Weekly Brief: Self-driving cars run amok over CES 2018

Remember the halcyon days when consumer electronics were the stars of the Consumer Electronics Show? Andrew Tolve reports on how self-driving cars put an end to that.
Last week more than 400 auto exhibitors descended on Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show, an annual bonanza that used to be all about smartphones, tablets, TVs, walkie-talkies – every type of gadget or gizmo imaginable for as far as the eye could see. However, this year’s event felt more like a paean to the self-driving car with conventional consumer electronics relegated to a distant side show. Here’s a look back at the week’s biggest announcements and product unveilings.

General Motors announced that it plans to produce a self-driving vehicle with no steering wheel or pedals starting next year. Dubbed the Bolt AV, the car would be deployed as part of a commercial ride-hailing service in cities around the US. There would be no driver, only on-demand OnStar service in case of emergency. GM has filed a Safety Petition with the Department of Transportation.

Self-driving tech company Aptiv (formerly Delphi) partnered with Lyft to offer free, autonomous rides around Las Vegas to conference attendees. The vehicles were souped-up, Aptiv-powered BMW 5 Series. Attendees could summon them using the normal Lyft app, although there were only eight of them for north of 200,000 attendees.

Ford announced a partnership with Postmates, the largest on-demand delivery app in the US, to pilot self-driving cars for the delivery and pickup of goods in urban environments. The pilot will start in March 2018 and will build on Ford’s pilot with Domino’s Pizza last year in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Through these experiments, Ford is working to build a self-driving car for optimal urban delivery.

Toyota debuted the e-Palette, a self-driving showroom on wheels. Think of it like an ice cream truck that wanders around town to popular spots, only it drives itself and it can be filled with whatever retailers want, from cell phones to T-shirts to food and beverages. Toyota plans to have these buzzing around Tokyo come the 2020 Summer Olympics.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) is developing safety criteria for self-driving cars. The goal is to create a blueprint that carmakers can follow and that helps build confidence amongst members of the general public, 75% of whom remain wary of autonomous tech according to a recent AAA study. The association will build the criteria in partnership with self-driving car company Torc Robotics.

Gentex and Fingerprint are bringing iris-scanning technology to the automotive industry. It’s called ActiveIRIS, and it’s located in or around the rearview mirror. After identifying the driver with an iris scan, it can start the car and personalize setup by automatically adjusting mirrors, steering wheel, seat position, music favourites, GPS locations, and more.

It was a good week for Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa. Toyota said it will introduce Alexa in select Toyota and Lexus vehicles in 2018. Elektrobit announced that it is integrating Alexa into its automotive software for the human machine interface. Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) added Alexa to its automotive open source platform and Panasonic is integrating Alexa into its Skip Generation (Skip Gen) IVI technology.

The race is on to develop maps for self-driving cars. Intel announced that BMW, Nissan and Volkswagen are all using Intel’s Mobileye mapping technology. TomTom debuted TomTom AutoStream, which enables vehicles to build a horizon for the road ahead by streaming the latest map data from the TomTom cloud. Vodafone Germany and HERE are testing maps for autonomous vehicles with 5G network technology. Also Baidu revealed that it plans to sell high-def maps for self-driving cars as a service in China in the near future – a business that it anticipates will one day dwarf its vaunted search engine business.

Uber has integrated Nvidia’s AI technology into its fleet of self-driving cars and freight trucks. Nvidia also added Volkswagen as a partner at CES; VW plans to use Nvidia tech in its 2022 I.D. Buzz and Nvidia made Xavier, its AI chip for self-driving cars, available to all carmakers and customers.

Finally, Mercedes-Benz shut down part of the Las Vegas strip to show off its self-driving Smart Vision EQ Concept. Trouble is, the car isn’t self-driving yet, so conference goers and members of the general public were getting inched along by a driver controlling the vehicle with joysticks. Not exactly cutting edge when Lyft and Aptiv are doing the real thing down the street.

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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