Weekly Brief: Declaration of Amsterdam sees EU unite for self-driving cars

The race to deploy self-driving cars has turned into real sport these days, what with carmakers and tech companies around the world angling to claim first to market advantage. Countries are getting in on the action too, spurred by the realisation that local testing and development could be a boon for local economies.

But the European Union took an important step last week to ratchet down the competition and increase the cooperation among carmakers, national governments and EU institutions. In the landmark “Declaration of Amsterdam”, the transport ministers of all 28 member states (excluding the UK) agreed to lay out a uniform European framework for self-driving cars, with a target deployment date of 2019. Member states will endeavour to work openly with carmakers and fellow countries to share information and developments; to participate in cross-country joint trials; and to ensure that all new self-driving car services and systems are interoperable and compatible when crossing borders.

In other news, the US Department of Energy (DOE) offered up to $30M (£21M) in funding for solutions that cut energy consumption in connected cars. The funding, filed under codename NEXTCAR, is earmarked for solutions that focus specifically on vehicle dynamic and powertrain control technologies. The DOE says it needs proof that any solution can reduce energy consumption by at least 20% before it’s willing to shell out the cash. Testing will take place this year.

It was another big week for car-sharing. The latest carmaker to get in on the game: Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), which launched an independent business called InMotion devoted to the sector. InMotion will focus on apps and on-demand services that help overcome modern travel and transport challenges. JLR says InMotion will hit the ground running with real-world testing of car-sharing and novel car ownership solutions across North America, Europe and Asia in the coming months.

Industrial gas company Linde announced that it too is jumping on the car-sharing bandwagon. The company has partnered with Hyundai to launch the world’s first carsharing programme built on a fleet of zero-emissions, hydrogen-powered cars. Dubbed BeeZero, the programme launches this summer in Munich with 50 Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell cars, each with a range of 400 kilometres (250 miles) on a single charge. No word on pricing yet; cars can be booked online or via smartphone app.

Toyota is about to turn Ann Arbor, Michigan, into the largest living lab of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication on the planet. The carmaker plans to fit out 5,000 everyday cars (driven by normal commuters) with tiny black boxes and antennas that continuously transmit speed and position data. Other cars and research equipment located along the roadside and at intersections will be on the receiving end of the information. The experiment is in partnership with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).

On the usage-based insurance (UBI) front, Italian telematics company Viasat Group beefed up its offering for insurers with new smartphone-based driver behaviour analysis. The new capabilities come courtesy of a partnership with Amodo, which specialises in driver behaviour scoring and risk prediction. Amodo uses what it calls a Behaviour Scoring Engine (BSE) to consider driving style in its proper context, by comparing driving actions against road data, driving conditions and weather.

Finally, back to the race to develop self-driving cars, Ford has gone dark on its testing of autonomous vehicles. Like super dark, on lonely desert roads in the middle of the night without a single soul around. The initiative is underway in Whittman, Arizona, and is called Project Nightonomy. Researchers are testing the self-driving Ford Fusion in total darkness with no headlights and no driver behind the wheel. The goal is to test the effectiveness of the lidar sensors that enable self-driving cars to navigate and sense their surroundings.

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

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