Weekly Brief: Google takes on Uber with Waze ridesharing gambit

Need a ride? Just Google it. The titan of tech signalled last week that it wants in on the ridesharing game and is prepared to make its initial entry in the San Francisco Bay Area. This autumn, Waze, the navigation app that Google purchased in 2013, will launch a carpooling service called Waze Rider that connects drivers and passengers headed to similar destinations.

What's noteworthy about this is that, while Uber and Lyft dominate the ridesharing market, they operate in practice as glorified, mobile-optimised taxi services. That is, the people “sharing” their rides are really just cab drivers using their own cars for the purpose of transportation. Waze Rider, on the other hand, is legit ridesharing. The app connects passengers and drivers who are bound for the same destinations and allows drivers to either accept or decline. Drivers receive $0.54 (40p) a mile, of which Google takes no fee. We’ll see if this more traditional take on ridesharing can take off the way Uber has. Two weeks ago Lyft decided to side line a similar carpooling operation in San Francisco, citing insufficient demand, which makes the timing of the Waze Rider announcement all the more intriguing.

In other news, Chinese search giant Baidu plans to create a smart speaker system akin to Amazon Echo or Google Home, specifically designated for the connected car. Baidu will work with Harman on the product and will integrate a range of artificial intelligence technologies, including speech recognition, natural language processing and speech synthesis. The ultimate goal: “Seamless integration from home and work to the car and on the go,” said Harman CEO Dinesh Paliwal.

A group of researchers out of New York University found that MirrorLink – the leading industry standard for connecting smartphones to in-vehicle infotainment systems – is relatively easy to hack. Turns out unlocking the system is a synch and hackers can then use a linked smartphone as a stepping stone to control safety-critical components such as the vehicle’s anti-lock braking system. The researchers are encouraging the Connected Car Consortium to make the protocols for unlocking MirrorLink more stringent.

Another week, another spate of self-driving car updates. Perth, Australia, made headlines for becoming the first city to pilot a self-driving bus. An electric shuttle called the RAC Intellibus is now rambling down the South Perth Esplanade at a maximum speed of 16mph, with a maximum number of 11 passengers on board at a time. The pilot is a joint partnership between the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia and French transport company Navya.

Self-driving car start-up Drive.ai came out of stealth mode to reveal an ambitious plan to turn existing business fleets into self-driving cars. The company is harnessing artificial intelligence software to create a plug-in kit that makes any truck or van equipped to stick to a lane, pick out objects on the road and make decisions at lightening speed and is testing its technology on California roads.

Baidu USA received a permit from the California DMV for testing autonomous cars in California. That means it’ll join twelve other automakers and tech companies already on the permit list — Google, Tesla, Cruise Automation, Drive.ai, Mercedes,VW, Bosch, Nissan, Delphi, Ford, BMW and Honda. Baidu says it will begin testing “soon” but left an exact date unspecified. All these companies testing in California must have a driver and driving controls present whenever testing their cars. But California lawmakers revised the language of a key provision last week to allow “the testing of autonomous vehicles that do not have a driver seated in the driver’s seat and are not equipped with a steering wheel, a brake pedal or an accelerator”. A smart move to keep big businesses testing self-driving tech in the Golden State. Testing of true driverless cars will be restricted to approved areas like privately held business parks.

Finally, on the aftermarket front, TomTom added Wi-Fi, voice controls and route prediction to its entire range of TomTom GO satellite navigation devices. The latest generation now reads out text messages, allows hands-free calling and is compatible with personal assistants like Apple's Siri, Google Now and Microsoft's Cortana. The devices are also able to learn a driver's habits so that they can predict destinations based upon regular commutes and routines. Devices go on sale this month in Europe.

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

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