Weekly Brief: Navya’s self-driving shuttle service launches with a crash

It took only two hours for this fancy new self-driving shuttle to get into a crash. Andrew Tolve reports.

The first free self-driving shuttle service in America launched in Las Vegas last week and proceeded to get into a crash within its first two hours of service. A truck backing out of an alley allegedly didn’t spot the shuttle in its way and collided with its front bumper. No one was injured, the truck and the shuttle suffered minor damage and all reports, so far, would suggest the autonomous technology was not at fault. Still, as headlines about the incident spread round the media, one had to wonder if the impending age of self-driving vehicles is destined to be a lot messier and less safe than the purveyors of the technology would like us to believe.

The Las Vegas shuttle is sponsored and operated by the city of Las Vegas in conjunction with transportation company Keolis, French manufacturer Navya and American insurer AAA, all of whom quickly jumped to the shuttle’s defence. The National Transportation Safety Board already has officials on the ground in Vegas conducting its own investigation, which probably will come to the same conclusion that the human driver, not the technology, was to blame. The big take-away, however, may be that blame isn’t what matters in this new era. What matters is that autonomous tech knows how to respond to unpredictable human drivers and act swiftly to avoid accidents. A reporter on the shuttle, for example, pointed out that the shuttle didn’t beep or throw it into reverse when it detected the truck, it just came to a halt and sat there like a deer in the headlights.

Sticking with Navya, it also announcedthat it’s ready to start shipping Level 4 self-driving taxis. Dubbed the “Autonom Cab”, the company says that the vehicle will come with no cockpit, steering wheel or pedals and is able to carry one to six passengers and cruise at speeds up to 55mph. The vehicle has already been tested on public roads in Paris. Navya says it doesn’t have much interest in operating its own taxi service, rather plans to sell taxis to cities and mobility companies around the world (per the Las Vegas example above). The outfit already has partnership agreements with KEOLIS in Europe and the US and with RAC in Australia.

In other news, Waymo will soon remove safety drivers from its self-driving cars in Phoenix, Arizona. The company already has a pilot underway in Phoenix and is whisking thousands of citizens around the city each day in self-driving Chrysler Pacificas. In the coming months, some of those Pacificas will now show up with no safety driver behind the wheel. A Waymo rep will ride with passengers to help ease the transition but, come 2018, Waymo plans to fully remove the training wheels.

Uber plans to have flying taxis humming over traffic in Los Angeles by 2020. Yes, that’s just three years away and, no, Uber doesn’t even have a working prototype yet, so you should be sceptical. On the flip side, Uber did just announce a new partnership with NASA last week to create a new air traffic management platform for its UberAIR initiative. Also, look how far self-driving cars have come in just three years’ time.

Toyota is in the midst of a multi-vendor trial for 5G technology in Japan. The carmaker has mounted Intel’s GO 5G Automotive Platform to the roof of a test vehicle and is driving it along Tokyo’s waterfront, through a 5G trial environment constructed by DOCOMO. Ericsson is has installed multiple base stations along the route. In the first trial, the vehicle successfully streamed live 4K video at data speeds of up to 1 Gbps downlink/600 Mbps uplink while traveling at 30km/h.

Speaking of 5G, SEAT and Telefonica have agreed to jointly explore innovative applications for 5G telecommunications in connected cars. The companies will work together in a series of innovation sessions and idea workshops with the aim of proposing and assessing applications for 5G tech throughout the connected and autonomous car ecosystem. The companies will then identify proposals that add the most value and put them through pilot tests in real-life settings.

Finally, this December BMW will integrate Google Assistant into its BMW Connected Platform, which already features Amazon Alexa. The new integration means that BMW drivers can say “OK Google, ask BMW…” followed by a host of question options. For example, are my windows closed? How much charge does my i3 have left? When’s the next appointment on my calendar? How soon do I need to leave to arrive on time? The integration will work with Google Home voice-activated speakers as well as with iPhones and Android phones. Rollout starts in the US; other countries to follow.

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

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