Archive for the ‘autonomous cars’ Category

Report: Tesla is bleeding talent from its Autopilot division

August 25th, 2017

Enlarge / Tesla CEO Elon Musk. (credit: Yuriko Nakao/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Self-driving cars are coming, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been pushing his engineers hard to make sure that Tesla stays on the cutting edge. Indeed, in October 2016 he promised that the latest version of the Model S and Model X—cars with Tesla’s new “Hardware 2” suite of cameras and radar—would become capable of full self-driving in the future, with just a software update.

But according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, some Tesla engineers are skeptical that Tesla can keep this promise any time soon. Disagreement about deadlines—as well as “design and marketing decisions”—is causing turmoil inside the company.

“In recent months,” the Journal reports, the Autopilot team “has lost at least 10 engineers and four top managers.” That included the director of the Autopilot team, “who lasted less than six months before leaving in June.”

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Fiat Chrysler, BMW, and Intel announce plans to build self-driving tech

August 16th, 2017

Enlarge / Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne speaks at an event in Michigan on August 26, 2016. (credit: Bill Pugliano / Getty Images)

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is joining forces with BMW and Intel to develop self-driving car technology, the company announced on Wednesday. FCA is joining an existing alliance between BMW and Intel that also included Mobileye, the self-driving technology company Intel announced it was acquiring in March.

FCA is the smallest of Detroit’s Big Three automakers, and its approach to the self-driving car revolution has been less ambitious than rivals GM and Ford. GM paid $1 billion for self-driving car startup Cruise last year and is hoping to develop its own self-driving car technology. Ford invested $1 billion in the self-driving car startup Argo AI earlier this year and has also opened a technology subsidiary in Silicon Valley.

By contrast, FCA seems content to rely more on partners to supply the self-driving technology it will need to make its vehicles competitive in the coming decade.

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Waymo hires Avis to look after its autonomous cars in Arizona

June 26th, 2017

Enlarge / Waymo is using a fleet of Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to develop its self-driving technology. (credit: Waymo)

Back in April, we reported on Waymo’s plans to offer an autonomous ride-hailing service in Phoenix, Arizona. The project has been spun off from Google’s self-driving car project, and Waymo is using a fleet of adapted Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans to perfect its self-driving technology. Today, the company announced it is entering into a deal with the rental car company Avis to service and store the vehicles.

Autonomous ride-hailing services are being viewed by car and tech companies as a potential gold mine in a near future where car ownership is losing its luster. Instead of selling autonomous vehicles directly to the public—which will happen eventually—operating the fleets themselves means they can be commercially insured, solving (for the time being) one of the big unanswered questions about the evolving technology. But owning and operating a fleet of vehicles is easier to do if you’re a car manufacturer with the resources and experience already in-house. Hence this Waymo-Avis deal.

Waymo will own the autonomous test fleet and will pay Avis to look after the vehicles. The move proved to be quite positive for the latter’s share price, which rose by 12.5 percent this morning once news broke. That’s understandable, as the rental car industry is one that could be seriously affected by the arrival of autonomous vehicles, although it’s worth remembering that for the first few years, such services will be geofenced to certain metropolitan areas.

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Two roads to the same place: 2016 and the future of self-driving cars

December 23rd, 2016

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

The self-driving car reached something of a watershed in 2016. All of a sudden, it seems we’re right on the threshold of autonomous vehicles transforming our transportation. I’d ask any engineer in 2015 when they thought we’d have full (i.e., SAE level 5) self-driving vehicles and the answer was always “ooh, that’s another 20-30 years away.” Fast forward a year, and all of a sudden that target has moved: BMW, Intel, Mobileye, Uber, Volvo, Ford, Delphi, and others have all set 2021 (or earlier in the case of Delphi) as the year by which steering wheels become optional.

The big breakthrough is down to the use of machine learning and deep neural networks, a field that has come along leaps and bounds in a relatively short space of time. For example, Nvidia will sell OEMs and tier one suppliers an open AI platform for automotive uses that leverages the company’s GPUs and machine learning—tech that it ably demonstrated with its BB-8 technology demonstrator:

Nvidia’s deep neural network allowed BB-8 to figure out how to drive on and off road in a short amount of time.

But along the way, the automakers and tech firms working on the problem have diverged into two groups: the ones who plan to get there in an incremental, stepwise fashion, and the others who plan to skip the intermediate step.

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George Hotz cancels self-driving car product after US regulator asks questions

October 28th, 2016

CEO of George “Geohot” Hotz speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2016 at Pier 48 on September 13, 2016 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch) (credit: TechCrunch)

Autonomous driving company announced via its Twitter feed this morning that it would be canceling its forthcoming Comma One product. Comma One was supposed to bring after-market autonomy to third-party vehicles. The company was founded by hacker George Hotz (aka Geohot), who is credited as the first person to hack the iPhone. In his tweets under the account, Hotz said that he decided to discontinue production after he received a stern letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requesting more information about how the product works and safety precautions built into the technology.

“First time I hear from them and they open with threats. No attempt at a dialog,” Hotz tweeted with a link to the NHTSA’s 10-page letter. “Would much rather spend my life building amazing tech than dealing with regulators and lawyers. It isn’t worth it,” he added.

Finally, Hotz tweeted, “The comma one is cancelled. will be exploring other products and markets. Hello from Shenzhen, China.”

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Posted in autonomous cars, autonomy, Cars Technica, Geohot, George Hotz | Comments (0)

A former Ferrari F1 engineer says gaze tracking is key to self-driving cars

October 19th, 2016

Enlarge / Cogisen’s co-founder and CEO was an engineer with Ferrari during one of their F1 heydays in the early 2000s. (credit: Getty Images | Christian Fischer/Bongarts)

A frequent topic on these pages concerns Silicon Valley and its ongoing attempt to disrupt the car industry. But over in Europe, a former Ferrari F1 engineer has some thoughts of his own on the matter and thinks his company—Cogisen—has a better way of doing things. Christiaan Erik Rijnders spent several years in the early 2000s working on Ferrari’s simulator, simulations, and vehicle dynamics, during which time Ferrari utterly dominated the sport.

Through that work, he absorbed a few important lessons on the way successful R&D programs should run, and they’re lessons he’s been applying more recently to the problem of image processing. In particular, Cogisen has some very cool gaze-tracking algorithms (earning the startup a Horizon 2020 grant from the European Union) that may have an important role to play in autonomous vehicles. We spoke to Rijnders recently to find out more about his time at the Scuderia and to talk about where he thinks most traditional tech startups are going wrong.

“On the inside [of Ferrari], it was everything it was cracked up to be; you really got to see what proper engineering is and proper management is,” he told Ars. “You’d have world-class engineers who were all very strong in theoretical fundamentals of what engineering is, who would all share data in a climate where risk taking was encouraged, where nobody was afraid to make decisions and they were made very well, especially on a strategic level by Ross Brawn, on a political level by Jean Todt, and on a technical level by Rory Byrne.”

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To reduce traffic, ditch yellow lights and form platoons of self-driving cars

March 22nd, 2016

Credit: MIT SENSEable City Lab.

A recent paper co-authored by MIT researchers did the math on how best to allow competing traffic through an intersection. The results, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, suggest that once cars can connect to city infrastructure, traffic lights will be a suboptimal way to regulate traffic through city streets.

Instead, the paper suggests, cars should talk to computers at intersections and be allowed through the crossing via a slot-based system, without the need for yellow lights. Better yet, once fully autonomous vehicles hit the road, even greater efficiencies could be realized by having the cars talk to each other to form platoons that move through intersections.

The researchers start by acknowledging the inadequacies of the 150-year-old traffic light—at any given intersection, they say, there are so many variables that any one breakdown in the flow of traffic can be disastrous for the whole intersection. “This explains why traffic can rapidly deteriorate in cities, resulting in widespread congestion and immense societal and environmental costs,” the paper notes.

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Face to face with Ford’s self-driving Fusion Hybrid research vehicles

August 6th, 2015

DETROIT, MI—The future, or a slice of it, can be found in one of the many labs inside Ford’s Research and Innovation Center. The center is a three-story brick affair on Ford’s vast campus, but it wouldn’t look out of place at a well-funded research university. Well-appointed labs branch out from gray-painted corridors lined with plastic bumpers, the kind you see in hospitals to prevent dents in the walls from people carting around heavy equipment. Young engineers from across the globe congregate to eat lunch in the airy atrium before heading back to carry on their research on metallurgy, new catalysts, or a myriad of other fields in which the Blue Oval has an interest.

We navigated the warren-like maze of corridors on our way to a workshop to meet some of the company’s self-driving research vehicles, led by Randy Visintainer, Ford’s head of autonomous vehicles. The workshop itself looks like a cross between a garage and research lab. Fume cupboards and lab benches share the space with three white Ford Fusion hybrids. These are Ford’s autonomous driving research vehicles, and Visintainer—along with Jim McBride and Doug Rhode—is here to show off the technology that makes autonomous driving possible.

From the outside, the cars look almost entirely stock other than the sensor bars mounted to the roofs. These are studded with Velodyne lidar scanners or pucks. Each one of these is packed with lasers—which illuminate the sensor’s field of view out to around 300 feet (100m)—and detectors that sense the reflected laser light. As configured during our visit, two of the sensors are mounted horizontally, and another two are angled down at about 30˚ to be able to scan the road around the vehicles.

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Ford plans to cover its cars with cameras, catch up on self-driving tech

June 24th, 2015

On Tuesday Ford detailed its roadmap to building cars for the future, and that plan involves putting lots of cameras and sensors on new models. Notably, the company said it would be moving its work on autonomous cars from the research department to advanced engineering, begin wearable technology development, and introduce a new split view camera to help drivers see obstacles coming in from the side.

Ford said it plans to increase the number of augmented driving functions in its cars over the next five years. It also said it would begin work on making the sensors and computing power necessary to run a fully self-driving car feasible for production. The company already has models that use functions like parking assistance, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assistance, and blind spot monitoring. But Ford faces intense competition in the autonomous vehicle space: companies like Audi and Volvo have been experimenting with active driving assistance for a long time, and Google and Delphi have already logged hundreds of thousands of miles testing fully self-driving cars.

Ford also announced a new split-view camera set up that it claims will help drivers scan a wider field of view to reduce accidents. The split view will display a 180-degree-view of the area in front and behind a vehicle. “Split-view uses real-time video feeds from 1-megapixel wide-angle lens cameras in the grille and tailgate,” Ford wrote. “A tri-panel display in the 8-inch screen helps customers understand quickly whether an obstacle is coming from either side or straight on.”

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Freightliner unveils the first road-legal self-driving truck

May 6th, 2015

Last night, on the Hoover Dam, Freightliner (which is owned by automotive giant Daimler) unveiled the first road-legal self-driving truck. At the event last night, the Inspiration Truck (yes really) was awarded an official autonomous vehicle license plate by the governor of Nevada. Sadly, there was no mention of pricing or commercial availability—but it won’t be particularly soon. The license plate is a step towards lots more testing on the roads of Nevada… and then we’ll see what federal regulators think about fleets of self-driving trucks.

The lorry has the same “NHTSA Level 3” rating as Google’s self-driving car, which means that it’s fully autonomous, but that the driver still has to be able to take over “with sufficiently comfortable transition time” if the need arises. In this case, while the Inspiration Truck could drive itself for hundreds of miles without driver intervention, Daimler is framing this as a conversation around driver fatigue. According to Daimler, 90 percent of truck crashes are due to driver error, and driver fatigue plays a role in 1/8th of those crashes.

Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Daimler’s truck company, said at the event last night that the company tested driver brain activity with and without the autonomous driving system enabled. With the system turned on, “driver drowsiness decreases by about 25 percent.”

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