By on June 27, 2017

Kangaroo sign Australia, Image: bluedeviation/Flickr

Who knew strange animals born with a sack stuck to their bellies would prove to be the largest hurdle in the advent of driverless vehicles? In areas where you’ll find marsupials, anyway.

While North American drivers have long grown used to smacking deer with their personal vehicles, it’s a different story in the land of Paul Hogan, Nicole Kidman, and the amiable fellow from Jurassic Park. A full 80 percent of vehicle-animal collisions on that extremely large island and/or continent involve a kangaroo. It now seems the manner in which the limber creatures get around has created a headache for a certain Scandinavian car company — one hoping to lead the industry in hands-off driving. Read More >

By on June 26, 2017

google prototype-early

Earlier this month, Apple and Google both announced plans to kill off their self-driving car projects in favor of focusing on developing the underlying technology. We reported it here. But it’s a little weird that one announcement came so close on the heels of the other. Apple’s Project Titan, formerly a self-driving car project, will presumably continue to compete with Google’s Waymo, which is a subsidiary for Google’s efforts thus far in the field. It’s a race, even if neither company has acknowledged it as such.

Last we knew, Project Titan was testing self-driving Lexus RX450h SUVs around Silicon Valley, which were first spotted in late April. Waymo was arguably more successful, since they’d actually succeeded in building a fleet of the Firefly self-driving car pod.

Apple and Google are both being vague about this change in plans, as usual, but we already know a fair amount about how these companies interact with auto manufacturers. We just need to look at Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. Some automakers eschew these systems entirely, in favor of their own native smartphone integration and infotainment interfaces. A handful of manufacturers have chosen to support just one or the other.

Many car brands, though, have decided to offer both interfaces to appeal to the most broad range of customers. In this way, Apple and Google both exert considerable influence on automakers based simply on the fact that they sell smartphones.

If Project Titan and Waymo both succeed at becoming functional and user-friendly self-driving car systems, car buyers can expect something similar. Read More >

By on June 23, 2017

2018 Nissan Leaf [Image: Nissan]

After hemming and hawing for what seemed like forever, Nissan will bring American electric vehicle enthusiasts a long-overdue new Leaf later this year. Say goodbye to that old, swoopy body and 107-mile range (at best), and give a cheerful hello to a not-yet-revealed body, undisclosed driving range, and these headlights.

Okay, so there’s not a whole lot known about the next Leaf except that it won’t be an ancient thing that appeared at the dawn of the electric car resurrection. You might be able to drive to a nearby city and back. However, we now know that trip doesn’t have to be as hands-on as it once was. Read More >

By on June 21, 2017

Tesla AutoPilot cruise control

The National Transportation Safety Board has finally concluded its investigation into a May 2016 crash in Florida that resulted in the death of 40-year-old Joshua Brown. The ex-Navy SEAL’s Tesla Model S was operating in Autopilot mode when it collided with a semi trailer, raising speculation that the semi-autonomous driving feature was the reason for the accident.

While Tesla has repeatedly called the system a lane-keeping “assist feature” and suggested drivers always keep their hands on the wheel, consumer safety groups have urged the automaker to improve it.

An earlier investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated in January that the Autopilot software in Brown’s car did not have any safety defects. However, the NTSB stated that data acquired from the vehicle’s computer indicated that neither the vehicle nor its operator made any attempt to avoid the truck. It also specified that the vehicle had issued seven warnings for Brown to retake the wheel.

In the 37 minutes leading up to the fatal crash, the report said the car detected hands on the steering wheel for a total of 25 seconds.

Read More >

By on June 16, 2017

autonomous hardware

A coterie of Republican officials believe individual states should be forbidden from governing themselves in regard to autonomous vehicles. Only in its commencement, a new U.S. House proposal claims states would not be within their rights to mandate the design or testing of self-driving cars.

If made law, the proposal would eliminate the need for automakers to acquire any pre-market approval from federal regulators. While that sounds like a free-for-all ripe for accountability issues, several states already have laissez-faire or highly supportive attitudes when it comes to autonomous vehicles, though others could become serious headaches for automakers hoping to swiftly get the technology on the road.

The 45-page legislative draft includes 14 bills and would designate the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as the primary agency for regulating self-driving cars. It’s aggressively pro-business and, despite being penned by Republicans, has managed to achieve some bipartisan support.  Read More >

By on June 14, 2017

Toyota Camry NYIAS 2017, Image: Toyota

Despite being Japan’s biggest automaker, Toyota has lagged behind many of its rivals in terms of cutting-edge technology. Most major car manufacturers have already begun developing self-driving vehicles, with some going so far as to make strategic partnerships with companies specializing in the applicable technologies. By contrast, Toyota has a strong R&D program but never saw fit to pursue autonomous development or battery-electric vehicles quite so aggressively as General Motors or Renault-Nissan, for example.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda has now admitted that may have been a mistake. At the company’s annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday, he promised the automaker would become more committed to achieving technical developments. Toyoda didn’t bring forward a concrete strategy but conceded the spending of additional capital would likely play a role — and an alliance or two isn’t out of the question. Read More >

By on June 13, 2017

Tim Cook, Image: iphonedigital/flickr

Apple has been perpetually flip-flopping in terms of developing autonomous vehicles. In 2014, the company was rumored to have begun work on an autonomous electric car, codenamed “Project Titan,” with hundreds of employees devoted solely to its development.

Management issues and logistical problems impaired its progress, leading Apple to abandon the project. Since then, Bob Mansfield has fronted a renewed effort to focus on building an autonomous driving system rather than a complete car. At least, that was everyone’s best guess, as the company has been semi-secretive about its mission since day one.

That changed on Tuesday, when CEO Tim Cook confirmed that Apple does indeed have a self-driving development program. The chief executive even went so far as to call it “the mother of all A.I. projects.” That’s quite the claim to make, considering making the tech work on a car is half the battle and Apple has no practical experience building an autonomous vehicle.  Read More >

By on June 8, 2017

Honda Targeting Introduction of Level 4 Automated Driving, Image: Honda

Honda Motor Company finally expressed an interest in developing autonomous cars on Thursday, while also stating its intention to bring two new electric vehicles to market by 2018.

The Japanese automaker has been cautious in making tech-related promises, especially those that relate to self-driving models, even as many of its rivals wear their autonomous development efforts like a badge of honor.

We knew Honda was working on the technology, but any semblance of a goal-oriented timeline was absent prior to this week. As part of its “Vision 2030” strategy, the car manufacturer claims it will coordinate R&D, procurement, and manufacturing to minimize development costs as it branches out into the realm of self-driving and electric vehicles.  Read More >

By on June 2, 2017

Waymo Autonomous Test Pacifica, Image: Waymo

Waymo has announced it has begun working on self-driving trucks, possibly to further annoy its chief industry rival, Uber Technologies. On Thursday, the Alphabet-owned development team said it was venturing into autonomous trucking, only two weeks after UberFreight’s official launch.

While the ride-hailing giant has been working on self-driving trucks since its acquisition of Otto last year, the timing of the two more recent announcements are suspiciously close.
Read More >

By on May 31, 2017

Anthony Levandowski at MCE 2016, Image: Transport Topics/Flickr

Uber Technologies Inc. has fired Anthony Levandowski, the engineer at the center of the company’s legal battle with Google and Alphabet’s self-driving division Waymo. The company confirmed the departure Tuesday, after weeks of Levandowski remaining silent as the court attempted to make sense of what had taken place between the two companies (as well as Uber’s own internal investigation).

The Waymo’s lawsuit alleges Levandowski stole proprietary information relating to their self-driving vehicles, which he then handed to Uber. In May, U.S. District Judge William Alsup stated that he believed there was evidence to suggest Uber had gained trade secrets belonging to Google and that Levandowski should be removed from his lead engineering role. However, the ride-sharing firm claims he was taken off autonomous development in April.  Read More >

By on May 23, 2017

autonomous hardware

A recent study has discovered most drivers prefer to see traditional automakers developing their autonomous cars, not ride-hailing companies like Uber or Lyft.

In Inrix’s Connected & Autonomous Vehicle Consumer Survey, 5,045 drivers from five countries weighed in on the subject. Roughly 30 percent of the pool indicated they “trusted” established automotive manufacturers to build their self-driving cars, with 20 percent feeling similarly about tech companies like Google’s Waymo. Only 4 percent said they had confidence in ride-hailing providers.

Some of that could be down to Uber’s lackluster performance. The company’s autonomous development efforts has seen it butting heads with regulators, annoying the entire city of Pittsburgh, and weathering high-profile traffic incidentsRead More >

By on May 22, 2017

uber volvo

Pittsburgh boasts more bridges than any other city its size and Uber seems intent on burning every single one. After the ride-hailing company offered to test its autonomous platform in the city, Pittsburgh welcomed it with open arms. Now it’s starting to seem like it got a raw deal. Uber has become like the city’s drug-addicted teen — permitted to stay, despite very disappointing behavior and repeated broken promises. You get the sense its only one big screw-up away from being thrown out on its ass.

It hasn’t even been a full year and residents and officials are already claiming Uber has already let the city down. You have to place some of the blame on Pittsburgh for enabling Uber’s uncouth behavior, but it didn’t force it to abandon corporate citizenship. In the last nine months, Uber has withdrawn its promised support of Pittsburgh’s bid for a $50 million federal transportation grant and completely failled at creating jobs it promised struggling communities. It has also started charging fares for its driverless taxis, something the city initially assumed would be free in exchange for the company having the privilege of testing there.  Read More >

By on May 15, 2017

waymo

Waymo, the autonomous automotive firm owned by Google parent Alphabet, and Uber’s chief ride-hailing rival Lyft have entered into a self-driving partnership — seemingly to do little more than stick it to Big U.

Lyft is already in a partnership with General Motors to produce computer-controlled Chevrolet test vehicles in 2018, while Waymo has a deal with Fiat Chrysler to use the Pacifica as its primary R&D platform. It’s difficult to parse out what the two can offer each other beyond a mutual hatred for Uber. Business partnerships can rarely be distilled down to a disdain of a third party but, in this instance, that certainly makes the most sense.

Despite being involved in litigations with Waymo that could result in a total shutdown of its autonomous development efforts, Uber has the largest ride-sharing fleet of any company and is positioned near the front of the self-driving race. Meanwhile, Lyft has only just entered the self-driving arena.  Read More >

By on May 12, 2017

self-driving uber advanced tech center autonomous car

Waymo’s lawsuit against Uber Technologies’ alleged theft and usage of autonomous trade secrets is going to trial.

Judge William Alsup ruled Uber could not force the case into private arbitration and is referring the matter to the United States Attorney for a very public investigation.

This is everything the ride-hailing company didn’t want.

Read More >

By on May 9, 2017

autonomous testing tesla

While many would argue that piloting your own vehicle is a key part of freedom and enjoyment of life, there are times when we really wish our vehicle could take us home from the bar. Cabs are expensive, Uber is potentially unavailable, and transit, well… it would have to be very good transit.

While vehicles with fully autonomous Level 5 driving modes remain out of reach, automakers are busy trying to wrestle that steering wheel from your hands. Already, most vehicles employ some level of mild self-driving abilities, whether it’s keeping your crossover between the lines, braking automatically to avoid that driver who’s allergic to signalling, or parallel parking itself. It’s nice to have some help sometimes.

However, just because people like protection on the road doesn’t mean they’re not also protective of their wallets. What is your average car buyer willing to pay for these conveniences? Read More >

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