Weekly Brief: Smartphone app turns Land Rover into remote-control car

In this week’s Brief: Jaguar Land Rover, CES 2015, Audi, LG, UK Department for Transport, M1 Driverless Cars, University of Michigan, GM, OnStar, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Scope Technologies, Google, California Department of Motor Vehicles, Samsung and J.D. Power.

Ever dreamed of steering a car down a street like a remote-control toy? Now there’s an app for that.

Jaguar Land Rover debuted a smartphone app that controls a Range Rover Sport’s steering, brakes and throttle. Granted, the app is just a prototype at this point and only works for a research vehicle, but Land Rover says this isn’t a self-driving car media ploy, it plans to take the app mainstream in the coming years as part of its vision of creating driver-focused autonomous technologies that enhance the driving experience.

How could a remote-control app for a car come in handy, you ask? Say someone parks too close to your driver-side door and pins you in. Just whip out your app and steer your car out of the spot. The same convenience could apply to technical off-road tasks like rock crawling or fording a stream, says JLR, which released this video demoing the various use cases.

“Research into technologies like these won’t only help us deliver an autonomous car,” says Dr Wolfgang Epple, JLR’s Director of Research and Technology, who is leading JLR’s advanced research programme into autonomous vehicles. “They will help make real driving safer and more enjoyable.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen remote-control functions this year; at CES 2015, Audi’s R&D chief navigated the autonomous A6 up on stage with an LG smartwatch.

In other news, the UK Department for Transport published a code of practice for the testing of self-driving cars. The purpose is to make the UK a hub for self-driving technology by offering simple rules for driverless car testing and avoiding the tangle of regulations and permits found in the US and other markets. Among other things, the UK’s code of practice insists that carmakers must continuously keep 30 seconds of data to help determine the cause of any accidents and that driverless cars either need a person on board or capable of remotely controlling them should a problem arise. Britain plans to start testing its M1 Driverless Car in London, Coventry, Bristol, and Milton Keynes this summer.

There were two interesting developments last week regarding algorithms that can predict the probability of severe injuries during car crashes.

In the first, a study out of the University of Michigan confirmed that GM’s Injury Severity Prediction (ISP) technology can accurately predict injuries under real world field conditions. The study compared ISP ratings to corresponding police reports, medical records, EMS data and CT scan data and found a high level of alignment. GM’s technology alerts OnStar advisors in real time, who can relay the ISP rating to 9-1-1 centers to ensure that people with serious injuries get transferred to trauma centers rather than local hospitals. ISP tech is already available on properly equipped Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles in the U.S. and Canada.

Similarly, UK-based Scope Technology unveiled a solution that uses these same algorithms but for the purpose of helping insurers mitigate fraudulent whiplash claims, which cost UK citizens billions each year. The technology delineates the fine details of a crash, from impact zone to angle and force of collision, then juxtaposes those details against historic crash data and physical injury research to assess the probability of fraud. Scope says its solution acts in real time and can also be used to alert medical personnel of injury severity.

Google more than doubled its permits for self-driving cars on California roads, from 23 in May to 48 in June. That gives it four times as many as its closest competitor, Tesla, which has 12 permits. The increase in permits comes at a time when the tech giant has a) been cleared to start testing on public roads in the San Francisco Bay Area and b) come under increasing scrutiny for accidents with its self-driving cars, of which there have now been 13 reported, although exactly what happened and who’s to blame remains unclear. Watchdog groups are calling for increased transparency from Google and the California Department of Motor Vehicles (which by law receives reports of every accident involving a self-driving car), arguing that the reason why and the way in which self-driving cars are getting into accidents is of great importance to the general public. We agree.

In fleet news, Samsung debuted the Safety Truck in Argentina, where thousands of people die every year trying to pass trucks on one-lane highways. The Safety Truck solution? A wireless camera attached to the front of the truck, which is connected to a video wall made out of four exterior monitors located on the back of the truck. The monitors give drivers behind the truck a view of what is going on ahead, even in the dark of night. Samsung is working to take the truck from proof of concept to a government approved truck. Check out this cool video for how the technology works.

Finally, what could be worse than a connected car whose connectivity repeatedly comes up lame? That’s the problem plaguing many connected cars out there these days, according to the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Initial Quality Study. For the third year running entertainment and connectivity systems remain the most problem-prone area for new cars, with voice recognition and Bluetooth pairing continuing to top the problem list. Voice recognition systems are a particular area of consternation for drivers.

“Smartphones have set high consumer expectations of how well technology should work, and automakers are struggling to match that success in their new vehicles,” said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive quality at J.D. Power. “However, we are seeing some OEMs make important improvements along the way. What’s clear is that they can’t afford to wait for the next generation of models to launch before making important updates to these systems.”

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 TU contributor.

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