Weekly Brief: Local Motors and IBM debut self-driving 3D-printed car

There is little that connected cars can’t do these days. A platoon of self-driving trucks? No problem. A car that parks itself and integrates with smart home technology? Easy. An electric vehicle created by 3-D printed parts that drives itself and talks to its passengers as naturally as a human chauffeur? Elementary, my dear Watson.

The last of these debuted last week in Maryland, where automotive start-up Local Motors introduced the world to Olli, a plastic EV that can be printed as readily as a piece of paper. Olli can transport up to 12 passengers, drives itself, and has IBM’s supercomputer Watson (best known for embarrassing human contestants on Jeopardy) behind the dash to offer in-car digital assistance.

Watson makes the capabilities of Google Now, Apple Siri, Alexa Voice Services from Amazon and other in-car digital assistants seem small. Watson can offer complex explanations for actions that the car has taken, understand nuances of language, make jokes that are actually funny and ‘unscripted’, fire off emails and phone calls. The list goes on.

Olli has the green light to conduct autonomous pilots with real passengers on public roads in National Harbor, Maryland, and is scheduled to debut in Las Vegas and Miami in late 2016.

In other news, the re-designed 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which includes Mercedes’ most advanced self-driving features yet, has arrived in US dealerships. The car offers a suite of advanced assistant features, from active lane change assist to speed limit pilot to active emergency stop assist, all under the moniker Drive Pilot. Add them all up and you get a semi-autonomous car capable of steering itself down a highway without driver intervention. The car is the first production vehicle to feature V2X technology and to be featured in an autonomous pilot in Nevada. 

At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple launched SiriKit, a developer kit that opens Siri up to third-party innovation. This means that car developers will be able to improve Siri’s in-car capabilities, whether it be integrating the digital voice assistant with CarPlay apps or with automaker apps that control in-cabin climate or radio.

Exciting news, although it pales in comparison to Google’s recent announcement that it’s launching an Android Auto Mobile app in its latest operating system. This will allow Android users to operate Android Auto whether or not the car they’re driving offers Android Auto integration. Apple announced a new operating system, iOS 10, but said nothing about an upcoming CarPlay app.

Nissan  used the conference to announce its first Apple CarPlay integration, the 2017 Nissan Maxima. The smartphone pairing system will come standard with the new NissanConnect infotainment system. BMW was expected to make a similar announcement (the system was rumoured to launch on the new X5M and X6M models) but it failed to follow suit.

Ford  launched a developer programme for SmartDeviceLink, its smartphone app interface standard. At SmartDeviceLink.com, developers will find the info they need to build smartphone apps compatible with vehicles by any automaker adopting the open-source connectivity software. Toyota has already announced adoption of the technology for future vehicles; PSA Groupe, Honda, Subaru and Mazda are exploring adoption as well.

Five years since opening its first Open Innovation Lab in Silicon Valley, Renault opened a sister lab in Tel-Aviv, Israel. The creative space is based in the heart of the Porter School of Environmental Studies, a renowned technology university in the city, where it will work on electric vehicle after-market technology and cybersecurity. Tel-Aviv Institute of Innovation in Transportation will partner with Renault on the initiative.

Finally, General Motors has had a banner year on the connected car front, stealing one headline after another with innovative technology and bold new partnerships (most notably with Lyft). And the automaker has no intention of letting off the gas. It just announced plans to open a new Automotive Software Development Centre in Markham, Ontario. The new 1,000-strong workforce there will focus on autonomous vehicle software and controls, active safety and vehicle dynamics technology, and infotainment and connected vehicle tech.

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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