Personal space: inside cars of the future

While navigation tech and crash ethics grab a lot of future car column inches, the implications for interiors deserve more attention.

As Marek Reichman, Aston Martin’s chief creative officer, noted at the launch of the Lagonda Vision Concept last year: “The electrification revolution means there is no longer any need for ‘horse and carriage’ design. The batteries occupy the floor of the car. Everything above that line belongs to us.”

Combine that with driverless and the options become mindboggling. From self-driving emergency clinics to mobile restaurants or red light districts on wheels, solutions will doubtless be designed for a wide range of activities.

Beyond the ‘real’ world, of course, there are further possibilities. Two former Audi employees, Nils Wollny and Marcus Kühne, set up Holoride to “develop the future of in-vehicle media”.

One innovation involves using live vehicle data (e.g. on acceleration or steering) to prompt real-time feedback in a virtual reality environment. They say this provides a more immersive experience and can also help to reduce motion sickness.

Can you love driving and driverless cars?

In an interview with Autocar last year, Jaguar Land Rover’s head of product strategy Hanno Kirner asserted that, in the age of driverless motoring, many keen drivers will still want to get behind the wheel.

“Whether it is SVO (JLR’s performance arm) recreating classics to modern standards or creating track-day specials, I think it will grow as autonomous driving becomes a regular part of lives,” he said.

The suggestion seems to be that driving will live on largely as a leisure pursuit, similarly to the way people enjoy horse riding.

The more exhilarating end of this pastime will be motorsport, but driverless vehicles are already edging into even this hallowed territory.

The radio controlled car racing scene has had a loyal following for years and esports – video game competitions – are huge these days. It isn’t the same the purists will scream. Maybe not, but it is getting closer.

Just a few days ago, 23-year-old Enzo Bonito set the internet alight by beating Formula E champion (and ex-Formula 1 driver) Lucas di Grassi on a winding track in Mexico.

Race of Champions Mexico  tweet January 2019
Race of Champions Mexico tweet January 2019

What made this performance exceptional is that Bonito is a professional gamer. He trained on racing simulators but successfully transferred those skills to tarmac to beat a big-name star.

Coincidentally, di Grassi is also CEO of the Roborace autonomous racing series, which is due to run alongside some Formula E races this season.

Is this an early example of passionate drivers and driverless cars living in harmony?

Cars of the past: who needs seatbelts?

In the week when 97-year-old Prince Philip did his best to put road safety back on the front pages – first by smashing his Land Rover into a blue Kia, then being spotted back behind the wheel but not wearing a seatbelt – the British Safety Council reminded us of the pioneering work of controversial founder, James Tye.

Tye (pictured) campaigned tirelessly for 25 years until wearing a seatbelt become a legal requirement in 1983, producing one of the first reports on the subject back in 1959. The Department for Transport estimates the humble harness now saves around 2,000 lives in the UK every year.

Matthew Holder, head of campaigns at the British Safety Council, said: “The times when critics of the seatbelt regulations accused the government of operating a nanny state and limiting their personal freedom and comfort are long gone.”

With multiple studies showing that 90% of accidents are caused by human error, how will we look back on reasons to fear driverless cars 50 years from now?

From high tech to highly debatable: self-driving at CES 2019

Here’s our round-up of some of the more interesting and lesser reported self-driving stories from this month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas:

First, there was the hoo-ha over a Promobot being run over by a Tesla Model S. While the Washington Post described the incident as “a bit of embarrassment for Tesla”, Electrek suggested it was a PR stunt – they published a video of it here so you can make up your own minds.

Another one at the quirky end of the spectrum was the photographer claiming damage to his Sony camera after taking a shot of a lidar system. The BBC carried the story under the headline “Driverless car laser ruined camera”.

In more positive news, Aptiv offered enjoyable trips along the strip in its autonomous BMWs. The Inquirer’s journalist described the experience as “delightfully boring”.

Two of the most futuristic vehicles on show were Bosch’s IoT Shuttle and Rinspeed’s MicroSNAP (pictured above). The latter features a “skateboard” chassis and “pod” bodies that can be swapped at an automated robot station.

In terms of notable new partnerships, Ordnance Survey announced that its datasets will be combined with Mobileye’s car-mounted camera-based mapping to identify the locations of things like lampposts and manhole covers.

Elsewhere, German supplier ZF announced close collaboration with chip supplier NVIDIA, while GPS provider TomTom announced a link-up with Japanese components manufacturer, Denso.

Perhaps the most important news concerned the announcement of PAVE – Partners for Automated Vehicle Education – a group of interested parties including vehicle manufacturers (Daimler, GM, Toyota and VW), tech companies (Waymo, Intel and NVIDIA) and other big hitters like SAE International, the National Federation of the Blind and the National Council on Aging.

Their mission is to “inform the public about automated vehicles and their potential so everyone can fully participate in shaping the future of transportation.”

That all sounds great but it surely raises the possibility of confusion with the UK’s PAVE – People in Autonomous Vehicles in Urban Environments – a consortium including Race, Siemens, Amey, Oxbotica and Westbourne which is in receipt of government funding via the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV).

New driverless car UK road trials

Since 2014, the UK government has invested over £120 million supporting over 70 connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) projects, with a further £68 million coming from industry contributions.

The most recent road trials to be announced include self-driving vehicles running on single-track roads in the Highlands and islands of Scotland.

Other new initiatives include an autonomous bus service from Fife to Edinburgh (across the Forth Bridge) and a self-driving taxi trial in London.

The ServCity pilot, led by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), has won £11.15m from Innovate UK towards its £19.8m project to develop a bookable autonomous taxi service in the capital.

The consortium also includes the University of Nottingham and Professor Gary Burnett, Chair of Transport Human Factors, said: “ServCity is an ideal opportunity for us to conduct world-leading research to understand the complex factors that will contribute to the public’s acceptance of connected and automated vehicles.”

Elsewhere, the government has recently backed four other projects which form part of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and Meridian’s £100m infrastructure programme:

1) The Connected Vehicle Data Exchange (ConVEx), led by Bosch, to help position the UK as a leader in CAV research and development.

2) Highway Intersections, which will see 6km of track added to Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground in Leicestershire to mimic a variety of road junctions.

3) Rural and Highway, a project adding 265km of roads to UK public, controlled and virtual testing facilities via the Midlands Future Mobility consortium.

4) Self-parking Cars, a consortium including Japanese-owned HORIBA MIRA and Coventry University to create realistic parking scenarios on Warwickshire’s MIRA technology park.

On a visit to driverless vehicle software company Oxbotica, Business and Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, said: “The UK is building on its automotive heritage and strengths to develop the new vehicles and technologies and from 2021 the public will get to experience the future for themselves.”

For further details on CCAV projects, see the 80-page report UK Connected & Autonomous Vehicle Research & Development Projects 2018.

Reasons to fear driverless cars: job losses, personal data and who to save

Despite recent surveys showing a growing appetite for driverless technology, reports of rocks being thrown at self-driving test cars in Arizona demonstrate that public support is far from universal.

The Ford Trends Report for 2019 found that 67% of adults globally would rather have their children ride in a self-driving vehicle than ride with a stranger.

However, Arizona Central has highlighted at least 21 incidents involving autonomous vehicles, including, in the most extreme example, a handgun being pulled on a Waymo safety driver.

Job losses

According to Phil Simon, information technologies lecturer at Arizona State University, the discontent stems from a belief that Waymo will put them out of a job.

“There are always winners and losers, and these are probably people who are afraid and this is a way for them to fight back in some small, futile way,” he said.

In the UK, research by MoneySuperMarket found that over a million jobs could be replaced by driverless vehicles , including those of delivery, forklift, bus and taxi drivers.

Personal data

Another common objection to self-driving cars relates to data access.

According to a survey by insurer AXA and law firm Burges Salmon, just 5% of motorists said vehicle manufacturers should control driverless car personal data.

20% said the government should be the data controller, while 16% said a new driverless car regulatory body should be created.

David Williams, technical director at AXA UK, said: “Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) will only become a reality if users trust us with their personal data. This data is integral for driverless vehicles to provide reduced congestion, fewer accidents and better mobility for all.”

Civil liberty advocates will have read with interest the Associated Press finding that major automakers are providing live data to Chinese authorities.

Those listed include Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan and Mitsubishi.

Chinese officials say it is for analytical purposes to improve public safety and infrastructure planning, but this is a country where things like internet censorship and facial recognition are commonplace.

Who to save

Another thorny issue is the question of who to save in a crash situation – see the section on The Trolley Problem in Autonomous now: the shift to self-driving.

According to The Moral Machine, an experiment involving two million users in more than 200 countries, most people agree that:

1) Humans should be saved over animals.
2) The lives of the many should be prioritised over the few.
3) The young should have priority over the old.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. The World Economic Forum reported some peculiar preferences e.g. dogs should be prioritised over criminals and cats.

Will all manufacturers apply the same default settings? Should owners be able to change them? Many would surely be tempted to protect themselves over all others.

The debate looks set to run and run.

Park and charge: Hyundai video on EV automated parking

Hyundai has created an eye-catching video to show off its futuristic electric vehicle (EV) wireless charging system.

The film shows a connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) driving itself to a charging bay, being powered up via magnetic induction, and then parking itself in an ordinary bay nearby.

The owner then summons the car using an automated valet parking app on her smartphone.

Tim Armitage, Arup’s UK Autodrive project director, has asserted that such systems will enable cities to radically redefine their use of space, with far less land potentially needed for parking spaces .

“Valet parking systems will enable autonomous vehicles to drop passengers at convenient points, after which the vehicle will leave by itself to undertake a further journey, or park out-of-town,” he said.

Totally driverless cars on sale by 2021

Facing stiff new competition from Tesla, tech giants like Apple and a plethora of well-funded start-ups, leading vehicle manufacturers are pouring money into driverless cars.

In America, The Star reports that General Motors’ Cruise is battling with Google subsidiary Waymo to be the first to bring robot ride sharing to market.

GM has even appointed its company president, Dan Ammann, to be CEO of its self-driving unit, while Cruise cofounder, Kyle Vogt, stays to lead technology development.

According to GM Chairman and CEO, Mary Barra, this demonstrates a “commitment to transforming mobility through the safe deployment of self-driving technology and moves us closer to our vision for a future with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.”

As to GM’s traditional rival, The Verge reports on a rumour that Ford will team up with VW for a joint self-driving car venture.

It adds that Ford is currently developing a purpose-built autonomous vehicle without a steering wheel or pedals.

Back here in Europe, Motor Authority reports that Audi is leading the charge to self-driving at VW Group.

Its new Autonomous Intelligent Driving (AID) subsidiary has a remit covering all aspects of autonomous technology, from software and hardware to maps and calibration.

Led by CEO Karlheinz Wurm, who spent 12 years at Skype, AID has a goal to bring totally driverless vehicles to market by 2021.

By then, BMW might be on a sticky wicket with its famous “Ultimate Driving Machine” tagline.

Forbes reports on that here and suggests that the Vision iNEXT concept car is beginning to redefine the experience as “driving and/or riding”.

With backing from Chinese carmaker Geely, Fleet Europe reports that Volvo plans to introduce an autonomous car in the early 2020s.

It quotes a Volvo official as saying: “One of our aims is to be the supplier of choice for ride-hailing companies. We have deals with Uber and Baidu today. Others may come in future.”

The Swedish manufacturer is also leading calls for a universal safety standard for autonomous car communications.

One of the most eye-catching representations of how the near-future might look is this Dezeen video about Renault’s Ez-Pro concept.

It imagines how goods and services will be delivered in cities via driverless electric robo-pods which can travel either in convoy or independently.

Renault suggests the pods could also function as pop-up shops or food counters.

In Asia, Electric Vehicles Research reports that Honda is seeking partners for its prototype off-road Autonomous Work Vehicle.

With GPS and sensor-based autonomy, it is designed to function in almost any environment, from forests to urban pedestrian zones.

Meanwhile, Pulse reports that South Korea’s Hyundai aims to test unmanned cab services by 2021.

As well as investing in self-driving, vice chair Chung Eui-sun says the group will electrify 44 models by 2025 and commercialise fuel cell vehicles by 2030.

Finally, Autotrade reports on Kia’s Real-time Emotion Adaptive Driving (READ) system, developed in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

It envisages a future where autonomous driving is the norm and priority is given to improving the human experience.

Which driverless car stocks are finance experts tipping?

With driverless vehicles being described as the biggest business opportunity since the creation of the internet, we’ve taken a look at which stocks finance commentators are tipping.

In October, financial information website MarketWatch reported: “Analysts at Morgan Stanley estimated the market for driverless cars will reach more than $800 billion by 2050”.

Brands it namechecked included: vehicle manufacturers General Motors and Honda; parts-makers Aptiv, Continental and Denso; internet companies Alphabet and Baidu; semiconductor specialists Ambarella, Nvidia, Xilinx and Mobileye; and software companies Akamai Technologies, Dessault Systems and Hexagon.

In November, news site Investor Place suggested: “We’re just a few short years away from self-driving cars becoming a major commercial force”.

Its seven autonomous vehicle stocks to consider were, in alphabetical order:

Blackberry
General Motors
Intel Corporation
NIO
Nvidia
Tesla
Texas Instruments

Also in November, financial services company The Motley Fool pondered which stocks are poised to truly profit from the driverless car revolution.

Its top three, again in alphabetical order, were:

Alphabet
Nvidia
NXP Semiconductors

If these experts are right, Nvidia – the California-based tech company famous for its graphics processing units for gaming – is certainly one to watch.

Driverless is biggest business opportunity since internet

General Motors president Daniel Ammann says autonomous vehicles represent “the biggest business opportunity since the creation of the internet”. This new website – CarsoftheFuture.co.uk – will follow the story as it unfolds.

Being UK-based, it’s pleasing to report that we’ve made a decent start. The UK was recently ranked the fifth best-prepared country for autonomous vehicles, after 1) The Netherlands, 2) Singapore, 3) The USA and 4) Sweden.

Since then, the University of Warwick has announced a new Smart City Mobility Centre, including driverless testing facilities…

WMG tweet re new Smart City Mobility Centre

… and businesses are also getting in on the act. For example, private hire company Addison Lee has linked with driverless software specialist Oxbotica to map London’s Canary Wharf in what’s been described as the first steps toward autonomous driving in the capital.

TaxiPoint tweet re mapping Canary Wharf

As to the potential benefits – apart from the advantage to firms of not having to pay drivers – the latest artificial intelligence (AI) modelling shows that self-driving cars can improve traffic flow.

Meanwhile, much of the UK remains blighted by not-spots. Ofcom data suggests 5,000+ miles of roads in Britain have no phone signal, with the Highlands of Scotland worst affected.

There’s also the phenomenon of catastrophic forgetting to consider. The problem of computers overwriting their parameters when they learn a new task, losing what they previously knew, is one of the biggest barriers to artificial general intelligence (AGI).

Bearing all this in mind, is it premature to declare driverless cars the biggest business opportunity since the internet?