All posts in “Daimler”

It’s not just Waymo: Mercedes says it’s launching a self-driving car service

Self-driving car companies have been testing their vehicles for years, but now regular riders are starting to catch rides in the robot cars. 

Instead of merely watching a vehicle loaded with cameras, sensors, and other equipment drive by, some lucky folks (and not just company employees) are now able to experience the autonomy in person.

Waymo is sticking to its end-of-2018 timeline for a self-driving taxi service in Arizona. GM’s Cruise says 2019 is the year for a car service to drive San Franciscans around. And, in Dubai, a self-driving taxi service has already hit the streets.

Now, Daimler, the company that owns Mercedes-Benz, says it’s working with German auto parts company Bosch, to offer a self-driving car service for “select” riders in the San Jose area in the second half of 2019. 

Autonomous Mercedes-Benz S-Class cars will drive passengers between west San Jose and downtown. Notably, San Jose is in the heart of Silicon Valley, south of San Francisco.

The Daimler-Bosch service will still have a safety driver present to monitor the trip, which riders can hail from an app. The car will then drive to the passenger, and take them to their chosen destination. 

Details about who can use the service and how much it will cost weren’t immediately clear, but it’s considered a trial program as the companies gear up for a wider roll-out.

Both Daimler and Bosch have self-driving testing permits in California and have been testing in the state since its self-driving program opened up. In the latest disengagement report, Bosch reported testing through July 2017. Neither company has reported a crash involving an autonomous vehicle. The California DMV says as of this week, 113 collision reports have come into the department.

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Taxify is entering the e-scooter game

Estonian ride-hailing company Taxify will compete with Bird and Lime in Europe with its new brand of e-scooters, called Bolt, launching in Paris on Thursday.

The company has rolled the scooter sharing service into its mobile app, which has attracted 10 million users in 25 countries since it launched in August 2013.

A spokesperson for the company told TechCrunch it plans to release scooters in several other European and Australian cities where their app is already established, but will also launch in new markets where they’ve been unable to offer ride-hailing services because of regulatory roadblocks, including Germany and Spain.

As of now, Taxify has no plans to scoot into the US market.

“One in five Taxify rides are less than 3 km, which is the perfect distance to cover with an electric scooter,” Taxify CEO and co-founder Markus Villig said in a statement. “It’s likely that some of our ride-hailing customers will now opt for scooters for shorter distances, but we’ll also attract a whole new group of customers with different needs. This means we’ll be able to help more people with their daily transportation problems.”

A Bolt scooter ride will cost 15 cents a minute, with a minimum fare of €1. Just like other e-scooter startups, you unlock the GPS tracked scooters by scanning the QR-code on the scooter using the Taxify app. Taxify will collect the scooters in the evenings for recharging.

Lime e-scooters went live in Paris at the end of June. About a month later, Bird’s fleet did the same, rolling into Paris and Tel Aviv as part of its international launch. GoBee Bike, Obike, Ofo and Mobike — all dockless bike providers — have also launched in Paris. GoBee has since exited after failing to compete with heavyweights like Mobike, which is owned by the multi-billion dollar Chinese company Meituan.

Taxify, for its part, is a favorite among private investors. In May, the company brought in $175 million from Daimler, Didi Chuxing and others. The financing brought the company to the $1 billion valuation mark, where it joined fellow ride-hailing giants Lyft, Uber, Careem and more in the unicorn club.

Whether e-scooters will be as popular in Europe as they’ve been in the US remains to be seen. It’s likely they’ll run into the same regulatory headaches they faced in several US cities as they continue to crop up in new markets.

Taxify, as a European company battling a pair of US-based mobility startups, may have the upper hand.

what3words raisesfundsfrom saicandf1driver

What3words, a startup that has divided the entire world into 57 trillion 3-by-3 meter squares and assigned three words to each one, has disclosed three new investors, all from the automotive world.

What3words announced Thursday that the venture arm of China’s largest auto group SAIC Motor, Formula 1 champion Nico Rosberg and audio and navigation systems company Alpine Electronics have invested in the London-based company. Existing investor Intel Capital also participated in the round.

The latest funding round will be used to expand into new markets and product developments.

The investment, which was not disclosed, illustrates interest in the industry for technology that simplifies the user experience in cars, can be easily used with voice commands and prepares companies for the age of autonomous vehicles. Because the addressing system gives a unique three-word combination to a location, it fixes a major flaw with a lot of voice-operated navigation systems: duplicate street names.

The company has assigned these 57 trillion squares a unique three-word name using an algorithm that has a vocabulary of 25,000 words. The system, which anyone can use via the what3words app, is available in more than a dozen languages. For instance, if you want to meet a friend in a specific corner of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, you can send the three-word address prices.slippery.traps. An Airbnb host might use a three word address to direct a guest to a tricky entrance. Someday, riders might be able to say or type in a three-word address to direct a self-driving car to drop them off at a specific entrance at a large sports arena.

“This fund raise cements the direction this company is going,” what3words CEO Chris Sheldrick told TechCrunch. “Which is how, in the future, we are going to tell cars and devices and voice assistants where we’re going.”

Earlier this year, what3words disclosed that Daimler had taken 10 percent stake in the company. Daimler’s stake and these recently revealed investors are all part of its Series C funding round.

The company’s novel global addressing system has been integrated into in Mercedes’ new infotainment and navigation system — called the Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX. The MBUX debuted on the new Mercedes A-Class, a hatchback that went on sale outside the U.S. in the spring. A sedan variant of the A-Class will come to the U.S. market in late 2018.

TomTom also announced plans last month to integrate what3words into its mapping and navigation products in the second half of this year. TomTom supplies its automotive navigation and traffic technology to car manufacturers, including Volkswagen, Fiat Chrysler, Alfa Romeo, Citroën and Peugeot.

The company is in talks with other automakers and suppliers to get what3words integrated into vehicle infotainment systems.

Geely becomes Daimler’s largest shareholder with $9 billion stake


Automaker Daimler has a new largest shareholder – Geely Automotive chairman Li Shufu. The Geely stake, worth an estimated $9 billion, should give the Chinese automotive giant more leverage when trying to work out cross-company tech arrangements with Daimler and its sub brands including Mercedes-Benz.

Daimler is already partnered up with a major automotive concern in China – BAIC, with which it has a joint venture to produce vehicles for the country. But Geely has been pursuing cooperation with the German auto giant for some time now, specifically around autonomous driving and EVs.

This will give the company a very good bargaining position, but it’s too early to tell whether it means more formal partnerships and collaboration agreements are already on the way. Geely is also the owner of Volvo, which it acquired from Ford in 2010.

Mercedes-Benz’s new MBUX in-car assistant and smart UI rocks


It’s rare that I pay much attention to automaker infotainment and multimedia system updates at CES – usually there’s too much going on with autonomy, electrification and mobility services to give it much thought. This year, however, Mercedes-Benz had one of the most interesting announcements at the show with its new MBUX smart multimedia system and in-car voice activated assistant.

MBUX is not the underpowered, underwhelming voice input system carmakers have been pushing on consumers for around a decade now. Instead, it’s a learning, smart and connected platform built upon Nvidia’s powerful GPU technology. For maybe the first time, using an in-car infotainment system felt to me like an actual pleasure, rather than doing something that ranges from ‘bad’ to ‘adequate’ on the user experience scale.

Part of that is just the fact that the computers powering the system are capable enough to drive high framerate visuals, on screens with a high resolution that doesn’t leave things pixelated. For too long, infotainment systems in cars have relied on underpowered, cheap local chips to power their output, leaving software developers working at automakers with the unenviable challenge of shoehorning their work onto silicon that really shouldn’t be running an alarm clock, let alone vital apps and information displays you use while driving.

Scrolling and animations on the MBUX system’s two dash mounted displays (one in the center, and another behind the steering wheel) are silky smooth, and feel as responsive as an iPhone to touch input, which is a major achievement relative to typical first-party car touchscreen performance.

MBUX also focuses on simplicity when it comes to interaction: Even though it offers a lot of options and features, many of the things you want to do can be accessed directly from the top level main screen, including navigating to your home, playing a favorite music station, checking the weather and more.

Even when you do want to drill down to be more specific, there are shortcuts built in, thanks to the way MBUX learns your preferences and presents them through a “Suggestions” shortcut that’s just a tap away form the main screen. These will offer suggested destinations, music, cabin comfort settings and more based on what it learns about your habits, your schedule, and your preferences. They also follow the driver around, and are attached to their profile – which can even follow you from vehicle to vehicle if you’re switching between Mercedes cars equipped with MBUX.

Of course, there’s also the voice powered element, which you can trigger by saying “Hey Mercedes” at any time, or by pressing a button on the steering wheel. This allows you to issue voice commands in natural language, like saying “I’m cold” in order to have it increase the heat by two degrees, or asking it if you can wear flip flops next week to retrieve a local weather forecast.

In practice, the voice commands worked well, though Las Vegas cellular service wasn’t always cooperating. Mercedes-Benz built its speech assistant with occasional connectivity in mind, however, so there’s a lot you can do even when you’re not connected to the cloud, including modifying cabin lighting and asking it to play specific songs from an attached USB drive, for instance.

Its capabilities are also designed to grow over time; the smart assistant is built using AI technology powered by Nvidia, and can improve both locally, and via software and feature updates pushed from the cloud. Mercedes-Benz also plans to issue significant feature additions to the system over the lifetime of the vehicle, and using Nvidia GPUs to power it mean they’ve actually got a lot of additional computing power to spare to support those updates.

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang explained in an interview that his company has been working with Daimler directly for two years to bring this to fruition, with a dedicated engineering team set up for the purpose. Daimler VP of Digital Vehicle & Mobility Sajjad Khan also added that working with Nvidia was key to helping the company achieve something that was performant now, but also had plenty of room to grow.

In the end, MBUX is that rarest of beasts: A first-party infotainment system that’s exciting, powerful and extremely well-crafted from a technology perspective. If you’d have told me a week ago that one of my favorite things from CES would be an automaker’s infotainment software, I’d have laughed, but here we are.

MBUX will arrive first on the all-new A-Class when it arrives later this year, but it will also roll out to other new Mercedes vehicles after that.