Posts Tagged ‘autonomous’

The first iPhone hacker is building a self-driving car

Fascinating Bloomberg article about former-iPhone-hacker George Hotz who has outfitted his Acura with cameras, lidar, and computing power to go for autonomous driving. His plan is to prove that he is able to build better technology and algorithms than companies like Tesla or other car manufacturers.

 

The technology he’s building represents an end run on much more expensive systems being designed by Google, Uber, the major automakers, and, if persistent rumors and numerous news reports are true, Apple. More short term, he thinks he can challenge Mobileye, the Israeli company that supplies Tesla Motors, BMW, Ford Motor, General Motors, and others with their current driver-assist technology. “It’s absurd,” Hotz says of Mobileye. “They’re a company that’s behind the times, and they have not caught up.”
Bloomberg

 

In fact, Hotz has turned down an offer from Elon Musk to work for Tesla.

 

Hotz, though, broke off the talks when he felt that Musk kept changing the terms. “Frankly, I think you should just work at Tesla,” Musk wrote to Hotz in an e-mail. “I’m happy to work out a multimillion-dollar bonus with a longer time horizon that pays out as soon as we discontinue Mobileye.” “I appreciate the offer,” Hotz replied, “but like I’ve said, I’m not looking for a job. I’ll ping you when I crush Mobileye.” Musk simply answered, “OK.”
Bloomberg

 

Hotz plans to get more data and experience with his prototype and then demonstrate it by “filming a video of the Acura outperforming a Tesla across the bridge, and then follow that up by passing the final test on I-405 in Los Angeles where Musk lives.”

Tesla remains skeptic on the success of Hotz, releasing a statement on their website accordingly:

 

We think it is extremely unlikely that a single person or even a small company that lacks extensive engineering validation capability will be able to produce an autonomous driving system that can be deployed to production vehicles. It may work as a limited demo on a known stretch of road — Tesla had such a system two years ago — but then requires enormous resources to debug over millions of miles of widely differing roads.
Tesla

 

Inside of Georg Hotz' Acura - Photographer: Peter Bohler for Bloomberg Businessweek

Inside of George Hotz’ Acura – Photographer: Peter Bohler for Bloomberg Businessweek. http://www.bloomberg.com/features/2015-george-hotz-self-driving-car/

Different approaches towards the (fully) automated car

Google Chauffeur patent - source: Reilly Brennan https://twitter.com/reillybrennan/status/643846750718033920

Google Chauffeur patent – source: Reilly Brennan https://twitter.com/reillybrennan/status/643846750718033920

The race towards the fully automated car has only just begun. Car makers and their new potential competitors from the Tech industry have different views on the best approach for a driverless future.

While car OEMs like BMW or Daimler (and even newcomers like Tesla) are adding more and more driver assistance features such as lane-departure warning, brake assist, traffic jam assist, or parking pilot, in order to increase automation step by step over the next years, Tech industry companies like Google think of “leap-frogging” to as much automation as possible.

There are good reasons for both approaches. The classic step-by-step approach is very much in line with technology development and refinement, and with the slow moving other stakeholders such as governments and insurances. Ultimately a fully autonomous car would challenge the existing regulations and insurance schemes intensively, bringing up many unsolved issues of liability. What happens, for example, if a malfunctioning autonomous car hits a pedestrian? Driver or car maker liability?

The fully autonomous car, though, has the potential to be much safer than a car steered by a human, so naturally there is some incentive to go to as many automated functions as fast as possible. Especially as there are some indications that drivers in a only partly-automated car might be too slow to take over control in a situation that the partial automation cannot handle. As Chris Urmson, Head of Google’s Self Driving Car program, said in a recent article: “The better the technology gets, the less reliable the driver is going to get.”

 

Depending on the level of automation and intensity of alert, some drivers took an average of 17 seconds to respond to a takeover request and regain control of the vehicle, in a study just released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and supported by Google and several leading automakers and suppliers. In that time, a car traveling at 60 miles per hour would travel more than a quarter of a mile.
Automakers, Google take different roads to automated cars

 

The Tech Industry’s Interest in Cars is increasing

Google Self Driving Car - google.com

Google Self Driving Car – google.com

 

Tech Industry players, such as Apple, Google, Samsung, Baidu, or Alibaba, are increasingly looking for potential future growth opportunities in the automotive industry. The activities are manifold, ranging from providing data services to even building a (self-driving) car.

 

Increase in patents from tech companies in automotive area - forbes.com

Increase in patents from tech companies in automotive area – forbes.com

Forbes magazine had a close look on the innovation / patent side of this development. Interestingly, if looking at the number of new patents in the automotive area that are filed by tech companies, we can observe two things. Firstly, the number of new patents did not really take off until 2013. Secondly, the overall number is still low compared to the thousands of patents from car manufacturers and suppliers which are filed every year. The increase in patents since 2013 shows quite well the increasing interest in the automotive market, though.

The biggest contributors to the increasing number of patents were Samsung and Google, followed by Microsoft and Apple.

 

But in terms of who has the biggest war chest in patents so far, Samsung far exceeds all its competitors. For automobile-related patents filed in the past 10 years, Samsung leads with 510, Google GOOGL -1.70% with 308,Microsoft MSFT -0.98% with 222, and finally Apple AAPL -0.47% with 83, according to patent numbers pulled by SmartUp Legal.
Samsung Amasses Largest Patent War Chest Among Tech Giants For Cars Of The Future – forbes.com

 

Samsung obviously contributes with a lot of patents from its batteries division, however we can see as well patents for HMI components such as a transparent Head-Up-Display, which would make Samsung compete with Tier-1 suppliers such as Continental. On Google’s and Apple’s side Forbes notes down the main interest in digital data processing and navigation, as well as autonomous driving (Google) and User Interface / Interaction (Apple).

 

 

Is Uber going to build self-driving cars?

The future looks bright for an Uber manager, thinking of all the fully-autonomous  vehicles that will roll through our streets in a couple of years. If you need a car you just fire up your Uber app, and a couple of minutes later you will get in a self-driving Uber car. No need anymore for Uber to sign up new drivers and make sure that always enough of them are on the street. Automatic algorithms can simply dispatch autonomous cars on the streets, depending on actual and expected demand. And all 160,000-something drivers of Uber can slowly be replaced with a safe and smart “robot car” … Everyone is happy! 🙂

As soon as all technological and regulatory challenges are met to have the fully-autonomous car ready for sale, Uber just hast to make sure to get enough cars for their business. So far, it looked like as they had already identified a potential partner – Tesla. Steve Juvertson, a Tesla board member, is pretty sure that Uber is going to fill Tesla’s order books:

 

“Travis [Kalanick  – CEO of Uber] recently told me that in 2020, if Telsas are autonomous, he’d want to buy all of them. He said all 500,000 of estimated 2020 production, I’d want them all,” Jurvetson said. “But he couldn’t get a return call from Elon [Musk – CEO of Tesla].”
[…]
“I’m not saying you’re all going to have robocars. But, for those of us who have a chance to be in one, there’ll be one of those epiphanies. You’ll never go back.”
Uber will buy all the self-driving cars that Tesla can build in 2020

 

However, it seems that Uber is not only relying on Tesla or other OEMs to build the car for them. Recently Uber has invested in a couple of areas that indicate their potential interest to build their own self-driving cars. First, Uber set up shop close to the Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics center in Pittsburgh, USA, in January 2015. From there they went on a hiring spree to get more than 50 people of the top staff from the robotics center for their newly set up subsidiary.

 

“They took all the guys that were working on vehicle autonomy — basically whole groups, whole teams of developers, commercialization specialists, all the guys that find grants and who were bringing the intellectual property,” recalls a person who was there during the departures. “These guys, they took everybody.”
Uber gutted Carnegie Mellon’s top robotics lab to build self-driving cars

 

Gov. Doug Ducey, third left, signs an agreement with University of Arizona President Ann Weaver, second right, and Brian McClendon, the vice president for Uber which will allow them to the test and do research on driverless technology in the Tucson area. (A.E. Araiza/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

Gov. Doug Ducey, third left, signs an agreement with University of Arizona President Ann Weaver, second right, and Brian McClendon, the vice president for Uber which will allow them to the test and do research on driverless technology in the Tucson area. (A.E. Araiza/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

Later on, Uber and Carnegie Mellon University announced that they will form a strategic partnership, with “focus on the development of key long-term technologies that advance Uber’s mission of bringing safe, reliable transportation to everyone, everywhere”.

This was not the last new development, though. In August 2015, Uber announced that it will partner with University of Arizona for self-driving car research.

 

Uber has signed a partnership with the University of Arizona focused on research and development in the optics space for mapping and safety. We’ll work with some of the world’s leading experts in lens design at the University to improve the imagery we capture and use to build out mapping and safety features. As part of this partnership, Uber will also be donating to U of A’s College of Optical Sciences — supporting the next generation of optical scientists and engineers as they make new exciting breakthroughs.
Driving Innovation In Arizona

 

I am not convinced that we will see a self-produced Uber car on the road, though. There would be much more invest needed in order to get to be able to produce a working car than just forming strategic partnerships and investing in knowledge. The necessary asset invest would be huge as well, completely going against the current Uber model. However, it is a good way for Uber to keep all strategic options open. They could, for example, partner with an existing OEM sometime in the future and add additional engineering capabilities to make sure to get exactly the right car for their future “driver-less” business model.

When will we see the first Apple Car on the road?

The Guardian had an interesting article, indicating that Apple’s (autonomous) car might be closer to start of production than expected. They try to tie this down on base of Apple’s interest in a former Naval base that could be used as secret testing ground for an Apple car.

 

Apple is building a self-driving car in Silicon Valley, and is scouting for secure locations in the San Francisco Bay area to test it, the Guardian has learned. Documents show the oft-rumoured Apple car project appears to be further along than many suspected.

In May, engineers from Apple’s secretive Special Project group met with officials from GoMentum Station, a 2,100-acre former naval base near San Francisco that is being turned into a high-security testing ground for autonomous vehicles.
The Guardian

 

Combine that with Apple designer Marc Newson’s “design pet-peeve”, the automotive industry, and you can imagine even more that Apple has already the design and marketing for the soon-to-be-available car worked out:

 

My design pet-peeve is: the automotive industry. There were moments when cars somehow encapsulated everything that was good about progress. But right now we’re at the bottom of a trough.
WSJ interview with Marc Newson

 

However, while it is obvious that Apple is having a close look at the automotive industry, this does not mean that we will see an Apple Car on the street very soon. Designing a good looking car is one thing, getting manufacturing and technology right is another. As reported, Tim Cook and several executives met with BMW recently, and they still will have to figure out how to build an actual working vehicle.

Apple’s plan to have a separate testing facility does make sense in this context, so that they can start now to test functions and systems, figuring out the manufacturing process (or identifying which existing car OEM they simply would like to partner/buy instead), and preparing everything what is needed from regulatory and government perspective as well. Having a good looking car that is able to perform well in a crash test for example, might be a bit more difficult than getting a phone approved. Thus, having Apple investing now in testing grounds and further expertise might indicate a possible real car not already in 2016, but a couple of years down the road instead.

The Future of Driving is Non-Driving

Autonomous driving is a hot topic and will re-define our Automotive industry. The industry projections in regards to numbers are still early, though.

 

The Boston Consulting Group estimates driverless cars could make up 10% of global vehicle sales by 2035, worth about 12 million cars per year, while the market for driver-assistance systems could be $42 billion by 2025.
Get Your Portfolio Ready For The Future Of Nondriving – Forbes.com

 

And of course we shouldn’t forget the massive effect more autonomous driving could have on accident rates and the subsequent economic impact.

 

While these remain, a more compelling factor is driving innovation. Road accidents are the eighth leading cause of death globally, with 95% of road accidents caused by human error. Xavier Mosquet, who leads BCG’s Global Automotive Practice, puts the total cost to society of road incidents in the U.S. at $948 billion per year, or 6% of GDP. That includes the direct cost of damage to vehicles and acute health treatment as well as the lingering cost of disabilities. Environmentalists are excited about the impact driverless taxis could have on air quality and congestion in cities.
Get Your Portfolio Ready For The Future Of Nondriving – Forbes.com

 

In addition we are looking at potential new entrants of tech companies into the automotive space. It is not just about the market for components. Companies like Apple or Google might eventually try to build their own car, if they can find an profitable angle to that industry.

 

The market is gigantic: According to Morgan Stanley, annual new-vehicle sales total $1.6 trillion, versus $400 billion for smartphones and $266 billion for PCs.
Get Your Portfolio Ready For The Future Of Nondriving – Forbes.com

 

Everything combined we might look at the most fundamental shift in the Automotive industry ever. New technologies, skill sets, and an open mind for innovation will be necessary and crucial.