Weekly Brief: US regulators test guidelines boost for autonomous

The US government has just issued comprehensive guidelines governing driverless cars and it's about dang time, many believe. Because for the past two years of self-driving cars have been ‘running amuck’ on public roads in largely unregulated field trials, including two fatal crashes involving Tesla’s Model S Autopilot.

The regulations come in time to handle Ford’s intention to sell self-driving cars to the general public by 2025 and Uber’s self-driving car pilot for paying customers in Pittsburgh.

This new policy on automated vehicle development means greater scrutiny for the auto industry when it comes to building and testing self-driving cars. Manufacturers will now have to check off a 15-point safety assessment list from the Department of Transportation, including standards on sensors, human machine interface and data sharing. States will receive guidance on licensing and registration for state-based rules and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will create a network of experts to keep them appraised of the latest developments in driverless tech.

While the Department of Transportation's announcement means that the ‘Wild-Wild West’ chapter of robot cars is coming to a close in the US, this news should be read as nothing short of a full-throated endorsement of autonomous vehicles. President Obama could have used Tesla’s recent string of fatalities resulting from autonomous tech to slam the brakes on public pilots; instead, he heaped praise on the technology’s ability to save lives and moved forward with progressive guidelines that automakers are already praising.

In other news, Tesla is set to issue an over-the-air update to its Autopilot feature after a second fatal crash involving the technology. The biggest modification won’t involve the technology itself but, instead, will increase reminders for drivers to keep their hands on the wheel when the technology is engaged. The new audio and visual cues are a big concession from a company that back in October 2015 aggressively marketed Autopilot as a hands-free revolution.

Rumourshave swirled about this week that Apple is in negotiations to acquire Formula One car manufacturer McLaren. If you're wondering how this fits into the puzzle of Apple making its own electrified, self-driving car, keep in mind that McLaren is really good at outfitting its race cars with technology that delivers crucial data in real-time, helping it edge ahead of competitors by one hundredths of a second. A few years back McLaren spun off a company called McLaren Applied Technologies that takes this expertise in measurement and monitoring and applies it to global industries. McLaren denies the rumours and Apple has kept mum per usual, so we'll see how it all shakes out.

A week after Uber launched public trials in Pittsburgh, Lyft president John Zimmer published a manifesto outlining his vision for the future of car-sharing. In it, he claims that the majority of Lyft rides will be in autonomous cars by 2021. He noted that Lyft has partnered with General Motors and is already testing robot cars in California and Arizona and, although the company is yet to set a date for public trials to commence, he says that day is soon to come.

Read the 14-page manifesto here.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance has acquired French software developer Sylpheo to accelerate its connected vehicle and mobility services programmes. The acquisition price was not disclosed but the real loot here is Sylpheo's team of 40 software developers and cloud engineers. The Alliance says it plans to launch more than 10 vehicles with autonomous drive by 2020 and that its acquisition will help it ramp up its connected car deployments between now and then.

Sony is out and Harman is in for Ford’s future audio systems. The carmaker announced that Harman’s B&O Play brand will be integrated across its 2017 line-up, with custom speakers and amps to optimise sound in each vehicle. There’s no change to the SYNC 3 infotainment system.

Harman scored another win with Subaru, which is working on a new infotainment platform for its 2017 range. Harman will serve as the Tier 1 supplier and TomTom will provide the maps and navigation components. No word yet on system name. The global platform will launch first in North America with the all-new 2017 Subaru Impreza.

Finally, a team of Chinese hackers managed to hack into and take remote control of a Tesla Model S in both parking and drive mode. The hackers, who hail from Keen Securities Lab, were able to control the car’s door locks, brakes and dashboard computer screen from a distance of 12 miles…more than enough to wreak havoc in the hands of a malevolent hacker. Thankfully these were researchers and openly shared the info with Tesla, which responded almost immediately with an over-the-air update that fixed the multiple security vulnerabilities.

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

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