Weekly Brief: GM caps banner week at CES with $500M investment in Lyft

Big auto news happened even before CES took off when Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) announced its open source start-up programme at TU-Automotive’s Consumer Telematics Show (CTS) last week.

JLR’s head of future infotainment and senior technical Matt Jones announced the start-up mentoring project where the British manufacturer will, from this month, open the doors to its JLR Tech Incubator in Portland, Oregon, to more than 120 start-up companies from right across consumer electronics.

Jones explained: “So 12 start-up companies a year will come and spend six months each with JLR in state-of-the-art offices, so we can work with them to understand what the automotive application for their technology actually is.” He announced the first three invited start-ups include BabyBit, makers of wearable infant health monitors, ParkIT, parking space finder using existing security cameras, and Urban Systems, that specialises in open source vehicle-to-infrastructure systems.

Meanwhile, it’s GM’s world and we’re all just living in it. The carmaker took CES by storm this year, making automotive tech the biggest buzz word at a show that’s supposed be all about consumer electronics.

First, the carmaker announced a $500M (£344M) investment in ridesharing service Lyft. The two plan to create a fleet of on-demand autonomous vehicles that scoot people around cities around the world. We already know Google has designs on autonomous transportation services and Uber is working on developing its own network of self-driving cars, so the game is officially on as to who will get there first. In the short term, Lyft drivers will have access to OnStar services and preferred access to GM cars for rentals.“We see the future of personal mobility as connected, seamless and autonomous,” said GM President Dan Ammann. “With GM and Lyft working together, we believe we can successfully implement this vision more rapidly.”

Second, GM’s Chevrolet unveiled its new electric vehicle, the Chevy Bolt, which is the first mainstream EV to retail for less than $30k and offer a battery range of 200+ miles. Every EV maker has been racing to hit these numbers. Chevrolet is the first to cross the line. The car is due out in 2017 and will offer OnStar, smartphone pairing, remote start, an app for diagnostics and maintenance, and a range anxiety function that calculates remaining mileage through a joint analysis of driving habits, time of day, weather and topography.

While GM soared, Ford bored. The carmaker was supposed to announce a landmark partnership with Google to co-develop self-driving cars. It didn’t. Instead, its CEO Mark Fields rehashed the company’s Mobility Plans, which remain light on details. We did get this: the company plans to triple its autonomous test fleet of the Ford Fusion hybrid. Also, it’s interested in getting in on the drone game, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are coming to Ford cars in 2017, and Ford plans to link SYNC to smart devices like Amazon Echo to control devices in the smart home.

BMW showed off Amazon Echo integration as well, thanks to a software development kit — the Alexa Skill Kit — that makes it easy to bring the technology onboard. The smarthome was a major theme for CES in general this year (with smart devices ranging from washing machines to fridges to security systems), so look for other carmakers to follow suit with similar integrations in 2016.

Back to self-driving cars. CES 2016 was more about the nuts-and-bolts of actually getting mainstream self-driving cars on the road. To that end, Quanergy Systems grabbed headlines for its solid state S3 LiDAR sensors, which debuted in the body of a Mercedes-Benz coupe. LiDAR is what enables self-driving cars to measure the distance to nearby markers and obstacles. The technology used to run anywhere from $5k to $50k a pop. Retail price on the S3 LiDAR: 250 bucks on the condition that it’s purchased at volume. That’s the sort of difference that could really kick-start autonomous driving in non-luxury vehicles.

High-precision maps that enable self-driving cars were also in vogue, with cockpits giving demos of 3D maps all around the exhibition hall.

TomTom launched its Highly Automated Driving (HAD) map products for all interstate roads in California and Michigan — both testbeds for autonomous vehicles. HAD maps offer a 3D border-to-border model of the road with details down to the decimetre (potholes, lane dividers, road signs, etc.). The maps also collect real-time data from vehicle sensors information in a central server that gets shot around to all the other vehicles using the map.

HERE unveiled its rival solution — HERE HD Live Map — which claims to allow cars to “see around corners” beyond the reach of on-board sensors. HERE is billing HD Live as an enhancer to advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), as it harnesses the Cloud to provide lane level information and the latest updates on traffic speed, road construction and accidents. Immediate deployment is set for North America and Western Europe.

GM was in the mix here as well, announcing that it’s exploring a high-precision mapping solution through a partnership with Mobileye. The plan is to fuse Mobileye’s Road Experiment Management (REM) system with real-time crowdsourced data from OnStar to create a living, breathing, continuously updated map of the road.

Et tu, Toyota? The company revealed that its high-precision map generation system will use camera-equipped production vehicles to gather road images and vehicle positional information. This information will be sent to a central data centre, where it will be automatically pieced together, corrected and updated to generate high-precision road maps.

QNX rolled out the QNX Platform for ADAS, which enables automotive companies to build automated driving systems with less certification stress, lower software costs and easier access to ADAS technology suppliers. The QNX Platform for ADAS covers the full range of ADAS products, from 360-degree surround views of a vehicle to sensor fusion systems to high-performance processors that make control decisions in fully autonomous vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz executives, standing before the famous Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, announced that the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class is the world's first standard-production vehicle to be awarded a test licence for autonomous driving. No modifications required. The tests will be conducted in Nevada starting in 2016.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance announced that it will launch more than 10 vehicles with autonomous drive technology in the next four years, in the US, Europe, Japan and China. The technology will be installed on mainstream, mass-market cars at affordable prices.

Onto infotainment. Digital dashboards festooned with apps have become a mainstay at CES. This year Mercedes-Benz offered a sneak peak of its new E-Class, which will debut at this week’s Detroit Auto Show. The coolest feature: touch sensitive panels (like the surface of your smartphone) on the driving wheel. You heard it. Both sides. Horizontal and vertical swiping movements allow drivers to scroll through the menus of the instrument cluster and the central display and then select by pressing down.

Panasonic debuted a new content delivery platform called OneConnect that allows automakers to communicate with their drivers through their infotainment systems. Notifications on software updates, service reminders and other messages can be seamlessly integrated into vehicle audio at convenient and unobtrusive times for the driver and the system allows drivers to easily follow up on messages with instant phone calls or scheduled reminders and software updates.

Movimento and Abalta Technologies showed off a head unit that enables over-the-air (OTA) software updates in vehicles without embedded connectivity. It pulls this off by delivering updates through smartphones connected to the vehicle via WiFi, USB or Bluetooth. This is important since most cars on the road don’t have embedded technology, yet carmakers increasingly want to improve vehicle functionality, issue security patches, and avoid recalls through OTA technology.

Finally, into the Faraday Future. The secretive start-up that has pegged itself as the next Tesla, with a planned billion-dollar factory in Nevada from mysterious Chinese backing, finally unveiled its first car — the all-electric FFZERO1. The thing is as much concept car as it is hyperbole on wheels: a claimed 1,000 horsepower and 0-60 in under 3 seconds thanks to independent motors behind each of the wheels. It also features a smartphone mount smackdab in the middle of the steering wheel and an all-glass roof. Here’s a video to whet your appetite.

We’ll see you next week at the Detroit Auto Show.

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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