Weekly Brief: Self-driving semi-trucks arrive on Nevada roads

In this week’s Brief: Freightliner, Daimler, National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, Apple Watch, VW, Audi, Cubic Telecom, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, The Wall Street Journal, Nokia HERE, Facebook, Google, Apple, Baidu, GoFar, ARM and BMW U.K.


Picture a truck. Shiny cab, 18 wheeler, you know the kind.


Now picture its driver, reclined in his chair, holding an iPad in his hands as his 40-ton big rig goes barreling down the road at 65 miles per hour, merrily self-driving itself.


Sound like a stretch? Freightliner, Daimler’s truck brand, would beg to differ. At a special event hosted atop the Hoover Dam in Nevada, the Governor of Nevada made Freightliner’s newest 18-wheeler the first road-legal self-driving truck on the planet.


That doesn’t mean fleets can put the Freightliner Inspiration Truck into service just yet. Inspiration has been granted the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration’s NHTSA Level 3 rating, the same as Google’s self-driving car out in California, which means it can legally partake in pilots on specific public roads. Assuming these pilots are successful, Inspiration will trundle toward its next big hurdle: federal regulatory approval.


So there’s a long road ahead, but that doesn’t diminish the significance of the moment. Harnessing Daimler’s “Highway Pilot” self-driving technology, the truck requires no input from carbon-based life forms so long as normal driving conditions prevail on a highway: no snow, clear lane dividers, etc. Should these conditions change, the truck alerts the driver for input —say to pass grandma and grandpa headed for the slot machines in Vegas at a glacial 40 miles per hour.


Freightliner is framing the truck as a big safety add for the trucking industry (no accidents caused by driver drowsiness, for instance), although you’ll be hard pressed to convince truckers of that.


In other news, add another carmaker to the Apple Watch train. VW says that it will launch a Car-Net app for the Apple Watch later this year, allowing VW owners of Car-Net compatible vehicles to remote lock and unlock their cars, pinpoint their location on a map, remotely honk horns and flash lights, and receive speed and boundary alert notifications to monitor certain drivers in their households.


Audi made a $20.3 million investment in Cubic Telecom, a telecommunications company based out of Dublin, Ireland. Cubic Telecom provides cloud-based, machine-to-machine solutions for enterprises, including HP and Walmart, and specialises in over-the-air updates, infotainment, and location-based services. Audi will become a minority stakeholder and will partner with Cubic Telecom to bring innovative connected infotainment solutions to Audi cars moving forward.


Autonomy to pursue autonomous vehicles seems to be weighing heavily on Germany’s big three carmakers, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW, which according to a report by The Wall Street Journal are pursuing a majority stake in the Nokia HERE mapping business. The big three are customers of the mapping service and reportedly chafe at the notion of Facebook, which is another Nokia HERE customer and also rumored to be a contender for HERE acquisition, or other big tech firms like Google or Apple controlling the mapping component of self-driving technologies. Mercedes, Audi, and BMW are rumored to be partnering with Chinese Internet giant Baidu, which would become a minority owner, with Nokia maintaining a minority stake as well.


Australian start-up GoFar raised more than $75,000 in a week to fund its intelligent driving device, the Ray, which pinpoints the optimum throttle position to maximize power while minimizing fuel consumption. The device sits on the dashboard and connects to an OBD dongle and mobile app to provide real-time and retrospective feedback on how drivers can improve their fuel economy and emissions. See this video for more.


Software chip designer ARM unveiled a safety package that allows other chip makers to quickly and cost effectively add top-of-the-line safety features to their automotive computing chips. Lane departure warnings, automatic braking, etc. Currently chipmakers add safety features on a chip-by-chip basis, slowing the process down and adding cost that ultimately consumers absorb to buy vehicles with advanced driver assistance features.


Finally, BMW U.K. announced that come the end of 2015, every vehicle in its U.K. lineup will include BMW Navigation as standard. Standard embedded navigation is certainly the direction the industry is headed, along with other advanced infotainment and location-based services, but most car companies are still miles from making it standard across the board. BMW Navigation will join other standard features like BMW Emergency Call and bluetooth audio streaming.


The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.


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