Weekly Brief: Peugeot push the driverless envelope at MWC

Carmaker chooses communications tech conference to showcase its autonomous sports car and personal assistant. Paul Myles and Andrew Tolve report.

French manufacturer Peugeot chose this week’s Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona to unveil its vision of the fully autonomous car.

Its Peugeot Instinct concept is a shooting brake, estate or station wagon by more common definition,powered by a PHEV powertrain offering a sporty 300PS. It boasts features both ‘Drive’ and ‘Autonomous’ modes to, as Peugeot says, give“the driver the choice between an engaging drive and the convenience of a fully autonomous vehicle”.Even the driverless mode offers the choice between a sports experience with ‘Autonomous Sharp’or a more relaxed chauffeur with Autonomous Soft.

On board technology includes an IoT platform, the Samsung ArtikCloud, which syncs with the user’s devices allowingthe car to ‘learn’its user’s lifestyle and preconfigure its settings including driving mode, seat and interface settings, ambient lighting and audio. In effect it can behave like the driver’s butler or PA synchronising with the user’s diary and the vehicle navigation system, to prompt the driver to set off for an appointment earlier, to allow for the traffic and weather conditions.

In a statement, David Peel, managing director at Peugeot UK, said: “The autonomous future is happening now, and Peugeot Instinct demonstrates how this can still be driven by a passion for brilliant design and driving pleasure.”

In other Mobile World Congress news, we're holding off on full coverage until next week when the event wraps but keep your eyes out for a keynote from Uber's Anthony Levandowski, which may draw the biggest crowds of the week owing to the drama embroiling him over being sued by Google.

The race to get self-driving cars on the road has been cordial over the past five years, with tech companies and carmakers amiably sharing the spotlight side by side — often even encouraging each other forward in the name of greater human good. That all changed last week when Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company, alleged that Uber's self-driving car project is built on a remarkable feat of cyber espionage.

This isn't your typical corporate bellyaching about suspicious similarities. Waymo claims that Levandowski, a former manager in its self-driving car project and now the head of Uber's self-driving car efforts, stole 14,000 files of confidential and proprietary information off his company laptop shortly before leaving Waymo to launch his own start-up, the self-driving truck company Otto. It is alleged he installed special software to conceal his activities and access the files, downloaded them to an external hard drive, then installed a new operating system to cover the whole operation up. No word yet on how Google pieced this together but the details sound alarming.

The most sensitive and valuable information that Levandowski allegedly took involved LiDAR circuit board designs. Uber says it takes the suit seriously and is launching its own investigation and, maybe, it will have to appraise the due diligence procedures employed when it purchased the company for $680M (£545M) in 2016. We'll see how it all plays out in court.

Qualcomm and LG are poised to unleash the 5G era for the connected car. The companies announced field trials planned throughout 2017, where they plan to test cellular-V2X communications that are designed to illuminate the vehicle’s surroundings, even in non-line-of-sight scenarios. C-V2X also allows direct communications with other vehicles, infrastructure and pedestrians’ devices, as well as network-based communications to cloud services using commercial cellular bands.

The Chinese Government ordered that every single car in the troubled region of Bayingol must install a GPS tracking device. Drivers will have to shell out their own money to pay for the system — to the tune of 90 yuan, or £10.50, a year — which will impact several hundred thousand people. The order comes amidst a rise in unrest between the area's Muslim majority and Chinese migrants who are new to the area. Cars are allegedly being used to move terrorists and weapons.

The city of Tampa, Florida, is set to launch a major V2X pilot in an attempt to drive down fatal accidents, congestion, and streamline public transportation. Some 1,500 cars, 10 buses and 10 trolleys will be retrofitted with on-board units and connected car software from Silicon Valley start-up Savari. The vehicles will communicate with each other, city infrastructure and 500 pedestrians outfitted with special apps. Technology from Brandmotion will connect the Received data to the vehicle’s advanced driver assistance systems. A trial will follow in New York City.

Remote control apps are rife with security flaws that open vehicles up to theft and remote steering, according to research from Kaspersky Lab. The lab tested seven remote car control applications developed by major car manufacturers, and which, according to Google Play statistics, have been downloaded up to five million times. The researchers discovered that most of the apps could be easily reverse engineered, offered no defence against rooting or app overlaying, and stored logins and passwords in plain text. That's like leaving a key under a doormat for a cyber criminal.

Finally, kids learn to walk by getting into lots of accidents and eventually figuring it out. The same could apply to self-driving cars — with each accident being a valuable learning experience — only these are expensive machines we’re talking about, and consumers are already jittery about the idea of handing over the reins to a fallible machine. Enter AirSim, Microsoft’s new open-source simulator for drones and robot cars. Just like fighter pilots practice in flight simulators, AirSim allows developers to test their products and advance their machine learning without smashing up valuable prototypes along the way. Microsoft stresses that AirSim is still a work in progress but the software is available in beta on GitHub.

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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