Archive for the ‘self driving cars’ Category

Cruise will soon hit San Francisco with no hands on the wheel

October 17th, 2020
Cruise has been testing its self-driving cars, with safety drivers, in San Francisco for about five years.

Enlarge / Cruise has been testing its self-driving cars, with safety drivers, in San Francisco for about five years. (credit: Andrej Sokolow | Getty Images)

Last week, Waymo, the self-driving-vehicle developer owned by Alphabet, expanded a first-of-its-kind service offering rides to paying passengers around Phoenix—with no one behind the wheel. Videos shared by Waymo and others show its minivans navigating wide, sunny streets with ease.

Now rival Cruise, a General Motors subsidiary, has taken a step toward running its own self-driving-taxi service—on the hilly, winding, pedestrian-swarmed streets of San Francisco. On Thursday, Cruise said the California Department of Motor Vehicles had granted it a permit to test up to five of its modified Chevy Bolts without anyone behind the wheel. In a blog post, Cruise CEO Dan Ammann said truly driverless cars would operate in the city before the end of the year.

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Here’s what one startup does when its self-driving cars get stuck

July 11th, 2020
A man operates an automobile simulator.

Enlarge (credit: Voyage)

The ideal self-driving car would drive itself all the time, in all situations. But achieving that goal in practice is difficult—so difficult, in fact, that most self-driving companies have provisions for human backup to help cars get out of tricky or confusing situations.

But companies are often secretive about exactly how these systems work. Perhaps they worry that providing details—or even admitting they exist—will cast their self-driving technology in an unflattering light.

So it was refreshing to see the self-driving startup Voyage unveil its remote driving console as if it was announcing a major new product—which, in a sense, it is. Voyage didn't just create software that allows a remote operator to give instructions to a self-driving car—it built a physical "Telessist Pod" where a remote driver sits to control the vehicle.

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Volvo plans cars with lidar and “eyes off” highway driving by 2022

May 6th, 2020
The roof of a high-end sedan.

Enlarge / A Volvo roofline with integrated Luminar lidar sensor. (credit: Volvo)

Volvo will begin producing vehicles with powerful lidar sensors from startup Luminar, the Swedish company announced on Wednesday. It's a significant milestone for the automotive industry as well as a major coup for Luminar. Volvo invested in Luminar in 2018.

Lidar sensors will be available starting in 2022 as part of the SPA 2 architecture—the successor to the SPA 1 architecture that underlies many of Volvo's cars today. While Volvo hasn't announced specific model information, this likely means that the lidar will be available on vehicles like the XC-90 starting with the 2023 model year.

While some leading high-end lidars spin 360 degrees, Luminar's sensors are fixed in place with a 120-degree horizontal field of view. Volvo plans to integrate Luminar's lidar into the car's roof just above the windshield, where it will have a good view of the road ahead of the vehicle.

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Levandowski says Uber must pay his $179 million judgment to Google

April 1st, 2020
A casually dressed man speaks into a microphone from a behind a Manhasset (or Manhasset-style) music stand.

Enlarge / Anthony Levandowski, then-VP of engineering at Uber, in 2016. Levandowski co-founded self-driving truck startup Otto and then led Uber's self-driving technology efforts before being fired in 2017. (credit: ANGELO MERENDINO/AFP/Getty Images)

Alphabet's huge legal battle with Uber over self-driving technology ended two years ago. But the engineer at the center of that fight, Anthony Levandowski, is still facing legal and financial headaches. On Monday, he told a federal bankruptcy court in California that Uber was contractually obligated to cover a $179 million legal judgment that Levandowski owes to Google. Levandowski asked the court to order Uber to enter arbitration on the matter.

Levandowski claims that Uber was fully aware of the circumstances of Levandowski's 2016 departure from Google when Uber acquired Levandowski's self-driving startup, Otto, later the same year. Prior to the acquisition, Uber hired a firm to look into the background of Otto and its founders. Levandwoski says he cooperated fully, giving investigators access to his email accounts and personal files.

According to Levandowski, the investigators found—and told Uber—that Levandowski had files belonging to Google on his devices and had tried to recruit a number of Google employees for his new company while he still worked for Google. Levandowski claims that he repeatedly warned Uber management, including CEO Travis Kalanick, that Google was likely to sue if Uber bought Otto. But according to Levandowski, Kalanick wasn't concerned. "Uber eats injunctions for breakfast," he allegedly told Levandowski.

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The feds just blessed a custom self-driving vehicle for the first time

February 7th, 2020
Promotional image of a self-driving, no-passenger vehicle on a sedate urban street.

Enlarge / The new Nuro R2. (credit: Nuro)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Thursday officially signed off on a new self-driving vehicle from the the delivery startup Nuro. It's an historic move; Nuro says it's the first time NHTSA has exempted a self-driving vehicle from regulatory requirements that apply to conventional vehicles.

Nuro's new delivery vehicle, the R2, looks a lot like its predecessor, the R1. Nuro has partnerships with Walmart, Domino's, and Kroger, and it has been using R1 robots to deliver groceries, pizza, and other products in the Phoenix and Houston areas since late 2018. But the R2 comes with some key improvements. The cargo area is significantly larger without increasing the overall size of the vehicle. And the R2—unlike the R1—has the ability to heat and cool the compartments to keep products at the perfect temperature.

The R2 is also notable for the features it doesn't have.

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Waymo’s self-driving cars will carry packages for UPS in Phoenix

January 29th, 2020
A UPS worker loads boxes into a Waymo van.

Enlarge (credit: Waymo)

Waymo, Alphabet's self-driving company, is getting into the package-delivery business, the company announced in a Wednesday blog post.

"Our self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans will shuttle packages from UPS Stores in the Metro Phoenix area to the UPS Tempe hub," Chief Operating Officer Tekedra Mawakana writes. Initially, Waymo will have a safety driver behind the wheel of each vehicle carrying packages.

Importantly, Waymo is not going to start delivering UPS packages directly to customers—a job that would require a human delivery person to carry the package to a customer's front door.

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Waymo is way, way ahead on testing miles—that might not be a good thing

January 7th, 2020
A self-driving car driving itself

Enlarge / A Waymo self-driving car doing its thing in May 2019. (credit: Picture Alliance / Getty Images)

Waymo, Alphabet's self-driving company, has logged 20 million miles on public roads, the company announced in a Tuesday press statement. The new milestone comes just 15 months after Waymo hit the 10 million mile mark in October 2018.

The latest figure puts Waymo far, far ahead of its rivals. I noted 15 months ago that only one company had announced even 1 million miles of driving—and that was Uber, which was forced to scale back its testing after a fatal crash. Today, the story is largely the same; if anyone else in the self-driving industry has cracked a million miles of on-road driving, I haven't seen the press release.

Back in 2018, I reported that most of Waymo's rivals are quick to dismiss the significance of testing miles. Today (as in 2018), they argue that quality of testing miles matters more than quality.

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How terrible software design decisions led to Uber’s deadly 2018 crash

November 6th, 2019
A bicycle leans against the front of an SUV at night.

Enlarge (credit: NTSB)

Radar in Uber's self-driving vehicle detected pedestrian Elaine Herzberg more than five seconds before the SUV crashed into her, according to a new report from the National Safety Transportation Board. Unfortunately, a series of poor software design decisions prevented the software from taking any action until 0.2 seconds before the deadly crash in Tempe, Arizona.

Herzberg's death occurred in March 2018, and the NTSB published its initial report on the case in May of that year. That report made clear that badly written software, not failing hardware, was responsible for the crash that killed Herzberg.

But the new report, released Tuesday, marks the end of NTSB's 20-month investigation. It provides a lot more detail about how Uber's software worked—and how everything went wrong in the final seconds before the crash that killed Herzberg.

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Uber lays off another 350 workers amid ongoing losses

October 14th, 2019
A man in an open-collared shirt during a presentation.

Enlarge / Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. (credit: George Grinsted)

Uber is laying off another 350 workers, the company announced on Monday. Uber Eats and Uber's self-driving car team are among the divisions hit by job losses. TechCrunch obtained a copy of an email CEO Dara Khosrowshahi sent to Uber workers. It describes the layoffs as "difficult but necessary changes."

This is Uber's third round of layoffs for 2019. The company laid off 400 workers in its marketing department in July and 435 engineering and product workers in September. Some workers have also been asked to relocate.

Uber announced in August that it racked up record losses of $5 billion in the second quarter of 2019. It's important to note that the bulk of that figure represents one-time charges connected to Uber's May stock offering. Excluding those charges, Uber's ongoing burn rate has been around $1 billion in recent quarters. Third-quarter financial results are due out next month.

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I watched over 100 Tesla Smart Summon videos—here’s what I learned

October 14th, 2019
I watched over 100 Tesla Smart Summon videos—here’s what I learned

Enlarge (credit: Getty / Aurich Lawson)

In late September, Tesla released a major software update that included a new feature called Smart Summon. It enables a customer to summon their car from across a parking lot with no one inside—though the owner is expected to continuously monitor the car from outside.

People immediately started testing the feature and documenting their experiences on social media. Over the last few weeks I've watched more than 100 YouTube videos of people testing out Smart Summon. I've also read dozens of comments on Twitter, Reddit, and Tesla forums discussing the new feature.

Smart Summon worked well enough for most owners, but a fair number of them experienced problems. Take well-known YouTuber Judner Aura, for example. He had his cousin walk in front of his Tesla car as it turned out of a parking spot. The car got uncomfortably close to his cousin before Aura halted the test.

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