Tech entrepreneurs have proposed a 'self-driving highway' to run between Vancouver and Seattle.

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario -- October 2, 2016 -- This week in the autonomous vehicle (AV) space we look into another Tesla Autopilot crash, cheaper versions of light-sensing LIDAR are coming to market and tech entrepreneurs in Seattle and Vancouver want to link their cities with a driverless road.

- Another Tesla has crashed while in Autopilot mode. The incident occurred in Germany. According to a news report a 50-year-old driver's Tesla hit a tour bus as the bus changed lanes.

"We will now have to look into why the autopilot didn't work,” the police said, according to the report. Driverless autopilot systems have “come under global scrutiny following fatal crashes in northern China in January and in the US state of Florida in May ... The Florida case attracted the attention of a US Senate Committee, which demanded a briefing on the autopilot's role in the accident.”

The driver in Wednesday's crash told “police that he had not removed his hands from the wheel while the autopilot was activated, German press agency DPA reported.” Could the drive be found not guilty, and liability end up on Tesla?

- A report in the tech press notes that cheap versions of the light sensing technology known as LIDAR will be key to the future of AVs and some are close to coming to market.

So far, according to the report, the “size, complexity, and cost of the current generation of LIDAR sensors are significant obstacles,” to commercialization. Many AVs that use LIDAR are relying on a product from a Silicon Valley based company called Velodyne. The device captures “2.2 million data points in its field of view each second and can pinpoint the location of objects up to 120 meters away with centimeter accuracy. But the sensor itself weighs more than 13 kilograms and costs US $80,000.”

The company has just announced a new product that will be good to 200 metres, weighs only 600 grams and could cost just $500 (if produced at typical automotive industry scale).

At the same time, a “substantial amount of recent academic and industry research has been focused on making LIDAR sensors smaller, easier to manufacture, and cheaper. At the CES 2016 electronics show, Quanergy Systems, in Sunnyvale, Calif., demonstrated a prototype solid-state lidar sensor [that] will cost $250 in volume production, and it should be available to automotive original equipment manufacturers in early 2017.”

Two other startups are said to be working on $100 automotive lidar systems to be released in 2018. Israeli-firm Innoviz and Netherlands-based Innolux are the two companies. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop LIDAR with a “100-meter range and a per-chip cost of just $10.”

- The CBC reports that Vancouver and Seattle tech entrepreneurs are talking about the need to create a driverless highway between the two cities.

“The proposal, which involves dedicating at least one lane on the I-5 from Seattle to Highway 99 in Richmond, BC, is a pitch that comes from Tom Alberg, a board member of Amazon, Craig Mundie, a former Microsoft executive, along with two other high tech industry experts ... The idea was presented yesterday in Vancouver ... They propose self-driving—or autonomous vehicles—would first share HOV lanes with regular vehicles, but over time as autonomous vehicles become more popular, an HOV lane would be dedicated exclusively to them.”

The techies went on to propose an eventual “ban on non-autonomous vehicles from the route entirely during peak hours, and they want lawmakers in both Washington and BC to join up with universities to get the plan underway—right away.”

According to the report, "Doing this sooner rather than later would not only allow residents of the Cascadia Corridor to reap the direct benefits sooner—it would better connect the two cities and send a message that Seattle and Vancouver embrace new ideas and new ways of thinking, further cementing a reputation for innovation in the Cascadia region."

- A story in the LA Times finds that there, “are 1.7 million truckers in America, and another 1.7 million drivers of taxis, buses and delivery vehicles,” and that many of these could soon be out of work. According to the story, the trucking industry will be the first to adopt AV tech.

“At risk is one of the most common jobs in many states, and one of the last remaining careers that offer middle-class pay to those without a college degree ... It would also be the first time that machines take direct aim at an entire class of blue-collar work in America.

Other workers who do things you may think cannot be done by robots—like gardeners, home builders and trash collectors—may be next.

'We are going to see a wave and an acceleration in automation, and it will affect job markets,' said Jerry Kaplan, a Stanford lecturer. 'Long-haul truck driving is a great example, where there isn’t much judgement involved and it’s a fairly controlled environment.'"

The story goes on to state that, “... trucking will likely be the first type of driving to be fully automated – meaning there’s no one at the wheel. One reason is that long-haul big rigs spend most of their time on highways, which are the easiest roads to navigate without human intervention. Trucking is a $700-billion industry, in which a third of costs go to compensating drivers.”

- The company to watch in the self-driving truck space is Otto, a “self-driving truck company started by former Google engineers and executives.” The company has a system that can be fitted to existing trucks. Uber bought the San Francisco-based Otto in August. It's assumed now that Otto and Uber are going to move into freight and long haul trucking. Otto is, “ ... forging partnerships with independent truckers ... Uber has already started pitching services to shippers, truck fleets and independent drivers, and the services go well beyond Otto's initially stated goal of outfitting trucks with self-driving technology. It also plans to compete with the brokers who connect truck fleets and shippers.”

The Otto vehicles are currently manned by a driver and an engineer according to the report. “But the Uber-Otto efforts include a host of other technologies involving navigation, mapping and tracking, which can be deployed even as work continues on self-driving systems....Eleven days after the close of the Uber acquisition last month, Otto filed for a new permit to haul freight, noting it would expand its fleet to 15 trucks.” The company is pitching its system to owner operators as, “a source of new income for drivers who will be able to spend more time in vehicles that can drive solo as they rest.” As well, “much like Uber matches passengers and drivers ... The trucking push is partly a gambit to leverage the mapping and logistics expertise Uber has gained ferrying passengers and food in cities ... Otto says it could help decrease the cost of trucking goods by more quickly finding freight, mapping more efficient routes and reducing fuel consumption.”

- Insurance Business Canada reports that while “... the American auto insurance industry is anticipating a more than 40 percent reduction in premiums once driverless car technology is fully adopted by 2050,” the Canadian auto insurance industry would “likely take a more cautious approach to vehicular automation,” according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) spokesperson quoted in the story.

“When it comes to driverless cars, insurers will need to assess the risks and determine products and pricing based on those risks,” said IBC spokesperson Andrew McGrath, according to the report. “Our industry is becoming increasingly information-based, technologically connected and even more globalized. A competitive market sparks innovative products and solutions.”

The story notes that earlier this year Ontario became the first province to authorize the testing of driverless cars. Stratford is shaping up to be the first Canadian city to serve as a live testing ground for the technology.

“While testing is under way in Canada, a functional and available driverless car is a way out on the horizon,” said McGrath. “That being said, the insurance industry is always there to identify new risks and provide the needed coverage. But for now, car manufacturers are racing to improve safety ... Emerging technologies could lead to ‘zero fatality’ roads ... We already see high-end vehicles that warn you [when you] drive too close, alert you to vehicles in your blind spot, and even park themselves.”

- A study commissioned by Kelley Blue Book polled 2,264 US residents and finds the average person is less excited about self-driving cars than the automakers are. The results found that 80 percent of survey participants said people should 'always have the option to drive themselves.' Sixty-four percent of respondents said they need to be in control of their own vehicle and a third of respondents said they would never buy a vehicle that came without steering wheel and pedals.

- Several tech vendors are partnering with three automakers to create an association aimed at accelerating the development of 5G technologies for self-driving cars, according to a report on eWeek. The 5G Automotive Association will “work to develop, test and promote technologies that will form the basis of the next-generation infrastructure that will be needed to make autonomous vehicles a reality.”

Tech companies Ericsson, Huawei Technologies and Nokia and chip makers Intel and Qualcomm are “being joined by automakers Audi, BMW and Daimler in the initiative, which officials with the companies said is an example of the need for partnerships to speed the development of the necessary technologies.”

According to the story, “The burgeoning self-driving car market is getting a lot of attention from many corners. Tech vendors and component makers are rapidly building up their portfolios of products aimed at the space ... 5G is seen as a key enabling technology.

Though standards for the next-generation connectivity technology aren't expected to be finalized until 2020, tech companies are rolling out pre-standard 5G technologies and products. 5G promises data transfer speeds that will be 10 to 100 times faster than current 4G LTE, as well as significantly lower latency and the ability to support many more devices and systems ... All this will be important for the car-to-car and car-to-cloud communications (or V2X—vehicle-to-everything) that will be crucial in enabling vehicles to operate without human intervention. The vehicles will need to communicate with each other as well as other intelligent environments—such as smart cities—to navigate from one point to another and to avoid obstacles from other cars to pedestrians.”

 

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