Weekly Brief: No stopping the self-driving car

Weekly Brief: No stopping the self-driving car

In this week’s Brief: Ford, MIT, Stanford University, Google, United States Patent and Trademark Office, BMW, Audi, Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Nissan, Sony, GM, Hyundai Motor America, Sprint, Verizon, Advanced Human Factors Evaluator for Automotive Distraction, DENSO, MIT AgeLab, Touchstone Evaluations, Honda R&D Americas, Subaru Research & Development and Jaguar Land Rover.

Self-driving cars may be years from production-ready, but they’ve got a firm grip on automakers’ imagination – so much so that perusing the telematics headlines last week, one would think that autonomous vehicles are already on the road and all the rage.

It started with Ford, which announced new autonomous driving research programs with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University. Both universities will work with the automated Ford Fusion Hybrid research vehicle that uses four LiDAR sensors to generate a real-time 3D map of its surrounding environment.

The research with MIT will explore advanced algorithms to help the vehicle predict where moving vehicles and pedestrians could be, while Stanford is exploring how the vehicle might maneuver to allow its sensors to peek around obstructions, such as a big truck, and make an evasive maneuver if needed.

Both projects are part of Ford’s Blueprint for Mobility, which envisions autonomous functionality and advanced technologies after 2025.

“Our goal is to provide the vehicle with common sense,” said Greg Stevens, global manager for driver assistance and active safety, research and innovation, Ford. “Drivers are good at using the cues around them to predict what will happen next, and they know that what you can’t see is often as important as what you can see. Our goal in working with MIT and Stanford is to bring a similar type of intuition to the vehicle.”

Then came Google and the news that the Internet search giant was awarded a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a technology that allows maps to extrapolate the location of traffic lights. The goal is to enable self-driving cars to pinpoint traffic signal location and status. No word from Google on the technology’s present state, but, once developed, it likely could be integrated into conventional vehicles as an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) feature.

Continuing on the ADAS front, Honda announced a new automated braking technology that can prevent a collision with pedestrians and to do so from speeds of up to 60 km/h, an almost twofold increase from similar technologies on the market. Honda’s automated brakes harness millimeter-wave radar and a high-resolution camera to pinpoint pedestrians and will debut in the Legend luxury sedan this year.

Toyota, meanwhile, announced plans to roll out a similar braking technology in its vehicles by 2015. And Subaru says it’ll be ready by this May.

Building on all the self-parking technologies at this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show (2014 CES), where BMW and Audi demoed impressive new solutions, it seems only a matter of time before conventional vehicles are parking and braking themselves, if not performing complete driverless functions.

(For more on this, see Weekly Brief: CES 2014 wrap-up.)

In Japan, Nissan unveiled a display unit specifically for ADAS features, pointing out that as ADAS becomes more integrated into the vehicle, it has the potential to distract drivers with messy or complicated clusters. The “Advanced Drive-Assist Display” will debut on the new Teana sedan and will neatly categorize the vehicle’s various automated features, which range from a blind spot warning cam to a lane departure warning system.

In other telematics news, Sony rolled out the “Smartphone Cradle Receiver,” a new aftermarket device. Unlike many existing solutions that leverage a smartphone’s connectivity for embedded solutions, the cradle turns the smartphone itself into the vehicle’s main touchscreen, with Sony’s App Remote technology allowing drivers to control everything from music apps to navigation to email. The cradle also acts as a wireless charger and uses near field communication (NFC) to offer Bluetooth phone calls with voice commands, a first among car audio manufacturers. Suggested retail price: $250.

GM shed more light on its new Chevrolet MyLink AppShop, which debuted at the 2014 CES in early January. The MyLink AppShop will launch in Chevrolet 2015 models in the United States and Canada, and will allow drivers to pull up an app store via an icon on their in-dash screens. Apps will range from music to news to weather to vehicle diagnostics, and customers will be able to download them directly to their cars. The AppShop will run on 4G LTE hardware. Not surprisingly, drivers will have to foot the bill for the data connection.

Hyundai Motor America said goodbye to Sprint and hello to Verizon. Hyundai said that it made the switch due to Verizon’s superior coverage and that Verizon will provide wireless connectivity for its next-gen Blue Link telematics service, which debuted at the 2014 CES with new features like a Google destination search, a Google Glass app and an intelligent assistant app that sends proactive notifications and recommendations to the owner in preparation for his or her drive. The system will debut on the 2015 Genesis later this year.

Finally, a group of auto OEMs, suppliers and academics formed a new distracted driver consortium, the Advanced Human Factors Evaluator for Automotive Distraction, or AHEAD. The consortium’s goal is to guide industry toward human machine interfaces that safely integrate advanced connected features and ADAS technologies while mitigating driver distraction. Founding partners include automotive supplier DENSO, MIT AgeLab, Touchstone Evaluations, Honda R&D Americas, Subaru Research & Development and Jaguar Land Rover. First order of business: an evaluation toolkit that facilitates intuitive, convenient and safe interfaces that comply with industry and governmental guidelines.

"Establishing a common understanding of human performance of in-vehicle tasks that can distract drivers from the primary task of operating the vehicle safely is an important goal for the industry," said Steven Feit, chief engineer of infotainment development at Honda R&D Americas, Inc. "This type of research and collaboration will lead to new automotive innovations and the inclusion of exciting features and consumer technology that can be operated safely in vehicles."

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

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to TU.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2014 on March 12-13 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Content and Apps for Automotive Europe 2014 on April 8-9 in Munich, Germany, Insurance Telematics Europe 2014 on May 6-7 in London, Telematics India and South Asia 2014 on May 28-29 in Bangalore, India, Insurance Telematics Canada 2014 on May 28-29 in Toronto, Telematics Detroit 2014 on June 4-5 in Novi, Michigan, and Advanced Automotive Safety USA 2014 on July 8-9 in Novi, Michigan.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: Telematics Connectivity Strategies Report 2013The Automotive HMI Report 2013Insurance Telematics Report 2013 and Fleet & Asset Management Report 2012.

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