtual testing

Today, the software of AV companies is the real product. The hardware and physical components — lidar, sensors, etc. — of AV vehicles have become so uniform, they’re practically off-the-shelf. The real component that is being tested is software. It’s well known that software bugs are best found by running the software as often as possible; road testing simply can’t reach the sheer numbers necessary to find all the bugs. What can reach those numbers is virtual testing.

However, the regulations discourage virtual testing as the lower reported road miles would seem to imply that a company is not road-ready.

Jack Stewart of NPR’s Marketplace expressed a similar point of view:

“There are things that can be relatively bought off the shelf and, more so these days, there are just a few companies that you can go to and pick up the hardware that you need. It’s the software, and it’s how many miles that software has driven both in simulation and on the real roads without any incident.”

So, where can we find the real data we need to compare AV companies? One company runs over 30,000 instances daily through its end-to-end, three-dimensional simulation environment. Another company runs millions of off-road tests a day through its internal simulation tool, running driving models that include scenarios that it can’t test on roads involving pedestrians, lane merging, and parked cars. Waymo drives 20 million miles a day in its Carcraft simulation platform — the equivalent of over 100 years of real-world driving on public roads.

One CEO estimated that a single virtual mile can be just as insightful as 1,000 miles collected on the open road.

Jonathan Karmel, Waymo’s product lead for simulation and automation, similarly explained that Carcraft provides “the most interesting miles and useful information.”

Where we go from here

Clearly there are issues with disengagement reports — both in relying on the data therein and in the negative incentives they create for AV companies. However, there are voluntary steps that the AV industry can take to combat some of these issues:

  1. Prioritize and invest in virtual testing. Developing and operating a robust system of virtual testing may present a high expense to AV companies, but it also presents the opportunity to dramatically shorten the pathway to commercial deployment through the ability to test more complex, higher risk, and higher number scenarios.
  2. Share data from virtual testing. Voluntary disclosure of virtual testing data will reduce reliance on disengagement reports by the public. Commercial readiness will be pointless unless AV companies have provided the public with reliable data on AV readiness for a sustained period.
  3. Seek the greatest value from on-road miles. AV companies should continue using on-road testing in California, but they should use those miles to fill in the gaps from virtual testing. They should seek the greatest value possible out of those slower miles, accept the higher percentage of disengagements they will be required to report, and when reporting on those miles, describe their context in particularity.

With these steps, AV companies can lessen the pain of California’s disengagement reporting data and advance more quickly to an AV-ready future.

#arizona, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #automotive, #av, #california, #column, #government, #opinion, #policy, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #tc, #toyota-research-institute, #transportation, #waymo

Space sector investment shows signs of strength in Q2 despite COVID-19 pandemic

The most recent quarterly report from specialist investor Space Capital shows that despite obvious impacts stemming from the current coronavirus pandemic, investment in general in space startups didn’t suffer as much as some predicted – and interest surged specifically in the ‘Applications’ category they track, which monitors companies building software on the data layer enabled by in-space observation and communication assets.

Space Capital’s Q2 report did report an 85% decline quarter-over-quarter vs. Q1 in terms of infrastructure investment, which is a clear sign that investors have been wary of spending on big, expensive new companies actually building and launching space hardware. We saw the result of some of that retraction with mergers and bankruptcies, including the high-profile bankruptcy and subsequent sale of satellite constellation operator OneWb.

The good news on the software layer is that the quarter saw $5.3 billion invested in these companies, including $4.5 billion in the U.S., according to the report. And VC funding overall is actually up 4% year-over-year for H1 2020 vs. H1 2019, the firm notes – though Q2 investment taken on its own is down 23% year-over-year relative to Q2 2019.

On the whole, the space sector saw $12.1 billion in equity-based investments to date in 2020, across 112 rounds, with early stage investments totalling $303 million of that, across 67 rounds. The bulk of those were either Seed or Series A investments.

It’s worth noting that the Applications layer as tracked by Space Capital includes essentially any company that relies heavily on GPS – and PNT-based navigation for their software, including large companies like Waymo that need that data to make their self-driving technology work.

GPS is unquestionably one of the largest and most successful space-based infrastructure investments that continues to bear considerable fruit, in terms of new businesses being built, and legacy industries continuing to be updated and disrupted. Many in space investment are seeking a successor to GPS – not necessarily in terms of its specific function, but definitely in terms of a space-based technology that has as broad and lasting an impact.

You can read the full report from Space Capital below:

#aerospace, #articles, #global-positioning-system, #gps, #infrastructure, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-car, #space, #space-capital, #tc, #technology, #united-states, #venture-capital, #waymo

Ford to roll out hands-free driving in Q3 of 2021, starting with the Mustang Mach-E

Ford will start offering a hands-free driving feature in the second half 2021, beginning with its new Mustang Mach-E electric vehicle.

The hands-free feature, called Active Drive Assist, is part of a larger package of advanced driver assistance features collectively called Ford Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0 Prep Package. But it’s the hands-free offering that is getting all of the attention today.

The hands-free feature has been anticipated since the Mustang Mach E — which has a driving monitoring system situated above the steering wheel — was revealed last year.

There are important caveats to Ford’s announcement. The tech, while notable, won’t be available everywhere and in every Ford vehicle. Drivers who want the feature will have to buy a 2021 Mustang Mach E and the additional Active 2.0 Prep Package, which includes the proper hardware such as sensors to support the system. The software is purchased separately and at a later date once it’s ready. The software can be added either at a dealership or via over-the-air updates in the third quarter of 2021, Ford said. And all this will come at a price, which is still unknown.

The hands-free feature will work on about 100,000 miles of pre-mapped, divided highways in the U.S. and Canada . The monitoring system will include an advanced infrared driver-facing camera that will track eye gaze and head position to ensure drivers are paying attention to the road. The DMS will be used in the hands-free mode and when drivers opt for lane centering mode, which works on any road with lane lines. Drivers who don’t keep their eyes forward will be notified by visual prompts on their instrument cluster.

This “prep package” also includes the latest iteration of park assist, which will handle maneuvering into parallel and perpendicular spaces. There’s also offers a “Park Out Assist” feature with side-sensing capability that helps drivers navigate out of a parking spot when someone’s parked too close.

Ford made a point of comparing its system in the Mustang Mach-E to Tesla’s Model Y. In particular, Ford notes that it is hands-free while Tesla’s driver assistance system known as Autopilot is not. But the comparison doesn’t quite square.

A better comparison might be with its rival GM, which has taken a similarly cautious approach to introducing its hand-free driving system known as Super Cruise, which also has a driver monitoring system. GM limited Super Cruise to just one Cadillac branded model, the full-size CT6 sedan, and restricted its use to certain divided highways. Over the past year, GM has improved the capabilities of the feature, expanded where it can be deployed and is offering it in other models.

#automotive, #canada, #cars, #driver, #ford, #ford-mustang, #gm, #mustang, #self-driving-car, #tc, #tesla, #united-states

Self-driving vehicle startup Argo AI completes $2.6B deal with Volkswagen, expands to Europe

Volkswagen Group finalized Tuesday its $2.6 billion investment into Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based self-driving car startup that came out of stealth in 2017 with $1 billion in backing from Ford.

The deal turns Argo into a global company with two customers — VW and Ford — as well as operations in the U.S. and Europe and an instant jump in its workforce. Autonomous Intelligent Driving, the self-driving subsidiary that was launched in 2017 to develop autonomous vehicle technology for the VW Group, will be absorbed into Argo AI. AID’s Munich offices will become Argo’s European headquarters.

That integration, which can begin now that the deal has closed, will expand Argo’s workforce to more than 1,000 people. Argo also has offices in Detroit, Palo Alto, and Cranbury, New Jersey. The company has fleets of autonomous vehicles mapping and testing on public roads in Austin, Miami and Washington, D.C.

Argo AI is developing the virtual driver system and high-definition maps designed for Ford’s self-driving vehicles. That mission now expands to VW. Ford and VW will share the cost of developing Argo AI’s self-driving vehicle technology under the terms of the deal.

“Building a safe, scalable and trusted self-driving service, however, is no small task. It’s also not a cheap one,” Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC CEO John Lawler said in a blog post.

Two years ago, Ford said it would spend $4 billion through 2023 in a newly created LLC dedicated to building out an autonomous vehicles business. Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC houses the company’s self-driving systems integration, autonomous-vehicle research and advanced engineering, AV transportation-as-a-service network development, user experience, business strategy and business development teams.

Lawler emphasized that “sharing development costs” doesn’t mean Ford is reducing its overall spend in autonomous vehicles. Instead, the company said it will reallocate money towards development of transportation as a service software and fleet operations for its eventual self-driving service.

Despite this shared investment, Ford and VW will not collaborate on the actual self-driving vehicle service.

Lawler, who is also vice president of mobility partnerships at Ford, said the U.S. automaker “will remain independent and fiercely competitive in building its own self-driving service.”

Argo’s board will now be comprised of two VW seats, two Ford seats and three Argo seats.

#argo-ai, #artificial-intelligence, #austin, #automation, #cars, #detroit, #europe, #henry-ford, #miami, #munich, #new-jersey, #palo-alto, #pittsburgh, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #tc, #transport, #volkswagen, #volkswagen-group, #washington-d-c

Audi launches high-tech car unit Artemis to fast-track a ‘pioneering’ EV to market

Audi has created a new business unit called Artemis to bring electric vehicles equipped with highly automated driving systems and other tech to market faster — the latest bid by the German automaker to become more agile and competitive.

The traditional automotive industry, where the design to start of production cycle might take five to seven years, has been grappling with how to bring new and innovative products to market more quickly to meet consumers’ fickle demands. The model is more akin to how Tesla or a consumer electronics company operates.

The first project under Artemis will be to “develop a pioneering model for Audi quickly and unbureaucratically,” Audi AG CEO Markus Duesmann said in a statement Friday. The unit is aiming to design and produce what Audi describes as a “highly efficient electric car” as early as 2024.

Artemis will be led by Alex Hitzinger, who was in charge of Audi’s Autonomous Intelligent Driving (AID), the self-driving subsidiary that was launched in 2017 to develop autonomous vehicle technology for the VW Group. AID was absorbed into the European headquarters of Argo AI, a move that was made after VW invested $2.6 billion in capital and assets into the self-driving startup.

Hitzinger, who takes the new position beginning June 1, will report directly to Duesmann. Artemis will be based at the company’s tech hub of its INCampus in Ingolstadt, Germany.

Artemis is under the Audi banner. However, the aim is for this group’s work to benefit brands under its parent company VW Group. Hitzinger and the rest of his team will have access to resources and technologies within the entire Volkswagen Group . For instance, Car.Software, an independent business unit under the VW Group, will provide digital services to Artemis. The upshot: to create a blueprint that will make VW Group a more agile automaker able to bring new and technologically advanced vehicles to market more quickly.

VW Group plans to produce and sell 75 electric vehicle models across its brands by 2029, a group that includes VW passenger cars and Audi. The creation of Artemis hasn’t changed Audi’s plans to produce 20 new all-electric vehicles and 10 new plug-in hybrids by 2025.

“The obvious question was how we could implement additional high-tech benchmarks without jeopardizing the manageability of existing projects, and at the same time utilize new opportunities in the markets,” Duesmann said.

#audi, #audi-ag, #automotive, #cars, #digital-services, #electric-car, #germany, #self-driving-car, #tc, #tesla, #volkswagen, #volkswagen-group, #vw-group

SoftBank pours $500M into Didi in China’s biggest autonomous driving round

The race to automate vehicles on China’s roads is heating up. Didi, the Uber of China, announced this week an outsized investment of over $500 million in its freshly minted autonomous driving subsidiary. Placing the bet — the single largest fundraising round in China’s autonomous driving sector — is its existing investor Softbank, the Japanese telecom giant and startup benefactor that has also backed Uber.

The proceeds came through Softbank’s second Vision Fund, which was reportedly lagging in fundraising as its Fund I recorded massive losses in part due to the collapsing valuation of WeWork.

As China’s largest ride-hailing provider with mountains of traffic data, Didi clearly has an upper hand in developing robotaxis, which could help address driver shortage in the long term. But it was relatively late to the field. In 2018, Didi ranked eighth in kilometers of autonomous driving tests carried out in Beijing, far behind search giant Baidu which accounted for over 90% of the total mileage that year.

It’s since played aggressive catchup. Last August, it spun off its then three-year-old autonomous driving unit into an independent company to focus on R&D, building partnerships along the value chain, and promoting the futuristic technology to the government. The team now has a staff of 200 across its China and U.S. offices.

As an industry observer told me, “robotaxis will become a reality only when you have the necessary operational skills, technology and government support all in place.”

Didi is most famous for its operational efficiency, as facilitating safe and pleasant rides between drivers and passengers is no small feat. The company’s leadership hails from Alibaba’s legendary business-to-business sales team, also known as the “Alibaba Iron Army” for its ability in on-the-ground operation.

On the tech front, the subsidiary is headed by chief executive Zhang Bo, a Baidu veteran, and chief technology officer Wei Junqing, who joined last year from self-driving software company Aptiv.

The autonomous segment can also benefit from Didi’s all-encompassing reach in the mobility industry. For instance, it’s working to leverage the parent company’s smart charging networks, fleet maintenance service and insurance programs for autonomous fleets.

The fresh capital will enable Didi’s autonomous business to improve safety — an area that became a focal point of the company after two deadly accidents — and efficiency through conducting R&D and road tests. The financing will also allow it to deepen industry cooperation and accelerate the deployment of robotaxi services in China and abroad.

Over the years, Didi has turned to traditional carmakers for synergies in what it dubs the “D-Alliance,” which counts more than 31 partners. It has applied autonomous driving technology to vehicles from Lincoln, Nissan, Volvo, BYD, to name a few.

Didi has secured open-road testing licenses in three major cities in China as well as California. It said last August that it aimed to begin picking up ride-hailing passengers with autonomous cars in Shanghai in a few months’ time. It’s accumulated 300,000 kilometers of road tests in China and the U.S. as of last August.

#aptiv, #asia, #automation, #automotive, #beijing, #carsharing, #china, #didi, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #shanghai, #softbank, #tc, #transport, #transportation, #uber, #vision-fund

GM is working on a hands-off advanced driving system for city streets

GM has a “big team” working on an advanced version of its hands-free driving assistance system, Super Cruise, that will expand its capability beyond highways and apply it to city streets, the automaker’s vice president of global product development Doug Parks said Tuesday.

GM is also continuing to improve its existing Super Cruise product, Parks said during a webcasted interview at Citi’s 2020 Car of the Future Symposium.

“As we continue to ratchet up Super Cruise, we continue to add capability and not just highway roads,” Parks said, adding that a separate team is working on the hands-free city driving product known internally as “Ultra Cruise.”

“We’re trying to take that same capability off the highway,” he said. “Ultra cruise would be all of the Super Cruise plus the neighborhoods, city streets and subdivisions. So Ultra Cruise’s domain would be  essentially all driving, all the time.”

Parks was quick to add that this would not be autonomous driving. Advanced driving assistance systems have become more capable, but they still require a human driver to take control and to be paying attention.

“What we’re not saying is that Ultra Cruise will be fully autonomous 100% of the time, although that could be one of the end games,” Parks said.

Parks didn’t provide a timeline for when Ultra Cruise might be available. A GM spokesperson said in a statement after his interview that the company continues to expand its hands-free driver assistance system technology across its vehicle portfolio and has “teams looking at how we can expand the capabilities to more scenarios.”

GM said it “does not have a name or anything specific to announce today, but stay tuned.”

This new Ultra Cruise feature would put it in competition with Tesla’s Autopilot advanced driving system, which is largely viewed as the most capable on the market today. Tesla’s “full self-driving” package, a more capable version of Autopilot, can now identify stop signs and traffic lights and automatically slows the car to a stop on approach. This feature is still considered to be in beta.

GM’s Super Cruise uses a combination of lidar map data, high-precision GPS,  cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system, which monitors the person behind the wheel to ensure they’re paying attention. Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system, users of Super Cruise do not need to have their hands on the wheel. However, their eyes must remain directed straight ahead.

GM has taken a slower approach to Super Cruise compared to Tesla’s method of rolling out software updates that gives early access to some owners to test the improved features. When GM launched Super Cruise in 2017, it was only available in one Cadillac model — the full-size CT6 sedan — and restricted to divided highways. That began to change in 2019 when GM announced plans to expand where Super Cruise would be available.

GM’s new digital vehicle platform, which provides more electrical bandwidth and data processing power, enabled engineers to add to Super Cruise’s capabilities. In January, GM added a feature to Super Cruise that automated lane changes for drivers of certain Cadillac models, including the upcoming 2021 Escalade.

This enhanced version of Super Cruise includes better steering and speed control. The improved version will be introduced starting with the 2021 Cadillac CT4 and CT5 sedans, followed by the new 2021 Cadillac Escalade. The vehicles are expected to become available in the second half of 2020.

#automotive, #cadillac, #cars, #citi, #general-motors, #gm, #gps, #sedans, #self-driving-car, #tc, #tesla

Ford postpones autonomous vehicle service until 2022

Ford said Tuesday it will delay plans to launch an autonomous vehicle service to 2022, as the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the company to rethink its go-to-market strategy.

The news was shared as part of Ford’s quarterly earnings which was released after market closed Tuesday.

Ford is a bit different from other companies that have launched autonomous vehicle pilots in the United States. The automaker has been pursuing two parallels tracks that were supposed to eventually combine ahead of a planned commercial launch in 2021. The automaker is testing and honing in on what its AV business model might look like, while separately developing autonomous vehicle technology.

Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based company into which Ford invested $1 billion in 2017, is developing the virtual driver system and high-definition maps designed for Ford’s self-driving vehicles. Ford has been testing its go-to-market strategy through pilot programs with partners like Walmart,  Domino’s and Postmates, and even some local businesses.

Ford said Tuesday that it needs to study the long-term impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on customer behaviors.

Here is the statement from Ford in response to questions about its autonomous vehicle plans.

Given the challenges of the current business environment, as well as the need to evaluate the long-term impact of COVID-19 on customer behaviors, Ford made the decision to shift the launch of its self-driving services to 2022. Understanding customer behavior is a critically important part of building a new mobility service built around trust and making people’s lives easier.

Taking the time to research changes in customer behaviors provides Ford with an opportunity to evaluate and potentially change our go-to-market strategy to meet new consumer demands. As part of this evaluation, we also want to make sure the customer experience we are building offers people peace of mind knowing they, or their packages, are in a safe and protected environment inside our vehicles.

COVID-19 has already affected consumer behavior. Ford’s experience in China, where the coronavirus first arose, prompted the automaker to turn to online sales. CEO Jim Hackett said now one third of sales are online in China.

Ford also anticipates it will change demand for certain products.

“We believe this pandemic could affect our customers lives and work for many years to come, with zero touch as an integral part of their lives going forward, perhaps spurring on even more interest in adoption of autonomy especially goods delivery and micromobility,” said Ford Chief Operating Officer Jim Farley during the company’s earnings call Tuesday.

In a slide shared as part of the company’s quarterly earnings call, Ford reported that its “mid-year VW investment in Argo is on track.

VW Group announced in July 2019 it would invest $2.6 billion in capital and assets into Argo AI .

ford mobility avs

Ford’s other more traditional vehicle launches are still on schedule, including it’s redesigned F-150 truck as well as a hybrid electric version. The company still plans to reveal a new Ford Bronco and will continue to launch 30 market-specific Ford and Lincoln vehicles in China over the next three years, 10 of which will be electric, Farley said..

The company said that it will update the timing on launches of its three new products — a small rugged offroad utility vehicle, the electric Mustang Mach-E and the Bronco — once it has a better understanding of its operational readiness as manufacturing comes back online.

#argo-ai, #automotive, #av, #cars, #driver, #ford, #henry-ford, #pittsburgh, #postmates, #self-driving-car, #transport, #united-states, #walmart

R&D Roundup: Sweat power, Earth imaging, testing ‘ghostdrivers’

I see far more research articles than I could possibly write up. This column collects the most interesting of those papers and advances, along with notes on why they may prove important in the world of tech and startups.

This week: one step closer to self-powered on-skin electronics; people dressed as car seats; how to make a search engine for 3D data; and a trio of Earth imaging projects that take on three different types of disasters.

Sweat as biofuel

Monitoring vital signs is a crucial part of healthcare and is a big business across fitness, remote medicine and other industries. Unfortunately, powering devices that are low-profile and last a long time requires a bulky battery or frequent charging is a fundamental challenge. Wearables powered by body movement or other bio-derived sources are an area of much research, and this sweat-powered wireless patch is a major advance.