Weekly Brief: Germany welcomes self-driving cars to the autobahn

In this week’s Brief: The German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, Daimler, Audi, Volkswagen, BMW, Dutch Department of Road Transport, BMW of North America, Volkswagen of America, ChargePoint, TomTom, Harman, Symphony Teleca, Red Bend, Baidu, Uber, Metromile and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Germany’s autobahn is a global symbol of autonomy. Here, unlike almost any other major highway on the planet, you can travel as fast as you please without worry of speed limits or traps. Last week Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure announced that the autobahn is about to take autonomous driving to a whole new level: A heavily traveled stretch of the network will soon welcome self-driving cars.

Under a new initiative dubbed “Digitales Testfeld Autobahn" (“digital test field highway), the A9 stretch of the autobahn between Munich and Berlin will get outfitted with Wi-Fi stations that facilitate vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication and will welcome autonomous vehicles from Germany’s top automakers, including Daimler, Audi, Volkswagen and BMW, all of which have robust research and development initiatives underway in autonomous vehicle technology.

Germany’s Transport Minister, Alexander Dobrindt, was candid in breaking the news that Germany did not want its automakers to become heavily dependent on autonomous vehicle technology from American-based companies, specifically Google, which is widely viewed as the market leader in the space and is well ahead of major U.S. automakers, which may end up adopting Google technology rather than creating their own.

"We must guard against the monopolization of the data," Dobrindt told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "We must create for ourselves a digital sovereignty, regardless of the Americas and Asia."

Road tests of self-driving cars will commence this year on the autobahn.

Simiarly, the Dutch Department of Road Transport (DRT) gave the thumbs up to large-scale testing of autonomous vehicle technology on public roads. The government had previously approved testing on private roads and one small-scale public test on the A10 highway outside Amsterdam. Its motivating force is improving safety and reducing traffic. Large-scale trials will start by summer of self-driving trucks and cars on public roads, including the A10 and others, with a specific focus on automatic braking and acceleration to smooth out the country’s notorious traffic.

On the EV charging front, BMW of North America and Volkswagen of America rolled out an initiative to create express charging corridors along heavily traveled routes on the East and West coasts of the U.S. The corridors will be lined with 50 kW direct current (DC) fast charging stations in collaboration with ChargePoint. In the initial phase, the aim is to install nearly 100 DC Fast chargers across both coasts, from Portland to San Diego out West and Boston to Washington, D.C., back East, with plans to expand thereafter. When charging at a 50 kW station, both the BMW i3 and the Volkswagen e-Golf can charge up to 80 percent in 20 minutes.

TomTom introduced a new Pedestrian Maps feature that provides pedestrian-specific geometry like footpaths, garden paths and forms of way that are not accessible by car. Pedestrian Maps is available for Berlin, London, New York, San Francisco and Toronto. TomTom also added 10 million address points across Europe, bringing total regional coverage to 58 million addresses.

Harman, which two weeks ago spent $1 billion acquiring connected car software companies Symphony Teleca and Red Bend, showed no signs of letting up as it launched CarLife, a new connected car platform for the Chinese market. Harman is working on the initiative in collaboration with Baidu, the leading Chinese language Internet search provider. CarLife provides smartphone compatibility with user smartphones, such as Android and iOS, advanced online navigation, real-time traffic updates, real time parking location info and a hands-free voice activated control system.

Car-sharing service Uber announced that it’s rolling out an innovative pay-as-you-drive insurance telematics solution for its drivers. The technology, developed in concert with Metromile, plugs into the on-board diagnostic port and distinguishes the miles that Uber drivers drive on ridesharing trips, when they’re already covered by Uber’s primary commercial insurance, versus when they’re driving for personal reasons, when they’re not. By subtracting one from the other, Metromile will allow Uber drivers to save big on personal car insurance. The product rolls out in California, Illinois, and Washington this month.

Finally, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a set of privacy and security best practices to automakers and other players in the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem. In a report titled “Internet of Things: Privacy and Security in a Connected World,” the FTC extolled the many positives that the IoT has the potential to deliver, from safer highways to better health monitoring and more energy efficient homes. But it warned that connected devices raise numerous privacy and security concerns that could undermine consumer confidence. The report includes the following recommendations for companies developing Internet of Things devices:

  • build security into devices at the outset, rather than as an afterthought in the design process;

  • train employees about the importance of security, and ensure that security is managed at an appropriate level in the organization;

  • ensure that when outside service providers are hired, that those providers are capable of maintaining reasonable security, and provide reasonable oversight of the providers;

  • when a security risk is identified, consider a “defense-in-depth” strategy whereby multiple layers of security may be used to defend against a particular risk;

  • consider measures to keep unauthorized users from accessing a consumer’s device, data, or personal information stored on the network;

  • monitor connected devices throughout their expected life cycle, and where feasible, provide security patches to cover known risks.

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

Andrew Tolve is a regular TU contributor.

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