By on March 6, 2020

Autonomous vehicles “feel” the road ahead with a variety of sensors, with data received sent through the vehicle’s brain to stimulate a response. Brake action, for example. It’s technology that’s far from perfected, yet self-driving trials continue on America’s streets, growing in number as companies chase that elusive driver-free buck.

In one tragic case, a tech company (that’s since had a come-to-Jesus moment regarding public safety) decided to dumb down its fleet’s responsiveness to cut down on “false positives” — perceived obstacles that would send the vehicle screeching to a stop, despite the obstacle only being a windblown plastic bag — with fatal implications. On the other side of the coin, Tesla drivers continue to plow into the backs and sides of large trucks that their Level 2 self-driving technology failed to register.

Because all things can be hacked, researchers now say there’s a way to trick autonomous vehicles into seeing what’s not there. (Read More…)

By on March 5, 2020

Uber Otto

The former leader of Uber Technologies’ self-driving unit, Anthony Levandowski, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Wednesday, and it looks to have something to do with the $179 million he’s legally obliged to pay Google. A San Francisco County court decreed the same day that Anthony needs to pay out in order to settle his contract dispute.

In December, it was ruled that Levandowski and Lior Ron violated their agreement with Google when they left the company to start Otto — a rival autonomous vehicle company focused primarily on commercial trucking. Uber purchased Otto in 2017 but Google’s self-driving arm (which evolved into Waymo) claimed Levandowski violated intellectual property laws by stealing trade secrets it owned for Uber. While Ron decided to pay $9.7 million to settle with the tech firm, Anthony held out. He also faces a federal indictment over the alleged intellectual property violation.  (Read More…)

By on March 3, 2020

Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced Monday that his company amassed $2.25 billion in its external investment round. Considering Waymo is owned by Google parent Alphabet, one of the richest companies in the world, you’d think it’d be able to float some extra funding into autonomous development. However, even a company worth an estimated $1 trillion knows it’s better to source capital from outside the business — that must be on the first page of every tech company’s playbook.

Seen widely as the firm currently riding the tip of the autonomous spear, Waymo already operates self-driving shuttle programs (with a safety driver) in Arizona, with plans for expansion. The new funding aims to further those goals; however, with autonomous targets being missed by just about every company that bothered making them, we’ll wait to see what happens. The company is currently focused on getting its Waymo Driver system into more vehicles, starting with EVs and Class 8 trucks.  (Read More…)

By on February 12, 2020

While the United States has enacted some laws governing autonomous vehicles, the framework is pretty loose. Automakers have a cap on the number of test vehicles they’re allowed to field. They also have to get permission from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but safety reporting is basically voluntary — and there’s plenty of conflict with existing safety standards.

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing held Tuesday sought to address the issue by gathering input from an array of sources, some of which had conflicting goals. And yet it appears that a consensus has miraculously been reached on Capitol Hill. All sides want more laws passed governing autonomous vehicles, albeit for various reasons. Consumer groups want assurances that AVs will remain safe and service as many people as possible; industry groups want a clearcut regulatory framework they can use to gradually shift test mules into products with more intellectual property protection and less red tape.  (Read More…)

By on January 22, 2020

Cruise

Did General Motors’ self-driving arm reveal the future on Tuesday night? The automaker and its Cruise LLC subsidiary sure hope so, as both see big, big dollars coming from future autonomous ridesharing fleets.

The Cruise Origin unveiled in San Francisco last night is supposedly the vehicle (don’t call it a car) that will make that revenue stream possible. It certainly doesn’t look like a car, and the difference grows even greater when those side doors part. (Read More…)

By on December 6, 2019

If you follow the automotive industry at all, you’re undoubtedly aware that the United States is a region that hasn’t quite embraced automotive electrification on the same level as the rest of the developed world. Americans travel longer distances and have particular tastes, making EVs more popular in places like Europe and China. It also hasn’t passed the same sweeping regulations to ensure their advancement.

Whatever the cause, a new survey from London-based OC&C Strategy Consultants attempted to tabulate the disparity — asking 2,000 consumers (apiece) in the U.S., China, Germany, France and United Kingdom between March and April of 2019.

Their findings? Only about half of the surveyed Americans felt EVs were worth their consideration as a potential successor to their current ride. In China, 90 percent said they would seriously consider buying electric. Between 64 and 77 percent of respondents in Europe said the same (depending on country).  (Read More…)

By on November 8, 2019

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has disclosed Uber’s autonomous test fleet was involved in 37 crashes over the 18-month period leading up to last year’s fatal accident in Tempe, AZ. Having collected more data than ever, the board plans to meet on November 19th to determine the probable cause and address ongoing safety concerns regarding self-driving vehicles.

Reuters reports that the NTSB plans to issue comprehensive safety recommendations to the industry, as well demand oversight from governmental regulators, in the near future.

Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding the fatal incident in Arizona are as unique as they are complicated — ditto for most other crashes involving AVs. While Uber’s test mule failed to identify the pedestrian in time, leading to her death, she was also walking her bicycle on a particularly awkward stretch of road. “The system design did not include a consideration for jaywalking pedestrians,” the NTSB said. (Read More…)

By on November 6, 2019

With the realities of autonomous driving growing increasingly apparent, the Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE) decided to conduct a survey to gauge public sentiment surrounding the technology. We’ve seen these studies before, noticing a lack of consistency. While several high-profile accidents relating to autonomous (or semi-autonomous) systems have clearly shaken people’s confidence over the last two years, we’re still seeing conflicting reports — and we don’t mean minor discrepancies, either.

The SAE survey, published on Tuesday, stated that 76 percent of respondents “think a self-driving car experience is similar or superior to a human-driven experience.” However, the American Automobile Association (AAA) released a study in March claiming 71 percent of survey respondents still had serious concerns with the technology, with only 19 percent claiming they’d even consider putting a loved one in a self-driving vehicle.

That’s a complete turn-around in just over six months. Perhaps we should look at how these surveys are being conducted and the type of questions being asked, because taking the SAE Demo Days Survey at face value makes it seem as though automated driving has finally gained public acceptance.  (Read More…)

By on October 31, 2019

Uber has formed an independent board tasked with overseeing its autonomous vehicle program. As outsiders, they’ll have no official authority within the company. But the six-member group will have direct access to executive years, and will be using them to advise the business on how best to test and deploy new technologies.

Dubbed the Self-Driving Safety and Responsibility Board, the group was formed after one of Uber’s test vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in March 2018. An external review commissioned by the company following the incident recommended the board’s formation, with support from the NHTSA.  (Read More…)

By on October 29, 2019

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has officially given up on autonomous vehicles, despite previously being a major proponent of their advancement. “I stepped way back [on] this idea of Level 5. I’ve really given up,” Wozniak at last week’s J.D. Power Auto Revolution conference in Las Vegas. “I don’t even know if that will happen in my lifetime.”

Automotive News reported the quote on Monday, noting that Steve’s tune has changed dramatically from the days where he optimistically saw Apple blazing the trail for advanced driving technologies — something that requires one to venture several years into the past. He’s been harder on the systems more recently, openly expressing his growing doubts since 2017.

“What we’ve done is we’ve misled the public into thinking this car is going to be like a human brain to be able to really figure out new things and say, ‘Here’s something I hadn’t seen before, but I know what’s going on here, and here’s how I should handle it,'” Wozniak explained. “A human can do that.”

(Read More…)

By on September 25, 2019

Automakers have begun leveling with us about vehicular autonomy. After years of promises that self-driving cars were just around the corner, the vision rollback has begun. Testing has taken longer than anticipated and nobody is as close to unleashing a commercial product as they hoped to be. Waymo’s self-driving taxis are arguably the closest, but they’re still dependent upon human safety drivers. They also don’t stray far from areas of operation that have been repeatedly mapped and deemed safe.

While nobody has given up on the technology, claims are becoming less lofty. Realism is creeping into press releases and interviews, resulting in a more complicated pathway to autonomy. Hyundai Motor Group’s heir apparent, Vice Chairman Chung Eui-sun, recently announced the creation of a $4 billion self-driving joint venture with Aptiv, but the plan is more modest than what we’ve become accustomed to. (Read More…)

By on August 30, 2019

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been pretty good about letting companies test autonomous vehicles on public roads. And yet pretty much every automotive manufacturer, ride sharing firm and tech giant still wants laxer rules. To a degree, it’s understandable. Take General Motors, for example. Back in 2017, GM sought exemptions from NHTSA to deploy fully automated vehicles without steering wheels or pedals, but that would have placed the car in clear violation of preexisting safety standards — as they were not in line with the General’s vision of what a self-driving car should be.

GM’s autonomous division recently said the self-driving Cruise AV it had been prepping for the end of this year will likely have to be delayed. While development issues assuredly played a role in stalling the car’s commercial deployment, it could never have launched as initially designed anyway.

Earlier this year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and NHTSA asked for input regarding the testing of automated vehicles to help decide if the “removal of unnecessary regulatory barriers” would be a prudent move. You can probably guess the feedback received from the automotive and tech industries.  (Read More…)

By on August 19, 2019

vision 2.0 NHTSA Autonomous vehicles

Over the past year the automotive industry has carefully walked back the expectations surrounding autonomous cars. Yet pretty much any change in rhetoric constitutes retracted goals. With numerous companies predicting self-driving fleets of commercial vehicles before 2021, the bar couldn’t have been set much higher.

A lack of progress is partly to blame. However, a bundle of high-profile accidents have also shaken public trust — especially after it was found that Uber whistleblower Robbie Miller was trying to alert the company to issues with its self-driving program just days before one of the company’s autonomous Volvos was involved in a fatal accident with a pedestrian.

That’s not the half of it. In April, Miller released a study claiming self-driving vehicles were actually recording incident rates higher than that of your typical motorist. Contrasting data from the Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP) and the California DMV, he concluded that autonomous test vehicles created more injuries per mile than the average human motorist with a few years of practice.  (Read More…)

By on July 31, 2019

autonomous hardware

With automakers investing heavily into the development of electrified and autonomous vehicles, it might seem there is a gigantic consumer base ready and raring to go out and buy them. But every study we’ve encountered suggests the exact opposite. Electric cars are still limited to tech fetishists with regular folks occasionally deciding to become early adopters. Meanwhile, AVs are still in their infancy with engineers keen to document every baby step they take as the public remains ill-informed on their overall status.

It was presumed, however, that this would change as development progressed and “mobility” became more mainstream. But a new study from J.D. Power, backed by Survey Monkey, has showed — once again — this is not yet the case. Based on a 100-point scale, the duo’s 2019 Mobility Confidence Index yielded a score of 36 for self-driving vehicles and 55 for battery-electric vehicles.  (Read More…)

By on June 13, 2019

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed CS/HB 311: Autonomous Vehicles into law on Thursday, claiming the state has effectively removed “unnecessary obstacles that hinder the development of autonomous vehicle technology,” including human safety operators.

Provided that a vehicle meets all insurance requirements, Florida will no longer require AVs to operate with a flesh-and-blood person behind the wheel. However, those that do remain in the driver’s seat, will also be exempt from the state’s distracted driving laws. (Read More…)

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