Weekly Brief: Self-driving cars score big win with UN

Weekly Brief: Self-driving cars score big win with UN

In this week’s Brief: United Nations’ 1968 Convention on Road Traffic, U.N. Working Party on Road Traffic Safety, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Google, California Department of Motor Vehicles, SemaConnect, Google Glass, Car Charging Group, BMW of North America, Blink Network, Telenav, OpenStreetMap, LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Wunelli, Jawbone and Automatic.

Back in the 1960s, self-driving cars were the stuff of make-believe, sci-fi novels and cartoons. Laws of the time reflected this, such as Article 8 of the United Nations’ 1968 Convention on Road Traffic, which required that "Every driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle or to guide his animals." A total of 72 countries became party to the convention, meaning that carmakers in those countries could not introduce cars that allowed drivers to take their hands off the wheel for anything but a limited extent.

Last week, news circulated that the UN Working Party on Road Traffic Safety had introduced an amendment to Article 8, which would allow drivers to take their hands off the wheels of self-driving cars indefinitely, on the condition that a driver is present and able to take control of the car whenever he or she deems fit.

The European governments of Germany, Italy, France, Belgium and Austria led the charge on the amendment, no doubt a reflection of the importance of self-driving cars to auto OEMs in those countries – especially in Germany, where Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW are all pursuing autonomous cars and eager to beat big tech companies like Google in the United States to the finish line. The amendment to Article 8 will not impact the United States, China or Japan, but all of Europe will have to fall in line, as will Russia, Brazil, Chile and Mexico.

In other news, the California Department of Motor Vehicles implemented new regulations stipulating how manufacturers must proceed if they want to test self-driving cars in California. The process now requires OEMs to apply for and obtain a test permit, register the vehicle, furnish proof of previous tests under controlled conditions and use certified test drivers who sit in the driver seat and are capable of taking control of the vehicle. The California DMV is currently developing rules governing public operation of autonomous vehicles, as well, which are expected to be adopted by Jan. 1, 2015.

On the electric vehicle front, SemaConnect, one of the largest producers of EV charging stations in North America, launched a new app for Google Glass designed to leverage augmented reality to make navigation to EV charging stations faster and easier. The app allows EV drivers to locate the closest charging stations within a 20-mile radius, enable turn-by-turn navigation to station locations, initiate a charging session and process payments, all utilizing Google Glass. The app is available for download through the MyGlass app in the Android and Apple stores.

Another EV charging company, Car Charging Group, penned a data licensing agreement with BMW of North America that will send detailed station information, including location and real-time availability status, to BMW’s ConnectedDrive and i Remote mobile app. The deal covers all public charging stations on the Blink Network, as well as charging stations owned and operated by Car Charging Group.

Telenav introduced its new Scout for Developers program, which includes the first software development kit (SDK) on the market to offer off-line navigation. The program is also the first commercial-grade navigation SDK based on the crowd-sourced OpenStreetMap, which is often more detailed and more frequently updated than Google Maps and other commercially licensed products. The program’s off-line capability is completely customizable to allow developers to make downloadable maps for off-line navigation at any level, from an entire country down to a local neighborhood.

In insurance telematics, Big Data firm LexisNexis Risk Solutions acquired United Kingdom-based Wunelli for an undisclosed sum. LexisNexis says the combined LexisNexis and Wunelli data sets will result in one of the largest provider-held insurance telematics databases in the world, with solutions to support insurers as they assess risk, discount safer drivers and serve customers more effectively. LexisNexis also plans to leverage Wunelli’s experience in designing smartphone apps for insurers.

Mercedes-Benz announced that it will debut the “Mercedes connect me” telematics package in the new C-Class Estate this September. The package includes accident, maintenance and breakdown management services. It also allows customers to connect to their vehicles from anywhere at any time, whether from computers or mobile phones, to accomplish tasks like retrieving the fill level of the tank or starting the auxiliary heating system.

Finally, ever wondered how much energy you could burn were you to walk instead of driving? The Jawbone fitness app will now tell you exactly how much exercise you could have gotten had you left the car in the garage. Granted, Jawbone is only rolling out the service for a fraction of its user base – specifically, the fraction that owns the plug-in telematics device Automatic – but it’s a cool concept to encourage a healthier, more physically active society. Nearly 80% of all drives are under two miles, Automatic reports, short enough that every now and then you could walk instead and make a big difference for your health.

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 Telematics Update.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics India and South Asia 2014 on May 28-29 in Bangalore, India, Insurance Telematics Canada 2014 on May 28-29 in Toronto, Telematics Update Awards 2014 on June 3 in Novi, Michigan, Telematics Detroit 2014 on June 4-5 in Novi, Michigan, Advanced Automotive Safety USA 2014 on July 8-9 in Novi, Michigan, Insurance Telematics USA 2014 on Sept. 3-4 in Chicago, Telematics Japan 2014 in October in Tokyo and Telematics Munich 2014 on Nov. 10-11 in Munich, Germany.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: Insurance Telematics Report 2014Connected Fleet Report 2014The Automotive HMI Report 2013 and Telematics Connectivity Strategies Report 2013

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