Toyota’s driverless shuttles could double as ‘office-on-the-go’

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Toyota’s e-Palette is a largely transparent, driverless oblong carriage on wheels that’s powered by a battery. It can accommodate up to 20 passengers, with seats that fold up and allow the space to be re-purposed. (Bloomberg)

TOYOTA IS AIMING TO COMMERCIALISE AN AUTONOMOUS SHIPPING-CONTAINER-LIKE VEHICLE WITHIN A FEW YEARS THAT IT SAYS COULD DOUBLE AS A MOBILE STORE OR ROVING OFFICE.

Toyota is aiming to commercialize an autonomous shipping-container-like vehicle within a few years that it says could double as a mobile store or roving office.

Toyota’s e-Palette is a largely transparent, driverless oblong carriage on wheels that’s powered by a battery. It can accommodate up to 20 passengers, with seats that fold up and allow the space to be re-purposed.

The e-Palette began as a concept vehicle, announced at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show by Toyota President Akio Toyoda, who said it is a symbol of how he is trying to transform the world’s second-largest automaker into a mobility company. On Tuesday, Toyota said it plans to make the e-Palette commercially viable within a few years.

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Mini Urbanaut concept hints at how its cars could look in a decade

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Mini Urbanaut concept hints at how its cars could look by the time new petrol and diesel vehicles are banned – and it can convert into a living room on wheels at the push of a button

  • Mini has unveiled an electric and self-driving compact car concept it sees as a vision for vehicles sold in 2030
  • At a turn of a switch, the Urbanaut mini-MPV doubles as a relaxing sanctuary for drivers and passengers
  • It features a comfortable sofa in the rear, fold-down dashboard day-bed, rotating chairs and a dining table
  • The windscreen swings open from the top hinges to provide what designers have called a ‘street balcony’

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Honda launching world’s first production car with ‘eyes-off’ self-driving tech by mid 2021

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Japanese officials approved Honda’s Automated Drive feature to be deployed on the upcoming Honda Legend.

Honda has received regulatory approval from the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism (MLIT) to begin selling vehicles equipped with Level 3 autonomous driving, the automaker announced on Wednesday.

In a press release, Honda highlighted that it would begin the sale of the Honda Legend equipped with its all-new “Traffic Jam Pilot” feature by the end of the company’s fiscal year (March 31, 2021). The feature is reportedly similar to GM’s Super Cruise and Ford’s Active Drive Assist in the sense that all road conditions must be perfect before Traffic Jam Pilot can be activated.

However, unlike the current domestic offerings where the driver is still technically in control of the vehicle, SAE J3016 defines Level 3 as a vehicle-operated functionality while engaged.

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Quantum sensors could let autonomous cars ‘see’ around corners

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High-precision metrology based on the peculiarities of the subatomic world

Quantum computers get all the hype, but quantum sensors could be equally transformative, enabling autonomous vehicles that can “see” around corners, underwater navigation systems, early-warning systems for volcanic activity and earthquakes, and portable scanners that monitor a person’s brain activity during daily life.

Quantum sensors reach extreme levels of precision by exploiting the quantum nature of matter—using the difference between, for example, electrons in different energy states as a base unit. Atomic clocks illustrate this principle. The world time standard is based on the fact that electrons in cesium 133 atoms complete a specific transition 9,192,631,770 times a second; this is the oscillation that other clocks are tuned against. Other quantum sensors use atomic transitions to detect minuscule changes in motion and tiny differences in gravitational, electric and magnetic fields.

There are other ways to build a quantum sensor, however. For example, researchers at the University of Birmingham in England are working to develop free-falling, supercooled atoms to detect tiny changes in local gravity. This kind of quantum gravimeter would be capable of detecting buried pipes, cables and other objects that today can be reliably found only by digging. Seafaring ships could use similar technology to detect underwater objects.

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Autonomous delivery startup Nuro hits $5 billion valuation on fresh funding of $500 million

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Nuro R2 delivery bot

Nuro, the autonomous delivery startup founded by two former Google engineers, has raised $500 million, suggesting that investors still have an appetite for long-term pursuits such as robotics and automated vehicle technology. Nuro now has a post-money valuation of $5 billion.

The Series C round was led by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., with participation from new investors including Fidelity Management & Research Company and Baillie Gifford. The round also includes existing investors such as SoftBank Vision Fund 1 and Greylock.

Nuro was founded in June 2016 by former Google engineers Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu. While the startup was initially bootstrapped by Ferguson and Zhu, it has never struggled to attract investors. Nuro’s Series A funding round of $92 million, which officially closed in June 2017, included Greylock, Banyan and gave NetEase founder Ding Lei (aka William Ding) a seat on Nuro’s board. But it was the monster $940 million investment made by the SoftBank Vision Fund in February 2019 that catapulted Nuro ahead of numerous other startups attempting to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology. Nuro had a $2.7 billion valuation following the SoftBank investment, meaning its value doubled in about 18 months. That money has helped it grow to more than 650 employees.

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Chinese Tesla rival Xpeng steers clear of robotaxis, says self-driving trucks more likely to succeed

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Xpeng’s autopilot system Xpilot 3.0 is expected to be included in its P7 smart sedan in early 2021. Photo: HandoutXpeng’s autopilot system Xpilot 3.0 is expected to be included in its P7 smart sedan in early 2021.

It is difficult for self-driving systems to replace human drivers, especially in densely populated cities, Xpeng’s head of autonomous driving says

Self-driving long-haul trucks and robots handling last-mile deliveries are more likely to be successfully automated, according to Xinzhou Wu

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DARPA awards contracts for autonomous ‘Sea Train’

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DARPA concept

 The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded contracts for its Sea Train program, which seeks to enable autonomous vessels to perform long-range transit operations.

In September, Applied Physical Sciences Corp., Gibbs & Cox Maritime Solutions and Mar Technologies were chosen for the program, which will include two 18-month phases.

The contract awards’ total potential values were $31.2 million, $30.4 million and $28.5 million, respectively. Through the effort, DARPA wants “to provide some operational flexibility for medium-sized unmanned surface vessels,” said Andrew Nuss, a program manager within the agency’s tactical technology office. Each company is “developing a unique approach to be able to address the goals of the Sea Train program.”

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Lexus is addressing autonomous car anxiety with innovative designs

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Lexus is reimagining the future of self-driving cars.

Although the future of autonomous cars is certainly exciting, much of what it will look like remains unknown. Will we still sit in the “driver’s” seat or will the interiors of new cars look more like a café? This is one of thquestions that Lexus is trying to answer.

The luxury carmaker partnered with two TED fellows to try and figure out what the future of self-driving vehicles will look like. Moreover, the project aims to lessen some fears about taking away the interactive part of driving.

Although true autonomous cars won’t be a reality for most consumers anytime soon, addressing these problems now will help make their adoption much smoother.

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Researchers create robots that can transform their wheels into legs

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Concept illustration of the adaptable Wheel-and-Leg Transformable Robot currently being developed under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contract.

A team of researchers is creating mobile robots for military applications that can determine, with or without human intervention, whether wheels or legs are more suitable to travel across terrains. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has partnered with Kiju Lee at Texas A&M University to enhance these robots’ ability to self-sufficiently travel through urban military environments.

The DARPA OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program awarded Lee, associate professor in the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution and the J. Mike Walker ’66 Department of Mechanical Engineering, and a team of graduate students another contract after her prior successful accomplishments on developing a mixed-reality swarm simulator with embedded consensus-based decision making for adaptive human-swarm teaming as part of the OFFSET Sprint-3. This project was showcased at OFFSET’s third field experiment (FX3) with other participating teams.

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Autonomous pothole-repairing robots that can detect cracks and fix roads automatically could hit Britain’s streets by 2021

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Artist’s impression of the autonomous road repair system, which looks part-tank, part road roller. The Robotiz3d vehicle should be seen on UK roads next year

 

Scientists are building autonomous repair robots that will use AI to identify and fix potholes in UK roads.

  • Liverpool spin-out Robotiz3d is planning to put its robots on UK streets in 2021
  • The weird vehicles look like a cross between a road roller and a heavy duty tank
  • They use AI to identify potholes and can deposit and flatten asphalt as a quick fix

The electric, self-driving bots – which are being built by a spin-out company from the University of Liverpool called Robotiz3d – can find small cracks in the road and cover them with asphalt.

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GM to run robot cars in San Francisco without human backups

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General Motors’ Cruise autonomous vehicle unit says it will pull the human backup drivers from its vehicles in San Francisco by the end of the year.

 Cruise CEO Dan Ammann said in a statement that the company got a permit Thursday from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles to let the cars travel on their own.

The move follows last week’s announcement from Waymo that it would open its autonomous ride-hailing service to the public in the Phoenix area in vehicles without human drivers.

Waymo, a unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc., is hoping to eventually expand the service into California, where it already has a permit to run without human backups.

Cruise has reached the point where it’s confident that it can safely operate without humans in the cars, spokesman Ray Wert said. There’s no date for starting a ride service, which would require further government permission, he said.

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How your city will transform as mobility tech catches on

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Polestar accelerates the shift to sustainable mobility, by making electric driving irresistible.

Parking prices, congestion charges, fuel stations – the costs and diversions one never had to face on their way to work in the age of horse and carriage. The switch from horse-riding to automobiles changed the kind of materials used to build roads – slippery asphalt replaced cobbled streets and dirt roads.

Autonomous driving and other new transportation modes are key technological megatrends in the infrastructure industry. This calls for the built environment to adjust to these latest mobility technologies as they shape the future of roads and real estate construction.

In the public sphere, assimilation to these new technologies in mobility has already begun in the regulatory space. Nations across Asia, Europe and North America for example have already issued autonomous testing permits and offered regulation for self-driving cars on public roads.

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