Weekly Brief: Waymo starts offering free autonomous trips in Arizona

Google self-driving taxis just came one step closer to fruition. Andrew Tolve reports.

Phoenix, Arizona, doesn’t feel like the face of the future. Plopped down in the north eastern corner of the Sonoran Desert, it’s a dusty land of bloated strip malls, sprawling neighbourhoods and old-fashioned drive-thrus. However, thanks to a liberal stance on autonomous technology, the Valley of the Sun has become a hotbed of self-driving car activity, with everyone from Uber to General Motors to Waymo testing their technology there. Last week Waymo announced that Phoenix is the first city in the world where Google’s self-driving car technology will come to the masses.

This is a big deal for Phoenix and an even bigger milestone for Waymo. After logging more than three million miles in its self-driving cars and establishing itself as the clear market leader in autonomous tech, Google seems to think that its self-driving car project is ready for prime time. The Early Rider programme in Phoenix will be open to hundreds of local residents, from seniors to soccer parents to work-a-day commuters. The goal is to learn what everyday people (rather than engineers) think about self-driving cars, such as when they want to use them, where they want to go in them and how much, or little, information they want to know about the car’s activities while en route.

This is especially important for Waymo because although it may be the market leader in autonomous technology, it’s lagging behind competitors like Uber, GM, Lyft and BMW when it comes to how real human beings engage with automobiles. Waymo has added 500 Chrysler Pacific minivans to its existing fleet of 100 vehicles in Phoenix to accommodate the Early Rider programme.

In other news, the UK’s government announced the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) to channel more than £1Bn in investment over the next four years into cutting-edge technologies. Connected and autonomous vehicle technology will receive a £38M slice of the funding, with a specific focus on artificial intelligence, robotics, sensors and insurance. The idea is to encourage leading businesses to partner with British researchers to build commercial projects that create jobs in the UK. 

Google Assistant and the Amazon Alexa voice assistant are now available on all 2016 and 2017 Mercedes-Benz cars in the US. The integration will enable drivers to remote lock their cars, start their engines and control their navigation systems with a simple “OK Google …” or “Alexa, can you …” The one catch is that customers must first subscribe to mbrace, Mercedes' in-vehicle infotainment platform, in order to get the functionality. Hyundai launched Google Assistant on its 2015 to 2017 line-up two weeks ago in Shanghai.

Across the pond, Daimler announced that plans to expand its app-driven car-sharing platform Croove to cities throughout Germany, following a successful four-month pilot in Munich. First up is Berlin, where car owners can now go on to the Croove app and create a profile with details of their vehicles and the price that they'd like to set for rental (or Croove can recommend a price to balance supply and demand). Renters can reserve cars and make payment all via their smartphones.

Wireless charging is destined for another luxury German carmaker. This time it’s BMW announcing plans to create a customised inductive charging case for iPhones in the new 5 Series sedan. BMW is working with wireless charging specialist Aircharge on the project. The 5 series is the first car on the market with completely wireless Apple CarPlay integration, meaning that drivers can control all of the apps, music and navigation on their iPhones via in-dash screen, voice commands and gestures. Wireless charging debuted on the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which has an inductive charging pad near the armrest.

BP and TomTom partnered up to help BP customers in the Netherlands and Germany boost fleet efficiency. Their new joint solution, BP FleetMove, combines fuel transaction information from BP fuel cards with driver behaviour data from the TomTom Telematics Service Platform. Fleet Managers can view the raw data in a special portal alongside analysis to help them save time and reduce operating costs. Drivers have to plug in the TomTom LINK 100 dongle into their vehicles' OBD ports to get started.

Finally, in the last week of Distracted Driver Month, Octo Telematics launched a Distracted Driving scoring and analysis feature across its portfolio of products for the auto insurance industry. The feature monitors how a phone is used during a trip, detects and analyses risky behaviours and communicates the final details and score to the Insurance partner and their UBI policyholder. Rather than doling out penalties to distracted drivers, Octo opts for communicating feedback to drivers so they better understand the risks and working with insurance customers to incentivise drivers to stay off their phones while driving.

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

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *