Weekly Brief: Coming to your mailbox soon, self-driving mail trucks

The US Postal Service is looking to reinvent itself and save millions through self-driving tech. Andrew Tolve reports.

Snail mail is about to go semi-autonomous: the US Postal Service announced that it’s working with the University of Michigan to build a self-driving mail truck called the Autonomous Rural Delivery Vehicle. The agency plans to pilot the vehicle on 10 routes through rural America in 2019. If pilots go well, the Postal Service will roll the vehicle out on 28,000 rural routes by 2025.

The idea here isn’t to replace mail carriers with mail-toting androids. Instead, the Postal Service envisions autonomous vehicles supporting human carriers to make their jobs faster and more efficient; for example by driving them from mailbox to mailbox, allowing them to organise the mail for the next box while the vehicle takes care of itself. In other potential scenarios, the vehicle follows the carrier along a walking route, parks on its own or returns to pick up more mail from the post office while the carrier keeps working in the field. The Postal Service lost $5.6Bn (£4.2Bn) in 2016, so the hope is that autonomous vehicles can help it save money across its fleet of 228,000 vehicles, from fuel to maintenance to driver hours.

In other news, Nvidia unveiled a supercomputer codenamed Pegasus that it claims will speed Level 5 autonomous robotaxis to market. The artificial intelligence computing platform delivers over 320 trillion operations per second – more than 10 times the performance of its predecessor, Nvidia Drive PX 2. The hardware will be available come mid-2018.

Amazon Alexa claimed another in-vehicle integration. This time it’s Jeep, whose 2018 Jeep Cherokee Latitude will offer a new Tech Connect Package with various Alexa skills. Jeep drivers will now be able remotely start their cars, lock and unlock them, check fuel and tyre pressure and send destinations to the in-vehicle navigation system simply by talking to their Alexa-enabled devices (Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Show).

General Motors acquired a LiDAR start-up called Strobe to make it easier, faster and cheaper to deploy self-driving vehicles. Terms of the deal were not disclosed but GM claims that sourcing its LiDARfrom Strobe will cut the cost of putting LiDARin its vehicles by 99%, which is significant given thatLiDARis one of the most expensive components of self-driving cars. The acquisition comes a week after GM announced that it has doubled the size of its self-driving car fleet in California.

Octo Telematics acquired the UBI assets of Willis Towers Watson, including its market-leading DriveAbility solution and the DriveAbility Marketplace. Key Willis Towers Watson personnel will join the Octo team and, moving forward, the two companies will collaborate on further development of algorithms and other analytical tools to provide actionable intelligence based on accurate analysis of data.

Panasonic has developed a cybersecurity system for autonomous and connected cars that claims to detect and prevent automotive intrusions in real-time. The system consists of a vehicle-installed “monitoring module” that protects individual vehicles plus a “monitoring cloud” that collects information from multiple vehicles. If an attack is detected in any of these vehicles the system can update across the entire fleet of vehicles.

Want to add self-driving capabilities to your shuttle service? Now you can without the headache of developing your own sensors, software and hardware. Ridecell is offering companies self-driving technology courtesy of Auro (which Ridecell acquired last week) and anAutonomous Operations Platform that allows robo-fleets to manage their own operational tasks, in both routine and emergency situations.

Finally, customers are baffled when carmakers and tech companies throw out words like “semi-autonomous”, “Cruise” and “Assist”, according to What’s in a name, a new report out of MIT. The report surveyed 453 people and documented their bewilderment when it comes to how autonomous, semi-autonomous and advanced driver assistance systems are titled. The word “Assist” sowed the most doubt (we’re looking at you Audi Traffic Jam Assist). Does that mean I need to assist the car or is the car assisting me or neither? The report encourages the industry to zero in on standardised terms rather than seek to differentiate their offerings with catchy terms that mean nothing and spawn greater confusion.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry sources.

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