Weekly Brief: GM pays more than $1Bn for start-up Cruise Automation

Most New Year’s resolutions make it a day or two. A few last a month. Even fewer reach Spring. Congratulations to General Motors (GM), then, which set out to make 2016 the year it took the self-driving car by storm and continues to deliver. Its latest move a $1Bn (£695M)-plus acquisition of autonomous tech start-up Cruise Automation.

The three-year-old company first came to attention for an aftermarket self-driving car kit that, for the pretty penny of $10,000, turned normal cars into self-driving vehicles on highways. The kit works like Tesla’s AutoPilot feature, primarily for Audi A4s and S4s. Interesting stuff but after-market additions aren’t what GM’s going for here. More recently Cruise Automation has been developing standalone software for self-driving cars — the sort of software that, when integrated across GM’s line-up, could help it compete with Google et al.

“Fully autonomous vehicles can bring our customers enormous benefits in terms of greater convenience, lower cost and improved safety for their daily mobility needs,” said GM president Dan Ammann.

GM’s acquisition comes on the heels of a $500M investment in ridesharing company Lyft, the acquisition of ridesharing company Sidecar, the launch of its own ridesharing platform Maven, and the creation of a dedicated self-driving car team, all in 2016.

While we’re on the topic of self-driving cars, last Monday we reported about the first accident caused by a self-driving car on a public road. It happened between a Lexus SUV using Google autonomous tech and a bus in Mountain View, California, on Valentine’s Day. Subsequently, the Associated Press acquired a video of the incident from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. You can view it here. The video has racked up nearly 400,000 views in four days and shows the collision resulted in more damage than was first thought and raises the question that if the driverless vehicle on current technology can’t see a bus what else will it miss?

Hyundai says it wants to commercialise self-driving cars by 2020, and it secured an important step to realising that goal last week. South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport granted the company the first license to test autonomous tech on public roads in South Korea. Hyundai will begin testing with a Genesis sedan as soon as April.

The UK will allow the first pilots of driverless lorries on public roads. Word has leaked from Chancellor George Osborne’s office that he will announce the news in his Budget speech this week, which will reaffirm the British government’s drive to make the UK one of the most welcoming places for self-driving car innovation and testing on the planet. The lorries will be road tested in platoon formations; setting is believed to be Cumbria in sometime this year.

In other news, Ford turned its Smart Mobility endeavour into a standalone subsidiary. Ford Smart Mobility LLC will continue the Ford mobility programmes already underway, from autonomous driving pilots to GoPass parking and ridesharing to the new FordPass digital platform and app. But the subsidiary will expand with the energy and freedom of a start-up, collaborating with start-ups and other tech companies along the way.

INRIX purchased OpenCar with the goal of taking on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The vision is to create a built-in infotainment system that doesn’t need smartphone pairing to function, the way CarPlay or Android Auto do but still delivers the ease of use and aesthetic pleasure of a smartphone interface (as opposed to the clunky graphics and navigation of your typical in-dash system). Terms of the deal were not disclosed but INRIX says that it plans to start integrating its cloud-based platform of third-party content and apps into the OpenCar platform straight away.

Finally, a journalist for Wired famously called the experience of sitting in a vehicle that pilots itself “delightfully dull”. Not if Ford brings its latest concept to fruition. The company just received a patent for a movie screen that drops down from the ceiling of an autonomous vehicle to cover the windshield. The screen works in concert with a ceiling-mounted projector. “Autonomous vehicle entertainment system” is the official name of the concept. The Shawshank Redemption on wheels sounds pretty good to us.

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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