All posts in “Autonomous Cars”

Pro-tip: Tesla’s autopilot doesn’t mean you can sit in the passenger seat

Teslas can do some pretty amazing things. From self-parking abilities to its semiautonomous Autopilot mode, the cars can definitely feel like the future. 

And yet, that doesn’t mean you can just kick back in the passenger seat while Autopilot is engaged.

A British Tesla owner has found himself in hot water for doing just that, though. Bhavesh Patel, has been banned from driving for 18 months after a court found him guilty of dangerous driving for sitting in the passenger seat while his Tesla drove through traffic, according to The New York Times.

Patel was also ordered to pay an £1,800 fine and complete 100 hours of community service for the stunt, which was captured on video by another driver. 

[embedded content]

It should really go without saying, but what Patel did was incredibly dangerous. Just because Tesla’s Autopilot feature may seem foolproof, doesn’t mean it is. 

“Every driver is responsible for remaining alert and active when using Autopilot, and must be prepared to take action at any time,” Tesla says.

In the United States, there have been at least two fatal crashed associated with the feature, including one in 2016 caused by the “driver’s inattention due to overreliance on vehicle automation,” according to the National Transportation Safety Board. 

More recently, a fatal crash in California last month happened while Autopilot was engaged. The driver’s hands were not on the steering wheel in the seconds leading up to the crash according to Tesla.

Https%3a%2f%2fvdist.aws.mashable.com%2fcms%2f2018%2f3%2f8bc518de e82b a635%2fthumb%2f00001

Driverless cars, without a driver this time, to be tested on California roads

Uber's self-driving car program won't need drivers in the vehicle under new California regulations.
Uber’s self-driving car program won’t need drivers in the vehicle under new California regulations.

Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It’s the Wild West on California roads.

On Monday, the state Department of Motor Vehicles announced it will allow autonomous cars on public roads without an approved driver.

That means cars with no one in the driver’s seat can start being tested and driven throughout the state once the regulations go into effect April 2. A remote “driver” far from the actual vehicle can be in control.

Once the new rules are implemented the DMV can start issuing permits to autonomous car companies, like Uber, Waymo, Tesla, and other big players in the race to put autonomous vehicles on the road. 

An Uber spokesperson said in an email about the DMV changes, “This is a significant step towards an autonomous future in the state, and signals that California is interested in leading by example in the deployment of autonomous vehicles.” 

But Uber did note that the new rules only apply to cars and not trucks, which is another competitive area in self-driving technology. 

For self-driving cars, testing regulations first went into effect in September 2014. Since then 50 companies have been permitted to test driverless cars — but with a driver in the vehicle, according to the DMV. That same permit will still be available but now companies can also apply for the fully driverless permit.

The fully autonomous testing has been years in the making, and now it’s on track to happen. 

Buckle up.

[embedded content]

CTRL+T podcast: As long as it tastes like chicken, folds my clothes for cheap and doesn’t run me over

Wait, what? Yeah, this week a company called SuperMeat announced that it raised $3 million to create chicken in a lab. It requires real chicken cells, Petrie dishes probably and some patience. The benefits for fake (fake real?) chicken are numerous, not the least of which it’s better for the environment. But we wonder how it will taste. Like chicken? Like fake chicken?

In the lead-up to CES 2018, the topic of robots that fold laundry is on our minds. Apparently it’s a thing and it costs a lot of money. Like, a lot of money. Two companies, FoldiMate and Seven Dreamers (which is working with Panasonic) don’t want you to have to fold your clean clothes, which is arguably not the worst part of doing laundry (at least according to Henry).

And finally, Volkswagen and Hyundai announced that, by 2021, they intend to have autonomous taxi fleets on the roads. Autonomous cars are coming, so why not start with taxis? The only thing better would be autonomous pizza-delivery vehicles.

Our guest this week is Ryan Rzepecki, CEO of Social Bicycles, the startup behind Jump, a dockless, electric bike-sharing startup. In the last couple of years, bike-sharing has become a hot space for founders and VCs alike. In China, companies Ofo and Mobike have both achieved unicorn status for their respective bike-sharing startups. Over in the U.S., investors have poured in $62 million to LimeBike and $8 million into Spin as both startups aim to compete against Motivate, the company behind Ford’s GoBikes in San Francisco and Citi Bikes in New York City.

Unlike other bike-sharing startups and startups in general, Social Bicycles’s idea with San Francisco was to come into the market and serve a part of it that historically has not been served, Rzepecki said on CTRL+T. Upon its launch in San Francisco, Jump’s bikes went to the Bayview neighborhood first, aiming to connect residents there to the rest of the city.

What Social Bicycles is doing, he said, is “going in and trying to put equity first.” Regarding the tech audience and other potential early adopters, “they will come naturally.”

Subscribe to CTRL+T on Apple PodcastsStitcherOvercastCastBox or whatever other podcast platform you can find.

Toyota tries to make its most advanced autonomous car look slightly normal

Toyota's prototypical autonomous vehicle, the Platform 3.0.
Toyota’s prototypical autonomous vehicle, the Platform 3.0.

Image: Toyota Research Institute

Toyota is bringing a sleek prototypical autonomous vehicle to this year’s 2018 CES tech conference. But the car certainly won’t be driving itself there. 

Similar to many automotive showings at CES, this vehicle, which the Toyota Research Institute calls the “Platform 3.0,” is not yet consumer-ready. But it does provide some insight into what some of the first completely self-driving vehicles might look like. 

Although concealing the vehicle’s many sensors and cameras is practically impossible, Toyota seems to have a done an impressive job integrating them into the car’s body (it’s unclear, of course, how well the systems work). Toyota’s designers gave this careful design effort the rather urbane name of “intelligent minimalism.”

Image: Toyota Research Institute

This “intelligent minimalism” is perhaps best seen in the rooftop panel, which unlike Waymo’s self-driving vehicles (which are now really shuttling humans around the Phoenix area — but with a Waymo operator inside) doesn’t look like an awkward, bolted on piece of equipment. It’s integrated in a smooth, aerodynamic fashion, as are the sensors on the side of the car. 

This modernistic design even expands to the trunk, wherein Toyota engineers packaged the sophisticated (and bulky) automated vehicle components into the rear compartment. This hexagonal box is covered with LED lights, and glows.

Image: Toyota Research Institute

Included atop the car is a requisite component for self-driving vehicles: A LIDAR (lasers that shoot out and bounce back to detect objects) sensor provides a long-distance view of the vehicle’s surroundings in all directions. Toyota claims their LIDAR system can see 200 meters (just over 650 feet) ahead in all directions.

Toyota says, in their press release, they will begin producing more Platform 3.0 prototypes “this spring” at their Prototype Development Center R&D headquarters in Michigan. As might be expected, there’s no timetable for consumer testing of the vehicle on public roads, but Toyota wants us to know that progress is indeed being made in its R&D lab, noting that two different test models and “three major updates” have occurred in the last year. Because these are heavy pieces of high-speed machinery, it’s good Toyota’s taking their time. 

Image: Toyota Research Institute

One aspect that could likely expedite the production of these prototypes — and eventually consumer vehicles — is that the Platform 3.0 is built upon the foundation of the road-tested Lexus LS platform. 

We’re certainly excited to check out the vehicle at the conference. For more complete coverage, you can follow us at CES 2018 right here.

Https%3a%2f%2fblueprint api production.s3.amazonaws.com%2fuploads%2fvideo uploaders%2fdistribution thumb%2fimage%2f83981%2f21880add c2c2 4ecf b9f3 d57f16e62f24

Quantifying the driverless startup boom


For driverless car startups, raising capital seems to happen on autopilot. Investors and acquirers have put billions into the space over the past couple of years in the race for early mover advantage. They’ve shown no desire to hit the brakes lately either, as indicated by a spate of recent deals, including last week’s $450 million sale of autonomous driving software developer NuTonomy to Delphi Automotive.

In an effort to put the deal-making in perspective, Crunchbase News has aggregated some of the metrics for startup investment in the space. Our chief finding — that autonomous driving is a red-hot sector — is already obvious.

But in addition, we found:

  • Startup investment so far this year is more than double 2016 totals.
  • While Silicon Valley is a known hotspot for autonomous driving, Israel is a pretty solid No. 2 for startup deals, with three of the 10 largest rounds this year. Intel’s $15.3 billion purchase of Mobileye, an Israel-based startup, is also the largest M&A deal for an autonomous driving-related company for this or any year.
  • Self-driving tech rounds are pretty crowded. For U.S. investments in the space this year, we found just one financing — Ford’s investment in Argo AI — with a sole investor. (And that wasn’t a traditional VC deal, as it has Argo developing technology specifically for Ford.) On average, U.S. autonomous vehicle-related deals this year had an average of seven listed investors per round.

Valuations for self-driving tech companies are going up along with round sizes, Chris Stallman, partner at transportation-focused venture firm Fontinalis Partners, tells Crunchbase News. Part of the impetus comes from automakers and suppliers, many of whom are aggressively expanding their autonomous vehicle capabilities and are making early acquisition offers to promising companies.

“They are attempting to shore up their supply chains and are fearful of becoming too tied to a technology company that may ultimately be acquired by a competitor,” Stallman says. Meanwhile, traditional VCs and corporate venture investors are also actively extending term sheets to talented startup teams.

In the following sections, we look at some key metrics for the driverless car startup space: year-over-year comparisons, largest recent rounds and biggest M&A deals.

Investment revs up

It seemed like 2016 was a remarkably bullish period for autonomous driving investments. But at first glance, 2017 makes last year look kind of slow.

So far this year, investors have poured about $1.4 billion into companies in the space, more than double 2016 levels ($630 million), according to Crunchbase data. Deal count is relatively flat, with about 43 rounds in the first 10 months of this year compared to 48 in all of 2016. We compiled a list of noteworthy deals for this year here and for 2016 here.

As always, metrics are imperfect. For one, some companies, such as Lyft and Uber, aren’t known as self-driving car startups, but do have partnerships, internal R&D and strategic plans tied to the technology. For this exercise, we focused mostly on companies that principally characterize themselves as autonomous vehicle technology companies, leaving out ride-sharing and new auto brands. Also worth noting is that the biggest deal for this year, Ford’s $1 billion investment into Argo AI, has characteristics of both a venture deal and an acquisition.

There also is some blurring of categories, including companies that operate in sectors like automotive safety or mobility as well as autonomous vehicles. (When looking at more mature companies in the space, another consideration is that many, such as computer vision juggernaut Mobileye, started out before driverless vehicles existed as a discrete category.)

The biggest deals of 2017

Not only are autonomous vehicle startups raising big rounds, they’re doing so at fairly early stages of development.

In the chart below, we look at the 10 largest rounds for self-driving tech companies this year. Half of the top 10 are less than three years old.

Have checkbook, want startup

Acquirers also have continued to snap up autonomous vehicle companies this year. By far the largest deal related to the space — Intel’s purchase of Mobileye — involved a mature, publicly traded company. But buyers were also picking up early-stage startups, including October’s sale of NuTonomy to Delphi Automotive.

In the chart below, we look at the largest M&A transactions in recent years involving self-driving technology startups:

Parking all that capital

For autonomous vehicles, arguably the most crucial capability is being able to brake when necessary. For autonomous vehicle investors, however, the greatest concern seems to be whether they’re accelerating fast enough.

“Although valuations have crept up, I don’t think we have reached an oversaturation in autonomous vehicle companies,” Stallman says. One reason automakers are motivated to move fast is that much of the early innovation in autonomous vehicles came in the years following the 2008 financial crisis, when U.S. car companies were struggling for survival and R&D suffered. Now they’re having to catch up.

Yet while they’re paying handsomely for self-driving talent, investors and acquirers are cognizant of the risks Stallman says. Deploying autonomous technologies on the road safely requires overcoming a tremendous number of challenges and will require better perception of the vehicle’s surroundings, better maps, better processing capabilities and better decision making.

Like other segments of venture capital, there will be winners and losers. In this space, however, the race to the finish line is happening at an unusually rapid pace.

Featured Image: Li-Anne Dias