Autonomous Vehicles Tech Digest - April 2017

Natural language processing for VW cars in China

Volkswagen (VW), the German car brand, and Mobvoi, a Chinese voice recognition technology specialist, have partnered to provide natural language processing (NLP) systems to VW cars in the Chinese market with potential for a worldwide application in the future. VW has invested USD120 million in the NLP company to further develop its smart rear-view mirror (which also acts as a navigation system), point of interest search interface, instant messaging functions, and on-board infotainment via voice input. The products are intended for integration into VW Group’s cars. 

ST Kinetics to provide autonomous bus service to Singapore

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) of Singapore has signed a partnership agreement with ST Kinetics, a speciality vehicle developer, to develop and trial autonomous buses in Singapore. ST Kinetics will develop two 40-seater buses that can be used to serve fixed and scheduled services between and within towns. The buses will use GPS (global positioning system) and an array of sensors to navigate the streets. Pedestrians and other vehicles will be detected up to 200 metres away by radar and sonar. ST Kinetics plans to work on improving the efficiency and speed of autonomous vehicles in inclement weather conditions. The project will last three and a half years. 

UK to trial autonomous cars between Oxford and London

Oxbotica, an Oxford, UK, autonomous vehicle AI company, and part of the DRIVEN consortium, has announced that it will be trialling SAE level-4 fully autonomous vehicles on British roads ending in 2019 with a journey from Oxford to London. The six car, 30-month trial which began in April 2017 will address key issues such as intercar communication and data sharing, insurance modelling for autonomous vehicles, risk profiling and cybersecurity. 

Waymo opens autonomous vehicles to the public

Google’s self-driving car project, now named Waymo, has launched a new study of its self-driving cars in which members of the public use the cars in daily life. The project, called Early Riders, is taking place in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. Volunteers can sign up and use the cars to, for example, go to work or school, and provide feedback and suggestions to Waymo about what it could improve.

Apple testing autonomous vehicles

According to Bloomberg, Apple has begun testing its autonomous vehicle on the roads of Silicon Valley. Apple is believed to be using a Lexus RX450h SUV that is equipped with Velodyne’s 64 channel lidar, two or more radars and an array of cameras. 

Baidu to open source self-driving technology

Baidu has announced that its self-driving project Apollo would be making its software open source, allowing any car or equipment developer to use it. Baidu plans to release its technology in stages with its first release for restricted environments in July 2017; technology suitable for simple urban road conditions in the later end of 2017; and fully autonomous tech for use on city roads and highways piecemeal by 2020. 
Baidu said the move to open source was motivated by a desire that companies could work together to promote and popularise autonomous driving. Some news sources, such as the Financial Times, CNBC, and MIT Technology Review, have viewed the move as an attempt to form an Android-like market dominance.  

Dutch company planning business use autonomous taxi service

Amber Mobility, a Dutch mobility start up, has announced plans to have a commercial fleet of self-driving cars by mid-2018. The company is working with TomTom, KPN, TNO, NVIDIA, Microsoft, and the local Dutch municipalities of Eindhoven and Helmond to create the mobility solution. Amber will station a fleet of BMW i3s at the user’s office for employees to use when needed by calling a car on the Amber smartphone app.  Amber is advertising prices for its service as EUR200 for light users (500km or less), EUR350 for medium users (1000km or less) and EUR600 for heavy users (2000km or less). These prices apply per employee per month, a second employee could be added to a plan for an additional EUR50 per month. Private users would pay EUR33 per week to use the service. 

Verizon invest in autonomous vehicle technology

Verizon, an American telco, has invested in Renovo, an electric supercar maker and self-driving technology company. The sensors for self-driving cars created by Renovo reportedly generate multiple terabytes of data every 90 minutes, which requires a high-capacity telecommunications network if the data is to be used away from the vehicle. Verizon, along with other telecom network operators, sees opportunities to provide services to car makers and drivers as connected and autonomous cars develop. 

GM autonomous car technology

GM (General Motors) is to incorporate its Super Cruise system into its Cadillac CT6 set for release in autumn 2017. In addition to GPS data, cameras and sensors, the Super Cruise system uses LiDAR map data of US and Canadian limited-access highways (highways with defined on and off ramps). This is collected in advance by cars equipped to do the mapping (thus avoiding the need for expensive LiDAR technology in every car). The LiDAR mapping data can then be sent to the car over the air using a cellular network. The system also has a driver-facing camera to monitor the driver’s attention. If it notices a lull of attention while in Super Cruise mode, it will activate an alarm and cause the driver’s seat to vibrate.  
GM has also been in the news as a document filed with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seems to show that the car maker is planning to increase its fleet of autonomous Chevrolet Bolts from the current 50 to 300. This is based on investigations carried out by IEEE Spectrum (hyperlink below) that linked applications to the FCC for experimental vehicular radar from manufacturer Ukaza and a separate application from GM to use Ukaza radars.



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