Weekly Brief: US government says computers can replace humans as ‘the driver’

Roses are red, violets are blue, self-driving cars are legal and coming to a street near you.



Okay, so maybe the US federal government didn’t phrase it quite so poetically but it did deliver a Valentine’s Day gift of epic proportions to self-driving cars: computers and software can stand-in as the sole and legal driver of a vehicle, according to a new statement from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That means no human assistance would be needed, which in turn means that self-driving cars have cleared a major hurdle (in the US at least) to becoming a fully realised mode of transportation, rather than just supplemental features built into luxury cars.

The ruling came in the form of a letter from NHTSA to Google. Here was the actual language: "NHTSA will interpret 'driver' in the context of Google's described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants." Dozens of other regulations will have to be rewritten, including that a vehicle must contain a steering wheel and brake pedals — and that’s a process that will take years to iron out. But this is a big victory for self-driving cars in the short-term and is bound to streamline their rollout in the coming five years.

In other news, BMW expanded its ridesharing programme DriveNow through a new partnership with transportation app Moovit. In addition to subways, trains, busses and bicycles, Moovit users will now see all DriveNow vehicles that are available in the area for rent. Moovit has an active presence in 600 cities in more than 60 countries around the globe, so it’s an opportunity for BMW to expand DriveNow beyond its current small rollout in a handful of cities around Germany, the UK and Sweden.

The 160-year-old atlas maker Rand McNally charted a new course into the automotive aftermarket with the debut of the OverDryve dashboard tablet. The device brings a full suite of connectivity to any car on the road, from GPS navigation to voice-activated music and phone functionality to forward-collision alerts thanks to a built-in camera. Rand McNally joins a busy market of companies vying to bring connected tech to old cars, including Garmin, Navdy and TomTom. OverDryve hits the market this spring with an SRP of $399 (£274).

Nuance Communications wants to take its in-car, voice-activated assistant to another level with the help of HERE. The two say they’re working together to create innovative voice and natural language solutions that create an intuitive experience for the driver. First step: Nuance will integrate global map content and point of interest data from HERE to make its voice assistant technology more accurate and intuitive around the globe.

The US Army is experimenting with driverless truck convoys. The concept is the same as commercial truck makers who are piloting autonomous platoons: the first vehicle is driven by a human, the rest of the vehicles have software and radar on-board that allow them to follow in lockstep. The research is underway at the Army's Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center in Warren, Michigan. The Army says its ultimate goal isn’t to manufacture hundreds of new driverless trucks but rather retrofit existing vehicles with the requisite radar, cameras and computers.

Finally, ever tried to switch mobile operators for your smartphone? The process is pretty straightforward — remove the SIM card from your old operator, replace it with a SIM card from your new operator — but comes with a caveat: all the data on the old SIM card gets lost in the move an d has to be manually restored. That’s not a big deal for a smartphone but for a connected car it’s a deal breaker given all the valuable data stored on the SIM. Hence the reason the current generation of connected cars are all locked into a particular mobile operator for life.

Enter GSMA and its new Embedded SIM Specification, which allows carmakers to offer any type of in-car connected service through a single SIM and allows drivers to switch operators as they wish without requiring a change in SIM in the process. The new card also helps to quickly connect vehicles with local operators, regardless of where the cars are manufactured. A number of carmakers issued a formal endorsement of the specification last week, including General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Renault Nissan, Scania andVolvo Cars.

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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