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Driverless Cars: Is That the Future?

Driverless Cars: Is That the Future?

Leading automotive OEMs and solution providing companies are dedicating immense efforts to get automated cars on the roads.

At the Shanghai Motor Show held in China from April 21 – 28, 2017, the one thing that captured the attention of participants and visitors was the concept of the automated, driverless cars, heralded to be the future of the automotive industry. And one such exhibitor that drew the crowds was German technology and services’ major Bosch. The company launched its automated driving initiative at the show offering solutions for its vision of the stress-free, accident-free, and emissions-free mobility. In a bid to energise the automated driving market in China, in particular, the company feels there is a need to generate high-precision, up-to-the-minute maps. In line with this, Bosch has signed a collaboration agreement with the Chinese internet group Baidu and the map providers AutoNavi and NavInfo.

Together, the four partners are working on a solution that will let them use information collected by Bosch’s radar and video sensors in vehicles to generate and update maps. “Automated driving will not be possible without high-precision maps – not in China and not anywhere else in the world either,” said Dr Rolf Bulander, Member of Robert Bosch GmbH’s board of management and chairman of the Mobility Solutions business sector, in the run-up to Auto Shanghai. Bosch is pursuing an open, standardised approach. Automated vehicles will use the data collected by Bosch sensors to determine their own location, which is essential for automated driving. This data will be compatible with the three partners’ map data. Bosch, AutoNavi, Baidu, and NavInfo want to present their solution before the end of the year.

Research has revealed that 74 per cent of Chinese people want automated driving soon. Bosch and the Baidu internet group have set up a test vehicle on the basis of a Jeep Cherokee for partially automated driving on Chinese freeways. The test vehicle is equipped with numerous Bosch components. These include, among other things, five midsection radar sensors and a multi-purpose camera for environment recognition, as well as an ESP braking control system and electronic power steering. “Automated driving is a global topic for Bosch,” said Bulander. “With China, we are now starting our fourth testing location after Germany, the US, and Japan.” As the world’s largest automotive market and with roughly 28 million vehicles now being produced annually, China is also an important sales market for automated driving technologies.

Bosch says automated driving is just one potential field of growth for it in China. At Auto Shanghai, the company presented a concept study that showed how connectivity can transform a car from a mere means of transportation into a driver’s personal assistant. Modern display instruments and user interfaces accentuate the advantages of automated and connected driving and will enable safe, relaxed driving in the future. The company says it is also equipped to grow in the fields of powertrain technology and electrification. With its customised petrol and diesel direct injection systems, its systems solutions for hybrid and electric vehicles, and its extensive modular concept for CNG powertrains, it can assist Chinese manufacturers to meet the China 6 emissions standard.

Meanwhile, the company’s latest press release states that it has tied up with Sony Semiconductor Solutions to develop video sensors such as those required for driver assistance systems and automated driving. “Suddenly dazzled, vision restricted: This is something drivers experience regularly when driving on a sunny day when the sun is low in the sky. Briefly driving blind is often also required due to the glare when driving out of a tunnel on a bright day. Changing or poor lighting conditions provide a challenge not only for the human eye, but also for video sensors such as those required for driver assistance systems and automated driving. To make these sensors better, Bosch and Sony Semiconductor Solutions have agreed a cooperation. Together, the two companies aim to develop a highly innovative camera technology that will enable cars to reliably sense their surroundings even in difficult lighting conditions,” said Gerhard Steiger, President of the Bosch Chassis Systems Control Division.

Other automotive OEMs and related companies are not far behind in the race to get automated vehicles on the roads. Zenuity, the joint venture between Volvo Cars and Autoliv, Inc., has already begun operations. Zenuity is a new entrant in the growing global market for autonomous driving software systems. It marks the first time a premium car maker has joined forces with a Tier 1 supplier to develop leading advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving (AD) technologies. Zenuity is expected to have its first ADAS products available for sale by 2019 with autonomous driving technologies following shortly thereafter. “Volvo Cars combined its know-how with Autoliv’s to create a world leader in autonomous driving safety systems. With Zenuity starting operations, we move a step closer to delivering this exciting technology,” said Håkan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo Cars.

“Zenuity will enable us to deliver world-leading, robust solutions for autonomous driving. The combined experience of Autoliv, the worldwide leader in automotive safety systems, and Volvo Cars, the premium car maker, will ensure solutions that meet the needs of car occupants in real life road conditions”, said Jan Carlson, Chairman, President and CEO of Autoliv. “In the last nine months we have worked hard to get Zenuity started and I am very pleased that we are now ready to start operations. The initial interest from automotive makers in Zenuity is very encouraging and we look forward to being a leader in the development of the next generation of safer and more automated cars,” said Dennis Nobelius, CEO of Zenuity.

Autoliv will make a total investment of around 1.1 billion SEK into the joint venture, the large majority of which is an initial cash contribution, but it also includes intellectual property, know-how and personnel. Volvo Cars will contribute intellectual property, know-how and personnel into the joint venture. As previously announced, Volvo Cars and Autoliv own the joint venture 50-50. The formation of the joint venture was first announced in September 2016. Headquartered in Gothenburg, Sweden and with additional operations in Munich, Germany, and Detroit, USA, the initial workforce of close to 300 people is from Volvo Cars and Autoliv as well as some new hires. The joint venture’s workforce is expected to grow to over 600 employees in the medium term.

With Zenuity, Volvo Cars and Autoliv expect three elements of value creation. First, the business model means the value of the joint venture will increase going forward. Secondly, for Autoliv this is a step in the development of its active safety focus. Thirdly, for Volvo Cars the joint venture ensures world-leading competence in a key technology area. Autoliv is the exclusive supplier and distribution channel for all Zenuity’s products sold to third parties, and there will be no exclusivity toward any customer or the owners. Volvo Cars can source such products directly from the joint venture.

Interestingly, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles released its annual autonomous vehicle disengagement report recently in which all the companies that are actively testing self-driving cars on public roads disclose the number of times that human drivers were forced to take control of their driverless vehicles. The biggest news to come out of this report is from Waymo, Google’s new self-driving car company, which reported a huge drop in disengagements in 2016 despite an almost equally huge increase in the number of miles driven. In other words, Waymo’s self-driving cars are failing at a much lower rate, even as they are driving a whole lot more miles. The company says that since 2015, its rate of safety-related disengages has fallen from 0.8 per thousand miles to 0.2 per thousand miles in 2016. So while Waymo increased its driving by 50 per cent in the state — racking up a total of 6,35,868 miles — the company’s total number of reportable disengages fell from 341 in 2015 to 124.

“This four-fold improvement reflects the significant work we have been doing to make our software and hardware more capable and mature,” Dmitri Dolgov, Head of Self-driving Technology for Waymo, wrote in a blog post. “And because we are creating a self-driving car that can take you from door to door, almost all our time has been spent on complex urban or suburban streets. This has given us valuable experience sharing the road safely with pedestrians and cyclists, and practicing advanced manoeuvres such as making unprotected left turns and traversing multi-lane intersections,” he said. The majority of Waymo’s disengagements were the result of “software glitches,” the company says. “Unwanted manoeuvres,” “perception discrepancies,” and “recklessly behaving road user” also accounted for dozens of disengagements. There were no reports of crashes or accidents.

Meanwhile, German executive car maker BMW has set up a dedicated centre to develop technology for autonomous driving. Driving this is an an ambitious plan to deliver a true self-driving car by 2021. Based in Unterschleissheim near Munich, the new campus will be home to 2,000 experts working on every aspect from software development to real-world testing. But the decision to create a base of operations in Munich is also an attempt to ensure Europe is firmly on the map as a hotspot for next-generation automotive technology development. “The road to fully-automated driving is an opportunity for Germany’s automobile manufacturing base. The decision to develop and road-test these vehicles in the Munich area illustrates how the BMW Group and the whole region can benefit from this shift in the automotive industry,” said Klaus Fröhlich, member of the board of management, responsible for development at the BMW Group.

Detroit and Silicon Valley are also trying to establish themselves as the de facto home of the car of the future so it makes sense that European car makers, whose legacy stretches back 130 years, would want to court and keep the world’s leading experts within their own continental borders. However, in a fully connected world, it is impossible for any single company to work in isolation. In order for BMW to bring the iNEXT – the name it has given its self-driving car – to fruition on schedule, it has already forged a long-term partnership with US firms Intel and MobilEye. Intel’s role in the alliance is to develop in-car processors and to help crunch through the huge amounts of data the project will create. “Highly autonomous cars and everything they connect to will require powerful and reliable electronic brains to make them smart enough to navigate traffic and avoid accidents,” explained Intel CEO Brian Krzanich in a news report.

MobilEye’s expertise is in sensing and localisation, and its partnership with BMW is one of several it has announced in recent months. For instance, at the 2017 CES in January, MobilEye demonstrated the fruits of its partnership with autonomous driving technology company Delphi over a specially created real-world course in Las Vegas. The companies claim the system, called the Centralised Sensing Localisation and Planning (CSLP) automated driving system, is the most advanced autonomous driving system currently in existence. As for the partnership with BMW, the companies are already on target to start testing a prototype autonomous vehicle fleet in urban conditions. “This development site for autonomous driving will enable us to launch the BMW iNEXT, the first self-driving BMW, on to the market in 2021,” Fröhlich was quoted in news report.

Meanwhile, a latest update is that Russian search and internet technology giant Yandex is showing off a self-driving vehicle prototype developed by its taxi-on-demand ride service for the first time, the video of which has gone viral. The prototype is meant to help Yandex test its software, which the company thinks it’s uniquely well-positioned to develop for this emerging space. Yandex notes that it has navigation, geolocation, computer vision, and machine learning expertise from other ongoing products and services, including Yandex.Navigator and Yandex.Maps. “We use anonymised data that we receive from Yandex.Navigator users, which allows us to understand how to drive in a city with its traffic congestion, accidents, speed limits, road closures and other traffic events,” Vladimir Isaev, head of PR at Yandex.Taxi informed the media. “We have been using computer vision technologies in a number of our services for quite a while. We use them to find vacant parking spaces or read road signs, for instance, in our geolocation services,” he added.

This is not to say, however, that the transition to autonomous cars is going to be very smooth. Uber Technologies Inc. suspended its pilot programme for driverless cars a few months ago after a vehicle equipped with the nascent technology crashed on an Arizona roadway in the US. The accident, the latest involving a self-driving vehicle operated by one of several companies experimenting with autonomous vehicles, caused no serious injuries. Even so, the company said it was grounding driverless cars in its pilot programme in Arizona, Pittsburgh and San Francisco pending the outcome of investigation into the crash. The accident occurred when the driver of a second vehicle “failed to yield” to the Uber vehicle while making a turn, said Josie Montenegro, a spokeswoman for the Tempe Police Department.


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