Weekly Brief: Volvo dumps mass trial of full driverless tech

Volvo becomes the first carmaker to blink in the face of escalating pressure to get self-driving cars on the road. Andrew Tolve reports.

Volvo’s plans to populate the streets of Gothenburg, Sweden, with self-driving cars hit a speed bump last week when the company announced that it was delaying its planned rollout by four years. Volvo had committed to piloting 100 Level 4 autonomous vehicles with real families in Gothenburg by 2017 as part of its Drive Me programme, followed by 100 more Level 4 vehicles in China and the UK. Now the carmaker is starting with just two Level 2 XC90s with two families in Gothenburg. It plans to ramp up to a larger fleet of Level 4 XC90s by 2021 – the same year that it had originally intended to make self-driving vehicles commercially available to the general public.

Volvo has its explanations for the delay. It says that sensor performance and processor capabilities are evolving so fast that it’s loath to lock in on a given hardware only for something superior to come along a few months later. That explanation seems insufficient, however, given the present environment in which so many competitors, from tech companies to major carmakers, are advancingtheir timetables for the rollout of autonomous tech, not pushing them back. In November General Motors announced that it plans to have a commercial ridesharing programme featuring fully self-driving vehicles deployed by 2019. Waymo has trials underway in several US cities, as do Uber and Lyft, all of whom are looking at similar target dates for deployment.

More likely explanation may be that it’s an admission that Volvo’s self-driving systems have fallen behind pace and that a brand that’s built on safety-first can’t risk jeopardising that with technology it fundamentally doesn’t trust yet.

In other news, Lyft launched a ridesharing trial with self-driving cars in Boston. The fleet is small, just five cars to date, and includes engineers behind the wheel who are there to take control in the case of an emergency or mission-critical situation. The cars are powered by nuTonomy, the self-driving car start-up that Delphi purchased for $450M (£337M) in November.

BlackBerry teamed up with Denso and Intel to launch what it’s calling the world’s first integrated human machine interface (HMI) platform. The platform takes all the independent digital components present in cars today – from the instrument cluster to the head unit to infotainment and entertainment screens – and puts them on a single microcomputer that displays content and sound uniformly. The integrated HMI platform will appear in successive car models scheduled for release after 2019.

Samsung is collaborating with Renovo to develop highly automated vehicle technology. Samsung plans to deploy Renovo’s operating system for self-driving cars, called AWare, in the fleet of autonomous vehicles that it deploys on California roads next year. The goal is to ensure the interoperability of complex electronics and operating systems built for the autonomous environment.

Tesla drivers in the UK who insure their cars with Direct Line will now receive a 5% discount on their premiums when they drive with Autopilot engaged. Early Tesla research suggests that the use of Autopilot has reduced crashes across all Tesla models by 40%; Direct Line wants to collect data to see if those statistics play out among their customers. If they do, Direct Line will shift to a model that charges less for Autopilot (and other automatic safety systems like it) to encourage more usage. 

Want to avoid an accident-prone road on an upcoming journey? Data start-up Arity, a spinoff of auto insurer Allstate, has developed a model that can identify accident-prone roads and conditions in real time. A real-time alert system called Drive Shield Alerts then highlights these roads for drivers and a real-time navigation system called Drive Shield Routing steers drivers toward less risky alternative routes. The suite of solutions is built from the analysis of millions of vehicle collision insurance claims.

Avis Budget Group debuted entirely keyless car rentals for its customers. Thanks to Continental’s aftermarket Key-as- a-Service offering, Avis customers can now walk up to their vehicles, pop out their smartphones and use the Avis mobile app to unlock their cars and start their engines. Avis is launching the programme at more than 20 locations in the Kansas City area.

Finally, robotics company AEye introduced iDAR, a new technology that integrates artificial intelligence (AI) into LiDAR. The AI component allows the technology to dynamically adapt to real-time demands, intelligently targeting and identifying objects 10 to 20 times more effectively than LiDAR-only products. The end result, says AEye, will be improved autonomous vehicle safety and performance at a reduced cost.

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

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