Weekly Brief: Self-driving cars come to a road near you

Weekly Brief: Self-driving cars come to a road near you

In this week’s Brief: Nissan, University of Tokyo, Oxford, Stanford, MIT, Google, Volvo Car Corporation, NHTSA, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Volkswagen, Nokia, Garmin, QNX and LexisNexis.

Once upon a time, a world in which self-driving cars buzzed around the streets while their drivers were free to do whatever they pleased — shave, drink, eat, read a book — was the epitome of the unattainable future. The place so surreal it was reserved for comic books and cartoons. 

Last week’s headlines would suggest that the once-unattainable is not just technologically possible today, but feasible and likely to arrive soon: if not in 2013, then by 2020, at the latest. 

Nissan now plans to introduce multiple, commercially-viable Autonomous Drive vehicles by 2020.

The company has established partnerships with the University of Tokyo, Oxford, Stanford and MIT to turbo-charge innovation in the space. And it has broken ground on a Japanese testing site dedicated purely to autonomous driving and self-driving technology. The site will feature real townscapes with rock-hard masonry (not mock-ups), so that engineers can push autonomous driving technology beyond the limits possible on public roads today. 

“Nissan Motor Company’s willingness to question conventional thinking and to drive progress is what sets us apart,” said Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn. “In 2007, I pledged that, by 2010, Nissan would mass market a zero-emission vehicle. Today, the Nissan LEAF is the best-selling electric vehicle in history. Now, I am committing to be ready to introduce a new ground-breaking technology, Autonomous Drive, by 2020, and we are on track to realize it.” 

Granted, autonomous driving has been a hot topic of late, with companies like Google testing self-driving cars and announcing that the technology will be street-ready within five years, but when the CEO of a major OEM makes a statement like this, it’s worth taking note. 

Not to be outdone, Volvo Car Corporation debuted a concept coupé last week with an infotainment platform that it hopes to become the cornerstone of its in-vehicle environment and, ultimately, self-driving vehicles. It features a large touchscreen in the centre console, which interacts with an adaptive instrument cluster and head-up display in front of the driver. 

Volvo says the platform’s scalable architecture is being prepared for completely autonomous driving, with the first feature – autonomous steering – to be introduced in 2014. Just like Nissan, Volvo’ aim is to have cars with fully autonomous technology out on the roads before 2020. 

(For more on autonomous vehicles, see The autonomous car: The road to driverless driving.)

Elsewhere, NHTSA announced that its much-anticipated study of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications has been extended by six months. As we reported earlier this year, the government-funded pilot involves roughly 3,000 cars equipped with dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) technology, which allows them to communicate with one another to avoid collisions and dangerous situations. 

(For details, see Ann Arbor and the future of V2V/V2I, part I and Ann Arbor and the future of V2V/V2I, part II.)

FordGeneral MotorsHondaHyundaiMercedes-BenzNissanToyota and Volkswagen all have vehicles involved in the study and are eager to see if the U.S. government is ready to give V2V the thumbs-up. 

Sticking with DSRC, Honda unveiled a vehicle that can establish a communication channel with the smartphones of nearby pedestrians. The car then signals the driver if any pedestrian seems in danger. The pedestrian’s phone also lights up, warning the pedestrian. Honda says that the technology is less expensive than existing DSRC solutions on the market, and easier to implement. 

Meanwhile, Nokia officially launched its in-dash navigation system, HERE Auto. Nokia HERE has been on the market for some time as a navigation app, but the company has now beefed up the solution with a new core system to expedite data processing. 

In addition to standard navigation features — turn-by-turn, voice-guided navigation, real-time traffic updates and rerouting — HERE Auto distinguishes itself as an embedded system that provides 2D and 3D maps that are continuously updated. Nokia plans to debut the system at Frankfurt Auto Show. 

Garmin selected the QNX Car platform to power the new Garmin K2 platform, the company’s next-generation infotainment solution for automotive OEMs. K2’s capabilities include multiple digital displays, on- and off-board voice recognition, smartphone integration and optional 4G connectivity. 

Garmin says it went with QNX due to the company’s software reliability and flexible access to emerging consumer applications. As is usually the case with QNX solutions, K2 will be a highly customizable platform with scalable specifications to meet a range of OEM needs and cost targets. 

Finally, good news for usage-based insurance (UBI) arrived last week when LexisNexis published a report that one in three U.S. consumers are aware of UBI, three times the awareness rate of 2010. The survey was conducted via the web and included roughly 2,000 insured drivers between the ages of 21 and 74. Given the accessibility of the telematics technology for UBI, and the expressed interest of insurers, consumer demand and awareness seems to be the final ingredient to push UBI into the mainstream.

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 Insurance Telematics USA 2013 on Sept. 4-5 in Chicago, Telematics Brazil & LATAM 2013 on Sept. 11-12 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Telematics Japan/China 2013 on Oct. 8-10 in Tokyo, Telematics Munich 2013 on Nov. 11-12 in Munich, Germany, Telematics for Fleet Management USA 2013 on Nov. 20-21 in Atlanta, Georgia, and Content and Apps for Automotive USA 2013 on Dec. 11-12 in San Francisco.

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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