Category: Autonomous vehicles

Imagine Taking an Uber with a Robot Driver. We’re Not Far Off

90-10 Split

Since Google announced its first self-driving car prototypes back in 2012, people have been speculating how new technologies, AI, and automation may impact the global economy (entire books have been written on the subject).

It’s hard not to spend some time wondering what’s going to happen to the millions of truck and taxi drivers that are now roaming the streets, once this technological wonder becomes available to the masses. Will they all be out of a job? How are we to cope with such an event, especially at a time where governments are not exactly floating in cash ; most are plagued by crippling national debt.

I have long suggested that we should explore and experiment with Universal Basic Income as a means to potentially restructure our society and overcome the looming problem of technological unemployment. I am not alone in thinking this. Over the years, Silicon Valley billionaires and internet entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Sam Altman, and Mark Zuckerberg have taken a similar position.

When I first started giving lectures on this in 2012, audiences were split 90–10. The majority believed technological unemployment was a non-issue, which we could easily solve like we did with the past industrial revolutions. Today, the ratio is still 90–10 — but reversed.

However, while many have come around when it comes to the systematic loss of jobs, I find that most people don’t have a full grasp of the profound implications that an automated economy is going to bring. To explain it, perhaps there is no better and clearer example than autonomous vehicles.

I will attempt to show how a single innovation is going to completely disrupt not one, but several industries, with non-obvious rippling effects in almost all facets of our daily lives. For the sake of brevity, I’ll start referring to self-driving cars and the more general concept of autonomous vehicle — which includes cars, trucks, taxis, buses, vans, pods, trains, drones, and whatever comes next — as robocars.

What Are Robocars?

SAE defines the levels of driving automation as follows:

0    No Driving Automation
1    Driver Assistance
2    Partial Driving Automation
3    Conditional Driving Automation
4    High Driving Automation
5    Full Driving Automation

I consider robocars to be level 5: full driving automation.

Once car manufacturers and software companies fix the remaining technical issues (5 years give or take, Tesla is almost there already), regulation catches up (will taker a bit longer), and we adapt our infrastructure to accommodate them (a bit longer still), I predict most if not all new cars will be robocars.

Once the first fully electric, fully autonomous robocar fleet enters the market, innovation will speed up, creating a virtuous cycle that will accelerate robocar adoption. At that point, there will be no point in building non-robocars, except for very niche markets (like sports).

Imagine This

The advent of cars transformed our lives much more than people at the time could have anticipated. They transformed cities, gave birth to the suburbs, and engineered a social revolution. Their impact on society and the environment is so profound that it is difficult to comprehend what life was like before they came — though, we can get a glimpse from movies and books depicting our pre-car past.

The real revolution will unfold in non-obvious ways, as emergent properties of a new complex system that we’ll put in place, which will create new possibilities and opportunities we probably can’t even think of at the moment. For example, what happens when not only robocars become widespread, but when the entire transportation ecosystem around them also changes accordingly?

Imagine this: you live in Rome. It’s a warm, sunny morning, you’re drinking a nice cappuccino at your house outside the city, when you get a call from a friend of yours living in Paris. He’s inviting you a party.

You request a robocar, and within 20 seconds it comes to pick you up. As you slide in and make yourself comfortable, the car has already planned the entire journey, including the wireless charging routes to make sure it doesn’t need to stop at any point  (unless you want to ). It’s also stocked with the entertainment you like, a list of friends you might want to invite, and the work you wanted to catch up with before the end of the day.

As you approach the main transportation hub, your robocar seamlessly enters inside a Hyperloop capsule — without reducing its current speed — sliding in one of the many evacuated tubes that connect to the larger hub. You accelerate to faster than the speed of sound, yet you don’t feel much of a difference. You continue making video calls, talking to friends, reading, and generally enjoying the trip. Less than an hour later you find yourself in front of your friend’s house in Paris, ready for the party.

During this time, you didn’t have to deal with tolls or traffic. You didn’t have to get out of the car, charge it, speak to the police or show your passport. The robocar is equipped with with biometric identification, (which you could also decide not to use). You remember back in the day, when going from one side of the city to the other  to see your girlfriend (a mere 15 km ) would sometimes take more than an hour, and how that over time took a toll on your relationship. Now, going to a city 1,500 km away seems like it’s around the corner. You can literally hop in, watch an episode of Game of Thrones, and you’re there.

If this scenario seems too far fetched, it’s due a lack of imagination. As we speak, companies and startups are building each individual piece of technology to make this happen.

Safer

Robocars are filled with sensors. Different manufacturers use a combination of cameras, lasers, infrared, RADAR, LiDAR, ultrasonic, wheel speed sensors, passive visual, sonar, GPS, accelerator, gyroscope, temperature, humidity, and a bunch more.

Robocars can see and move around in rain, fog, and at night with no lights on. They can sense other robocars. They don’t need traffic lights. They can see 360 degrees and be aware at all time of things we won’t ever be able to see. Nearly 1.3 million people die in road crashes each year, an average of 3,287 deaths a day. An additional 20–50 million are injured or disabled. Every. Single. Year.

Robocars can easily bring that number down 90%, and in the long run I predict over 99% — a factor of 100. The reduction of car accidents brought by the introduction of fully autonomous vehicles will be even more dramatic and sudden than that of airplanes. In time, I predict that driving will become illegal, and be relegated to specific areas for driving enthusiasts. Just like hunting; a sport for the few.

Robocars won’t even be built with a steering wheel, because it will be an obsolete element of design that won’t serve any purpose. They will be redesigned from scratch, allowing us to do a variety of things inside, becoming more like an extension of our homes.

Cheaper

The biggest costs of cars are gas, insurance, maintenance (or, when you take a taxi the driver). Robocars bring all of these costs down to practically zero. With 90% fewer accidents, insurance costs will drop 90% or more. Autonomous driving means you don’t need to pay for a human being behind the wheel, which is by far the biggest cost when one takes a taxi.

Robocars will be electric, and if you create your own electricity using solar PV or other methods, the cost of taking a trip will be practically zero. Electricity generation from solar is now cheaper than coal and gas in many countries, and this trend will continue in the future, bringing the cost down exponentially. Electric cars are still not mainstream due to mainly two reasons: range and cost. Both are improving exponentially, thanks to better battery technology and car design.

Robocars can leapfrog and overcome these obstacles much faster than normal electric cars would. An organized fleet of robocars can be incredibly efficient at organizing routes and switches. You will not need to plan for long trips, look at the available charging stations along the way, or remember to charge your car during the night. Robocars can do that automatically, so that you never have to think about it.

Whether you have to do 10km or 10,000km, it doesn’t matter. It’s just something you will never be concerned with. A robocar will know which station to approach and at which time, it will come close to the appropriate replacement robocar whenever needed and open both doors for you. All you have to do is get out of one robocar and hop in the other every few hundred kilometers. All in all, the process will take about 5 seconds — much less than would you’d need with any gasoline car and its refueling requirements.

Electric cars are also more reliable and require less maintenance. They are much simpler, have fewer parts, and can do most of their diagnostics via software, which can be regularly updated and controlled remotely. Robocars don’t have to wait for electric vehicles to match the range of gasoline cars, or to even become as cheap. The combined benefits of better logistics and reduced maintenance can make cost and “range anxiety” an obsolete problem.

Flexible, Personalized

Robocars will also adjust to the needs of the individual person. It’s estimated that most cars move around with a single person inside, a huge waste of space and resources. The average midsize car weighs 1,590 kilograms. The average human is 63kg. We essentially use a huge amount of energy to accelerate incredibly heavy objects, which take large amounts of space and weigh more than 20 times what they should be carrying.

Aside from the failure to properly organize logistics with car pooling, the biggest issue is that we buy cars that are one-size fits all. We expect to be able to use them in cities, mountains, to bring kids to school, to go to work by ourselves, and to venture out for a weekend at the lake with friends. Also, we want to feel safe, so we buy increasingly bigger and more inefficient cars. This creates a vicious cycle.

With robocars, we don’t need to buy one that fits all sizes and uses. We can just order the robocar we need, when we need it, at a fraction of the cost. For a trip alone, we could use single-occupant robocars, which are incredibly efficient and can zip around with ease anywhere in the city. If we’re with a group of friends, we could share a small van. And if we like to travel in luxury, we can do that as well. In other words: robocars can be much cheaper, reliable, flexible, and comfortable than regulars cars, even if they have higher upfront costs and can’t drive as far. They are better in every regard from day one. A lot better.

Faster

One of the main reason robocars are not already roaming the streets is the same reason we have traffic jams. Streets are filled with stupid, reckless humans at the wheel of coffin-shaped metal boxes, whizzing about inefficiently and dangerously. We can’t even seem to manage to follow the simplest of rules, and we constantly cause unnecessary traffic jams and accidents. If we simply kept the proper distance between cars, we could get rid of phantom traffic jams, which are infesting our highways.

A new study out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suggests that the addition of just a small number of autonomous cars can ease the congestion on our roads. The presence of just one autonomous car reduces the standard deviation in speed of all the cars in the jam by around 50 percent, or a factor of 2. If all cars were autonomous, they could effectively communicate with each other, eliminate almost 100% of traffic jams, and always cruise at full speed, thus reducing commuting time by a factor of 10 at the very least.

Fewer

Robocar rides will be cheap and ubiquitous. Unless you live in a remote, rural area, you will never need to buy a car. You might want to, but you won’t need to. In cities and towns, fleets of robocars will be constantly moving around, ready to pick up anyone in need. And because they are connected and can talk to each other at the speed of light, they can organize logistics much better than we ever can or will.

A variety of advanced algorithms will optimize the number of cars required, predict flows, incoming demand, be linked to weather stations and sensors on the roads. IoT, Big Data, and Deep Learning will play a huge role in this, feeding each other in a virtuous cycle. More cheap and ubiquitous sensors around the cities means more (and better) quality data, which can train the algorithms to become more accurate.

In time, people will realize that owning a car in cities is not a good thing, but a drag. The younger generation already realized this, and is relying more on car sharing and public transport. Robocars offer all the pros and none of the cons. They will blow every other means of transportation out of the water.

Greener

This is a no-brainer: with 90% fewer cars on the road, it follows that there will be a significant reduction in emissions as well. However, the relationship might not be proportional. Because cars spend most of their time idle doing nothing, they’re wasting valuable space, but they’re not emitting anything while sitting there. Robocars, on the other hand, would be constantly moving people around to optimize use. This would increase emissions per car, but not per capita – that would roughly stay the same.

Now let’s factor in the other variables: because of the dramatic decrease in traffic and the optimized routes, we should expect an improvement in congestion of at least 4x — perhaps even 10x.

But we haven’t even scratched the surface. The biggest reduction in emissions will come from the switch to electric vehicles. Electric cars have virtually zero emissions, both of CO2 or harmful pollution, unless one used to create them (which is more or less equivalent to that of regular cars). The combined effect of better logistics, the elimination of traffic jams and the switch to electric will bring emissions down 10–1000x.

More Free Land Area

It’s estimated that in the U.S. there are 8 parking spots for every car, covering up to 30% of our cities. Just let that sink in. Eight parking spaces for every single vehicle. This is an insane number, considering that for over 95% of the time cars are parked without doing anything at all. Robocars will eliminate the need for most parking spaces, and the few that remain can be used as temporary switch-locations.

This will free up to 27% of all land currently assigned for parking in cities, which we can finally turn into parks, making our cities more livable, beautiful, and healthy.

Faster Adoption

A startup is a company that can grow and scale to a very large audience very quickly, and can do so consistently. Growth is fueled primarily by how big and how significant your key market differentiator is. The bigger the problem and the better the solution, the faster the growth. Startups are complicated beasts, but that’s really the essence. In short, we say “How much better is your product relative to the competition?”

If you provide a 10% improvement, you’ll probably never grow fast. Simple barriers to entry may be enough to discourage people to switch and begin using your product. If you offer a 90% improvement over the old technology, now we’re talking. That’s a 10x, which is often enough to have a clear key market differentiator and create entire new, billion-dollar markets.

Let’s have a look at how robocars play out in the startup equation:

  • > 90% safer

  • > 90% cheaper

  • > 90% greener

  • 90% faster

  • 90% fewer cars

  • 90% fewer parking spaces

  • = > 1,000,000x improvement

Each of these individual reasons would be enough to justify a switch to robocars, because each is 10x better relative to the old technology. Put together: Robocars represent at least million fold improvement.

If robocars are 90% safer, it means we can expect only 10% of the accidents than the past. In reality, as our algorithms and sensors become exponentially more accurate and we gather more data, experts project a 99% reduction or more. In a few of decades, death by automobile accidents could become as rare as being struck by lightening.

These are all conservative estimates. I could pick almost any of the reasons described above and make a case as to why each represents really a 99% improvement — or a factor of 100 — and not a “mere” 90%. A million fold improvement is in fact conservative. Very conservative.

Learning From History

Think of the last time something like this happened: 100 years go we used horses to move around. Then the first commercial cars arrived. They didn’t go much faster than horses, but they were much easier to maintain (no manure to take care of), they could carry more people in a smaller space (an integrated system as opposite to having a separate carriage to attach), and could be left alone without having to constantly feed them (they primarily needed fuel, which could be put in when necessary).

All in all, cars offered a 10–20x improvement over horses, yet the transition only took 20–30 years. Very soon, owning horses became a sport or a passion, not a means of transportation.

But perhaps the greatest advantage was that cars were an upgradable technology. If a new engine was invented, you could plug that in and get more power, ceteris paribus (leaving the rest unchanged). With horses, if you wanted more power, you had to purchase another horse and add it to the group, effectively doubling your spending, as well as your maintenance efforts and costs.

Robocars can be streamlined, updated wirelessly, and can drive themselves to the nearest maintenance center whenever needed. They offer a lot more advantages relative to cars than cars did relative to horses.

A Thought Experiment

Ask yourself this: You get a message from your friend to come to her place. She lives on the other side of town. Would you rather drive for more than an hour, be in agonizing traffic, spend $20 (all inclusive of insurance, gas, car usage), risk getting into an accident — only to spend another 10 minutes looking for parking and spending another $10?

Or, would you rather order a robocar, hop in, watch a YouTube video or take a nap in great comfort, have fun, be safe, and get out 10 minutes later, while spending $3 or less?

                CAR    ROBOCAR

Time spent        1h30m        10m
Comfort level      2/10       9/10
Safety level       1/10       9/10
Money spent         $30         $3

100 years ago, cars represented a mere 10x-20 improvement over horses, yet they conquered the market in 2–3 decades. Robocars represent a million fold improvement over cars. How long will it take for them to replace all vehicles on the road?

The Obtainable Market

The driver’s license is in decline, especially in the younger generation. Among teenagers, just 24.5 percent of 16-year-olds has a license, a 47-percent decrease from 1983, when 46.2 percent did.

When asked why, people aged 18 to 39 said they were “too busy or not enough time to get a driver’s license” (37%), or that “owning and maintaining a vehicle is too expensive”(32%), or they were “able to get transportation from others” (31%).”

Young people don’t like to get a driver’s license. We don’t like to own a car. We don’t want to maintain it. We want to move from point A to point B with the least amount of hassle and the most comfort. As public transportation became more ubiquitous, faster, and cheaper, we chose to use more of that. When Uber and other startups made it easier to take a taxi, we made use of them.

When a new startup offers fully autonomous electric robocars, where the trips cost 10 times less, and are safer and more comfortable than regular old vehicles, the choice becomes pretty obvious. Companies that will fully embrace robocars as a service will quickly dominate the automotive market and create a trillion-dollar global industry. Robocars will allow not only adults without a license to move around, but also the elderly and people with disabilities.

While we’re at it, why not children? The main reason parents don’t trust children to take public transportation is because they don’t feel it’s safe enough for them. While the vehicle itself may be relatively safe — at least as much as the car they drive — they don’t like the idea that their young child could be harassed by random strangers (or worse).

With robocars, this concern becomes null. Parents can call the robocar to their house and see their child get in. They can choose not to allow the car to pick anyone else up, and go directly to the school, football practice, or their friend’s house. They can track every movement on their smartphone, and even check how the kid’s doing from a security cam installed in the car, which will only turn on in certain circumstances, with the consent of the user, giving special access to parents with small children to monitor how they’re doing.

Because the costs of running the car will drop exponentially, so might the margins for companies. Since we don’t need to pay attention to the street, we can do other things. I predict that in the future, entertainment and third party services will become the most lucrative business in the automotive industry. This will open up entirely new markets, creating incentive for companies to join the robocar ecosystem.

The Takeaway?

Robocars will make our street safer. With fewer accidents, they will save millions of lives every year from preventable deaths and injuries. They will make our cities greener. They will be fully electric, powered by renewable energies, and we’ll need less of them moving around. They will make us healthier.

By reducing the need for parking, they will allow 27% of the space currently occupied in cities by parking and soulless concrete to become parks we can enjoy, taking walks and playing with friends, while breathing cleaner air. They will make transportation cheaper and more convenient. They will empower the disadvantaged, making personalized and ubiquitous transportation available to virtually everyone on Earth, including children, the elderly, the poor, and people with disabilities.

They will save us time. Every year, billions of hours of cognitive potential is wasted on mostly useless, tedious, and inefficient tasks. It will free our cognitive capacity to pursue greater things. Then again, if you really like driving and can’t do without it, you can always do it in VR while inside a robocar.

The Future

How will our lives change once this becomes possible? Will we still decide to live in overcrowded cities, if we can get to any nearby point quickly, easily, hassle-free, and inexpensively? Perhaps we might see a new major shift in urbanization. As barriers to freely move are demolished, so will the need to squeeze in overcrowded, expensive and unhealthy city centers.

Robocars might change the entire landscape of the world, how we build our homes and cities, how we live, and how we interact with one another. This is how a single technology can profoundly impact not just the automotive industry, but the transportation sectors at large, the housing market, the job market, the entertainment industry, insurances, the communication sector, our laws regarding immigration, border control, our cities, our landscapes, and how it will empower entire segments of the population that currently don’t have the freedom to move. Just one technology.

Now think of everything else that’s coming: Genetic engineering. Ubiquitous sensors. Internet of things. Artificial Intelligence. Nanotechnology. These are not just buzzwords. They are not far-away science fiction. They are very real, they’re coming, and they’re going to change our lives in ways we can’t even comprehend. The future awaits.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been edited and condensed for syndication. Federico Piston is an author, angel investor, technologist, and researcher. He works with Hyperloop TT, building the future of transportation, and consults for large companies on innovation and exponential tech.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Futurism or its affiliates.

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Intel Can Provide Waymo’s Vehicles with the Power to Reach Full Autonomy

When Intel Met Waymo

Intel and Alphabet’s self-driving division Waymo announced on September 18 a new partnership that would see both companies working together on self-driving car technology in the future. As noted by Reuters, the move marks a first for Waymo, which has done most of its development internally.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

“With so much life-saving potential, it’s a rapid transformation that Intel is excited to be at the forefront of along with other industry leaders like Waymo,” said Intel’s Chief Executive Officer Brian Krzanich in a statement.

As a result of the collaboration, Waymo’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans are now equipped with Intel’s own technology used for sensor processing, general computing, and connectivity. With Intel, Waymo’s autonomous cars have covered more ground than any other fleet of autonomous cars currently in operation, acquiring over 3 million miles of cumulative road travel — Waymo’s actual mileage is higher than this, however, as the company reached 3 million miles on its own by May, and that’s after all the progress it made in 2016.

Onward to Full Autonomy

“As Waymo’s self-driving technology becomes smarter and more capable, its high-performance hardware and software will require even more powerful and efficient compute [sic],” added Krzanich.

Krzanich went on to explain that by working together, Intel can provide Waymo’s vehicles with the necessary processing power to reach level 4 and 5 autonomy — the highest levels of self-driving, in which the vehicle’s systems are in control of nearly every aspect of the driving experience and neither need, nor expect, human input.

Waymo began testing it’s self-driving vehicles in Phoenix, Arizona in April as part of its Early Riders Program. Those accepted were able to incorporate the cars into their daily lives, before sharing their opinions with the company. People can still sign up for the program, though Waymo notes it’s only taking a few groups at a time.

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DARPA’s Autonomous System Can Fly and Land a Helicopter with Just a Tablet

Like a big drone with two rotors, a Sikorsky S-76 commercial helicopter successfully traveled and landed without a pilot actually touching the flight controls inside the aircraft. The demonstration, performed in January 2016, was part of a program developed by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) called Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS).

The video published back in May 2016 shows a Sikorsky S-76 tandem rotor chopper equipped with an autonomous flight system to serve as a Sikorsky Autonomous Research Aircraft (SARA) as part of DARPA’s ALIAS program. This $8-million research was awarded to Lockheed Martin company Sikorsky to test autonomous aircraft flight.

“ALIAS envisions a tailorable, drop-in, removable kit that would promote the addition of high levels of automation into existing aircraft, enabling operation with reduced onboard crew,” according to Graham Drozeski from DARPA. “Easy-to-use touch and voice interfaces would facilitate supervisor-ALIAS interaction.”

For phase 1 of the project, a chopper fitted with an ALIAS kit successfully completed a 48.2-kilometer (30-mile) autonomous flight and landing using just a tablet computer. For phase 2, DARPA demonstrated how an ALIAS kit can work in existing aircraft fleets, installing it in a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter and a Cessna 208 caravan airplane.

A third phase is planned which would demonstrate and enhance ALIAS’ capabilities to respond to contingencies while lessening pilot workload. “ALIAS would also provide a platform for integrating additional automation or autonomy capabilities tailored for specific missions,” Drozeski added. Though designed to enhance automated military aircraft, it’s not difficult to imagine the technology behind ALIAS being used in commercial autonomous flights.

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Intel and Waymo Have Teamed Up to Roll Out Fully Autonomous Vehicles

Intel announced on Monday that it’s partnering with Waymo, the self-driving car division of Google parent company Alphabet, to develop its autonomous vehicle technology. This new team seeks to bring Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy (or full driving autonomy, according to the Society of Automotive Engineers) to Waymo’s driverless vehicles using the computing power from Intel’s processors.

Waymo’s already using technology developed by Intel in its latest driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans — from their sensor processing to overall connectivity. Now, they want to make it more official. “By working closely with partners like Intel, Waymo’s vehicles will continue to have the advanced processing power required for safe driving wherever they go,” Waymo said in a Medium post about the collaboration.

“Intel’s collaboration with Waymo ensures Intel will continue its leading role in helping realize the promise of autonomous driving and a safer, collision-free future.” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich wrote in a short editorial. This, as well as growing government support for self-driving cars, will make help make the safer roads of the future a reality. Indeed, autonomous cars are expected to decrease deaths caused by road crashes, which claim some 30,000 to 40,000 American lives each year. 90 percent of which are due to human error.

“I fully expect my children’s children will never have to drive a car,” Krzanich added. “That’s an astounding thought: Something almost 90 percent of Americans do every day will end within a generation. With so much life-saving potential, it’s a rapid transformation that Intel is excited to be at the forefront of along with other industry leaders like Waymo.”

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The World’s Biggest Smartphone Maker Is Investing $300 Million in Autonomous Car Tech

Samsung Galaxy Cruiser

Yesterday, Samsung turned heads with an announcement that they will be investing heavily in the automotive industry via not one, but two new projects.

First, the company known for a variety of electronics, but especially smartphones, revealed that they have launched a $300 million fund (Samsung Automotive Innovation Fund) to back startups and other ventures helping shape the future of the industry. TTTech, an Austrian developer of automotive software, is the first recipient of money from the fund, with Samsung allocating nearly $90 million toward their projects.

Image credit: Harmon
Image credit: Harmon

That wasn’t the only announcement, though. Last year, Samsung acquired Harman, a company that creates auto and audio products, and now, they’ve revealed that they’ll be putting that acquisition to use through an initiative to develop connected auto tech.

“During this period of extraordinary transformation in the automotive industry, we are excited to play a leadership role in supporting and shaping the future of smarter, more connected vehicles,” Young Sohn, President and Chief Strategy Officer of Samsung Electronics and Chairman of the Board of HARMAN, said in a statement.

Automotive Disrupt

A huge electronics company like Samsung investing so heavily in automotive ventures may come as a surprise to some, but it’s becoming increasingly common for tech companies to put money into the future of this industry.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Apple, Google, and Baidu are even going so far as to work on developing their own autonomous vehicles, investing huge amounts of money into R&D and the recruiting of the talent necessary to make their lofty goals a reality.

The opposite is true as well. Many huge automotive companies are investing in tech companies. For example, GM has teamed up with Lyft to develop a fleet of self-driving taxis.

This level of significant financial investment coming from both ends is poised to greatly benefit drivers. “Automotive advances like autonomous controls and advanced driver assistance systems will have a profound impact on society — from transforming urban spaces to bringing mobility to aging populations,” according to Sohn.

Clearly, this is the future of personal transport, and a spirit of collaboration and innovation is key to bringing the best product to the consumer.

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Will Wireless Connections Between Autonomous Vehicles Make Them Safer?

Life-Saving Automation

With vehicular deaths in the United States spiking – new data shows a 14 percent rise over the past two years, the first such rise in 50 years – the search for solutions is urgent. Crashes on American roads claim 1,000 lives every nine days.

In a recent article in The New York Times, “A Public-Health Crisis That We Can Fix” (7 March 2017), the writer, David Leonhardt, argued persuasively that distracted driving due to smartphone use is the leading cause of this spike.

Leonhardt suggested that if automation has brought U.S. airline deaths to virtually zero, why not apply it to create driverless cars?

Setting aside for the moment the irony of using wireless communications to prevent deaths ostensibly due to wireless communications, let’s examine the proposition. Certainly, driverless cars have been receiving significant attention due to their promise of increased safety and, tragically, because last year an engineer in a trial run lost his life in a driverless vehicle crash.

How far apart are the promise and the current development of driverless cars? As an engineer working on future wireless communications technologies, I can provide perspective on the challenges in technology, policy and standards that lie between the promise and performance of driverless vehicles.

The Tesla Revolution [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Cars, Electrification, and Communication

The electrification of vehicles already allows a vehicle to closely monitor its own performance and the condition of its components, increasing safety by notifying the driver of trouble or impending trouble. “Connected” vehicles are in touch with cellular networks, the cloud and/or cloud-based service offerings, including diagnostics, maps, infotainment and roadside assistance, to name a few.

Then there is the “driverless” vehicle. These are still on the drawing board and in occasional trials on public roadways, at least in the U.S. and the UK. Roughly two schools of thought guide their development. One has the driverless vehicle depending on sensors along its route. The other, truly “autonomous” option describes a vehicle equipped with enough artificial intelligence (AI) to sense its surroundings, communicate with other vehicles in its vicinity for collision avoidance and make independent decisions on its navigation. The possibility of a hybrid of these two approaches remains in play.

Situational Awareness Needed

We know that one famous automaker is exploring the combined use of radar and a computer-based vision system for the situational awareness needed to pilot an autonomous vehicle. Another company, famous for its algorithms, is basing its navigational and decision-making system on Lidar (light detection and ranging), which involves a car-top unit that develops a precise map of its surroundings as it progresses down the road.

In both cases, the vehicle requires situational awareness to navigate the desired route and avoid obstacles and collisions. I’ve written about some of the challenges in “Situational awareness key to safe, self-driving cars,” Commonwealth Magazine (30 October 2016).

Though onboard technology for autonomy is also required, such a vehicle will likely communicate with similar vehicles in its vicinity to inform and expand its situational awareness. Whichever technology is used to provide situational awareness, some form of AI is needed to process and act on the incoming data to make driver-like decisions.

Clearly, there is little if any room for error in such a system. And just as technology options exist for situational awareness, options exist for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and, ultimately, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications.

Thus a key question remains: how can we develop wireless connections between autonomous vehicles that are so reliable we’ll stake our lives on it?

7 Benefits of Driverless Cars
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5G and Wi-Fi

With connectivity as the new goal to make driverless, autonomous vehicles a reality, what exact technology or technologies will deliver it? And what information would be shared between vehicles? These remain open questions, but let’s look at two leading candidates: 5G and dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) that depends on a variant of Wi-Fi known as IEEE 802.11p™ may well provide the wireless communication protocol(s). One requirement, apart from reliability, will be low latency. Information between multiple, perhaps hundreds of moving vehicles, must get information from A to B with super-low latency, say, 1-2 milliseconds. Another consideration is whether the radio spectrum is available and possesses sufficient bandwidth to carry these bursts of data at speed and scale.

5G is in its infancy, but its many expected innovations over what’s available today will include extremely high data speeds, significantly lower latency and increased network flexibility that may go a long way to solving some – though perhaps not all – of the challenges inherent in autonomous vehicles, including V2V communication. I’m personally skeptical that 5G in its cellular configuration – that is, vehicle-to-cell-tower-to-vehicle – will provide the super-low latency needed to avoid collisions, but 5G capabilities may work for relatively short-range V2V. 5G’s performance may be impacted by having many vehicles in dense traffic attempting to communicate simultaneously – precisely when safety measures are most needed. 5G’s journey to fruition will have to include favorable public policy and standards to support it.

In contrast, the IEEE 802.11p™ standard has been ratified and commercial off-the-shelf products are available. The main technological difference between 5G and IEEE 802.11p is that the latter relies on what we call a “contention base.” It’s akin to Wi-Fi performance. Anyone can log on, but the data speeds aren’t extremely fast. Both technologies have their supporters. It is conceivable that a hybrid approach could use the best of both methods for V2V connectivity.

Searching for Spectrum

Though the communications technologies for data exchanges between vehicles is currently in flux, one constant is the need to transmit that data over the airwaves, so sufficient spectrum is a must. Since 1999, the Federal Communications Commission has allocated 75 MHz of wireless bandwidth around 5.9 GHz for vehicular communication in the U.S. Due to underuse by the automotive industry up until now, this bandwidth is under pressure for use by other industries, even though we’re now seeing how it should be used by driverless vehicles. Still, such a narrow band might be swiftly overcome by the amount of data transmitted by driverless vehicles in traffic.

One possible solution to that challenge involves spontaneous access to wireless spectrum, which is a problem I’ve studied for a dozen years. It remains a challenge without a firm solution. I think that 5G’s support for something known as cognitive radio offers a potential solution. Cognitive radio would enable a vehicle to locate and lock in on available spectrum, whether it’s dedicated for vehicular communications or is simply unused at the exact moment a vehicle needs spectrum to communicate. And one model for algorithms that can perform this task comes from studies of bumblebee communication. Bumblebees act both in concert and individually as they seek the best source of nectar. A brief explanation of this concept is offered in “Cars Could Follow the Flight of the Bumblebee,” published by IEEE Spectrum (3 December 2015).

Laws and Ethics for Autonomous Cars
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Solutions Bring Spin-Off Benefits

Ultimately, we’ll need to figure out how to accomplish all these actions on a highly dynamic topology, meaning numerous cars moving in different directions at various speeds. This remains a pressing research and development issue that will take at least a half-decade to resolve.

If the use of wireless communications tempts humans to distraction, perhaps it’s fitting that it can also offer a solution to make our roads safer. And if we can solve the challenges of mobile communications between a multitude of fast vehicles, we can apply those solutions in other areas, including the Internet of Things (IoT), which promises to connect a gazillion devices. Safer roads are just the beginning of a longer journey.

Alex Wyglinski is president-elect, IEEE Vehicular Technology Society, Associate Professor of electrical and computer engineering and Director of the Wireless Innovation Laboratory at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Futurism or its affiliates.

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Dubai Just Moved One Step Closer to Launching Its Flying Taxi Service

Investing Big

In February, Dubai, a city known for its active pursuit of all things futuristic, revealed plans to partner with German startup Volocopter on a flying taxi service. The city then updated the timeline for those plans in June, and now, it has moved one step closer to implementing them thanks to a €25 million (roughly $29.5 million) investment in Volocopter by Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler AG, Berlin tech investor Lukasz Gadowski, and a few others.

“The strong financial commitment of our new investors is a signal as well as proof of the growing confidence in the newly emerging market for electrically driven [vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles] put to use as personal air taxis,” Florian Reuter, Volocopter managing director, said in a press release announcing the new round of funding.

flying cars vtol volocopter autonomous aerial taxis
Image Credit: Volocopter

The startup has been working on a flying car for some seven years now, and the Volocopter 2X, a two-seater VTOL vehicle powered by electricity and capable of autonomous flight, is their second-generation vehicle.

flying cars vtol volocopter autonomous aerial taxis
Image Credit: Volocopter

Volocopter’s AAT would work like most ride-hailing services — a passenger would be able to summon the service on demand and then be ferried to their destination. The company will work closely with Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) during a five-year testing period for this autonomous aerial taxi (AAT), which is set to begin by the fourth quarter of 2017.

flying cars vtol volocopter autonomous aerial taxis
Image Credit: Volocopter

Changing Urban Transportation

The benefits of a flying car or a flying taxi service seem obvious enough. For one, you’d avoid the usual traffic congestion of busy urban centers. Secondly, Volocopter 2X is safe and quiet, thanks to the 18 rotors that lift it off the ground.

flying cars vtol volocopter autonomous aerial taxis
Image Credit: Volocopter

According to the company, it won’t require heavy infrastructure support, either. “One moment, it is the replacement for a bridge that is being repaired, the other moment it is an air taxi used as a shuttle to a trade fair,” they explain on their website. This would effectively eliminate the typical concerns regarding the use of VTOLs in cities, such as the ones Elon Musk previously raised.

flying cars vtol volocopter autonomous aerial taxis
Image Credit: Volocopter

Volocopter isn’t the only company working on a flying car or an AAT. Uber has had plans for a flying vehicle and an aerial taxi service in the works for a while now, and a number of both established companies and smaller startups have their own designs for such vehicles, increasing the odds that flying cars will have a place in the future of transportation.


Disclosure: The Dubai Future Foundation works in collaboration with Futurism as a sponsor and does not hold a seat on our editorial board.

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Leaked Emails: Tesla Will Soon Test “Platoons” of Electric, Driverless Trucks on Public Roads

Tesla’s Other Self-Driving Vehicle

It’s no secret that Tesla has plans to build an electric semi-truck: the idea was floating around as early as September 2016. CEO and founder Elon Musk confirmed in April this year that an electric truck was indeed in the works, and a working prototype is expected to come out this September. Now, a leaked email exchange between Tesla and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), seen by Reuters, reveal that the company is developing electric, self-driving semis that move in “platoons” trailing a lead vehicle.

The email conversations dated from May and June 2017 included Tesla and various representatives of the Nevada DMV discussing potential road trials for prototype semis — which could be the first such test run on the city’s roads for autonomous trucks without a person in the cab. In one of these exchanges, Tesla regulatory official Nasser Zamani wrote to DMV official April Sanborn about the agenda for a July 16 meeting.

“To insure we are on the same page, our primary goal is the ability to operate our prototype test trucks in a continuous manner across the state line and within the States of Nevada and California in a platooning and/or Autonomous mode without having a person in the vehicle,” Zamani wrote. Then, on July 10, Zamani asked the DMV for testing license terms. No particular date was mentioned, however, as to when this road testing would be.

Nevada DMV spokesperson Jessica Gonzalez told Reuters that Tesla requested for a meeting with California officials on Wednesday “to talk about Tesla’s efforts with autonomous trucks,” as well as to introduce new staff.

The Road to Autonomous Trucks

Tesla is hardly the first to work on developing driverless trucks. Its most popular competition comes from Uber and Waymo, Google’s former autonomous vehicle development company now under its parent firm Alphabet Inc. Both Uber, working with startup Otto, and Waymo have already done tests with their self-driving trucks, which puts Tesla a little bit behind. European luxury car brand Mercedes Benz also revealed back in 2015 that it’s working on its own driverless truck, as well as an autonomous bus.

There are also a number of Silicon Valley startups working on platooning technology for fleets of long-haul trucks. Among these is automated vehicle technology company Peloton, whose current work involves several truck makers including Volvo. Peloton considers platooning as an important precursor to autonomy when it comes to long-haul driverless trucks, in order to increase safety and efficiency.

With all these efforts, it seems that self-driving trucks are close to becoming a reality. Yet Tesla is unique in developing an all-electric version — and for good reason. One of the greatest challenges truck manufacturers and autonomous vehicle companies face is battery range limitations. Venkat Viswanathan, a lithium ion battery researcher from Carnegie Mellon, told Reuters that long-haul electric trucks aren’t commercially feasible yet. Such trucks would require huge batteries, he said, so the “cargo essentially becomes the battery.”

Perhaps this is an area where Tesla has an edge over its competitors, thanks to its experience with developing powerful batteries. In any case, with barely a month before the promised prototype, we can’t wait to see just what Musk’s electric autonomous semi could offer. If you’re driving through Nevada, keep an eye out — the road testing might soon follow afterwards.

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Mazda Announced Plan to Have Autonomous Driving Technology in All of its Cars by 2025

 

Lead the Way

Mazda has announced its intention to make autonomous driving technology standard in all of its vehicles by 2025. This is firmly in line with comments made by Elon Musk last month, in which he predicted that almost all cars would have such capabilities ten years from now.

Previously, Mazda CEO Masamichi Kogai has downplayed the company’s plans for self-driving vehicles, instead focusing on the idea of making active driving a more pleasurable experience.

This change of heart could stem from the 5 percent stake in Mazda that Toyota acquired earlier this month. The two companies are set to spend $1.6 billion on a manufacturing plant in the United States, which will be tailored toward producing cars with advanced driver-assistance systems and wholly self-driving vehicles.

Tesla has helped to lead the current movement toward autonomous driving, with its Autopilot technology going a long way to acclimatize the general public to the concept. While accidents have occurred, a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association has indicated that Tesla’s vehicles have been involved in 40 percent fewer accidents after the introduction of Autosteer.

Experts have concluded that a wider rollout of self-driving cars will help to make our roads much safer. The key is removing human error from the equation, so once autonomous driving systems have been put through their paces, it makes sense to transition as many vehicles to the technology as possible.

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Tesla’s Model 3 is More Than a Car. It’s a Revolution.

The Lucky 30

On Friday night, Tesla CEO Elon Musk held a special event to hand over the keys for Tesla’s new Model 3 to the EV’s first 30 customers. The very first Model 3 owner was Musk himself, of course — then, the next 29 ultimately went to Tesla employees (who made up 10,000 of the 500,000 supposed preorders).

The event marked an exciting moment for Tesla and, no doubt, those 29 new owners, who had deposited $1,000 to reserve one of the company’s first mass-market EVs. Everyone else on the list still has a bit of a wait before they’ll have keys in hand: the rate of production for the Model 3’s is to be 100 cars built by August, ultimately building up to 1,500 cars by September. Also, before buyers are guaranteed a unit, they have to configure the vehicle online before they can place an order. Tesla plans to produce 20,000 Model 3s per month by September.

The homepage of Tesla’s website produced a live stream of the event.

The Wheels of Revolution

If you’re wondering what the hype over the Model 3 is all about, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not just going to be another new electric car; it’s anticipated to be one of the world’s cheapest EVs. “The Model 3 is far more than just another car,” Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at AutoTrader, told The Verge. “If successful, it would mark a breakthrough for electric vehicles and would be promising in terms of the proliferation of the technology.”

The Model 3 signals a change in the air, perhaps heralding an end to the era of the combustion engine. It’s expected help to increase adoption of EVs — since several countries are already firming up policies to eliminate petrol and diesel vehicles in favor of cleaner alternatives. The average passenger vehicle releases some 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, and replacing these with 500,000 EVs would be a major step in clean energy adoption. Further, energy stored in EVs could also be used to power microgrids.

The Model 3 also comes with an autonomous driving system — another technology that’s set to revolutionize transportation. So, it’s not just going to make EVs more accessible, it’s also putting self-driving cars within reach of the general public. That’s important, as some research has indicated that autonomous vehicles could significantly lower the number of car-related deaths caused by human error — which is roughly 40,000 every year in the case of the U.S. alone.

Naturally, before any of these changes become palpable, there are hurdles that must to be overcome. Government policy and infrastructure are two, with the former already making headway in Congress. Tesla is also committed to building more charging stations, a feat that will reshape the landscape of today’s cities. Additionally, significant improvements in roads are also needed to allow self-driving AI to function.

Overall, what the Model 3 brings is opportunity. It’s giving people a chance to change how society works; hopefully for the better.

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The First Major U.S. Bill on Self-Driving Cars Just Got House Committee Approval

A bill that will introduce breakthrough legislation in support of autonomous vehicle technology just received approval from the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

It’s the first significant federal legislation on self-driving cars, and it is designed to facilitate the deployment of driverless vehicles while preventing states from blocking such efforts.

“Our aim was to develop a regulatory structure that allows for industry to safely innovate with significant government oversight,” U.S. congressman Greg Walden, chair of said committee, told Reuters.

Concretely, the bill would allow car manufacturers to put up to 25,000 autonomous vehicles on the roads in the first year of deployment. Over three years, that number would increase to a 100,000 annual cap. These vehicles would not be required to meet existing car safety standards.

Officially called the ‘‘Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act’’ (the “SELF DRIVE Act,” for short), the bipartisan bill demonstrates an understanding of what autonomous vehicles could contribute to society. In the United States, road deaths increased by 7.7 percent from 2014 to 2015, and almost 40,000 people every year die in car accidents. Autonomous cars would help avoid these deaths by removing their primary cause: human error.

The House of Representatives plans to tackle the bill when it reconvenes in September. Auto and tech companies in support of the SELF DRIVE bill are hopeful Congress will pass legislation before the year ends, and plans to introduce a similar measure in the U.S. Senate are already in the works.

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Elon Musk Compares Driving a Non-Autonomous Vehicle in 2037 to Riding a Horse Today

“In 10 years, I think, almost all cars produced would be autonomous,” Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk told his audience of more than 30 U.S. governors in Rhode Island on Saturday. The innovative entrepreneur was the guest in a keynote conversation during the National Governors Association Summer Meeting, and he spoke about — among other things — the future ubiquity of autonomous vehicles in automakers’ production lines.

“It will be rare to find one that is not, in ten years. That’s going to be a huge transformation,” Musk asserted.

While he believes autonomous systems will comprise the vast majority of newly produced cars by then, however, the shift to self-driving cars outnumbering traditional ones on the roads will take about five to ten more years. That doesn’t mean all human-driven cars will be gone 20 years from now, however.

Musk expects the shift to autonomous systems will be similar to the one that took place following the introduction of the first mass-produced automobiles about a century ago, which displaced the previous mode of transportation: horses.

“It will be like having a horse. People have horses, which is cool. There will be people who have non-autonomous cars, like people have horses,” he explained. “It would just be unusual to use that as a mode of transport.”

With autonomous vehicles predicted to be safer and more efficient than their traditional counterparts, hopefully these owners of the next-generation of “classic” cars will choose to keep them in the garage more often than they take them on the road.

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Study Finds That Human Ethics Could Be Easily Programmed Into Driverless Cars

Programming Morality

A new study from The Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabrück has found that the moral decisions humans make while driving are not as complex or context dependent as previously thought. Based on the research, which has been published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, these decisions follow a fairly simple value-of-life-based model, which means programming autonomous vehicles to make ethical decisions should be relatively easy.

Laws and Ethics for Autonomous Cars
Click to View Full Infographic

For the study, 105 participants were put in a virtual reality (VR) scenario during which they drove around suburbia on a foggy day. They then encountered unavoidable dilemmas that forced them to choose between hitting people, animals, and inanimate objects with their virtual car.

The previous assumption was that these types of moral decisions were highly contextual and therefore beyond computational modeling. “But we found quite the opposite,” Leon Sütfeld, first author of the study, told Science Daily. “Human behavior in dilemma situations can be modeled by a rather simple value-of-life-based model that is attributed by the participant to every human, animal, or inanimate object.”

Better Than Human

A lot of virtual ink has been spilt online concerning the benefits of driverless cars. Elon Musk is in the vanguard, stating emphatically that those who do not support the technology are “killing people.” His view is that the technology can be smarter, more impartial, and better at driving than humans, and thus able to save lives.

Currently, however, the cars are large pieces of hardware supported by rudimentary driverless technology. The question of how many lives they could save is contingent upon how we choose to program them, and that’s where the results of this study come into play. If we expect driverless cars to be better than humans, why would we program them like human drivers?

As Professor Gordon Pipa, a senior author on the study, explained, “We need to ask whether autonomous systems should adopt moral judgements. If yes, should they imitate moral behavior by imitating human decisions? Should they behave along ethical theories, and if so, which ones? And critically, if things go wrong, who or what is at fault?”

The ethics of artificial intelligence (AI) remains swampy moral territory in general, and numerous guidelines and initiatives are being formed in an attempt to codify a set of responsible laws for AI. The Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society is composed of tech giants, including Apple, Google, and Microsoft, while the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure has developed a set of 20 principles that AI-powered cars should follow.

Just how safe driverless vehicles will be in the future is dependent on how we choose to program them, and while that task won’t be easy, knowing how we would react in various situations should help us along the way.

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A New Company Is Making The “Brain” for Self-Driving Cars

Drive.ai is not your typical startup. The company’s website says that a couple of former lab mates out of Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab formed the venture. Their focus is on developing the brains behind autonomous vehicles. To accomplish this, the company has recently raised $50 million.

Image credit: Drive.ai
Image Credit: Drive.ai

Drive.ai is not interested in creating self-driving vehicles in the same way that Tesla or Mercedes-Benz are. Instead the innovators are focusing on creating a system to retro-fit vehicles with self-driving technology. “What we are building at Drive.ai is the brains for self-driving cars,” CEO Sameep Tandon told Business Insider. “We think self-driving cars are going to make roads safer, give us our time back, and re-imagine our cities.”

Experts assert that self-driving cars are the wave of the future. This technology could both help to bridge the gap between traditional and autonomous vehicles as well as help consumers who may not be in the market for a brand new car.

What makes Drive.ai’s technology special is that its “brain” utilizes deep learning software to become a better driver. The artificial intelligence operating the vehicle can actually learn from its experiences out on the road, making it more adaptable than what can be programmed in a lab. This will help the software to learn to deal with difficult situations much faster than a firmware update.

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Tesla’s Neural Network is Receiving a Massive Amount of Data from Cars

Yesterday, courtesy of Reddit user kutrod, we received the first images that show the change since Tesla started gathering data from the 50,000 customer-owned vehicles around the U.S. — although the actual change in policy occurred last month. The manifestation of this is that the vehicles send the company photos from its cameras seemingly at random. Kutrod’s image showed huge spikes in the amount of data a Tesla vehicle has uploaded since the beginning of May.

According to the company, Tesla’s neural network is then applied to the massive collection of data, which will allow it to build a 3D virtual world of numerous cityscapes, as well as learn constantly and exponentially about real-world environments. This is pivotal for safety because it allows Tesla to get feedback from cars already in the hands of customers and apply this information to updates.

The decision marks a departure from the strategy of other companies, such as GM and Waymo, who are using test fleets to collect data before the vehicles are released onto the market.

Tesla asked for permission to use the recorded clips during an upgrade for Autopilot 2.0. Tesla stated in a message that accompanied the upgrade that, “In order to protect your privacy, we have ensured that there is no way to search our system for clips that are associated with a specific car.”

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France Plans to Have Driverless “Drone Trains” Transporting Passengers by 2023

In autonomous vehicle news, SNFC, France’s national railway operator, has announced their intention to have autonomous TGVs (French abbreviation for “high-speed trains”) running by 2023. SNFC has dubbed the concept the “drone train” and plans to start prototype testing sometime in 2019.

The History (And Future) Of High Speed Rail
Click to View Full Infographic

Driverless public transport might make some uneasy, bringing up visions of the film Speed and the potential ways things could go awry, but with years of testing and preparation, every possible issue should be resolved.

The SNFC’s trains, which can already travel at speeds up to 321 km/h (200 mph), will have automatic brakes installed (for both regular and emergency situations), as well as sensors to allow the trains to identify objects in their path. To ensure safety, the trains will still have conductors aboard for the first excursions just in case anything goes wrong, and because remote piloting is an option, even unforeseeable issues with the trains could be dealt with safely in a variety of ways.

As autonomous vehicles continue to increase in popularity, the future of transportation promises to be safer, more efficient, and beneficial to the economy. From Tesla to Toyota, manufacturers across the globe are investing in the development of autonomous vehicles, and in some places in the U.S., driverless cars could be on the streets in as few as two months.

Autonomous vehicle development isn’t slowing down any time soon, so the next train you take might have no conductor at all, and that could be a good thing for everyone involved.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson: Self-Driving Cars Will Save Lives

Leading Cause of Death

At the most basic level, the leading cause of death amongst humans is our frailty. We get sick. We age. Inevitably, we die. While that sounds grim, it’s simply the nature of our biology right now, but it may not be for long.

Right now, scientists worldwide are working tireless to keep death at bay. They’re developing treatments that could potentially cure all diseases and even stop aging itself, which many now consider a disease itself and not an inevitable fact of life.

So what happens when we accomplish all that we’ve set out to do? American astrophysicist and famous science personality Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks we’ll still have one more hurdle to overcome, and he shared it via a recent tweet.

Tyson’s point is backed up by a number of studies on car fatalities and the development of autonomous vehicles. In the United States alone,  roughtly 30,000 to 40,000 people die from car crashes every year, and an estimated 94 percent of those are due to human error. Additionally, some six million drivers admitted to bumping other cars on purpose, according to a report by the American Automobile Association (AAA).

The Best Driver Isn’t Human

Autonomous vehicle manufacturers agree that self-driving systems would make the roads safer by eliminating human error. While these manufacturers have yet to achieve true Level 5 autonomy, recent developments in driverless vehicle systems aren’t too far off the mark.

Most notable among these is, of course, Tesla. At a time when the rest of the world wasn’t too keen on investing in autonomous technology, Tesla and CEO Elon Musk vigorously pursued the tech. Now, the company has developed its own Autopilot self-driving software, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports has already reduced Tesla accidents by 40 percent.

Ride-hailing company Uber, in partnership with Volvo, has also been busy testing and rolling out its own autonomous vehicles. The company was the first to introduce self-driving taxis, it was responsible for test driving the world’s first autonomous truck, and it has plans for an autonomous flying car.

Autonomous Public Transport: The Future of the Urban Commute [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Other industry giants from both the tech and car manufacturing sectors are also developing autonomous technology. Most recently, Apple confirmed that they’ve been working on an autonomous system that could improve self-driving vehicles, possibly for use in their own line of cars.

General Motors recently delivered the world’s first mass-produced self-driving cars, while others, such as Volkswagen and Ford, are moving from the concept stages to production. And then there’s the ever-growing number of startups also in the self-driving game.

Given all these efforts, autonomous vehicles are poised to be a major part of transportation in the near future. Public adoption may be slow at first, but once the tech is embraced, we’ll be able to check another threat to humanity off the list.

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U.S. Senators Reveal the Six Principles They’ll Use to Regulate Self-Driving Vehicles

The Future of AV Legislation

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are poised to make our roads safer — if they can ever get permission to be on our roads, that is.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Despite all the talk, successful tests, and tech advancements, very little has been accomplished legislatively. Without the government go-ahead, we can’t yet integrate these vehicles into our current infrastructure, and the lack of progress has resulted in very few cities preparing for the seemingly inevitable autonomous revolution.

Finally, it looks like that’s about to change. Yesterday, June 13, United States Senators Bill Nelson, Gary Peters, and John Thune announced the six principles that they plan to use to draft legislation for autonomous vehicles:

  • Prioritize Safety: This one should be the top priority of any new vehicle.
  • Promote Continued Innovation and Reduce Existing Roadblocks: Clearly, AVs are uncharted territory, so we’ll need to develop a new class of rules for this new class of vehicle, but we can’t let that development process delay innovation.
  • Remain Tech Neutral: Legislation shouldn’t include policies that favor one technology over another, for example, supporting the implementation of autonomous systems designed by veteran car makers over those of startups.
  • Reinforce Separate Federal and State Roles: New legislation must make clear which aspects of regulation should be covered by each level of government and ensure that neither steps on the other’s legislative toes.
  • Strengthen Cybersecurity: AV manufacturers must be required to guard against the vulnerabilities engrained in the fundamentally electronic technology.
  • Educate the Public to Encourage Responsible Adoption of Self-Driving Vehicles: It’s the government’s responsibility to work with the private sector to ensure that the public accurately understands the capabilities of self-driving vehicles.

Planning for the Autonomous Revolution

As with any transformative technology, governments and businesses have a responsibility to adequately plan for contingencies, consider potential guidelines, and develop legislation before introducing autonomous driving systems to the public. By taking these steps, they’ll be able to avoid irresponsible use based on ignorance, unforeseen legislative gray areas, or public resistance to the technology when it hits the market.

The legislation of driverless cars is particularly important because lives are at stake — we must do everything we can to integrate the technology in the safest possible way. This becomes even more pressing when we consider that driverless systems could be on state roads within the next two months.

The guidelines for AVs are also particularly important as they may set a legal precedent for the wider introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. Automated systems are poised to become more and more integrated into various aspects of our lives in the coming years, and in the process, they could introduce problems unlike any we’ve previously encountered. The worst thing we could do is wait for those problems to surface before planning ways to deal with them.

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Study: The Driverless Vehicle Market Will Hit $7 Trillion Annually by 2050

Saving Industries

With interest from both seasoned and startup automakers, the autonomous vehicle (AV) market is expected to grow exponentially in the coming decades. A new study conducted by research firm Strategy Analytics and commissioned by Intel predicts that driverless vehicles will constitute a $7 trillion economic value by 2050, with $4 trillion from consumer use and another $3 trillion from business use.

A change that major won’t be abrupt, of course. The study predicts that the growth will be gradual, with the market reaching $800 billion by 2035.

Business deliveries and long-haul trucking would account for much of the market value. As countries face a growing shortage of qualified truck drivers — nearly 100,000 in the U.K. and an expected 200,000 in the U.S. by 2025 — companies will be forced to turn to autonomous trucks. The concept has already made its way into pop culture, with a long scene in the movie “Logan” featuring self-driving trucks along the freeway.

In addition to long-haul shipping, the currently in-flux landscape of retail buying will also contribute to the growth of the AV market. With goods being delivered directly to homes via self-driving vehicles the same day they are requested, in-store purchases will occur less and less frequently, perhaps signaling the final blow to the already struggling brick-and-mortar retail model.

Saving Lives

Apart from detailing the economic repercussions of autonomous vehicles, the study also notes how AVs are poised to save lives. Between 2035 and 2045, self-driving cars are expected to save roughly 600,000 lives by eliminating or reducing the severity of accidents on the road. That will result in an additional savings of $234 billion in accident costs.

Autonomous Car Forecasts: When Will They Actually Be on Our Roads?
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The study confirms what previous studies have predicted about the life-saving potential of autonomous cars. By removing the human element, which accounts for an estimated 95 percent of car accidents, AVs could save up to 40,000 lives each year in the U.S. alone.

While early adoption will likely come from more developed countries, the study expects the bulk of the self-driving economy to be centered in Asia, with that region producing around 47 percent of revenues. Meanwhile, Europe would generate 24 percent, while 29 percent would come from the Americas.

Wherever the AV economic revolution begins, the vehicles are clearly the future of safer and more profitable transportation. We’re in for a life-changing disruption.

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Apple is Building An AI Brain For Your Future Car

Apple just had its annual developer’s conference or WWDC on June 5, and as usual, CEO Tim Cook gave a keynote where he announced the tech giant’s latest improvements in its MacOS and iOS systems. But perhaps the greatest of these software developments wasn’t revealed on the WWDC stage. Instead, in an interview with Bloomberg Television, Cook discussed one of Apple’s most intriguing work — the so-called Project Titan, its secret car project.

Well, it isn’t exactly going to be a car just yet — or maybe never? What we do know is that Apple is working on its own autonomous driving software, which Cook revealed in the interview with Bloomberg.

As Apple beefs up its artificial intelligence (AI) game, the Cupertino-based company knows that one of its best applications would be in autonomous driving systems. “Clearly one purpose of autonomous systems is self driving cars,” Cook added in the interview. “There are others. We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects.”

Cook also mentioned that whatever car Apple is working on right now, it would most probably be an electric one. “I think there is a major disruption looming there. Not only for self-driving cars, but also the electrification piece,” he said.
Apple obviously understands the value of self-driving cars in the near future. By eliminating human error, which causes more than 90 percent of road accidents, autonomous cars could save up to 40,000 lives each year in the U.S. alone.

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It’s Official. Tesla’s Model X Is the Safest SUV on the Market With 5 Stars in Every Category

Tesla has done it again. Just like the Model S before it, the all-electric Model X has scored a 5-star rating in all categories following a crash test conducted by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Car Tech Forecast: The Next 10 Years [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Tesla proudly shared news of the achievement in a blog post: “We engineered Model X to be the safest SUV ever, and today, the [NHTSA] announced that after conducting independent testing, it has awarded Model X a 5-star safety rating in every category and sub-category, making it the first SUV ever to earn the 5-star rating across the board.”

In addition to receiving the highest safety rating, the Model X also set a new standard for injury risk. “More than just resulting in a 5-star rating, the data from NHTSA’s testing shows that Model X has the lowest probability of injury of any SUV it has ever tested,” according to Tesla’s blog post. “In fact, of all the cars NHTSA has ever tested, Model X’s overall probability of injury was second only to Model S.”

Not only can the Model X survive crashes, it can avoid them before they even occur thanks to Tesla’s self-driving system. The NHTSA itself previously reported that Tesla’s autonomous system lowered its crash rates to 40 percent. Self-driving cars are expected to save up to 40,000 lives every year in the U.S. by removing the major cause of car crashes, which is human error, so it seems the only car safer than a Tesla is a Tesla that’s driving itself.

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Driverless Autonomous Cars Will Be on U.S. Roads in the Next 2 Months

Eliminating the Problem

How difficult is it to test autonomous vehicles (AVs) on public roads? Uber can probably tell you all about it. Much of the difficulty in obtaining the permits necessary for such tests comes from fear. Because self-driving technology is new, because the systems have been involved in incidents in the past, and so on, people aren’t quite ready to trust the tech.

The governor of Washington state, however, has a different perspective. Governor Jay Inslee signed an order on Wednesday that would allow for autonomous vehicle tests without a human driver behind the wheel. According to the governor’s official blog, the order could allow these tests to begin within the next two months. Self-driving system developers can already apply for permits for pilot program tests through the state’s Department of Licensing.

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Clearly, for Inslee, human drivers are far more dangerous than self-driving technology. “One thing I know about radar, it doesn’t drive drunk, it doesn’t drive distracted,” he said, according to The Seattle Times. “We humans are really good at a lot of things, driving cars isn’t necessarily one of them compared to the automated processes that are digital and foolproof.”

Executive Order 17-02, a copy which was obtained by The Seattle Times, quantifies the governor’s assertions: “[R]oughly 94 percent of automobile accidents are caused by human error, and autonomous vehicle technology may reduce injuries and save countless lives.”

Fast-Tracking Tech

Many people believe autonomous driving technology is still in the very early stages of development, and no company has yet achieved true Level 5 autonomy. However, developments have clearly shown that these driverless vehicles are already capable of so much, including actually saving the lives of passengers.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Washington doesn’t want to be left behind in adopting such a game-changing technology. “Washington state is already a leader in autonomous vehicle technology. We are an early-adopter that welcomes innovation and the safe testing and operation of AVs,” Inslee said in the blog post.

Indeed, self-driving cars could potentially save the lives of as many as 300,000 to 400,000 people annually by eliminating human error, which is the cause of an estimated 94 percent of crashes. And that’s just one benefit of the tech. As Inslee added,  “AVs could help save countless lives, reclaim time spent in traffic, improve mobility, and be an important tool in our efforts to combat climate change.” As tests move forward in Washington, the rest of the world will soon find out just how valuable this technology can be.

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China to Reveal Its Autonomous Bus/Train Hybrid in 2018

The state of public transportation has arrived at an exciting juncture. It seems that technologies have finally advanced to the point that truly never before seen solutions are starting to pop up all around the world. We’re seeing the likes of autonomous taxis, flying taxis, and high-speed trains like the “mag-lev limo” concept, which promises to deliver travelers from New York to Beijing in 2 hours’ time.

Another option is readying itself to transport people around the Chinese city of Zhuzhou as soon as 2018. The “smart bus” is being developed by Chinese rail transit firm CRRC to combine the economical ease of bus systems with the modularity of subway trains, as well as the convenience and safety of autonomy.

The smart bus, or Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit (ART), will follow a preset path guided by white dots lining the roads picked up by sensors in the trains. ART is an excellent option for smaller to medium sized cities who cannot afford to invest in the infrastructure necessary to have a subway system.

The three-car trains will be able to hold 300 people along its 6.5 km (4 mile) track. More carriages could be added to allow for a greater numbers of passengers.

This project seems like a stepping stone solution between our current transportation systems and the forthcoming high(er)-tech possibilities.

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This Is What the World Looks Like to Synthetic Intelligences

If you’ve ever wondered what the road looks like through the eyes of an autonomous vehicle, now you can find out, thanks to this video from Civil Maps. The video depicts what a self-driving car perceives using its sensors and the information it processes through its on-board computer. Civil Maps, Ford’s HD map technology company, created the video, which also shows how detailed 3D maps is combined with sensor data from radar, optical cameras, and other on-board vehicle hardware to help an autonomous vehicle understand what’s going on in the world around it.

The video shows how the car responds in use, taking things like a pedestrian crossing into account without slowing down too much, and processing messages from signs without “overthinking.” (For more on this from Anuj Gupta, the product manager for Civil Maps, see his post on Medium.)

The video also shows the car using the mapping and localization tech at higher speeds of up to 113 kph (70 mph) on a freeway, providing a fairly convincing case for the tech. As early data suggests that self-driving cars are safer than those driven by humans, this kind of autonomous driving tech could be used to make commuters safer.

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A New Approach to Testing Autonomous Cars is 99.9% Faster and Cheaper

Four Thorough but Fast Steps

Some are already embracing the seeming inevitability of autonomous vehicles. And why not? Self-driving cars are expected to make our daily commutes safer and more comfortable. However, in order to ensure that these driverless vehicles actually deliver on their promise, car manufacturers need to evaluate their performance and decide whether or not each system is road-worthy.

Autonomous Car Forecasts: When Will They Actually Be on Our Roads?
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Unfortunately, such tests can take an absurd amount of time. “Even the most advanced and largest-scale efforts to test automated vehicles today fall woefully short of what is needed to thoroughly test these robotic cars,” according to Huei Peng, a researcher from the University of Michigan (U-M). To that end, he and his colleague Ding Zhao have developed a four-step accelerated approach to evaluate autonomous vehicles.

Peng and Zhao outlined their approach in a white-paper published by a U-M-led public-private partnership called Mcity. Developed using more than 25 million miles of real-world driving data collected over two years from about 3,000 vehicles and volunteers, their testing system could potentially reduce the time needed to evaluate how driverless cars handle dangerous situations by 300 to 100,000 times, reducing testing time and costs by 99.9 percent.

Making a Life-Saving Technology Safer

Fear of something new is a normal human reaction, and autonomous vehicles are no exception. According to the U-M research, tests for self-driving cars would have to demonstrate with 80 percent confidence that the systems are 90 percent safer than human drivers. That would require about 300,000 to 100 million miles of real-world driving tests. Their approach cuts that to just 1,000 miles of testing by breaking down difficult real-world driving situations into a condensed set of repeatable simulations.

Image credit: Mcity
Image credit: Mcity

Previous studies have shown that self-driving cars can save lives by eliminating the number one cause of car crashes: human error. Even if a car is autonomous, however, the other cars on the road may not be. To that end, human drivers were one of the threats to safety considered by the U-M researchers’ system, with a focus on the two most common “meaningful interactions” between man and machine that could result in car crashes: an autonomous vehicle following a human driver and a human driver merging in front of a self-driving car.

Though still in development, the U-M researchers’ approach could get autonomous vehicles on the roads sooner, thereby allowing us to benefit from their life-saving potential faster. The researchers themselves clearly see the remarkable potential of their work: “While more research and development needs to be done to perfect this technique, the accelerated evaluation procedure offers a ground-breaking solution for safe and efficient testing that is crucial to deploying automated vehicles.”

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Elon Musk: People Skeptical of Autonomous Cars Are Essentially “Killing People”

Swaying Public Opinion

Since Autopilot was first added to each Tesla vehicle in September 2014, Elon Musk’s company has continued to improve the already impressive autonomous driving system. Step by step, Autopilot’s software and hardware have been incrementally advanced. It has learned from human driver behavior, leading to the creation and improvement of its Auto Lane Change, Autopark, Autosteer, Summon, and Traffic-Aware Cruise Control features. The ultimate goal? Level 5 autonomy, the ability to navigate the roads with zero interaction from a human driver.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
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More than one million people die in traffic accidents every single year due to human error, and in March, a Morgan Stanley analyst stated that Tesla’s Model 3 and its Autopilot system may be an order of magnitude safer than every other car on the road. However, many of us humans remain unconvinced when it comes to self-driving cars. Some people fear new technologies generally, while others just see autonomous cars as a potential threat, even when the data stating otherwise is staring them in the face.

According to Musk, human-driven cars are the obvious threat to safe transportation, and every time a critical voice speaks out against the technology, they impede the inevitably safer roads that will follow the widespread adoption of autonomous systems. In 2016, he didn’t mince words when he told the press that vocal self-driving vehicle skeptics and members of the press who unfairly focus on the flaws of such systems are essentially “killing people.”

A Safer Future

In 2015, the United States saw a 50-year record high in roadway deaths and injuries — 38,300 fatalities and 4.4 million injuries, to be exact. Yet a single U.S. crash in a Tesla Model S — one being operated improperly, with the human driver watching a movie — led to intense scrutiny and an investigation into the system.

Human error causes about 95 percent of all traffic fatalities, and 41 percent of all human error fatalities are caused by “recognition errors.” According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), those include inattention, distraction, or inadequate surveillance on the part of the driver. Barring outright failure or computational aberration, self-driving vehicles just don’t have these problems, and usage of autonomous systems in lieu of human drivers takes these potentially fatal driving flaws out of the equation.

Musk believes that humanity’s future includes self-driving cars. How we feel about those autonomous systems won’t stop that future from arriving. A continued stubborn preference for a far more dangerous system that we already know without any doubt results in accidents, injuries, and deaths means pain, suffering, and lost money, time, and lives. Maybe it’s time to listen to Musk and let our best drivers take the wheel for us.

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Watch an Autonomous Car Prevent a Traffic Jam From Forming

From Seeing Red to Seeing Green

Each year, American drivers lose $160 billion, 7 billion hours, and countless cheery dispositions to traffic congestion. That averages out to $960 and 42 hours for every rush-hour commuter. Advocates for are hopeful that removing human drivers from the equation will help alleviate the problem, but some are concerned that a real impact won’t be felt until the majority of cars on the road are self-driving. Now, a new study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I) suggests that might not be the case at all.

Some traffic jams have obvious causes — an accident, a motorcade, construction — but some seem to happen for no reason at all. These “phantom traffic jams” — caused by a single driver slowing down, setting off a chain reaction of slowing vehicles behind them — are the kind the researchers at U of I focused on in their study. They learned that injecting a single autonomous car into a group of 20 that were manned by human drivers could have a profound effect on the formation of phantom traffic jams.

“Our experiments show that with as few as 5 percent of vehicles being automated and carefully controlled, we can eliminate stop-and-go waves caused by human driving behavior,” said Daniel B. Work, assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a lead researcher in the study, in a university news release.

During the experiment, the autonomous vehicle controlled its braking in a way that reduced the number of times a human driver behind it had to hit their brakes: from nine to a maximum of 2.5 times for every kilometer (.62 miles) driven. The total fuel consumed by the vehicles was also reduced by up to 40 percent.

Beyond the Traffic

According to the research team, not only do we not have to wait until all the cars on the road are autonomous to feel the impact they can have on our transportation system — we don’t even need to wait for any to be fully autonomous. Some technology that’s currently available can automatically adjust speed to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles — which can have a major impact on safety.

“Fully autonomous vehicles in common traffic may be still far away in the future due to many technological, market and policy constraints,” explained researcher Benedetto Piccoli, the Joseph and Loretta Lopez Chair Professor of Mathematics at Rutgers University. “However, increased communication among vehicles and increased levels of autonomy in human-driven vehicles is in the near future.”

While this is great news for anyone who loathes wasting time and money on their daily commute, the benefits of autonomous cars extend far beyond the fuel gauge. Each year, 32,000 lives are lost due to traffic accidents, and 94 percent of all accidents are attributed to driver error. Christopher A. Hart, chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, has said he expects driverless cars will be able to “save many, if not most” of those lives.

With lives, time, money, and your good mood hanging in the balance, we truly don’t have a minute to waste in our journey to get autonomous vehicles on the road.

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Elon Musk Is Setting the Record Straight on Rumors Regarding a Major Tesla Collaboration

Highly Unlikely

Back in 2015, an investor made a bold claim that Apple would buy Tesla within 18 months. It’s been more than two years since that prediction was made, and Tesla and Apple are still independent entities — and it looks like they will stay that way.

The Tesla Revolution [INFOGRAPHIC]
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During yesterday’s first-quarter earnings call with investors, Tesla CEO Elon Musk shared his thoughts on the chances of Tesla working with Apple on an electric car. “Yeah, I don’t think they want to have that conversation,” he said, according to Business Insider. “I’ve at least not heard any indication that they do.”

Musk was reiterating a point he made back in February in an interview with Bloomberg about how a merger with Apple was highly unlikely: “I’d be very concerned in any kind of acquisition scenario, whoever it is, that we would become distracted from that task which has always been the driving goal of Tesla.”

Their Own Separate Ways…and Cars?

Analysts and journalists have made comments about how a merger or a collaboration with Apple would be beneficial for Tesla and vice versa. Tesla, largely due to Musk, has the innovative mind that Apple seems to sorely lack these days. At the same time, Apple has the earnings and capital that Tesla is arguably in need of.

Hopes for such a pairing, which has the potential to be one of the best combos in the tech industry, have been fueled by Apple’s recent progress in the autonomous vehicle game. The Cupertino-based company has already received approval to test self-driving vehicles on California roads, which was confirmation that Apple is working on an autonomous car. Tesla is also busy working on its newest electric vehicle, the Model 3, with production well on its way and a final unveiling slated for July.

For now, Apple and Tesla seem content to continue forging their own paths with separate vehicles, but whether those paths will intersect in the future is anybody’s guess.

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Tesla Has Officially Started Releasing Its Revolutionary Autopilot Update

Tesla is again stepping up its autonomous driving game as it begins its roll out of a crucial feature to its Autopilot 2.0 hardware, as reported yesterday by Electrek. The feature comes as a follow up to the 8.1 software update released in March, 2017.

According to a report by Electrek, the Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) feature was originally intended to be part of the 8.1 update. However, Tesla had to make sure that this safety feature could work. Tesla had to build the new AEB from scratch, using its own “Tesla Vision” technology and an array of new sensors. An unnamed source told Electrek that Tesla’s team is now confident and satisfied about the AEB, which is being released as an over-the-air update.

Improvements such as an AEB feature will make Tesla’s autonomous vehicles even safer. The report by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) earlier this year noted how Tesla’s crash rates dropped by 40 percent after Autopilot 1.0 was installed. This was due in part, Electrek noted, to the old AEB feature.

At any rate, Tesla wants to raise the bar higher, promising to eliminate 90 percent of crashes. The new AEB is part of delivering this promise.

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Tesla Driver and Passenger Survive a 500-Foot Tumble, Thanks to Safety Features in the Model S

Driving Too Fast?

Tesla’s vehicles have had their fair share of accidents and crashes. While most of those involved in these reported accidents have survived, perhaps no one has ever been more thankful than the driver and passenger of a Model S that went over the edge of a cliff in California last week.

According to a report by Electrek, the Tesla driver was speeding along Grizzly Peak Boulevard, driving home towards Oakland Hills, when his Model S tumbled 150 meters (500 feet) down the side of a cliff. The driver and his passenger managed to crawl out of the upside down Model S “totally ok.”

The Tesla driver, who wished to remain anonymous, posted this on an online forum for Tesla owners and enthusiasts last Sunday: “Driving perhaps a tad too spirited, a deer appeared at a curve at the worst possible moment. I instinctively (mistakenly) swerved to avoid it and my car ended up over the edge. We tumbled perhaps 150-200 feet down a steep slope, ended up upside down.” It was only when his car was towed back up that they discovered they’d fallen 150 meters (500 feet) down, and not just 60 meters (200 feet).

Tesla Saving Lives

Amazingly, while the Model S was wrecked, the interior of the cabin “was totally intact. We climbed out with only bruises and muscle soreness,” the driver’s post related. “I don’t know how to compare this with other cars but it felt rock solid to me and I feel lucky to be alive because of my [Tesla].”

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

The report by Electrek noted that the large crumple zones in Tesla’s cars, which are due to not having an engine under its hood, was the lifesaving factor in this accident. While this is yet another testament to just how committed to safety Tesla is, CEO Elon Musk has promised to strengthen the company’s standards even more.

Aside from the physical build of Tesla vehicles, a bigger contributor to safety is the Autopilot system. According to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released earlier this year, improvements and updates to its autonomous driving software have cut down Tesla’s crash records by 40 percent. In one occasion, Autopilot’s life-saving abilities was even caught on camera. With the 8.1 update finally out, Autopilot is expected to have improved considerably.

As for the driver from last week’s crash, he’s already looking forward to hopping back inside another Tesla. “Once I get insurance worked out I’m sure I’ll be in another one,” he said in his post. He’s certainly learned his lesson, though. “Maybe I’ll be driving those mountain roads at night a bit more cautiously,” he added.

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Volkswagen’s First All-Electric CUV Is Fully Autonomous

Zero-Emission Lineup

Veteran automaker Volkswagen is set to roll out a new line of zero emission I.D. vehicles by 2020. One of which is a full-electric crossover with autonomous driving features. On April 12, the German car manufacturer released teasers of this concept car, which is set to rival Tesla’s Model X.

The electric crossover concept is actually the third in VW’s new I.D. lineup, following the hatchback and van concepts. “Volkswagen has set the clearly defined goal of advancing electric-drive vehicles from the status of a startup niche to large-scale production models by the middle of the next decade in a worldwide product offensive,” the company said in a statement.

The concept vehicle — a mix between a four-door coupe and a SUV— is set to debut at the Shanghai auto show next week. By pressing the VW badge in the middle of the steering wheel, the crossover shifts into autonomous driving mode, with the steering wheel automatically folding into the cockpit. The car is then maneuvered by signals coming from a combination of laser and ultrasonic scanners, radar sensors, and cameras working in tandem.

Image credit: Volkswagen
Image credit: Volkswagen

The Autonomous Future

VW’s goal is to sell 1 million EVs every year by 2025. While that number might seem huge, it’s a testament to how VW sees autonomous EVs as the future of personal transport — and they’re not the only one.

Apart from Tesla — who’s arguably the world’s leading EV and self-driving car producer — several other companies have been working on their own autonomous concepts. There’s Volvo working with Uber and Google’s self-driving vehicle Waymo. Even luxury car designers like Porsche have self-driving concepts. Another notable entry is Faraday Future’s FF 91, which is moving closer to commercial release.

The appeal of self-driving cars isn’t just in their futuristic factor: they’re also expected to save lives. By taking human error out of the equation behind the wheel, that could work out to be roughly 40,000 in the U.S. alone. Even better, many of the autonomous car concepts are also EVs — so it’s not just human lives they’re saving, but the environment, too.

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Tesla Challenger Faraday Future Just Showed off Its Flagship Electric Vehicle

An Actual First Look

Three months after its unveiling at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Faraday Future’s concept autonomous electric vehicle finally made an encore appearance this weekend. A beta version of the FF 91, the flagship vehicle from the California-based startup, was spotted by Motorworld Hype at a car show in Long Beach.

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Faraday Future has been accepting reservations for the FF 91 since January, with the first 300 orders eligible for an exclusive launch upgrade called the Alliance Edition, though no word yet on what that would entail.

A Formidable Foe

With the FF 91, Faraday Future seems to be hoping to emerge as a serious challenger to Tesla in the electric and autonomous vehicle markets. The company has even built its own megafactory right in Tesla’s backyard. The FF 91 does, though, warrant attention as its own entity. Not only is it a rather beautiful electric vehicle (EV) with autonomous capabilities, the FF 91 packs its own hefty punches in terms of specs.

All Electric Cars: What’s My Range? [INFOGRAPHIC]
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The FF 91 was designed and built following Faraday Future’s so-called Variable Platform Architecture (VPA)According to the company, the vehicle’s 130 kWh battery is “the world’s highest energy density battery,” and it delivers an estimated range of 378 miles on the EPA cycle and over 700 km on the NEDC cycle. The FF 91 runs on a 1,050 horsepower electric propulsion system capable of zooming from zero to 96 kmh (zero to 60 mph) in just 2.39 seconds. (For its part, Tesla seems to have acknowledged the rather stealthy Faraday Future by topping that acceleration rate almost as soon as the new vehicle was unveiled and before it actually hit production.)

The FF 91 is impressive as an autonomous vehicle, too. It’s set to be the first vehicle to “feature retractable 3D lidar […], part of a complex sensor system including 10 high definition cameras, 13 long and short range radars, and 12 ultrasonic sensors.” It’s topped with more sensors than any of its counterparts.

Clearly, the FF 91 is a formidable foe for both EVs and self-driving cars. All that’s left now is for Faraday Future to actually roll it out. Hopefully, that future event isn’t too far away.

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An American EV Manufacturer Is Poised to Give Tesla Some Serious Competition in China

Tesla Killer?

When it comes to electric vehicles (EVs), it’s hard to beat what Tesla has to offer. But Lucid Motors is evidently up to the challenge.

On March 15, the company unveiled its latest model, the Lucid Air — a 1,000 horsepower luxury EV with a 507-km (315-mile) range that will cost upwards of $100,000. A lower-end model, with a 400 horsepower output and a range of 386 km (240 miles) starting at $52,500, will also be available. In contrast, Tesla’s Model S is priced at $71,200.

The EV also features automated driving systems designed to increase the safety and comfort of the driver. The Lucid Air is just one of the many self-driving cars in production as car manufacturers seek to change the way we drive.

New Automotive Startup Could Give Tesla Some Serious Competition in China
Credit: Lucid Motors Inc.

Production is slated for late 2018 at the company’s manufacturing facility in Casa Grande, Arizona, just in time for Lucid Motor’s plans to introduce their EV in China, where they expect to see a rise in EV adoption as the country works towards strengthening emission standards.

Despite its potential to take Tesla head on, Lucid CTO Peter Rawlinson told Business Insider that Lucid Air is more likely to compete with luxury coupes like the Audi A6, the BMW 6 series, and the Mercedes-Benz CLS class.

The Future of EVs

Despite all the buzz surrounding the rise of EV adoption and its significant growth rate around the world, there are still only a handful of companies willing to take on Tesla — a brand now considered the benchmark of battery-powered automobilies. Tesla has played a major role in advocating for EVs as a way to combat climate change by reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions.

7 Benefits of Driverless Cars
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By far, only Faraday Future has overtly built up enough buzz surrounding their product, but even they are already struggling under the weight of their own hype. In addition, the economic incentives that helped EV gain a foothold among consumers are being put in peril given changes in state and federal tax regulations. These changes would ultimately give car manufacturers fewer motivations to produce sustainable vehicles.

But while the leaders of Lucid Motors certainly have their work cut out for them, they are optimistic that they are in a better position to achieve what others couldn’t.

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Autopilot 2.0: Tesla’s Long-Awaited 8.1 Update Is Officially Out

As Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced over Twitter last week, the long-awaited 8.1 update for Tesla Autopilot 2.0 is now out. For now, the update is available only for Tesla vehicles in North America, but it’s expected to roll out worldwide in the next couple of days.

The 8.1 software update comes as part of Tesla’s goal to develop fully autonomous, (SAE Level 5) vehicles. In general, the update will enable and improve driver-assistance features in Autopilot 2.0 vehicles.

Autonomous Car Forecasts: When Will They Actually Be on Our Roads?
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Autosteer, which Tesla says uses “Traffic-Aware Cruise Control to maintain the car’s speed in relation to surrounding traffic,” is getting a boost in speed. Previously limited to 88 km/h (55 mph), it can now work at speeds up to 128 km/h (80 mph).

Other updates in 8.1 are features previously available only to Autopilot 1.0 vehicles, such as Auto Lane Change, Autopark, and Summon. The first works with Autosteer and prompts Tesla vehicles to change lanes following a simple engagement of the turn signal. The latter two features maneuver the vehicle into a parking spot and let a driver retrieve their Tesla within a radius of 39 feet using just a mobile app or the vehicle’s key, respectively.

Update 8.1 also has a host of other minor enhancements for both 1.0 and 2.0 cars. In total, it’s a package that puts Tesla’s self-driving cars another step ahead of everybody else.

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Expert Says Tesla Will Make All Other Cars Obsolete

The Road to a Driverless Future

A car that could drive itself used to be solely the stuff of science fiction. Now, it’s become a reality thanks to companies like Tesla.

Elon Musk’s company is continuously improving its autonomous driving systemAutopilot, which it describes as “an increasingly capable suite of safety and convenience features that make personal transportation safer and more enjoyable.”

Autonomous Car Forecasts: When Will They Actually Be on Our Roads?
Click to View Full Infographic

Since September 2014, when it was first added to every Tesla vehicle, Autopilot’s hardware and software have been inching closer and closer to Level 5 autonomy, a level that requires zero interaction from a human driver. The system’s features, which now include Autosteer, Traffic-Aware Cruise Control, Auto Lane Change, Autopark, and Summon (that one lets you call your Tesla car via a mobile app), are products of Tesla’s Autopilot software learning from the behavior of human drivers.

The company rolled out enhanced Autopilot features earlier this year, and the highly anticipated 8.1 software update for its hardware 2 platform is expected to arrived this week. Clearly, Tesla’s Autopilot is increasingly becoming a more advanced, more capable, and safer alternative to human drivers. So what does that mean for the rest of the auto industry?

Is Tesla the Future of Cars?

In a recent interview on CNBC’s Power LunchAdam Jonas, the resident Tesla analyst from Morgan Stanley, explained just how much of an impact the autonomous cars of Tesla will have in the near future. One point he made was that Tesla’s autonomous cars will lead to a faster rate of technological obsolescence for the other vehicles available today.

“Our work on used car value is focused on the technological obsolescence of the 250 million cars on US roads today – $2 trillion worth of cars. Tesla’s cars can get better because they can learn,” Jonas said. “They put in that equipment so that the vehicle five years from now is much more superhuman and much better than the one that is just learning and watching right now. Our used car thesis is that in a five-year period, we are running scenarios of used car value being off by as much as 50 percent.”

Tesla is also changing the economics of electric cars, or, as Jonas put it, the “economics of electrification.” He explained that, while the electric car market in the United States still has plenty of room for expansion, ridesharing will be a game changer for the tech.

“We think the electric cars for private use really are for human driving pleasure for wealthier individuals. That’s why it’s so important that in the shared model where you’re not driving 10,000 miles a year, but 50,000 or 100,000 miles in a fleet operation, then the economics of electrification you can get that payback period under three years,” Jonas said. “That’s the game changer — shared.”

Vehicle safety is also a factor, as car accidents in the U.S. surged to 40,000 in 2016. “It seems like the only thing progressing faster than the pace of machine learning is the pace human unlearning,” Jonas said. “We’re getting dumber faster than the cars are getting smarter.” Tesla’s quickly advancing self-driving car tech could be the perfect way to stop that trend from leading to any more deaths on the road.

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Uber’s Latest Autonomous Car Mishap Isn’t a Mark Against Self-Driving Cars

Not Uber’s Fault

Last week was a rough one for Uber. Multiple issues currently plague the company, and it didn’t help that one of its autonomous SUVs was involved in a high-impact vehicular crash in Tempe, Arizona, on the evening of March 25. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured in the accident.

Laws and Ethics for Autonomous Cars
Click to View Full Infographic

“There was a person behind the wheel. It is uncertain at this time if they were controlling the vehicle at the time of the collision,” Tempe police spokeswoman Josie Montenegro told Bloomberg News.

“We are continuing to look into this incident and can confirm we had no backseat passengers in the vehicle,” Uber spokesperson Chelsea Kohler said to Wired. As a precaution, Uber has since suspended the operations of its autonomous vehicles in Arizona and Pittsburgh.

A Case for Driverless Vehicles

According to police, the fault for this accident wasn’t with Uber nor the Volvo XC90 SUV that the ride-hailing service uses for its autonomous vehicle operations. The Volvo may or may not have been driving itself when the accident happened, but it had the right of way and was not blamed for the crash. Police report that the other car involved did not yield to the approaching autonomous Uber, causing the self-driving car to flip on its side and smash the other car’s windows.

Image credit: Fresco News/Mark Beach
Image credit: Fresco News/Mark Beach

Instead of becoming a blotch on the record of self-driving cars, the latest accident may actually prove to be the opposite — it’s another reminder of just how many vehicular crashes are caused by human error. More than 30,000 people become victims of car crashes in the United States every year. This number increased to 40,000 in 2016, and more than 90 percent of these crashes were due to human error. Plus, there’s road rage to consider. In a recent report by AAA, almost six million drivers admitted to bumping other cars on purpose.

The safety promised by autonomous vehicles would actually save lives, so the future of the tech shouldn’t be placed in jeopardy by incidents like the one in Tempe.

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Expert Says Tesla Cars Give Users “Superhuman” Abilities

The future of driving is autonomous, and companies like Tesla have been pushing hard to get us to that future. The goal is to build a car with Level 5 autonomy — one that requires zero interaction from a human driver — as outlined in the SAE International’s J3016.

Autonomous Car Forecasts: When Will They Actually Be on Our Roads?
Click to View Full Infographic

For Tesla, efforts to reach this goal include refinements and updates to their Autopilot software. Recently, the company has been aggressively pushing these updates, which include improvements in navigation capabilities and road-safety features. The 8.1 update for Tesla’s hardware 2 platform is expected to roll out this coming week.

These improvements to the autonomous systems of Tesla vehicles are timely, as the Model 3 moves closer to production. In a note sent to Tesla clients on March 23, Morgan Stanley’s Tesla analyst Adam Jonas lauded the capabilities of Tesla’s autonomous driving systems.

Superhuman Assist

Among other things, Jonas had this to say about it:

We think the Model 3 will feature hardware and software that provide a level of active safety that could significantly lead all other cars on sale today and could, if the company achieves its goal, be an order of magnitude (i.e. 10x) safer than the average car on the road. According to nearly every OEM we talk to, safety is the number 1 determinant of car purchases. Look for safety to be the “ah-hah!” moment for this car due to launch this year.

Indeed, autonomous cars are expected to save lives in the future, as previous reports have indicated. In the United States alone, the adoption of self-driving vehicles could translate into more than 300,000 saved lives per decade. In the case of Tesla’s vehicles, a recent report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that improvements in the Autopilot system have reduced car crashes by 40 percent.

Car manufacturers still have some ways to go, of course, before actual Level 5 autonomy is achieved. Jonas made that clear in his note: “We are talking about automated driving (not fully autonomous driving) where the driver has a legal obligation to keep hands on the wheel at all times. The driver is still human…but with a ‘superhuman’ assist.”

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Volkswagen’s Futuristic ‘Lounge on Wheels’ Drives Itself

Admit it. Whenever a new self-driving vehicle rolls out, you secretly wish it would look like it’s from one of those sci-fi shows you watch. Well, Volkswagen (VW) may be making your dreams come true with Sedric (for self-driving car), its new concept for an autonomous van.

At the Geneva Motor Show today, VW parent company Volkswagen Group AG officially revealed Sedric, “the first self-driving car of the Volkswagen Group,” according to CEO Matthias Müller. “It’s all-electric, fully connected, and fully autonomous. Sedric is our foretaste of automated vehicles at their highest level of automation, also referred to as Level 5.”

*3* Meet Sedric: Volkswagen’s Very Futuristic-Looking Autonomous Van
CLICK TO VIEW FULL INFOGRAPHIC

The German car manufacturer claims that Sedric is the first vehicle designed “from scratch” for fully autonomous driving. The vehicle has neither a steering wheel nor pedals. In fact, Sedric’s most notable feature may be the fancy button with which users can summon it. The button vibrates and changes colors when the van arrives, a feature meant to assist those with impaired vision.

While it may still be a concept car, Sedric embodies what VW sees as the beginning of a future of autonomous vehicles. “Sedric is the pioneer, the ideas platform for autonomous driving in the Volkswagen Group,” the company said in a press release.

Autonomous vehicles are increasingly being accepted as a safer alternative to their human-driven counterparts. According to reports, autonomous cars could eliminate up to 95 percent of road accidents as that’s the percentage caused by human error. Indeed, self-driving vehicles that lack any human intervention are the safest kind. In that respect, Sedric and its offspring could prove to be humanity’s best friends in the future.

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Tesla Is Bringing Autonomous Cars to Dubai

Tesla is now in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The electric vehicle manufacturer and sustainable technology innovator has brought its charging, service, and support infrastructures, as well as autonomous models to Dubai. The country’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) ordered 200 Model S sedans and Model X SUVs with ‘fully-self-driving-capability’ from Tesla.

The deal was formalized Monday between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Mattar Al Tayer, the UAE’s Director General and Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the RTA.

In a statement, Al Tayer said:

This agreement is in implementation of the directives His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to transform Dubai into the world’s smartest city, and the Green Economy for Sustainable Development initiative. It is also part of the Dubai Smart Autonomous Mobility Strategy aimed at transforming 25 [percent] of total journeys in Dubai into autonomous journeys by 2030. The agreement also reflects RTA’s efforts towards providing driverless transportation solutions through undertaking technological tests of autonomous transit means.

Image credits: RTA
Image Credit: RTA

Tesla expects to begin delivery of the vehicles by July of this year.

The RTA will be the one oversee regulation of the vehicles in Dubai. The self-driving capable vehicles will be added to the Dubai Taxi Corporation’s limousine fleet. Studies have shown that autonomous vehicles can actually save lives, so far reducing Tesla crashes by up to 40 percent. Some suggest that driverless cars could save an estimated 32,000 lives per year. And as soon as Tesla rolls out its improved autopilot self-driving software, Dubai expects the usual regulatory approvals to come with ease. Perhaps this wave of autonomous vehicles in Dubai will lead to safer future roadways.

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According to Experts, We’re 10 Years Away From Autonomous Flying Taxis

Ridesharing in the Sky

Way before Elon Musk planned to drill under Los Angeles to avoid traffic, several companies had already been toying with the idea of beating traffic by going over it. Indeed, flying cars have long been a part of science fiction, but they could soon become a part of our everyday reality. And once we have autonomous flying cars, it’s only a matter of time before we have autonomous flying taxis for those who prefer hitching a ride to owning one.

According to a report by the Associated Press, experts think flying taxis could arrive in the next 10 to 15 years. “In terms of what you can make fly in a reliable manner, the solution speed gateway that (computer) chips have gone through recently have literally opened the door to a whole new world of flying machine possibilities,” Charles Eastlake, an aerospace engineering professor at Embry-Riddle University, told the AP. “My best engineering guess is that people actually using autonomous air taxis in the next 10 or 15 years is possible, but definitely not certain. The challenges are big.”

In the Works

Certainly, recent developments in engineering have contributed greatly to bringing flying cars closer to reality. Still, there are other technical hurdles to overcome, and more still in order to develop flying vehicles that are autonomous. For one, there aren’t yet any flight versions of autonomous sensory systems found in self-driving cars. There’s also the challenge of battery weight, which is an issue even for current electric cars that stay on the ground — autonomous flying taxis would need much better, lighter batteries.

In addition to sorting out the technology, we’d also need ground infrastructure that would allow flying vehicles to operate unobstructed, with enough space for take-off and landing zones. “There’s no question we can build the vehicle,” MIT professor John Hansman, who advises the FAA, told the AP. “The big challenge is whether we can build a vehicle that would be allowed to operate in the places where people want to use it.”

That isn’t an insurmountable hurdle, though, as ridesharing company Uber already has infrastructure plans for a flying taxi service that relies on vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles. Indeed, they aren’t the only company thinking about this new era in travel. European aircraft manufacturer Airbus is keen on delivering a prototype of its A3 Vahana this year, with plans to have it ready for production by 2020. Israeli tech firm Urban Aeronautics has already created prototypes of its Cormorant, a people-carrying drone that’s intended for military use and that can attain speeds of up to 185 km/h (115 mph), hover for an hour, and carry up to 1,100 pounds. 

Apart from these, there are still others: the VTOL Lilium JetAeroMobil 3.0, which uses regular gasoline; Chinese drone-maker EHang’s 184 person-carrying drone; Joby Aviation’s all-electric VTOL S2; and the Zee VTOL car, which Google founder Larry Page was supposedly spotted in, just to name a few. Undoubtedly, with all these projects in the works, it’s clear that flying cars and autonomous flying taxis are coming. It’s just a matter of how soon we can be ready for them.

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Uber’s Self-Driving Cars Are Returning to San Francisco

Uber is bringing its self-driving Ford Fusions to San Francisco — but this time with its self-driving mode disabled.

The futuristic-looking Ubers will be reappearing on the streets of its hometown on Wednesday, nearly a month after the California DMV revoked its vehicle registrations in a very public dispute with the company.

The Ford Fusions, which had previously been used in the Pittsburgh self-driving car pilot, won’t be able to drive themselves though.

“These cars are being used for Uber’s mapping purposes only. They are being driven manually at all times and their self-driving systems are disabled,” Uber said in a statement.

Photo credit: Uber
Photo credit: Uber

The Ford Fusions had been driving around San Francisco since last summer to map its streets in advance of launching a self-driving car pilot. But both the self-driving car pilot and its mapping efforts were disbanded after the California DMV revoked the registrations on the basis that Uber failed to gain the necessary self-driving permits. Uber, for its part, has always argued that the self-driving permits do not apply to its vehicles.

For its mapping cars, though, California said it worked with the company to help reinstate their registrations on the condition that they’re strictly for mapping, according to a statement provided to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“The DMV worked with Uber to reinstate the registrations for five vehicles — with the full understanding that the vehicles will be used in a mapping capacity only,” Melissa Figueroa, a spokeswoman for the California State Transportation Agency, told the Chronicle. “Several companies in California use vehicles such as this for the same purpose. Should Uber decide they want to revisit the issue of self-driving technology on the streets and roads in California, the offer to help them secure proper permitting stands.”

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Tesla Aims to Eliminate 90% of Crashes

Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk is determined to separate his electric car manufacturing company from recent news of Tesla autopilot crashes. While Tesla had some major setbacks last year, the company has since improved their Autopilot software system, hitting a 40 percent reduction in crashes. With the rollout of this improved Autopilot system, progress is already in motion.

Musk wants to push advancements even further. As Tesla works on achieving Level 4 automation, Tesla will continually improve the Autopilot system, and Musk has set a goal of a 90 percent reduction in crashes by the time the software fully matures.

This might seem like an ambitious goal, but it is a necessary step in order for Tesla to move away from the shadow cast by the fatal May 2016 crash. It is also necessary to convince those who still doubt how capable autonomous vehicles are of making roads safer and saving lives. With the fast approaching launch of Tesla’s Model 3, this has become even more necessary. As autonomous vehicles become more and more accessible, it is promising and essential thatTesla put its best foot forward.

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Self-Driving Cars Could Give Over 2 Million People Access to Jobs

The Promise of Self-Driving Tech

The list of the potential benefits of self-driving technology is long. Most of that list highlights the level of convenience the tech will bring and the fact that it will ultimately save lives by reducing (if not completely eliminating) human error from the task of driving. But as experts and the public continue to focus on these types of benefits, people with disabilities are pointing out the many new opportunities they’ll have thanks to their increased mobility.

According to research commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation and Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), access to basic transportation via autonomous vehicles would have a huge impact on the United States’ disabled community as well at the country’s healthcare budget: “Approximately 2 million individuals with disabilities would have new employment opportunities, while $19 billion could be saved annually in healthcare expenditures.”

A surprisingly high number of disabled persons end up missing their medical appointments annually simply because they don’t have reliable transportation. Some of those people suffer from chronic disabilities that require consistent care and monitoring. By missing appointments, they can cause logistical problems for healthcare practitioners abd aggravate their current conditions. The patients often end up needing more expensive medical interventions to address their now-worse problems.

Google’s self-driving minivan. Image Credit: Waymo

Understanding Diversity of Needs

In the most practical terms, making self-driving technology available to people with disabilities could amount to a total saving of $1.3 trillion per year when you factor in improved productivity, fuel-efficiency, and a reduction of auto accidents. However, certain policies specific to addressing the needs of the disabled community will need to be adopted first.

To arrive at savings as close as possible to the above, lawmakers will need to ensure that people with all manner of disabilities — from the visually impaired, to individuals who use wheelchairs, to the deaf community, as well as those with intellectual and developmental disabilities — are accommodated by this technology. To that end, the report details several areas that will help guide the planning and development of automated technology and regulation. These include:

  • Recommending that governments loosen license requirements when operating level 4 autonomous vehicles (those capable of operating with no human intervention)
  • Suggesting that regulatory boards introduce autonomous vehicles to provide mobility for underserved communities, including the disabled community and the elderly
  • Encouraging the disabled community to make a concerted effort to focus on developing a common policy and advocacy agenda
  • Drawing manufacturers’ and developers’ attention to the need to make the technology as accessible as possible for those with disabilities

Admittedly, making the technology available to everyone will be a challenging task for manufacturers and policy-makers, but it’s not impossible, and a thorough understanding of how autonomy will impact the lives of everyone, including the disabled community, will ensure that we can all benefit from this new era in mobility.

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Report: Tesla Crashes Dropped by 40% After Autopilot was Installed

 

The Fatal Accident

Tesla has had its share of ups and downs, including a string of car crashes, one of the most tragic being an incident from May 2016 when a Tesla Model S on Autopilot slammed into an 18-wheeler truck and trailer at a highway intersection, which killed driver Joshua Brown. But, the electric vehicle company and its Autopilot autonomous driving system have largely been exonerated in the report released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which investigated the accident for more than six months.

“NHTSA’s examination did not identify any defects in the design or performance of the AEB or Autopilot systems of the subject vehicles nor any incidents in which the systems did not perform as designed,” the report’s summary reads. It also clarifies that the Autopilot system that was installed “is an Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) that requires the continual and full attention of the driver to monitor the traffic environment and be prepared to take action to avoid crashes.”

The driver, supposedly, had seven seconds to spot the truck and take some appropriate action. The NHTSA, however, says that “the driver took no braking, steering or other actions to avoid the collision.”

Autopilot Saves Lives

The NHTSA report discusses the accident but also notes “…that the Tesla vehicles crash rate dropped by almost 40 percent after Autosteer installation.”

Credits: NHTSA Tesla Incident Report
Photo Credit: NHTSA Tesla Incident Report

And so, despite the initial crashes, Tesla’s autonomous driving system could actually save lives. The graph above was generated from NHTSA’s analysis of all mileage and airbag deployment data from Tesla for all 2014 to 2016 Model S and 2016 Model X vehicles that had Autopilot installed.

These numbers are bound to improve in the next few months, with Tesla rolling out an even more improved version of Autopilot. This new version includes features —such as traffic aware cruise control, a forward collision warning system, and an autosteer beta version enabled only at “low speed”— all intended to improve the safety of Tesla’s autonomous vehicles. In fact, it’s already saved the life of one Tesla driver when Autopilot predicted a collision two vehicles ahead seconds before it occurred. The autosteer beta is designed to prevent drivers from speeding, as well.

This is all leading up to the development of a Level 4 autonomous vehicle. Studies also show that self-driving cars will save more lives in the future —at a rate of 300,000 lives per decade in the case of the United States.

Of course, the NHTSA notes that, until we get to that point, driver vigilance is still needed. “While ADAS technologies are continually improving in performance in larger percentages of crash types, a driver should never wait for automatic braking to occur when a collision threat is perceived.” And so, while a future of safe, autonomous vehicles is close, there is still a long road of trial and error ahead.

 

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Teslas Are Already Saving Lives

A ‘Freak Accident’

Beyond the convenience of being able to have your car drive and park itself, autonomous cars are also being touted for their life saving potential. Previous reports asserted that self-driving technology is poised to reduce the amount of people who die on roads because of human error or choice. Last year alone, more than 35,000 people lost their lives in car accidents. Then there’s the fact that electric vehicles (EVs) don’t run on gas, which means they can help reduce air pollution. The American Lung Association suggests that EVs could save thousands of lives annually.

Even the vehicle’s design is proving to be a critical lifesaving element, especially during a frontal collision – and the driver of a Tesla Model S P85D is now vouching for it. The driver, who prefers to remain anonymous, did not yield while making a sharp turn on a small road near Quantico, Virginia which led to the vehicle going off the road and ramming into a tree. He estimates that he was running above 72 km/h (45 mph) and below 121 km/h (75 mph).

Image Credit: Elecktrek

The front of the Tesla was totaled, with the hood nearly wrapping itself around the tree. But the lack of a large engine in the front of the vehicle means there were no massive objects that could’ve pierced through the passenger cabin. The area, referred to as the crumple zone, instead served mostly to absorb the impact.

The driver explained in an interview with Electrek:

If it was any other automobile, the impact would have killed me. There are no solid objects under the hood of a Tesla that would’ve pushed into the car and into me. Also, I believe Tesla did a great job re-enforcing the front of the car to absorb the impact.

The driver had scratches on his wrist and bruises on his chest, but was otherwise completely uninjured. He cites the incident as a “freak accident,” and adds that he looks forward to ordering a new Tesla, given that he can’t see himself driving anything else.

Life Saving Potential

Achieving Level 5 autonomy and perfecting the technology behind it is obviously no easy feat, but Tesla is working steadily towards it. On multiple occasions, Tesla’s technology has shown to be more than capable of preventing major accidents.

Last year, a dashcam video captured Tesla’s Autopilot radar system correctly predicting a crash. Another incident involved a 37-year old who suffered a pulmonary embolism who managed to safely arrive at the hospital using the car’s Autopilot feature. Proving that Tesla’s safety features may also help save the lives of pedestrians, the system was also able to effectively prevent a collision even before the driver was able to hit the brakes.

But the technology is still far from perfect – and Tesla, along with numerous other car manufacturers and tech companies, are continuously pushing to develop technologies that will guarantee the safety of drivers.

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New York Taxi Drivers Call for a 50-Year Ban

Setting Up Roadblocks

New York’s driver groups are hoping to stand, or park, in the way of technological progress. The Upstate Transportation Association (UTA) and the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG) are asking for a ban on self-driving cars in the state of New York. The UTA even goes so far as to call for a moratorium to be placed on autonomous vehicles for 50 years. The groups cite potential job losses in the thousands as the reason to halt roll-outs of the technology.

Taxi companies and their advocates are no strangers to standing in the way of advancement. Outside of New York City, there is a battle raging to allow ridesharing services such as Uber or Lyft to even operate. According to a statement from the office of Governor Andrew Cuomo, “A number of ridesharing companies have successfully operated as livery services in New York City over the last several years; however, these companies are not authorized to provide ridesharing anywhere else in the state. ”

The governor does not share the sentiment of groups like the UTA, though: “Ridesharing is bringing transportation into the 21st century, and we are committed to ensuring that it becomes a reality statewide.” Needless to say, the continued fight to prevent more human drivers from entering the field is not encouraging for the prospect of driverless vehicles. “It doesn’t do anything for the local economy to have driverless cars,” says John Tomassi, the president of UTA.

Photo credit: Uber
Photo credit: Uber

Not a Good Look

Those who stand in the way of progress tend not to look too good in hindsight. Legend has it that back in 1977, Ken Olsen, the president, chairman, and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, said, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Perhaps Wendell Wallach’s statement that “large groups of workers are going to recognize that their jobs are threatened. Today, it may be the taxi driver. Tomorrow, it’s all the truckers. Now that it’s been expressed in [upstate New York], we’ll see a lot of it,” will make him the Olsen of the future.

There is little doubt that autonomous vehicles will take the place of human drivers eventually. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation, 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error. This is not to say that driverless vehicles are guaranteed to be safer — the technology has not yet been given ample opportunity to prove itself. However, it is safe to say that taking the factors of unpredictable and irresponsible human behavior out of the equation will be a good place to start.

Maybe the drivers’ associations wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss driverless vehicles if universal basic income was implemented to offset job loss due to automation.

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Self-Driving Cars Are Hitting the Roads in London

Nissan has been one of the United Kingdom’s top car producers for a while. As a response to the British government’s supportive regulatory environment for autonomous vehicle testing and development, Nissan will start testing its all-electric, self-piloted Leaf in London, with trials on public roads set to begin in February.

Credit: Nissan

This isn’t the first of Nissan’s self-driving trials. The company began testing their first vehicle equipped with Piloted Drive capabilities last October. Their hope is to have this technology in their production vehicles and on the road by 2020, a bold goal considering the strict government regulations worldwide.

As of now, Piloted Drive has a single-lane, highway-only mode that will be included on vehicles Nissan will release next year in Europe. Starting in 2018, Nissan plans to introduce a multi-lane highway autonomous mode, and the company is striving for complete autonomy in both city and highway conditions by 2020.

With an estimated 95 percent of traffic accidents caused by human error, self-driving cars could save countless lives. In fact, according to Tesla, the company’s fatal autopilot crash in 2016 was “the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where autopilot was activated.” Compared to the more than a million traffic casualties each year worldwide, self-driving cars could save millions of lives and prevent countless other injuries.

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Ford to Release a Car Without a Steering Wheel or Pedals

No Steering Wheel, No Pedals

Experts say that we’re far from truly autonomous vehicles — meaning those that fall under the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) Level 5 category. But many companies, including Ford Motors, want to bring us a step closer to this ideal. Ford is aiming to launch a Level 4 autonomous car by 2021.

Ford CEO Mark Fields explained in CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” last Monday that the company hopes to make an autonomous car with “no gas pedal” and “no steering wheel.” It’s a vehicle that excuses the driver-turned-passenger from taking control “in a predefined area.”

“In our industry, the word autonomous is being used very, very liberally. There’s different levels of autonomy,” Fields explained. “The question that should be asked when a company says they’re going to have an autonomous vehicle […] is at what level.”

This refers to SAE’s levels of driving autonomy. The SAE actually identifies six levels of driving autonomy — from Level 0, meaning no automation at all, to Level 5 which is full automation. A Level 4 self-driving vehicle, according the SEA, employs an automated system that covers “all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene.”

Driving Autonomous Vehicle Leadership

Fields’ pronouncements in the CNBC interview, which actually covered a wide range of topics, aren’t just whimsical thoughts. In fact, “Ford has been developing and testing autonomous vehicles for more than 10 years,” according to Ford EVP for Global Product Development and chief technical officer Raj Nair. “We have a strategic advantage because of our ability to combine the software and sensing technology with the sophisticated engineering necessary to manufacture high-quality vehicles. That is what it takes to make autonomous vehicles a reality for millions of people around the world.”

“The next decade will be defined by automation of the automobile, and we see autonomous vehicles as having as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago,” Fields said in the August 2016 press release. “We’re dedicated to putting on the road an autonomous vehicle that can improve safety and solve social and environmental challenges for millions of people – not just those who can afford luxury vehicles.”

The plan includes investing in technologies by collaborating with companies involved in strong research in the fields of advanced algorithms, 3D mapping, LiDAR, and radar and camera sensors. And now it seems it includes removing the steering wheel and the gas and break pedals too.

Is Ford’s vision of a pedal-less and steering wheel-free car the future? More importantly, are we ready for such a vehicle? Well, stick around for 2021 to find out.

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Volkswagen’s Electric, AI-Equipped Microbus Will Drive You Into the Future

After some recent controversy over emissions, Volkswagen is working hard to restore consumer confidence. The company’s goal to release 30 electric or hybrid vehicle models by 2025 is a centerpiece of that effort.

Their latest offering is a sleek, futuristic upgrade to one of the company’s most iconic models, the Microbus.

Reuters/Brendan McDermid
Reuters/Brendan McDermid

The I.D. Buzz is the namesake of Volkswagen’s artificial intelligence (AI) system, I.D. The AI is said to have the ability to discern between drivers to automatically customize things like seat position and other environmental factors — it can even choose the appropriate music to play. The windshield features a heads-up display, and the center console is a detachable tablet that can be used outside of the vehicle.

Volkswagen
Volkswagen

The I.D. Buzz boasts a spacious interior thanks to a combination of Volkswagen’s Modular Electric Driving Kit (MEB) and rearrangeable seating, which is placed on a rail system that even allows for a foldout table.

Volkswagen
Volkswagen

The vehicle’s two electric motors allow the bus to travel up to 434 kilometers (270 miles) on a single charge. The motors’ 369 horsepower make the vehicle capable of accelerating from zero to 96 kmh (zero to 60 mph) in five seconds, with a maximum speed of 159 kmh (99 mph).

Volkswagen
Volkswagen

The vehicle is also fully autonomous, relying on lidar, radar, ultrasonic sensors, and cameras to work with GPS to guide the vehicle. The car is also able to keep track of live traffic updates and to record and provide data to make driving safer for other autonomous vehicles.

Volkswagen
Volkswagen

We look forward to what the future has in store for Volkswagen and other companies bolstering the electric and autonomous transport revolutions.

Volkswagen
Volkswagen

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Autonomous Cars Are Coming, But Not For Your Job

Incorrect Assumptions

With autonomous vehicles widely being considered one of the breakout innovations of 2016, the debate that autonomous vehicles combined with artificial intelligence will replace jobs is revving into high gear. Largely this is a misnomer, as autonomous vehicles will create new jobs, job sectors and economic models.

The debate over innovations and technology replacing jobs is as old as history itself. During the first industrial revolution in 18th century England, new manufacturing processes and technologies were invented which led to the mechanization of textile production. This technical breakthrough led to the factory system; a system which would go on to create millions upon millions of jobs despite the worry that jobs would diminish due to automation.

In 2006, the technical breakthrough of cloud computing came from Amazon with the introduction of Elastic Compute cloud (EC2) as a commercial web service. IT professionals and industry analytics predicted large job losses as companies would outsource their computing needs. The opposite ended up being true, as cloud computing directly and indirectly created millions of jobs across the globe and tens of billions of dollars in wealth.

When Andy Jassy (who was Jeff Bezos first official shadow) wrote the AWS mission paper he said, “we tried to imagine a student in a dorm room who would have at his or her disposal the same infrastructure as the largest companies in the world.” The concept imagined by Mr. Jassy would eventually allow the founders of Airbnb to develop, launch, and scale Airbnb with the same infrastructure as the largest hotel companies in the world.

Since the company was founded in 2008, the hotel industry has cast a wary eye on Airbnb. From 2008 to 2015, Airbnb has supported hundreds of thousands of jobs, and hosts in the United States earned more than $3.2 billion in income. While in Europe, Airbnb hosts collectively earned more than $3 billion in 2015 alone.

Additionally, over the last five years, global hotel industry revenue has grown by more than $100 billion and supported hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The Hybrid Years

Despite the negative publicity, Airbnb and the global hotel industry have complemented each other rather nicely. The same will be proven true with drivers and autonomous vehicles powered by artificial intelligence during the hybrid years.

The hybrid years is a term I am coining that describes the time period when both driver vehicles and autonomous vehicles are traveling on public roadways. During the hybrid years, the role of driver and logistics will merge into the role of autonomous logistics officers.

Autonomous logistics officers will manage fleets of vehicles from a remote command center in multiple daily shifts. When these roles merge, drivers’ quality of life will improve immensely. This new job category will create thousands of jobs for individuals with a new, unique skill set.

Individuals with this new skill are already in demand according to the Wall Street Journal as Amazon is looking to acquire or build an application capable of matching available trucks to shipments.

During the hybrid years – which are starting now – forward-looking entrepreneurs will successfully identify changing market dynamics and create new businesses which, in turn, will create new jobs. This is the very scenario that has played out time and time again throughout history.

This is already happening today with connected cars and software. Smart Car, RideCell and Otonomo are all developing software platforms to enable entrepreneurs and established companies to build applications and services on top of the connected car (autonomous vehicle).

The services currently being developed on these platforms will create jobs and income for hundreds of thousands of individuals. JPMorgan Chase calls this the platform economy. The JPMorgan Chase Institute estimates that between October 2012 and September 2015, 4.2 percent of adults, an estimated 10.3 million people — more than the total population of New York City — earned income on the platform economy.

During the hybrid years, the platform economy will continue to grow and provide jobs and income for millions of individuals. Following the hybrid years, technology will evolve to the point where vehicles will no longer be driven by human drivers and autonomous vehicles will no longer be managed by autonomous logistics officers.

At this point in history, and for the first time, society will rely on fully autonomous vehicles as our main source of transportation. History will once again repeat itself as new jobs and new sectors will be created. Most of these new sectors and jobs have not yet been imagined; however, they are coming. We just need to look back on history as a guide.


Grayson Brulte is the Co-Founder & President of Brulte & Company, an innovation advisory and consulting company that designs innovation and technology strategies for a global marketplace.

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Tesla Rolling out Upgraded Autopilot Features

Enhanced Autopilot

While Faraday Future os unveiling its FF91 autonomous car, Tesla is busy rolling out an update to its autopilot system. Last Saturday, CEO Elon Musk confirmed that a select number of cars have been updated with this futuristic, enhanced version of the company’s autopilot system. It marks the next step on the path to fully autonomous driving capabilities, which Tesla plans to have ready by the end of 2017.

The enhanced autopilot system has been pushed to the first 1,000 cars in Tesla’s fleet, and it includes a traffic aware cruise control feature, forward collision warning, and an autosteer beta version that’s enabled only at “low speed.” The update was designed for Tesla vehicles running on the advanced Hardware 2 platform, a new system of cameras and computers launched last October that is intended to support fully autonomous driving through a future software update.

“We’ve designed these new Autopilot features to give you more confidence behind the wheel, increase your safety on the road, and make driving in traffic less frustrating,” according to the notes from Tesla that accompanied the update’s release.

Cautiously Optimistic

Experts claim we’re still far from seeing fully autonomous cars on the roads, and Tesla seems aware of this. In the update’s release notes, the company makes it clear that they won’t be rushing to integrate these new features, instead taking a “measured and cautious” approach to their rollout. The company plans to analyze several hundred million miles of real-world usage to improve the system, addressing issues as they arise and improving confidence in the system.

Telsa urges early users of this new system to remain in constant control of their vehicles while taking advantage of the driver assistance features it provides. This caution is very appropriate as most new technologies can and should be approached with a fair amount of skepticism.

It does seem like Tesla is on the right track with this update, though, as initial tests in real-life scenarios have yielded promising results. In fact, just last month, a video of Tesla’s autopilot system accurately predicting a crash went viral on the internet — a testament to the company’s enhanced software capabilities and the public’s interest in them.

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UberFreight is Taking on the Trucking Industry

Surge-Pricing and Trucking

The popular ride-hailing company Uber has recently launched a new website for its large-scale delivery service called UberFreight. And while very little information about the new service is forthcoming, we can safely assume that this truck delivery service is connected to Uber’s acquisition of the self-driving cargo startup Otto last August.

“We don’t have any new information to share at the moment, but hope to in the new year so please do stay in touch,” an Uber spokesperson told Inverse.

Little else is revealed on the site, except that it’s open for both carriers and shippers. People can sign up to drive delivery trucks across the country, while others can send packages using the service without the usual contracts required by established shipping companies.

It’s clear, however, that UberFreight won’t be using Otto’s trucks just yet.

Last October, the Uber-Otto tandem successfully conducted the first autonomous truck delivery test drive. If these developments are any indication, we can surmise that UberFreight is intended to be an autonomous truck delivery service. Uber has previously announced that it plans to have Otto’s self-driving trucks on the road by 2017.

Credits: UberFreight, screenshot
A look at UberFreight’s new web portal. Credits: UberFreight, screenshot

The Long Haul

It’ll certainly be a while before autonomous trucks hit the road. Which is precisely why establishing UberFreight this early in the game is ideal. Right now, it’s about data acquisition and processing: running UberFreight will give Uber access to enormous quantities of real-life data that can help prepare for and improve the eventual autonomous hauling service it plans to implement using Otto’s trucks. The self-driving vehicles can learn from experienced drivers; the delay, meanwhile, also gives government regulators some much-needed time to figure out how to govern autonomous trucks.

It’s interesting to note that Otto had similar plans prior to its acquisition by Uber.

In its October test run, Uber showed that the Otto autonomous trucks would still be monitored by a human being that works more as an operator than a driver. This setup can help mitigate the eventual job displacement expected to be created by autonomous freight trucks. Long haul truck drivers could possibly work as long haul operators in the near future.

With Uber’s resources and Otto’s technology, this new service enters a previously unexplored market that’s been steadily garnering attention from the likes of the Nikola Motor Company and even Tesla. Right now, it’s baby steps; but each faltering step forward with UberFreight will pave the way for an almost incredible future, one in which that long-haul semi you see beside you on the highway is driven by an algorithm, not a crusty truck driver.

Which begs the next question: what will become of all those seedy truck stops across the country?

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Watch Tesla’s Autopilot Avoid a Major Accident With Just Seconds to Spare

Stop, Look, and Tesla

The future of autonomous automobiles has been assured, to a great extent, by innovative companies like Tesla. While some are still hesitant to accept self-driving cars on the roads (who wouldn’t be?), and although the technology certainly hasn’t been perfected yet (remember Uber’s San Francisco drive?), new technological improvements daily bring us closer to complete autonomy.

Take Tesla Autopilot’s latest radar enhancements, for instance. Last September, Elon Musk’s futuristic car company rolled out version 8.0 of its self-driving software. This radar-processing software included an improved point cloud, which enabled Tesla Autopilot to track what’s in front of the car.

About 3 months after it was released, this new point cloud system demonstrated just how effective it really can be. It saved Hans Noordsij, a Tesla driver from the Netherlands, a great deal of trouble—and he caught the whole thing on his car’s dashboard cam.

The video shows the Tesla Autopilot’s Forward Collision Warning sending out a seemingly misplaced alert, as everything seemed to be humming along quite smoothly. But a few seconds later, we see the collision happen. Noordsij was warned off by his car’s radar system. Fortunately, despite the seeming seriousness of the crash, no one was badly injured.

Remarkably, the car’s radar and collision avoidance system correctly predicted a crash involving other cars, and could see the movements of the hidden vehicle in front of the leading car. Whatever you think of driverless technology, the above video is pretty cool.

The Better It Sees, the Better It Drives

This isn’t the first time that the improved software has saved Tesla drivers from accidents. Neither is it the last improvement Tesla has implemented. Just earlier this December, version 8.0.2 was released. It’s a relatively minor enhancement that prevents drivers from speeding (thanks Elon!), but even such a seemingly insignificant improvement adds to how autonomous vehicles can help keep their drivers—and others around them—safe. And it’s a timely upgrade, too, especially after Uber’s self-driving SUVs were caught beating the red light on a couple of occasions.

Indeed, Tesla’s Autopilot radar system will further improve the more it is used. According to the blog that accompanied its release:

When the data shows that false braking events would be rare, the car will begin mild braking using radar, even if the camera doesn’t notice the object ahead. As the system confidence level rises, the braking force will gradually increase to full strength when it is approximately 99.99% certain of a collision. This may not always prevent a collision entirely, but the impact speed will be dramatically reduced to the point where there are unlikely to be serious injuries to the vehicle occupants.

Of course, we’re still far from full autonomy.

The self-driving cars we have today still require their driver’s attention, even just a part of it—especially as the system continues to be improved. As it stands, this new radar system is not a replacement for a driver’s vigilance on the road.

Yes, self-driving cars are the future—but it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye out for trouble along the road, at least for the time being.

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Futurist: By 2030, Autonomous Cars Will Destroy a Host of Jobs

Say Goodbye to These 128 Things

In April, Thomas Frey, the founding executive director of non-profit futurist organization the DaVinci Instituteposted a prediction outlining 128 things that the driverless car era will bring to an end (or substantially reduce) by the year 2030.

“I’ve become enamored with the coming autonomous car era where many of today’s problems get solved,” writes Frey. “However, going through the transition will be anything but smooth.”

He goes on to explain all the areas primed for disruption by autonomous vehicles. Personal drivers as well as drivers and operators of heavy industrial vehicles are an obvious guess. In addition, Frey lists supporting jobs such as driving instructors, traffic analysts, car licensing and registration jobs, parking-related jobs, and many others.

Because autonomous vehicles promise to cut down on the number of accidents and fatalities resulting from human error — such as fatigue, drunkenness, and distractions — vehicle and road maintenance and repair will also be less of a problem. As a result, insurance firms may also see their businesses suffering.

In connection with this, Frey also foresees car theft and road rage instances dropping down. Subsequently, we’ll see fewer related court cases. Legal jobs and personnel that monitor, enforce, and oversee the implementation of driving laws, such as police, traffic lawyers, and judges, will also be downsized.

No More Driver’s Licenses?

Frey agrees with Elon Musk’s forecast that, as full AI autonomy becomes legal, human drivers will likely become prohibited. “The privilege of driving is about to be redefined,” he writes. “Elon Musk has predicted, over time, that lawmakers will decide that driving a vehicle is far too dangerous for humans, and most people will be outlawed from doing the driving themselves.”

So how are humans going to adapt in a world where machines are taking over fast?

Some are recommending a universal basic income (UBI), but Frey posits that unemployment won’t be as big of a problem as it’s being made out to be.

“The part that’s receiving far less attention is the huge number of new jobs that will replace the ones going away,” writes Frey. He says that autonomous vehicles will be opening up industries surrounding driverless vehicles, such as “ride experience” designers, as well as analysts and engineers focusing on automating and coordinating cars with traffic.

Regardless of how the age of autonomous vehicles affects employment, one thing is almost certain: we’ll all be a lot safer.

Elon Musk. Image: Marcio Jose Sancez/AP.
Elon Musk. Image: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo.

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Autonomous Public Transport: The Future of the Urban Commute [INFOGRAPHIC]

AutonumousPubliCTrans

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The World Finally Has an Electric Vehicle That Can Go 400 Miles on a Single Charge

This week, yet another electric vehicle (EV) made its debut, this time from California-based luxury automotive company Lucid Motors.

The company’s Air EV boasts some pretty impressive specs: zero to 60 in 2.5 seconds, built-in autonomous-ready features, and an unrivaled long-range driving capability of 400 miles on a single charge. All in all, Lucid is offering a luxurious electric sedan that could take on even gas-powered vehicles like the BMW 7 Series or the Mercedes-Benz S-Class with a six-figure price tag to match.

Credit: Lucid Motors

The Air EV comes standard with a 100kWh battery pack, but a larger, 130kWh battery developed by Samsung will be an option. The additional 30 percent capacity puts the Air EV ahead of the current EV frontrunner, Tesla, which offers a 100kWh battery for its Model S and Model X.

Right now, Lucid Motors may hold the distinction of having the longest driving range and battery capacity, but the Air EV won’t be going into production until 2018, which gives other carmakers the opportunity to overtake their specs. Faraday Future, for example, is currently working with LG Chem to improve their battery technology, while luxury automakers Mercedes and Audi have electric car concepts that feature fairly impressive battery capacity.

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Driverless Ubers in San Francisco? Yes. DMV Approval? No.

Reliable Transportation, Everywhere for Everyone

With the considerably successful run of its self-driving taxis in Pittsburgh last September, Uber began preparing to make its autonomous service available in its hometown of San Francisco. After lots of preparation and hype, the ride-hailing company was finally able to launch the service last Tuesday, making San Francisco the second city in the world where Uber offers autonomous cars for public transportation.

Uber wanted to test just how well their autonomous vehicles could handle roads different from those in Pittsburgh. “We drove in the rain and other kinds of weather, and we’ve added lane-changing capabilities since we started in September,” said Anthony Levandowski, Uber’s VP of self-driving technology. “Now we want to see how we operate in this new environment, especially with the giant hills that San Francisco has to offer.” It was also the launch the XC90, Volvo’s lidar-equipped self-driving SUV.

Uber’s Regulatory Hassles

Unfortunately, the success was short lived.

The next day, California government officials at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) put the brakes on the project, saying Uber didn’t have the necessary permits to test its autonomous vehicle service.

“It is illegal for the company to operate its self-driving vehicles on public roads until it receives an autonomous vehicle testing permit,” writes Brian G. Soublet, deputy director of the DMV in California, in a letter to Uber. “Any action by Uber to continue the operation of vehicles equipped with autonomous technology on public streets in California must cease until Uber complies.”

Uber believes it didn’t violate any rules. “[T]he rules apply to cars that can drive without someone controlling or monitoring them,” writes Levandowski. “For us, it’s still early days and our cars are not yet ready to drive without a person monitoring them.”

This all comes after one of Uber’s Volvo XC90s ran a red light shortly after the service was implemented in San Francisco, and was caught on camera. The episode raised questions about the safety of Uber’s self-driving technology.

“This incident was due to human error,” Uber said in a statement. “This vehicle was not part of the pilot and was not carrying customers. The driver involved has been suspended while we continue to investigate.”

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Uber’s New Autonomous Fleets Could Change How People With Disabilities Travel

Accessibility Dilemma

Uber’s current structure allows the ride-sharing company to be exempt from Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) strictures, which promote accessibility to the 31 million people with mobility-related disabilities. Arguments have been made that the company is simply a platform promoting ride-sharing and not a transportation service, therefore not making the company subject to the law.

However, with the coming of its own autonomous fleet, that legal ground is about to get a lot more shaky.

Uber is not alone in its skirting of ADA requirements, basically the entire taxi industry takes advantage of what Bryan Casey, an independent researcher and student at Stanford Law School, calls “a ‘gaping loophole’ large enough for taxi companies to drive entire fleets through.” Two words in a section of the ADA, meant to allow for companies to grow into the law, have allowed companies to completely get around it. This section exempts all cabs except “new van[s] with a seating capacity of less than 8 passengers, including the driver.” Companies stuck to the letter of the law and began to avoid “new vans” by only purchasing used ones.

Uber cannot argue that its autonomous fleet will not be “new,” so any hopes of continuing to sidestep the ADA will hinge on how the law decides to define “van.”

Photo credit: Uber

Embracing Accessibility

The motivation to use this loophole likely doesn’t come from a place of malice. Retrofitting vehicles for wheelchair accessibility can cost upwards of $10,000.

Still, Uber, and other companies looking to launch autonomous fleets, are the a unique position of being able to preemptively incorporate accessibility into their vehicles. “Embracing ADA liability is an opportunity to cement Uber’s position as a nationwide transportation titan,” says Casey. Uber would place itself well above other transportation services that would have to spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to compete for that demographics’ business.

Uber taking leadership on this issue could set the tone for the future of autonomous ride-sharing. It certainly would be a move welcomed by the millions of people, both in the disabled and elderly communities, who would no longer be forced to struggle with limited public transport options.

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An Artificially Intelligent Plane Is Going to Be Flying Over the U.K.

People-Free Piloting

As companies like Tesla continue to show how autonomous cars can safely take over our roads, U.K. defense contractor BAE Systems is on track to do the same for the skies.

The company is preparing to conduct a new round of testing that will increase the capability of its autonomous system to pilot aircraft. “Our priority as always is to demonstrate the safe and effective operation of autonomous systems, and together with NATS we are working towards the possibility of flying our own unmanned systems in a highly controlled environment in the U.K.,” Maureen McCue, the head of research and development at BAE, told The Engineer.

BAE’s converted Jetstream 31 aircraft will complete 17 flights, flying routes 482 km (300 miles) in distance between the cities of Inverness and Lancashire, according to a BBC report. The flights won’t be complete autonomous, though, as the aircraft will only engage its autonomous systems midair at 4.6 km (15,000 ft) while putting take-off and landing duties in the hands of human pilots.

The converted Jetstream 31 has a range of features designed to replace the human contributions to flying a plane. The aircraft is equipped with an identification system that can log data from transponders of other planes, and cameras mounted in the cockpit allow the plane to note obstacles like clouds. The system can identify any upcoming hazards in the air and adjust its course away from danger if the need arises.

Credit: BAE Systems
Credit: BAE Systems

The More The Merrier

Over the years, planes have been given various automation functions that can assist pilots while flying a plane. They have systems that guide the altitude and speed of a plane akin to a cruise control system in cars. Systems are in place that automate a plane’s landing, as well, which make it easier for pilots to perform the crucial maneuver.

These systems combined with the ones that BAE is testing right now are unlikely to completely replace commercial pilots in the near future since the general public still views autonomous systems with caution. However, an autonomous system can be helpful to pilots by acting like another set of eyes in a cockpit, ones that never get sleepy or distracted, which ultimately leads to safer skies and more peace of mind for passengers aboard a plane.

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An ‘Emotion Engine:’ Honda’s New Concept Car Can Feel

Driving With An Emotional Car

It’s a concept that either sounds strange or fascinating depending on who you ask: a car that can feel human emotions. It’s a claim that Honda has made about their concept car that’s going to be shown in next year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

In a press release on Honda’s website, the automotive company says the theme for their participation in the CES will be “Cooperative Mobility Ecosystem.” Honda says it is exploring more interactive and immersive experiences for passenger vehicles.

The centerpiece of their exhibit, and the culmination of this theme, will be the company’s new concept car called “NeuV.” It’s a concept automated EV commuter vehicle equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) called ’emotion engine.’ They go on to explain that the emotion engine is a group of AI technologies that allow the vehicle to generate artificial emotions.

Assisting Drivers

At first glance, an emotional AI sounds unnecessary and even asinine. However, the concept Honda is exploring is a new aspect of AI that assists drivers. Recently, AI has been used to assist drivers physically, by enabling them to take over a driver of a car.

This is extremely helpful in lowering a driver’s fatigue when operating a vehicle for long periods of time and for long distances, as Tesla’s autopilot feature demonstrates. It has even been used in the trucking industry where drivers are often faced with the exhausting job of hauling products across the country.

Honda hasn’t yet released details on what the “emotion engine’ will actually do, or its place in the vehicle, but it’s not hard to imagine what it could do. For example, it could pull up weather data from the internet and announce the results to the driver in a cheery voice. How the driver will react would depend on the person, but having an AI car companion cheer you on while driving is an amusing thought.

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Rumors of an Autonomous Apple Vehicle Surface Again

Rumors confirmed?

Apple enthusiasts and fans have been speculating for some time that the company Steve Jobs left behind is developing a smart car — aka Project Titan. Well, we’ve finally got some sort of confirmation to the long-standing rumor. Apple is indeed getting into the autonomous car business, but it’s currently unclear whether it will actually build a car or just an autonomous driving system.

In a five-page letter to US transport regulators, written by Product Integrity Director Steve Kenner, Apple expressed that it “is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.” Apple commends the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for its Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, which prompted the writing of the letter.

Apple also acknowledged that it “is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation,” which perhaps is a clear indication that the company is already studying the possibilities of developing one, or an autonomous driving system at the very least. Apple has also already registered several car-related internet domains, such as apple.car and apple.auto.

Credits: carwow
Credits: carwow

Riding along

One of the things Kenner proposes to the NHTSA in his letter is the sharing of data by companies in the autonomous vehicle industry. “Apple agrees that companies should share de-identified scenario and dynamics data from crashes and near-misses,” Kenner says. “Data should be sufficient to reconstruct the event, including time-series of vehicle kinematics and characteristics of the roadway and objects.”

Apple certainly isn’t the first in this field. Tesla, of course, comes into mind. There is also Uber with its self-driving taxis and trucks. Volvo also has its own plans, and even Nvidia is into the technology. Ford is also supposedly making its own models, on the premise that Apple is developing one.

While Apple may not be ahead of the game in this case, the company seems to be riding along at the right moment, especially with policies for autonomous cars being crafted and refined. Soon, we might not just be asking Siri for directions to our favorite restaurant; she could drive us there.

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White House AI Report: Everything You Need to Know [INFOGRAPHIC]

WhiteHouseAIReport-v2

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