Year in Review 2019: The year’s most-read AV Reports

Toronto, Ontario — The 2010s were surely marked by a number of technological advancements–autonomous driving technology, the widespread introduction of ADAS systems and the growing popularity of electric vehicles were a few of the decade’s hottest topics.

Take a look at Collision Repair’s most-read AV Reports of 2019!

Sucked Dry

James Dyson, Billionaire inventor and chairman of British technology company Dyson announced Tuesday that the company has pulled the plug on its electric vehicle project.

Dyson released an email to his staff saying that he and his board of directors made the decision to stop the effort after unsuccessfully trying to find a buyer. He said the Dyson automotive team had built a “fantastic car,” but the project is no longer commercially viable.

The company originally said it would unveil its electric car next year before late delaying the debut until 2021. The brand planned to craft a whole lineup of vehicles carrying its name and was working on developing solid-state batteries for electric vehicles.

With the EV project cancelled, the brand plans to focus on the “formidable task of manufacturing solid-state batteries,” as well as developing vision systems, robotics, machine learning, AI and other technologies.

In the same email, Dyson said he and his team are “working quickly to find alternative roles” for the 600-strong EV project team. He said the company has sufficient vacancies to absorb most of the people into its home business.

Smartphone Summoning

Tesla rolled out Smart Summon, its new software update that allows owners to command their vehicles remotely with a smartphone, last month–and there have been mixed results.

The software update is available via a smartphone app and enables Tesla owners to command their vehicle to turn itself on, pull out of a parking space and drive the smartphone holder’s location. The app is said to work on Teslas parked up to 200 feet (61 metres) away and only operates properly if the driver has their finger on their phone screen at all times. If the driver breaks contact with their screen, their vehicle will stop until the owner places a finger back on the screen.

According to Tesla, Smart Summon has been used 550,000 times since its September release. Owners appear to be in awe when it comes to seeing the novelty of seeing their vehicle drive itself.

“I’m blown away,” said one owner in a video, after watching his Tesla drive autonomously behind a group of pedestrians. “That was fantastic. Scary and terrifying, but fantastic.”

The automaker cautioned its customers to only use the new feature in private parking lots and driveways, and only if the app user can see the car at all times–because “it may not detect all obstacles.” Tesla also warned users to “be especially careful around quick-moving people, bicycles and cars,” prompting discussion that suggests the software is not quite ready for a public rollout.

Videos have surfaced online of driverless Teslas cautiously cruising through busy shopping centre parking lots, on public roads and travelling out of sight of the operator. Most videos capture successful trips and excited reactions from owners, but some show near collisions and glitches with the summoning system.

Coasting in Calgary

An autonomous vehicle from an Alberta-based company’s fleet has begun testing in the city’s northeast sector.

Developed by Hexagon Positioning Intelligence in Calgary, Alberta, the autonomous vehicle is expected to continue tests at the city’s property once or two per week for the next year. The project is part of the City of Calgary’s Living Labs initiative, which leverages city assets to aid businesses in growth and development endeavours.

“We’re helping Hexagon out with research and development,” said Andrew Sedor, business development coordinator and transportation strategist for the city of Calgary. “We give access to the city’s assets, so things like this road’s tarmac here, in order for companies to do research development and help diversify and grow the Calgary economy.”

Hexagon is utilizing an unused snow dump site near its headquarters for the tests. The company has demonstrated how a vehicle outfitted with its high-tech positioning technology can navigate an area using a series of systems, including global navigation satellite systems, light detection and ranging (LiDAR), radar and cameras working together.

This is not the first time the city has tested a driverless shuttle: in 2018, it ran an autonomous shuttle between Telus Spark and the Calgary Zoo–a 750 metre stretch. In its 22-day trial, the shuttle transported 4,500 people.

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Rev-Up at Rivian

In the largest EV order to date, online retail giant Amazon has requested a whopping 100,000 electric vans from Rivian Automotive.

Rivian, a Michigan, U.S. based startup dedicated to emissions-free vehicles, received the hefty order recently and plans to have the first 10,000 vans shipped to Amazon by 2022. Rivian hopes to have the full fleet of 100,000 battery-powered delivery vans operational by 2024.

The vans will be based on the automaker’s R1 platform and employ the same battery and powertrain, the suspension, application software, and interior and exterior will all be designed to Amazon’s specs and be unique to the company’s fleet.

With the company seeking to meet its goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2040, Amazon’s order echoes its recent efforts in environmental sustainability and climate impact.

In February, Amazon led a US$700 million investment round in Rivian. Back in April, Ford also revealed its US$500 million investment in the startup.

Rivian also has plans to build and ship consumer vehicles, including an all-electric pickup truck and SUV it revealed late last year. The company hopes to begin customer delivery on these vehicles by 2020.

TTC Going Autonomous

Toronto mayor John Tory has unveiled the city’s plans for a self-driving TTC shuttle connecting the West Rouge neighbourhood in Scarborough to the Rouge Hill GO Station.

On September 2, Tory announced plans to test the autonomous shuttle that would connect a transit desert in the West Rouge to the neighbourhood’s local GO station. The two locations are only about two kilometres from each other, but the city hopes the route will satisfy a lack of transit options available to those living in the West Rouge.

The vehicles will likely seat eight to 12 people and be entirely electric. Tory soothed any anxious citizens’ nerves by confirming that the autonomous shuttle may not have a driver, but a TTC staff member will remain in the vehicle to supervise at all times.

Toronto is not the first city in Canada to pilot a driverless transit option — Montreal has piloted self-driving buses with speeds restricted to no more than 15 km/h.

Beaumont, Alta., just south of Edmonton, was the first city in Canada to set an autonomous shuttle in an environment that included vehicle and pedestrian traffic and regular traffic signals. The six-month pilot ends in October.

Details on the number of shuttles or a route have not been finalized, but consultations are scheduled to begin this fall.

Pony Up

Hyundai is channelling its iconic Pony Coupe Concept with a brand-new EV design, unveiled at the recent International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany.

The Hyundai 45, an electric vehicle concept, is designed to be an homage to the company’s heritage reimagined for the future.

The 45’s look is reminiscent of Hyundai’s classic Pony, but the automaker says the vehicle drew its inspiration from vintage 1920s aircrafts. It features a monocoque-style body and an aerodynamic light-weight design.

The EV’s name comes from the 45-degree angles at the front and rear, forming a diamond-shaped silhouette that is predicted to foreshadow the design direction of future Hyundai EV models. The company has strived to strip away complexity to celebrate the clean lines and minimalistic structures of the original Pony.

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Bugging Out

Teaming with German specialist firm eClassics, Volkswagen is giving owners of classic VW Bugs a chance to future-proof their ride. By replacing the Beetle’s existing air-cooled flat-four cylinder engine with the electric VW eUp! engine, the new eBeetle — eKäifer in German — becomes fully electric.

Converting classic Bugs into EVs may not be new, but a complete electric VW powertrain is. By removing the engine and adding the eUp!’s 36.8 kilowatts per hour battery, the Bug gets bulkier. A gas-powered Beetle weighs about 800kg (1764lbs); the eBeetle is much heftier with a curb weight of 1,300kg (2,866lbs). The new motor produces 81hp and 155 pound-feet of torque. Further, removing the engine frees up substantial storage space. The VW conversion kit provides owners with fast DC charging capabilities that promise a 75 percent charge in one hour.

The eBeetle is said to have a range of 200km and goes from 0km/h to 80km/h in eight seconds — it may not seem like much, but that’s pretty impressive for a classic Bug!

Interested owners of classic VW Beetles will have to contact eClassics Germany, as fitting the electric powertrain requires the vehicle to be sent to Germany. However, California based Zelectric offers similar electric conversion kits. EV West, also in California, sells do-it-yourself conversion kits. The eBeetle will make its debut next week at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show.

Porsche Taycan

Porsche unveiled its much-anticipated electric sedan, the Porsche Taycan, on Wednesday with three simultaneous events: one in Berlin, one in China, and another alongside the picturesque Niagara Falls in Canada. The locations were chosen not only to represent the major markets for the new sedan but based on their endeavours in environmental sustainability. Berlin is home to major solar installation; Fuzhou, China is home to a major wind turbine farm; and Niagara Falls is known for its efforts in hydroelectric power.

The Taycan will come in two models: the Turbo and Turbo S.Keep in mind that “Turbo” simply serves as a title–the Taycan is a fully electric sedan. With electric motors on both axles, the Turbo is said to have up to 670hp, while the Turbo S model can summon up to 750hp. The Turbo is said to reach 100km/h in three seconds, while the Turbo S does it in 2.6.

The Taycan offers the same general configuration as the Tesla Model S and is expected to be a major competitor. According to Porsche, there have already been substantial inquiries from interested customers, with 50 percent coming from current Porsche owners and the other 50 percent from Tesla owners.

“The future is electric, whether you want it or not” stated Klaus Zellmer, head of Porsche North America, in a press release. By 2022, Porsche will have invested over 6 billion euros into its electric efforts. By 2025, the company expects that half of its vehicles sold will be at least partly electric.

The Taycan will debut in North America before the end of the year. It will be available globally in 2020.

Lights Out

Tesla Model 3 owners were locked out of their vehicles for hours on Monday due to a Tesla app outage. Tesla owners took to Twitter to voice their concerns, as the app enables owners to unlock and start their vehicles.

The app isn’t the only way to get into your vehicle, however. Tesla issues a metal key card that sits tidily in a wallet, but given the panic Monday evening, it appears many users fail to keep it in a safe place. Further, as long as Tesla owners are logged into their account and maintain a Bluetooth connection, their vehicles should unlock that way instead.

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Lyft’s Autonomous Rides

Self-driving cars are already here, well at least ride-sharing ones in Vegas. With the help of global tech company, Aptiv — Lyft has completed 50,000 rides in its self-driving cars in Las Vegas over the course of one year. Last January the companies announced that they would be teaming up to provide an autonomous ride-sharing service. The technology is supplied by Aptiv while Lyft provides the ride-sharing service. Of course, while it’s still testing the waters, there is one person sitting in the drivers to ensure that everything runs smoothly. For about 95 percent of the riders this was their first experience riding in a self-driving car. 

GM’s Road Addition

General Motors is adding 113,000 km of road across North America for its semi-autonomous driving system, Cadillac Super Cruise to operate on. Currently the Cruise system can travel on 210 km of highways. This means the system will expand to 320,000 km by the fourth quarter of this year. The new addition will also include cross traffic, which is something that has confused Tesla’s autopilot system. While Tesla’s system uses cameras, long-range radar and computers to identify objects in front of it, GM’s system uses cameras to detect if the drivers are paying attention to the road. Drivers are still able to take their hands off the wheel, but the system makes sure the driver is focusing on the road. If the driver isn’t paying attention, the vehicle will pull over safely to the side of the road.

Reckless Riding

Youtuber, Alex Choi who is known for posting videos with flashy cars posted a video to Instagram that people aren’t happy about. Choi posted a video riding in the passenger seat of his Tesla Model 3, with no one in the driver seat while driving down a highway.

It wasn’t long after that his video went viral and the comments started circulating the web. “Meanwhile, YouTuber and new #TeslaModel3 Performance owner, Alex Choi is posted this video to his Instagram story last night. It’s probably the most reckless thing that he’s done — and that’s saying something,” BrickSimple founder Det Ansinn tweeted. “” This Video of a YouTuber’s Tesla Driving on Autopilot With No One in the Driver’s Seat Is Deeply Stupid,” Jalopnik said.

Even though Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said Tesla cars “already have full self-driving capabilities on highways..” the company’s website says otherwise. “Current Autopilot features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous,” the website says.

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Ready, Set, Autonomy

Despite the beliefs of many, it appears that Canada could be among the first countries to see automated vehicles on the roads.

According to the KPMG Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index, Canada is currently ranked seventh among 20 countries in terms of readiness⁠—even describing Southern Ontario as “a perfect ecosystem to support researching and testing,” according to Gary Webster, KPMG Canada’s leader on infrastructure.

KPMG’s report considered four main pillars: current policies and legislation in place, such as automated vehicle legislation and government investments in technology; how the country uses technology and innovation in the grand scheme of things, such as through industry partnerships, research and development; the nation’s road and mobile network infrastructure; and consumer acceptance.

The index found that Canada rated well in terms of technology and innovation, garnering top marks for industry partnerships and government-funded pilot projects. Several companies have been issued permits for Ontario’s automated vehicle pilot program, including Uber, Continental, Magna and Blackberry’s QNX, allowing the testing of driverless cars on public roadways⁠—but not without strict conditions.

“Planning today for an AV future is essential, because it is not a question of if, but when, AVs becomes ubiquitous,” said Richard Threlfall, partner and global head of infrastructure at KPMG U.K. “Embracing partnerships between government and the private sector can speed technology development while helping ensure that application of AV meets public policy objectives.”

Canada also ranked well for consumer acceptance.

The Netherlands was ranked number one in terms of its autonomous preparedness, followed by Singapore, the United States, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand and South Korea.

Banned in B.C.

Following a recent incident with an autonomously operating Tesla in a Richmond, B.C. parking lot, ICBC has issued a statement saying the province does not permit any driverless vehicles on its roads.

Last Monday, a Tesla car was captured on video moving autonomously through a Richmond plaza parking lot. The car⁠—which is driving on the wrong side of the road⁠—is believed to have been operated through Tesla’s Smart Summon service, which allows owners to “summon” their cars to their location using a smartphone app, so long as they are within 200 feet (60 metres) of the car.

The video also shows a frazzled security guard attempting to catch up to the vehicle on foot.

Soon after the video began making its viral rounds, ICBC issued a statement saying that it is keeping up with developments in autonomous technology.

“We’re actively monitoring the development of autonomous vehicle technology here in B.C. and in other jurisdictions,” read ICBC’s statement.

While the insurer is keeping an open mind about driverless tech, it stated that, for the time being, autonomous cars are banned in B.C.

“This is an emerging field that raises questions in regards to both safety and policy,” it said. “Currently, B.C. laws do not permit driverless vehicles on our roads. A vehicle being driven autonomously in a shopping mall parking lot, for example, is absolutely not allowed.”

Atlantic Infrastructure

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro has officially laid out a plan to install a network of high-speed EV charging stations across the island portion of the province and hopes to have operations in full swing by the end of 2020.

On Oct. 23, Newfound and Labrador Hydro posted a tender, inviting bid for land leases for 14 EV charging stations near the Trans-Canada highway, all in specific locations spanning from Port aux Basques to St. John’s, N.L. Level three chargers⁠—which typically take between 30 minutes and one hour to charge an EV battery⁠—are to be installed at each of the surveyed locations.

In the past two years, Atlantic counterparts New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have installed similar provincial networks. Newfoundland and Labrador is currently the only Canadian province without a single publicly available level three charger.

The province has said the key to keeping up with the rest of the country’s infrastructure is cash⁠—if funding falls through, the plan could be cancelled at any time.

Despite that problem looming overhead, EV enthusiasts around the province are celebrating.

“This is the first step,” said John Seary, the leader of an EV lobby group. “It’s along the Trans-Canada⁠— it does not include the Burin, it does not go up into the Labrador or up the Northern Peninsula, et cetera. But if they follow the same type of chargers that have been installed elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, we will end up with a very nice, robust network that will allow anybody with an electric car of just about any age to traverse back and forth across the island.”

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