All posts in “Daimler”

Sony venture arm invests in geocoding startup what3words

Sony’s venture capital arm has invested in what3words, the startup that has divided the entire world into 57 trillion 3-by-3 meter squares and assigned a three-word address to each one.

Financial details were not disclosed.

The startup’s novel addressing system isn’t the whole story. The ability to integrate what3words into voice assistants is what has piqued the interest and investment from Sony and others.

“what3words have solved the considerable problem of entering a precise location into a machine by voice. The dramatic rise in voice-activated systems calls for a simple voice geocoder that works across all digital platforms and channels, can be written down and spoken easily,” Sony Corporation’s senior vice president Toshimoto Mitomo said in a statement.

Last year, Daimler took a 10 percent stake in what3words, following an announcement in 2017 to integrate the addressing system into Mercedes’ new infotainment and navigation system — called the Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX. MBUX is now in the latest Mercedes A-Class and B-Class cars and Sprinter commercial vehicles. Owners of these new Mercedes-Benz vehicles are now able to navigate to an exact destination in the world by just saying or typing three words into the infotainment system.

Other companies are keen to follow Daimler’s lead. TomTom and ride-hailing services like Cabify recently announced plans to enable what3words navigation to precise locations.

And more could follow. The startup says it plans to use the investment from Sony to focus on more initiatives in the automotive space.

Daimler’s semi-autonomous truck puts self-driving features on the road

Daimler trucks are going autonomous — eventually.

For now, Level 2 (L2) partial automation will have to suffice. The vehicle company behind Mercedes-Benz cars announced Monday at CES 2019 that its new Freightliner Cascadia big-rig will include higher levels of robotic driving. The semi-autonomous trucks will start production in July in North America. It’s not fully self-driving, but it’s pushing the trucking industry deeper into an autonomous mode. 

Truck CEO Martin Daum admitted he was skeptical of autonomous capabilities back in 2015, when Daimler unveiled its Freightliner Inspiration autonomous concept truck. Now he sees Level 4 autonomy (full autonomy in most situations, climates, and environments) coming to trucks within the decade.

For Daimler, L2 means trucks that can self-steer, accelerate, and decelerate on their own. It builds on auto braking and other advanced driver assistance systems already on Daimler’s trucks. Adaptive cruise control can bring the truck to a full stop at 0 mph. 

Blind spot detection warns drivers about other cars, while auto-braking capabilities can stop on a dime when a pedestrian or other object crosses in front of the cab. Collision warnings flag drivers with info from bumper-mounted radar and front-facing cameras. If after an alert the driver doesn’t do anything, the car takes over. A drifting truck without a turn signal on will trigger a rumble warning and pulls the car back into the lane. 

There are a variety of little things that can’t be overlooked, like automatic wipers and headlights in inclement and wet weather and auto high-beam adjustments. 

At the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a test-only Cascadia drove down the public road and showed how these things work in real-life situations. It’s still very much driver-dependent, but like Tesla’s Autopilot, these features help drivers relax a bit while remaining engaged. 

As the driver took his hands off the wheel, the truck stayed in its lane, and with adaptive cruise control it continued along at 55 mph without a foot on the pedal. Eventually a visual warning came on to grab the wheel and then started beeping when it took too long. When the car in front started slowing down and eventually stopped, the truck slowed on its own down to 0 mph. 

A bicyclist, then a pedestrian, appeared in the driver’s blind spot – sure enough, the truck beeped and warned the driver. 

The specs, improvements, and advanced driving systems on the truck are impressive, but these details are part of the bigger picture that trucking is an ideal platform for improving automated driving for all vehicles. With long stretches of monotonous driving and busy urban settings for delivery, trucks can absolutely benefit from automation. What companies like Daimler learn on the road eventually trickles down to the everyday cars non-truckers drive, too.

Daimler didn’t mention any competition, but others are racing to automate trucking. The infamous Uber/Waymo engineer who founded self-driving trucking company Otto before he was fired at Uber just announced another new company building self-driving software for trucks. After a legal battle with Google’s Waymo, Uber dropped its plans for self-driving trucks last year.

Tesla has its Semi, which CEO Elon Musk certainly wants to put his semi-autonomous Autopilot program on and eventually make it more self-driving capable. Nikola, a Tesla competitor with an electric truck, could also benefit from autonomous features.

Then there’s Einride, the Swedish company, pushing for truly driverless electric trucks with a creative design. From the more traditional auto makers, Volvo is pushing the autonomous freight limits too, with its futuristic Vera design and other transport trucks.

But before a truly autonomous future is on the highways hauling our online deliveries, Daimler’s approach with partial autonomy is a strong start.

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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.