Pandemic alters carmakers’ driverless plans. Here’s how

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Detroit — The coronavirus pandemic is proving to be yet another obstacle for the self-driving and ride-sharing movement, delaying the widely touted arrival of next-generation automotive technology.

Ford Motor Co. is postponing for a year the commercial deployment of its autonomous vehicles. Waymo LLC, the self-driving unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc., had to temporarily suspend its on-road testing and its ride-hailing offerings in Arizona. Uber Advanced Technologies Group recently announced layoffs of 3,500, citing the pandemic. And General Motors Co. is shutting down Maven, the car-sharing service that debuted in 2016 as the wave of the future.

With demand for car-sharing and ride-sharing diminishing sharply in the age of social-distancing and other forms of vigilant hygiene, companies are shifting their focus to using driverless vehicles to deliver goods before they ferry people — a reversal of a robo-taxi future envisioned just a few years ago, courtesy of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Expensive electrification programs that have yet to create revenue for automakers, however, continue despite automakers losing billions with auto plants closed for eight weeks and many dealerships unable to sell vehicles with stay-at-home orders in place during the pandemic. Still, the prevailing industry consensus holds that electric vehicles must be an option for consumers, and electrified powertrains are the foundation of self-driving vehicles and future mobility technologies.

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The autonomous car industry is about to get hammered

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Today on Speed Lines: The “coronavirus economy” means a huge potential setback for self-driving car tech.

Good morning and welcome back to Speed Lines, The Drive’s morning roundup of what’s going on in the world of transportation. I think it’s Wednesday, although I’m not really sure anymore, let alone what that even means.

A ‘Bumpy Road’ Ahead For Self-Driving Cars.

As I’ve said many times on Speed Lines this year, the pandemic is unique in that it has left virtually no facet of daily life or sector of the economy untouched. It’s already drying up the capital markets, and that’s extremely bad news in the world of autonomous vehicles. Development of that technology is costly for both legacy automakers and new startups, yet there’s still no clear path to widespread deployment or profitability.

Adding semi-autonomous features to your next Cadillac or Volvo is one thing; creating fully robotic cars, and making money while doing so, is another thing. And it may be a pipe dream in this economy.

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Cars could go completely driverless ‘very soon,’ says CEO of Chinese autonomous driving tech start-up

AutoX rolls out self-driving robotaxis in Shanghai’s ride-hailing market

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Despite current regulations and safety concerns over self-driving cars, the time that cars could really go driverless is coming “very soon,” according to Jianxiong Xiao, CEO and founder of AutoX, a start-up developing autonomous driving technology based in Shenzhen.

It had received approval from Shanghai authorities to roll out a fleet of 100 autonomous ride-hailing cars in Shanghai’s Jiading district in September last year.

Backed by investors such as Alibaba, Shanghai Motor and Dongfeng Motor, AutoX is one of the players in the multi-trillion U.S. dollar Chinese autonomous driving vehicles market alongside others like DiDi Chuxing.

The time that cars could go completely driverless is coming “very soon,” according to Jianxiong Xiao, CEO and founder of AutoX, a Shenzhen-based start-up developing autonomous driving technology.

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MIT tech lets self-driving cars “see” under surface of road

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In poor visibility, your car could look for landmarks — under the surface of the road.

 MIT is working on self-driving technology that allows cars to “see” through the ground up to a depth of ten feet below the surface of the road. The idea is to allow self-driving cars to figure out exactly where they are — especially when snow, heavy fog, or other bad weather obscures road markings.

Current-generation self-driving cars typically rely on cameras and light detection sensors (LIDAR) to position themselves on roadways. But once the snow starts falling and covers up lane markers, it can get tricky for the car to tell where it is — and that could spell disaster, especially at highway speeds.

A team at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab have come up with a new system they call “Localizing Ground Penetrating Radar” (LGPR) that can create a real-time map of the ground below the road’s surface.

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Hackers stuck a 2-inch strip of tape on a 35-mph speed sign and successfully tricked 2 Teslas into accelerating to 85 mph

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McAfee researchers were able to trick a Tesla’s autonomous systems.

Researchers at McAfee were able to trick two Teslas into autonomously speeding up by 50 mph.

The researchers stuck a 2-inch strip of tape on a 35-mph speed sign, and the car’s system misread it as 85 mph and adjusted its speed accordingly.

The safety of Tesla’s autopilot features has come under close scrutiny, but CEO Elon Musk has predicted the company will have “feature-complete full self-driving” this year.

It turns out all it takes to fool a Tesla’s camera system is a little tape.

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General Motors wants to do away with the steering wheel

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Almost all major automakers are gearing up to enter the new era of self-driven cars. Taking this concept further is General Motors, which wants to do away with the steering wheel altogether in its latest self-driven model.

The automaker has put in a request to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to allow it to test self-driving cars sans a steering wheel or other human controls on American roads.

The NHTSA revealed that GM and Softbank-backed startup Nuro petitioned the agency in 2018 seeking exemption from U.S. road safety rules that were written a long time ago and are meant to control cars with human drivers.

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Smart intersections could cut autonomous car congestion

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Researchers have developed a first-of-its-kind model to control traffic and intersections in order to increase autonomous car capacity on urban streets of the future, reduce congestion and minimize accidents.

In the not-so-distant future, city streets could be flooded with autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars can move faster and travel closer together, allowing more of them to fit on the road — potentially leading to congestion and gridlock on city streets.

A new study by Cornell researchers developed a first-of-its-kind model to control traffic and intersections in order to increase car capacity on urban streets, reduce congestion and minimize accidents.

“For the future of mobility, so much attention has been paid to autonomous cars,” said Oliver Gao, professor of civil and environmental engineering and senior author of the study, which published in Transportation Research Part B.

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Here’s how quantum computer supremacy will impact self-driving cars

 

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Quantum supremacy, achieved?

The news recently was agog with the claim that the so-called and highly sought “quantum supremacy” had been achieved via an effort undertaken by Google researchers.

Not everyone agreed though that the Google effort warranted waving the superlative supremacy flag.

That’s not to say that the use of their 54-qubit Sycamore processor wasn’t notable, and in fact, does provide another handy stride toward achieving viable quantum computing, but whether it was the vaunted moment of true supreme magnificence is something that many would argue is premature and supremely debatable.

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The problem with all self-driving cars looking alike

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Self-driving cars within fleets will look alike, creating problems.

Have you ever seen a sea of yellow cabs, all of which seem indistinguishable from each other?

It used to be that if you booked a yellow cab for picking you up at a busy airport or similar venue, the odds were that a slew of other yellow cabs were also vying for picking up passengers there too. As such, you would have a tough time trying to figure out which among the multitudes of yellow cabs was the one designated just for you.

The cabs sometimes had a number displayed on the outside of the vehicle, and in theory, you could then spot your particular yellow cab, but possessing the number was one tricky aspect and the other was the arduous difficulty of trying to clearly see the number among the blur of so many cabs.

There was pretty much little point in reserving a cab beforehand and instead, it seemed wiser to take a chance at randomly hailing a cab.

Today’s world is a sea change, as it were.

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Autonomous taxis have made their driverless debut in London

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Are London cabbies’ days numbered?

SELF-DRIVING taxis have hit the streets of London for the first time during a week-long trial in the capital.

The culmination of a 30-month development process lead by the government and industry-supported the DRIVEN autonomous vehicle technology consortium, the tests saw a collection of Ford Mondeo-based test cars complete short runs on a pre-programmed course on public roads through Stratford, in the east of the city, a short distance away from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, venue for the 2012 Games.

While this isn’t the first time autonomous vehicles have been tested in an urban environment (the same self-driving research vehicles were put through their preliminary paces in Oxford earlier in the year), DRIVEN said these tests have been “the most ambitious” yet, due to the demands that come with driving in a megacity.

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Hyundai to start mass production of driverless cars in 2024

 

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South Korean carmaker Hyundai Motor Group will start mass production of self-driving cars within the next five years, said Chung Euisun, the heir to the auto giant, as he made a hefty investment in a joint venture the company established with Aptiv on Sept. 23.

At a luncheon session held in New York with Korean correspondents on the same day he signed the $4 billion deal with the US software developer, Chung said the company would apply the autonomous driving technology to be developed jointly with Aptiv to Hyundai cars starting in 2024. The executive vice chairman, who holds the second-highest position in the carmaker — his father, Chairman Chung Mong-koo, is No. 1 — said the company had decided to hold the same number of shares as Aptiv, rather than be a minority shareholder in the venture, in an effort to transform itself from a mere car manufacturer into a future mobility solutions provider.

“We expect the era of autonomous vehicles to come early, but it will be possible for customers to go anywhere they want in a driverless car after 2030,” said Chung, who has taken the lead in the absence of his ill father.

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Special report: Driverless cars are the new dot-com bubble

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We simply don’t know what sort of jobs will be available in the future. After all, imagine yourself in the year 1900 peering into the future. How could you know then that the proportion of people employed in agriculture in the USA would fall to a twentieth of what it was then?

Or that there would now be more people employed as mental health nurses in the NHS than there are sailors serving in the Royal Navy? Or that large numbers of people would pay good money to personal trainers to put them through their paces and ensure that they suffered the requisite amount of agony?

History is full of people who have made long-term predictions and who have been proved utterly wrong. Among economists one of my favourites is the great William Stanley Jevons, one of the most distinguished economists of the nineteenth century. In 1865 he predicted that industrial expansion would soon come to a halt due to a shortage of coal. Poor old Jevons.

So we must tread warily. Having said that, and having dosed ourselves with lashings of humility, and drunk deep from the well of scepticism, there is a lot that we can say about the future of employment in the new robot- and AI-dominated future.

One of the most widely talked about categories of jobs supposedly at risk is drivers: bus drivers, truck drivers, taxi drivers, chauffeurs, delivery drivers, and many more. A 2017 trucking industry report predicted that by 2030, out of 6.4m trucking jobs in America and Europe, about 4.4m of them could have disappeared as “robots” do the driving.

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