Weekly Brief: Google self-driving vehicles roll onto roads this summer

In this week’s Brief: Google Car, Lexus, National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Delphi, New York Auto Show, Honda, Acura, DriveFactor, CCC, Progressive SnapShot, Octo Telematics, Nokia HERE, Uber, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Baidu and NNG.

It’s speculation no more: The self-driving Google Car will hit streets this summer. Two of the pods are in route to Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, as we speak, where Google says they’ll plot around town at a neighborhood-friendly 25 mph with a safety driver on board.

Google has been testing the software that powers the Google Car for years in a fleet of self-driving Lexus RX450h SUVs that have logged nearly a million autonomous miles in the San Francisco Bay Area. The pods are a shift toward the ultra-small, intracity cars that Google envisions as the future of mobility. They’re also Google’s first stab at automotive manufacturing.

The Google Car is electric and has a range of about 80 miles. It has National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration’s NHTSA Level 3 rating (the same as the Independence Truck that Daimler is now testing in Nevada), which means that the onboard safety driver is mandatory, as are a removable steering wheel, accelerator pedal, and brake pedal, even though Google says all of those features will eventually go.

The goal for now is to log miles, learn from street experience and collect community feedback. Check out this video from Google for more.

In related news, the U.S. Department of Transportation accelerated its timetable on a proposed rule that would mandate vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology in all new cars. Specifics of how fast proposed legislation will move forward remain vague, although the department declared its belief that equipment that allows cars to talk to each other and execute driver assisted maneuvers is essential for eliminating all traffic accidents on the road. The Secretary of the DOT made the announcement from the Silicon Valley office of Delphi, whose technology fueled the self-driving car that crossed the U.S. last month, destined for the New York Auto Show.

Honda issued a voluntary recall for nearly 20,000 vehicles equipped with automatic braking technology in the U.S. The recall applies to Acura MDX and RLX vehicles model year 2014-2015. The automatic braking technology, dubbed Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), seems to incorrectly determine that there is the potential for a forward collision if a vehicle detected ahead is traveling near a metallic structure (think metal guardrail or fence), which can lead to unexpected braking that increases the risk of a crash with following traffic. One crash related to the faulty braking was reported in Japan.

$22 million. That’s how much DriveFactor earned on the auction block last week. The bidding party was CCC, a leading SaaS technology provider to the U.S. auto insurance industry. CCC says it plans to extend DriveFactor’s usage-based-insurance platform — which is compatible with most any telematics tech on the market — to create the first full-service, open telematics platform for auto insurance. CCC obviously will have plenty of competition, both from insurers who have already implemented their own technology (like Progressive’s SnapShot, for instance), as well as third-party providers who fulfill the same role (like Octo Telematics).

The battle for Nokia HERE continues, as news surfaced in The New York Times that Uber had made a $3-billion bid for the Finnish mapping company. Last week we detailed how Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW have also made a play at HERE. Uber is eager to improve its technology that links passengers with cars. The German carmakers meanwhile want to own their own destiny when it comes to the mapping component of self-driving technology, rather than being dependent on Google. Our bet is that the carmakers win out, given that all three are already big HERE customers and have reportedly threatened abandoning HERE if the deal goes Uber’s way.

Finally, on the navigation front, Hungarian-headquartered navigation specialist NNG ramped up its international presence with new offices in Japan and North America. The Japan office is located in Tokyo and will focus on building partnerships with Japanese automakers and Tier 2 suppliers. The North America office is in suburban Detroit, where it will tackle the same set of tasks. NNG’s signature product, the iGO primo, is available as an app for consumers, but its recent expansions reveal that on-board, 3D navigation remains the company’s focus for growth.

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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