Weekly Brief: ‘Pigs will fly’ by 2026 according to Uber

Why sit in traffic when you can fly right over it? That's the credo behind Uber's latest initiative, Uber Elevate, which aims to put flying cars on the road (make that in the skies) by 2026.

Specifically, Uber revealed in a white paper last week that it wants to create a fleet of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircrafts that can be summoned via app, land and take off like a helicopter, then whisk above highways to a nearby destination like an airplane. Uber says the cars will be all electric, unlike the petrol fueled AeroMobile 3.0 (above), and will fly between 150 and 200 miles per hour. The cost for an Uber Elevate fair between San Francisco and Silicon Valley will be $129, Uber projects, as compared to $111 for the same trip via UberX today. 

However, while this is an awe inspiring, ambitious plan, it’s unlikely to happen especially by the 2026 deadline. VTOL technology still has a long ways to go and the regulatory challenges of getting flying cars in the sky will be steep. Even if Uber manages to figure the first two out, the cost of pilots will not come nearly as cheap as Uber's contract drivers (or driver-free cars), so making this all happen affordably is a stretch. Please Uber, prove us wrong.

In other news, General Motors (GM) and IBM launched OnStar Go, a cognitive mobility platform that harnesses machine learning to turn cars into personal assistants. Forgot that it's your turn to pick up the kids from school? Worry not, OnStar Go will remind you and provide turn-by-turn directions. Feeling lost in a new city? Your car will recognise your aimlessness and make recommendations for eateries, coffee shops and other activities to fill your time. OnStar Go is built on IBM Watson technology and will be deployed to more than 2M GM cars by the start of 2018.

Chipmaker Qualcomm shelled out $47Bn (£38.5Bn) to acquire rival chipmaker NXP. Qualcomm is already a player in the connected car space but it has its eyes set on becoming the primary chip provider for self-driving cars, along with other emerging devices like drones, which is exactly NXP’s core competency. The company is currently the number one provider of automotive semiconductors in the world and is a mainstay in most automotive infotainment units. The two will have a combined annual revenue of $35Bn.

Ford unveiled an advanced driver assistance system aimed at “petextrians”. That is, pedestrians who blithely walk into the road while glued to their smartphones. The system is called Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection and uses a combo of radar and cameras to scan the roadway for collision risks. When detected, the initial response is to provide a visual and audible warning to the driver and temporarily mute the audio system. If the driver does not react, the technology can automatically apply up to the vehicle’s full braking force to avoid an accident. Debut is set as an option on the 2017 Ford Fusion.

Audilaunched a pilot for its new corporate car sharing programme, Audi Shared Fleet, which goes nationwide in the US come 2017. The concept is to have a line-up of Audi A4s in or nearby to corporate campuses where any employee can reserve and unlock one of the cars via app. The pilot is underway in Durham, North Carolina, at American Underground, a tech hub home to more than 200 companies. 

Finally,the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a set of best practices for heightening cyber security in cars. The 22-page document centres around encouraging carmakers to share information of data breaches in near real time so that the larger ecosystem of automobiles and their makers can be put on alert. The best practices also emphasise a layered approach in which safety-critical vehicle control systems receive the highest safeguarding, along with personally identifiable information.

This is all well and good but the new guidelines are mere recommendations and carry with them no power of punishment if carmakers ignore them. The same is true with NHTSA’s recent guidelines for self-driving cars. We’d like to assume the best of carmakers but one look at how Tesla has deployed Autopilot technology suggests marketing sometimes clouds judgement in the cut-throat automotive world. Many industry outsiders may think it’s time to start passing comprehensive regulations for these technologies that carmakers must abide by, rather than recommendations that they can take or leave at their choosing.

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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