All posts in “Autonomous Vehicles”

Intel’s self-driving powerhouse group adds another major carmaker

One of the biggest alliances in the race to develop self-driving cars just got even stronger by adding another key member. 

The autonomous development group spearheaded by Intel, Mobileye and BMW Group announced today that it will add Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to its ranks. FCA is the parent company behind instantly recognizable auto brands like Fiat, Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge. 

The group now has another ally in its efforts to produce self-driving tech that will bring semiautonomous and full-on driverless cars by 2021, which Intel believes might eventually usher in a brand new, $7 trillion “passenger economy.” 

FCA gives the alliance another member with access to a wide range of auto makes and models, which could help to accomplish the goal of creating a scalable self-driving platform that can be applied across the auto industry, for any automaker’s vehicles.

But FCA offers more than just a blank slate of car models for the driverless systems; it does have some experience in the self-driving space. The company’s Chrysler brand famously partnered with leading autonomous technology company Waymo, providing the Google-spinoff with a fleet of 100 Pacifica minivans which are currently on the road shuttling passengers around Phoenix in one of the first driverless pilot programs.  

The Intel/Mobileye/BMW group, which was formed back in 2016, meanwhile has stated that it’s on track to accomplish its previously stated goal of putting a fleet 40 autonomous test vehicles on the road by the end of this year. 

Mobileye — which was purchased by partner Intel back in March — also recently announced that it’s building a test fleet of 100 vehicles that will be capable of Level 4 autonomy, which means the car is fully self-driving, but a human can still take control in some circumstances. That fleet will be deployed for testing in Isreal, Europe, and the US, which will allow the alliance to collect and leverage even more on-road data for the platform.   

Bringing FCA into the fold will undoubtedly help the group speed up development, but the alliance is far from the only player in the auto industry shooting for autonomy by 2021. Some are even angling for an earlier deployment date.

Ford has made massive investments in self-driving tech and is aiming for 2021, while Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler teamed up with auto supplier Bosch in an alliance with a goal to put driverless cars on the road by 2020.  

Tesla, meanwhile, is firm in its stated goal of demonstrating full-autonomy in a trip across the US by the end of the year, even though the automaker might have overestimated the abilities of its autonomous hardware. 

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The future of self-driving cars could be an extra hour of work

Cars are going to drive themselves sooner or later — so what will we do with all that extra commuting time so we’re not stuck twiddling our thumbs? 

That’s what Audi is looking to find out with a new study, conducted as part of a collaboration with the human-machine interaction experts of the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering. It put test subjects in a super futuristic autonomous car simulation, then assigned them a series of attention-demanding tasks while monitoring brain activity with EEG sensors. 

It’s called The 25th Hour project—an allusion to the 50 minutes or so the average driver spends behind the wheel, and the “extra” hour they could gain without having to drive.  

“In future, people traveling from A to B will be able to surf the Internet at leisure, play with their children – or do concentrated work,” Melanie Goldmann, head of culture and trends communication at Audi, said in a statement about the project, making it clear that efficiency was the main focus here. 

Millennials were specifically selected as test subjects — we’re more receptive to self-driving cars, according to Audi — and put to work in the sim while being alternately bombarded with ads, neon lights, and social media notifications, as well as cocooned in a quiet pod environment with ambient lighting. 

The EEG results found that the latter setup was more relaxing, and therefore better for productivity. The distracting demo was, of course, distracting, making the work more difficult. Audi knew that would be the case from the start — but that doesn’t mean the test was a waste of time. 

“The results show that the task is to find the right balance,” Goldmann said. “In a digital future, there are no limits to what can be imagined. We could offer everything in the car – really overwhelm the user with information.” 

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Instead of focusing on flashing lights and rider engagement, Audi will likely look to find a healthy balance determined by what passengers want. “[W]e want to put people at the center of attention,” Goldmann continued. “The car should become a smart membrane. The right information should reach the user at the right time.”

Audi and its peers in the auto industry are intent on creating a worthwhile rider experience for good reason. A report published by Intel and Strategy Analytics last month projects that self-driving cars will create a massive $7 trillion “passenger economy” by 2050, with 250 million hours of commuting time per year dedicated to these new spaces.  

Audi really wants to harness all of our future driving down time.

Image: Audi

Some of that cash could come in the short term for automakers by selling in-car advertising — but even more could come from the increased productivity of those hours, as Audi just demonstrated here. The car as a smart mobile workspace model is already being put into motion, as Volvo and BMW have announced Skype for Business integrations for some of their vehicles.

Audi just announced its most advanced semi-autonomous system yet with the A8, so self-driving isn’t too far down the road for the automaker. Once the tech arrives for good, get ready for an extra hour of watching movies, sleeping, or yes, working during your commute.  

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This new autonomous truck prototype ditches the driver completely

There’s a big new self-driving vehicle primed to hit the roads, and it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s technically a truck — but it looks much more like a new age spacecraft than any semi on today’s highways.

Einride, the trucking company that rolled out an ambitious plan to disrupt the current freight transportation industry and introduce emission-free, self-driving trucking to the world, just got closer to actually hitting its aggressive goal. 

The startup officially unveiled its first prototype of the T-pod, a fully electric, autonomous truck that Einride claims could help cut Sweden’s freight-related emissions by 60 percent by 2030. We haven’t seen a road test yet, but the pod’s design is more than enough to turn some heads.  

The 23-foot long, 20-ton capacity T-pod is smaller than most semi trucks used today, and its 200 km (124 miles) per charge range is more limited than current trucks, too. The company isn’t phased by the shortcomings, though. Instead, Einride says its vehicles are much more efficient and sustainable than gas-powered big rigs. 

The pods can be controlled by remote operators or drive itself, removing the need for in-cab human drivers entirely — and if you take a look at the design, you can immediately see that an old-fashioned concept like manual human driving was never in the cards. There’s no windshield for a trucker to look out from, let alone a driver or passenger door. 

The T-pods are smaller and sleeker than the big rigs you'll see on today's roads.

The T-pods are smaller and sleeker than the big rigs you’ll see on today’s roads.

Image: einride

The first 200 pods are projected to hit the road in Sweden by 2020, traveling a route between the cities of Gothenburg and Helsingborg that will be built up with the necessary charging and operational infrastructure. 

 Einride claims it has already filled up a client list for 60 percent of the total 200 T-pods that will run during the first trials. The company says those pilot pods will be hauling up to 2,000,000 pallets per year, while conserving the equivalent CO2 emissions of 400,000 passenger cars driving along the route. 

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Einride says the pilot could begin running sooner than its original 2020 target date, thanks to “overwhelming interest from potential and signed clients.”

The Swedish company is far from the only company looking to bring autonomous trucks to the highways of the world. Industry giants like Waymo, Uber, and PACCAR have recently made waves with self-driving trucks, while smaller startups like Embark are also staking their claim on the highways of the future. 

All of those companies are just adding a new wrinkle to the existing freight system, however. If Embark’s electric, emission free pods can fulfill its potential, we might be looking at true disruption to the trucking industry. 

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Driverless vans will now deliver groceries in London

Forget drones — self-driving cars can now deliver your groceries. 

Autonomous delivery vehicles are making drop-offs in London as part of a trial program and study spearheaded by University of Oxford self-driving spin-off Oxbotica, as well as Ocado Technologies, a developmental division of the UK-based, online-only supermarket service. 

The project aims to test out an emission-free, electric self-driving van—dubbed the CargoPod—as a low-impact last step in the fulfillment chain to get orders to customers. The trial is limited to a few developments in the Royal Borough of Greenwich as part of the larger, government-backed GATEway Project.

The CargoPod runs on Oxbotica’s Selenium autonomous control system, which was designed for multiple vehicle types. It’s not a fully self-driving system — the vans still have human operators for now. The UK requires that autonomous test vehicles have someone to take control if anything goes wrong, like most areas that allow autonomous trials in the United States.  

The trial is focused on more than just the self-driving system, though. The team behind the project is also focused on observing how such a system might impact cities and fit into a residential neighborhood, along with how real-world customers react to a driverless vehicle pulling up to their door with their groceries.

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The pilot program has reportedly made over a hundred deliveries to customers. 

Sadly, until the program expands, we’ll have to get our online orders delivered the old-fashioned way — or get to London to test out the trial ourselves.

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Self-driving shuttle will take a few lucky college students to class next year

University of Michigan engineering students will get a slick new ride to class starting next school year — no driver necessary.

The University’s MCity self-driving development hub just announced its plans to launch a free autonomous shuttle service in the school’s North Campus. It’s the first time the self-driving program has offered services outside of the 32-acre MCity complex, which opened in 2015.

The shuttle will run a non-stop, two-mile route between the Lurie Engineering Center and the university’s North Campus Research Complex, so students won’t be able to take advantage of the autonomous transport for their extracurricular activities, if you know what I mean. 

The fully autonomous electric ARMA shuttle comes courtesy of French firm NAVYA, an MCity partner that recently announced its plans to open its first assembly plant outside of Europe in the Ann Arbor area. 

The 15-person shuttle will run during business hours at the program’s start, ferrying UM students and faculty between the two buildings every 10 minutes, but those hours could potentially be expanded if it’s a hit.

The program won’t just give UM students a new way to get to class; MCity researchers will use the shuttle to observe how its passengers react to the new tech. Cameras and sensors on the vehicle will collect on-road data to help hone the AI guiding it. 

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MCity was the first place in North America to test the NAVYA ARMA last December, where it was used for tours and research. A pilot program led by the city of Las Vegas in January put the self-driving shuttles on streets as a form public transport for the first time, but it was only a limited run.

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