Weekly Brief: Volvo to build large self-driving fleet for Uber

Uber wants up to 24,000 self-driving cars whisking around American cities within five years. Andrew Tolve reports.

It would be easy write off Uber as the frontrunner to commercialise self-driving technology, what with all of its troubles in 2017, from the sacking of its CEO to the Waymo lawsuit to the latest revelation that the company paid hackers hush money over a security breach in 2016. You don’t tell that to Uber because it has just announced ambitious plans to build out a fleet of up to 24,000 self-driving cars for its ridesharing network in the coming five years.

The vehicles will be Volvo‘s flagship XC90 SUVs, beefed up with a self-driving system that Uber’s Advanced Technologies division is still developing. Volvo and Uber signed a $300M (£224M) deal back in 2016 to develop self-driving cars and have already jointly built 200 XC90 self-driving prototypes; this latest deal will take those models to scale between 2019 and 2021. Uber won’t say when its new fleet will be deployed to paying customers.

Back to the hack, Uber now admits that hackers stole personal information of 57M customers and drivers, including the drivers’ licenses of 600,000 drivers, in 2016. Rather than let the proper authorities and the public know at the time, the company elected to cover it up by paying hackers $100,000 to destroy the information. The US Federal Trade Commission is likely to impose penalties, dozens of US states are expected to sue for failing security breach notification laws, while Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre and National Crime Agency are both investigating the matter.

Tesla published pricing for its new all electric semi-autonomous articulated truck. The big rig will start at $150,000; that’s for a battery that delivers 300 miles on a single charge. For $180,000 you get a range of 500 miles and, for $200,000, you get 500 miles in range plus a guarantee of getting one of the first 1,000 trucks built, which might be worth it given Tesla’s history of manufacturing delays. As a point of comparison, a typical diesel big rig goes for upwards of $100,000, has vastly superior refuelling infrastructure and, currently, a much lower carbon footprint for environmentalists to ponder.

Lyft got cleared to test autonomous vehicles on public roads in California. The ridesharing company has partnered with other tech companies like Drive.ai and Waymo for self-driving initiatives in the past but the permit via the California DMV would suggest that Lyft is nearing completion on its own self-driving software. Lyft also announced that it’s looking to raise another $500M on top of the $1Bn round it closed in October.

Both Audi and Mercedes-Benz are exploring new cockpit designs for the next generation of digital integration. Mercedes gave a sneak peek at the interior of the 2018 A-Class, which replaces the traditional dashboard with a ribbon of 3D screens running from behind the steering wheel across to the centre console. One of the 3D screens displays the instrument cluster, the second navigation and infotainment.

Audi’s 2018 A8 also offers a digital touchscreen for an instrument cluster, although here drivers can arrange the icons however they please (speedometer down here, fuel gauge over there, temperature gauge up top, etc.). It also offers an infotainment system with two large stacked touch displays positioned in the centre console. The lower control panel operates the climate control and convenience features, while up top manages music, navigation and more.

Finally, BMW unveiled a lofty, dare we say farfetched, plan to build elevated bike lanes in cities around the world. Dubbed the E3 Way, the lanes would allow motorcycles and electric bikes to zip away from traditional cars and pedestrians, up onto elevated skyways with a speed limit of 15mph. The system would optimise traffic flow with automated video surveillance systems and artificial intelligence as well as through the integration of smart city ecosystems. As for how to cover the cost of the infrastructure, the onramps, the AI? BMW fails to mention that.

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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