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Mary Cummings, a robotics professor at Duke University, recently told a US Senate committee that autonomous vehicles are 'absolutely no ready' for widespread deployment.

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario -- March 17, 2016 -- It’s time for another edition of Friday Fun, our weekly round-up of the stuff you may have missed in the last week. This time around we find out why one robotics professor says autonomous vehicles just aren’t ready, how the current car boom may go bust and one worker who says he was fired from a shop because of his Russian heritage.

- Canadian institutional investors are among the group of plaintiffs suing Volkswagen in Germany. Big institutional investors like pension funds are suing Volkswagen for billions in damages related to the company’s emissions scandal. The stock price has fallen by about a third since the news broke.

- Some 20 carmakers have committed to a new plan introduced by the US-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make automatic emergency braking systems a standard feature on virtually all new cars sold in the US by 2022. A report on American National Public Radio suggested that experts think that making automatic braking systems standard on cars “could prevent as much as 20 percent of accidents.”

The NPR reporter described the advance of these systems as being pushed by the distracted driving trend. "It's part of a push to fight the growing problem of driver distraction and a step closer to driverless cars. Now carmakers have to figure out by 2022 how they'll integrate the systems,” said the reporter. The following car companies have committed to the system according to the NHTSA: Audi, BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia, Maserati, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi Motors, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Tesla Motors, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.

The report also noted that in “2012, one-third of all police-reported crashes involved a rear-end collision with another vehicle as the first harmful event in the crash.” It is expected that the new braking systems will either “avoid or reduce the severity of some of those rear-end crashes.”

- General Motors has made a series of interesting acquisitions that seem to show an eagerness by the company to get ahead in the race to develop autonomous vehicles. Two months ago GM bought up the assets of digital auto company Sidecar. Now GM has announced it’s purchasing Silicon Valley-based organization Cruise Automation. Cruise produces aftermarket driverless technology kits that can be installed on any car. According to a media report Cruise will now “focus strictly on creating software that will be integrated into GM cars.” - According to an executive from the well-known Kelley Blue Book organization, “Mostly-autonomous cars will probably be available on US roads by 2020, with fully autonomous cars in a few isolated areas.” However, “Technology and regulatory hurdles should delay mass adoption, but major market acceptance of autonomous cars could come by 2030 to 2040,” said the executive. “At some point, the car ownership model we’re using now will probably shift dramatically because of the technology. Once autonomous cars are capable of using public streets, it will start to change the perception of car ownership.”

- Google and Lyft teamed up last week to urge lawmakers Tuesday to create a regulatory “fast lane” to facilitate the deployment of self-driving cars. In testimony to a Senate committee Chris Urmson, leader of Google's self-driving car project, was quoted as saying that a “consistent regulatory framework is important to deploying these technologies, and that conflicting rules in US states could limit innovation ... The leadership of the federal government is critically important given the growing patchwork of state laws and regulations on self-driving cars ... If every state is left to go its own way without a unified approach, operating self-driving cars across state boundaries would be an unworkable situation and one that will significantly hinder safety, innovation, interstate commerce, national competitiveness and the eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles.”

- That same Senate panel also heard from Mary Cummings, head of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory at Duke University. She worked to deflate the remarkable levels of hype that have been pumped up of late concerning AVs, saying that robot cars are “absolutely not ready” for widespread deployment. According to Cummings it's not yet clear that self-driving cars can safely operate in all situations. "We know that many of the sensors on self-driving cars are not effective in bad weather, we know people will try to hack into these systems," she was quoted as saying. She was also said to have noted that it is possible to "spoof" a car's GPS to send it off course, or to use laser devices to trick a vehicle into sensing objects which are not there. "I am wholeheartedly in support of the research and development of self-driving cars," she said. "But these systems will not be ready for fielding until we move away from superficial demonstrations to principled, evidenced-based tests and evaluations."

- Is the current boom in car sales about to give way to a bust? A news report out this week points to a Fitch Ratings report that finds the rate of “seriously delinquent subprime car loans” soared above 5 percent in February. This is a rate that is worse than during the Great Recession according to the report. Fitch blames the uptick on the dramatic rise in “loans with lax borrowing standards that have helped fuel the recent boom in auto sales.” More new cars were sold in America last year than ever before, with the total dollar amount of auto loans outstanding soaring past $1 trillion.

- Brokerage firm William Blair Equity Research attended the “investor day” event put on by LKQ Corporation this week and noted the company is beginning to shift away from the collision repair space as automated vehicle tech emerges. According to the William Blair analyst, “The potential impact of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADASs), which admittedly are coming but will likely be a long way down the road, should affect only a portion of the business ... collision parts will be less than 30 percent of revenue upon closing of the Rhiag and Pittsburgh Glass Works acquisitions.”

- The recurring debate over the use of OEM vs. aftermarket parts for vehicle repairs has taken a new twist in Maryland. A proposed state law there would mandate the use of original equipment parts for the first two years of a vehicle’s life. The bill “would require auto body repairers to use OE parts exclusively for the first two years after a vehicle’s date of manufacture, and would also require insurance companies that pay for repairs to approve only OE parts,” according to a report. For older vehicles the bill would limit repairs to either OEM parts or “certified” replacement parts.

- Close to half a million motorists in the UK now have a telematics box fitted in their car as part of their insurance policy. Over just the last year “the number of motorists choosing an insurance policy that includes a telematics device to monitor their driving has risen by 40 per cent,” a new study by the British Insurance Broker’s Association (BIBA) reveals.

- An autobody worker who claims he was fired because he complained about being ridiculed over his Russian heritage has filed a $265,000 lawsuit against his former employer. According to a local media report, Sukhrob Rabimov claims that a co-worker at True Form Collision Repair tacked onto the walls a bare-chested photo of him riding a brown bear. “Rabimov's head was superimposed on top of an existing photograph of a man straddling the bear in the woods,” according to the report. This is one of the reasons the shop owes him money. Rabimov is also said to have claimed that the same co-worker called him a "Rusky." The suit alleges that Rabimov complained to the owner but that the derogatory comments continued. "It is a frivolous lawsuit," said the owner. According to him Rabimov put the picture on his toolbox, “and he would show all the vendors who would come in how Russians were strong and how Russians rode bears ... He was proud of that."

- What, no final detailing before you release it to the customer? Police are investigating after a customer at a Des Moines used car lot found a body inside a van for sale there. A local media report says the customer was shopping when he and a salesperson “walked over to look at an older model van he was thinking of buying - and found a dead person slumped in the back of the vehicle.” Oops.

 

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