Must-see: Waymo’s driverless police stop

Waymo, the company which began life as Google’s self-driving car project back in 2009, has posted a 16-second video of perhaps the most impressive driverless feat to date.

The signal lights on a busy US crossroads are out, so a policeman is stood in the middle of the junction directing traffic – illustrated by the yellow box in the graphic.

The Waymo driverless car stops and waits for the officer to wave it across – see the speeded-up film in the bottom right.

Waymo self-driving car navigates a police controlled intersection

Adding to its reputation as the world leader in autonomous vehicles, in October 2018 Waymo revealed that its self-driving cars have already driven over 10 million miles on public roads.

Must-see: Mercedes Vision Urbanetic concept gets two million views on YouTube

A short film by Mercedes-Benz about its Vision Urbanetic mobility concept has been viewed over two million times on YouTube.

The 1min 38sec video published last September showcases a self-driving, electrically-powered chassis with switchable bodies.

It can be used as a ride-sharing vehicle with space for up to 12 passengers, or as a goods transporter with space for 10 pallets.

Leaping off the drawing board, a scale version of the car was on display at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Mercedes says it can reduce traffic flows, take the pressure off strained city infrastructures and contribute to an improved quality of urban life.

Most small businesses expect their vehicles to be electric by 2030 and driverless by 2040

55% of small enterprises think their fleets will be fully autonomous within 20 years, with 38% expecting it to happen in half that time, according to new research by the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi light commercial vehicle (LCV) business.

In a survey of 3,257 small businesses in the UK, USA, China, France, Mexico, Australia and Japan, 66% also predicted that their fleets would be fully electric within 20 years, with 50% expecting it to happen in half that time.

35% said they were already using smarter technology in their fleets, with efficiency improvements and cost savings the main motivations.

30% said the key benefit of connectivity would be the ability to communicate with the people they’re delivering to.

“We recognize the importance of smart technology to increase efficiency and continue to work together to develop connected and autonomous vehicles that cater to the needs of business fleets of all shapes and sizes,” said Ashwani Gupta, senior vice president of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi LCV business.

Between now and 2022, the alliance says it will launch 12 new zero-emission vehicles, utilising new common electric vehicle platforms. Over the same period, it plans to introduce up to 40 models with autonomous features, although equipment levels will vary.

Deadly driverless car crashes

Probably the highest profile fatal crash involving a driverless car occurred in Arizona in March 2018.

An Uber test car, in autonomous mode but with a safety driver, hit a 49-year-old homeless woman in the city of Tempe.

Elaine Herzberg was walking with a bicycle and not on a crossing. It was the first reported fatal crash in the US involving a self-driving vehicle and a pedestrian.

Fast forward nearly a year and the University of Michigan has unveiled a new project to predict pedestrian movements with greater accuracy.

“Prior work in this area has typically only looked at still images,” said Ram Vasudevan, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “It wasn’t really concerned with how people move in three dimensions.”

By studying things like gait pace, foot placement and the symmetry of arms and legs, the team attempt to predict the future locations of one or several pedestrians up to 50 yards from the vehicle.

“If a pedestrian is playing with their phone, you know they’re distracted,” said Vasudevan. “Their pose and where they’re looking is telling you a lot about their level of attentiveness. It is also telling you a lot about what they’re capable of doing next.”

Previously, the most notorious driverless crash was also in the US, in 2016, when a Tesla Model S in autopilot mode smashed into a truck’s trailer, killing the car’s 40-year-old driver.

There have been numerous close shaves too.

Just last week in St. John’s, Canada, a driverless car reportedly set off at high-speed down a residential street, jumped a snow bank and slammed into a nearby garage.

Incredibly, no one was hurt. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) is investigating.

UK’s first independent 5G mobile testbed goes live at Millbrook

The UK’s first independent 5G-enabled mobile network – a key technology for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) – has launched at Bedfordshire’s Millbrook Proving Ground.

On 12 February 2019, the AutoAir consortium demonstrated data speeds of over one gigabit per second (1Gbps) to vehicles travelling at up to 160mph. For example, live 4K video streaming.

Established in April 2018, AutoAir is led by wireless broadband specialist Airspan Networks, with partners including McLaren Applied Technologies and the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre.

Alex Burns, president of Millbrook, said: “The infrastructure allows our customers to test and develop CAV systems to a quality and level of detail never before realised in this country.”

Brendan O’Reilly, of Telefónica UK, added: “Test networks at sites like Millbrook will be crucial in understanding how 5G will enable the development of CAVs as well as the associated business and consumer use cases which will transform the automotive sector.”

UK drops to 7th in Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index

A new report by KPMG shows the UK has dropped two places, to seventh, in its Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index.

While this could be interpreted as a blow to the UK government’s commitment to be at the forefront of driverless technology, KPMG was at pains to emphasize that this was “only due to high-performers Norway and Finland joining the index”.

Countries were assessed on 25 different measures across four pillars – policy & legislation, technology & innovation, infrastructure, and consumer acceptance.

KPMG 2019 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index image
KPMG 2019 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index image

As last year, The Netherlands ranked #1, praised for its efforts to run platoons of driverless trucks on major ‘Tulip Corridor’ routes from Amsterdam to Antwerp and Rotterdam to the Ruhr valley. Singapore ranked #2 thanks to its test town for driverless vehicles.

Sarah Owen-Vandersluis, head of public mobility strategy for KPMG in the UK, commented: “The UK has made a lot of inroads with big investments, a committed government and world-leading policy; it has seen many positive announcements regarding both private sector initiatives and local and central government strategies.”

In a separate paper – Mobility 2030: Transforming the mobility landscape – KPMG highlighted three key disruptive forces: 1) Electric vehicles (EVs) and alternative powertrains; 2) Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs); and 3) On-demand mobility services.

Driverless delivery vehicle maker Nuro gets billion-dollar boost

Whenever anyone spends a billion dollars in the self-driving world it is probably worthy of a mention here.

In this case, unmanned delivery vehicle specialist, Nuro, has been boosted by a US$940m investment from Japanese multinational, SoftBank.

Founded in 2016 by two former Google engineers, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, Nuro operates mainly in San Francisco but plans to expand its delivery service to new areas, add new partners and expand its fleet.

“We’ve spent the last two and a half years building an amazing team, launching our first unmanned service, working with incredible partners and creating technology to fundamentally improve our daily lives,” said Ferguson.

“This partnership gives us the opportunity to take the next step in realizing our vision for local commerce and the broad application of our technology.”

Nuro’s other backers include Greylock Partners and Gaorong Capital.

Must-see video: new driverless cars world record set in China

Guinness World Records has posted this video of what is officially now the largest parade of autonomous cars ever:

55 self-driving cars built by Changan Autmobile set the record at the Dianjiang test site in Chongqing, China, on 28 November 2018.

Design Boom reported that a 56th car was disqualified after the safety driver briefly took back control of the vehicle.

CASE study: connected, autonomous, something and electric

The motor industry is notoriously fond of an acronym and here’s a new one which might just catch on: CASE.

In this case, C stands for connected, A for autonomous and E for electric, but there’s disagreement about what the S should stand for.

Vehicle manufacturer Daimler goes for connected, autonomous, shared and electric, although if you dig a bit deeper into their website they keep their options open with “shared and services”.

“Each of these has the power to turn our entire industry upside down,” said Dr Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the board of Daimler AG. “But the true revolution is in combining them in a comprehensive, seamless package.”

Over at car parts maker ZF, Andy Whydell, vice president of systems product planning for active and passive safety, goes for connected, autonomous, safe and electric.

For explanations of other vehicle-related terms and acronyms, see our Cars of the Future glossary.

Must-see video: why is Ford disguising drivers as car seats?

Ford Europe has posted a new video highlighting an innovative approach to autonomous vehicle testing:

Drivers frequently use hand gestures (!), head nods and eye contact to communicate with other road users. For example, to establish that a pedestrian is crossing, that a cyclist has seen them or that they’re letting another car go first.

But how will self-driving vehicles achieve a similar degree of interaction? One idea is to use flashing lights of different colours.

To test the theory without spending a fortune on autonomous tech, Ford created the “Human Car Seat” – camouflaging a driver so the vehicle, at first glance at least, looks driverless.

This homespun method allows observers to more effectively gauge real-world responses.

According to Automotive World, 60% of people surveyed thought the Transit Connect was an autonomous vehicle and turquoise emerged as the preferred light colour.

Ford, in partnership with electronics specialist Hella, is now conducting further tests, including positioning the lights on the grille and headlamps.