Category Archives: Selfdriving

‘Robo-taxis’ hold promise for future

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It’s November 22, 2028 and Sarah, a young mother, gives her two children a kiss goodbye before buckling them into the driverless car that will bring them to school.

Sarah doesn’t have a car and has no plans to buy one. Living in a suburb, she has run the numbers and the result is clear: It’s much cheaper to order a car only when she needs one.

The ‘robo-taxi’ has also made her life easier, but only after such vehicles upended the business models which carmakers had relied on for decades.

Such a future may not be far off. The revolution is already underway, with every major brand racing to create autonomous electric cars and trucks that will always be just a few clicks of a smartphone away.

Fully electric cars are expected to make up 12% of the global market in 2025, before jumping to 34% in 2030 and 90% by 2050, analysts at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch forecast last month.

The motivations are clear: Smog is becoming a serious menace in cities around the world, with China in particular demanding cleaner vehicles for its rapidly growing market.

Nimble rivals

Traffic jams are also eating up hours of commuters’ time, meaning car ownership is already no longer a given for many city dwellers. And carmakers have nimble new rivals: Apple, Google and Tesla, which last week unveiled an all-electric semi truck, see a chance to dominate a market that will soon depend as much on software as on engineering.

Industry chiefs aren’t waiting: France’s PSA is betting on car-sharing and other “services” with its Free2Move division.

In Germany, Daimler is working with Bosch to develop self-driving electric cars that could be on the road by the early 2020s, and has already launched its own car-sharing service, Car2Go, in some two dozen cities worldwide.

Its German rival Volkswagen has created Moia, a “social movement” unit exploring e-shuttles, ride pooling and car hailing.

“Even if in the future not everyone is going to own a car, with Moia we’re trying to make sure everyone will be a client of ours one way or another,” VW’s chief Matthias Mueller said.

Robo-taxis could generate 40% of auto industry profits by 2030, according to German consulting firm Roland Berger, which expects demand for private vehicles to drop 30% in the period.

And industry experts warn that the automakers which fail to adapt to the shift risk might not survive.

But that means investing billions in batteries, charging infrastructure and autonomous driving technologies with little prospect of seeing a pay off any time soon.

VW announced on Friday a plan to spend €34 billion ($40 billion) over the next five years on hybrid and electric cars and services in a bid to “reinvent” the automobile. But for now, so-called “zero emission” vehicles remain a tough sell: Renault’s Zoe range of electric cars, which it has offered since 2012, made up just 1% of its sales last year.

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Volvo says deal will provide thousands of self-driving cars for Uber fleet

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Nov. 20 (UPI) — Swedish automaker Volvo announced Monday it will sell thousands of driverless vehicles to ride-share giant Uber, for what will be the start of the company’s autonomous fleet.

A Volvo statement said the framework for the deal calls for “tens of thousands” of XC90 coupes to be outfitted for autonomous driving in Sweden and sold to Uber.

Bloomberg reported the figure at 24,000 vehicles, to be delivered between 2019 and 2021.

Uber said it is testing self-driving XC90 models in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Arizona, and intends to purchase and use specially-modified Mercedes-Benz vehicles as well.

Volvo and Uber began a partnership last year, and the automaker has said it plans to introduce a fully self-driving car for the public in 2021.

“The automotive industry is being disrupted by technology and Volvo Cars chooses to be an active part of that disruption,” said Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson. “Our aim is to be the supplier of choice for [autonomous driving] ride-sharing service providers globally.”

The deal announced Monday is believed to be worth about $1.4 billion.

Competitor Waymo recently announced plans to begin its own autonomous ride-hailing service, which may be the reason for Uber accelerating its plans, Tech Crunch reported.

Flying cars are feasible today. So what’s holding them back?

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For nearly as long as there have been cars, there have been dreamers trying — and failing — to make them fly.

The skies today are filled with fixed-wing airplanes, drones and helicopters. Rockets, satellites and even a manned permanent space station soar above the atmosphere, extending humankind’s climb away from Earth’s gravitational pull.

Yet, 100 years after the debut of aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss’ Autoplane in 1917 and the countless unfulfilled promises of tinkerers, the car remains maddeningly stuck on the ground.

So why, exactly, has this one early transportation dream remained so frustratingly out of reach? To this point, it’s been the engineering — insufficient power-to-weight ratios and the scarcity of lightweight composite materials, for example — as well as difficult regulatory hurdles associated with both experimental aircraft and the automobile.

But perhaps for the first time in a century, the contention that flying cars are “just around the corner” might not be so far-fetched.

Uber said this month that it plans to have flying taxis in Los Angeles, Dallas and Dubai by 2020, and it’s partnering with NASA to create a special air-traffic control system. Volvo Cars’ Chinese owner, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, last week completed its purchase of Terrafugia, a startup that claims to have developed the first “practical” flying car.

“I don’t think it’s being held up anymore,” said Pat Anderson, director of Eagle Flight Research Center at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.



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Anderson says the cutting-edge technologies and trends driving the automotive industry — hybrid-electric powertrains, super-lightweight composite materials, autonomous driving systems, shared-ownership models — also are pushing development in light aircraft. Coupled with a massive easing of aircraft development regulations that only went into full effect Aug. 31, the “flying car,” or something approximating that long-held dream, is finally within reach. And not only is it achievable, big players are moving to make it happen, and relatively soon.

“The engineering is possible today,” Anderson explained, with one big caveat: “What everybody is calling a flying car in the media does not go down the road and has no wheels.”

What does that mean?

“It means [a vehicle that] is going to replace the car, in some instances,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t mean it will be a plane that’s going to drive down the road or park in your garage.”

Since Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co. first showed its Autoplane prototype in 1917, most of the development work on flying cars has been focused on vehicles that might more accurately be called “roadable airplanes” — that is, they can be flown and then later driven on a road. With few exceptions, most of these have been winged two- or four-passenger vehicles.

Like the Curtiss Autoplane prototype, many of these roadable airplanes — the Terrafugia Transition and AeroMobil are modern examples — have employed mechanisms that allow the wings to retract or fold when the vehicle is on the ground, making it narrow enough to navigate in traffic with other cars. But there have always been baked-in problems with this type of design, including excessive noise, safety concerns, the need for runways and the need for a pilot’s license. There is also the requirement to meet rigid aviation safety regulations as well as nettlesome and costly automotive safety regulations.



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Those compounded requirements have proved burdensome, to say the least, for some inventors. Take 80-year-old Canadian engineer Paul Moller. He’s been chasing the dream of a flying car for over 50 years and developed the M400 Skycar, a vertical takeoff and landing vehicle, that made its first test flight in 2003. Moller explained that stringent automotive safety regulations were the reason his Skycar design had three wheels instead of four, classifying it as a motorcycle under federal law.

“If you’ve got to deal with the crash-protection issues of the automobile, forget it; you’re never going to fly it,” Moller explained in a 2004 TED Talk. “If you’re going to fly like that, you’re not going to spend much time on the highway.”

If history proves anything, it is that cars and planes probably don’t mix — except in the minds of inventors.

“The smashing together of a car and an airplane makes neither a good car nor a good airplane,” Embry-Riddle’s Anderson said.

Yet the burning desire to build a flying car keeps even some famous inventors thinking about overcoming such obstacles.

“We could definitely make a flying car — but that’s not the hard part,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk told a London audience in 2014. “The hard part is: How do you make a flying car that’s super safe and quiet? Because if it’s a howler, you’re going to make people very unhappy.”

While roadable airplanes remain a long shot at best, experts agree that at least some automotive functionality soon will move to the sky.



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Among the most likely to arrive first: point-to-point autonomous airborne ride services that one might employ to travel, say, in New York between LaGuardia Airport in Queens and a landing pad in midtown Manhattan, bypassing gridlocked traffic. Such vehicles likely wouldn’t have wheels or spend any time on the streets. Instead, they would fly distances of about 25 miles or less (making important variables such as weather more predictable), be electrically powered with multiple rotors and fly completely autonomously.

In other words, a large drone with human cargo, or an Uber Black for the sky.

“The way helicopters pick up rich people and take them from place to place out of traffic? That’s what you’re going to see, except with drones,” said Don Hillebrand, director of the Center for Transportation Research at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago. “It may not be five years from now, but it will happen.”

Some well-known companies in the aerospace and automotive industries already are preparing.

At this year’s Geneva auto show, aerospace giant Airbus teamed up with Italdesign, an automotive design and engineering firm, to display a concept called the Pop.Up. It comprises an enclosed, two-seat, carbon-fiber pod that autonomously attaches to either an eight-rotor flying module or a four-wheeled ground module, depending on where the passengers need to go. Both modules would be battery-powered, the two companies said, and each module would return to its charging station when not in use to juice up and await its next call for service.

“I think, right now, the urban sky is quite underutilized, and that’s exactly the proposition,” said Mathias Thomsen, general manager for urban air mobility at Airbus. “The gridlike layouts of roads doesn’t actually do it for us. We think that by combining air and ground, we will get a much better use of the space than we have in our cities.”



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Two hours after it was launched to much fanfare, a driverless, autonomous shuttle was bumped into by a human-driven delivery truck in Las Vegas. The driver of the truck was cited for “unsafe …



“With fully autonomous driving, once you crack that, you have a completely safe car that can’t crash into another car,” Hillebrand explained. “And once you have cars that can’t hit each other, you don’t need all of these [automotive] safety standards.”

Autonomous driving and the related communications infrastructure, in theory, should make obsolete the need for lanes, traffic signals and other traffic devices, along with the stringent mandates contained in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulations, Hillebrand said.

But it won’t reduce the number of people who need to get from Point A to Point B.

Overcrowding, Hillebrand said, “is much harder in a two-dimensional space on the ground than it is in a three-dimensional space in the air,” where vehicles can move side to side as well as up and down to avoid collisions. “So when you solve that dream, you’ve changed the way cities look.”

The other big driver is battery technology, specifically energy density, Hillebrand said. “The calculations we’ve done so far indicate that we need about a fivefold increase in battery energy density, to about 1,000 watt-hours per kilogram. The good news is, we’re improving at 3 to 5 percent a year, so with the power of compounding, we’ll get there some day relatively soon.”

Still, one old nemesis will remain: weather.

Even though autonomous point-to-point flying vehicles likely would travel at elevations below 1,000 feet, they still would be susceptible to ice that could dramatically decrease their ability to remain aloft.

“The main reason these vehicles will have limited range, probably 25 miles or so, is that if you go much further than that, you can’t really guarantee what the weather is going to be like, and icing becomes a problem,” said Anderson, the Embry-Riddle professor.

Hillebrand agreed: “I doubt we’re ever going to be able to control that.”

Dude, where’s my flying car?” originally appeared in Automotive News on 11/20/2017














By Larry P. Vellequette at Automotive News





Volvo to supply Uber with self-driving cars

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Swedish carmaker Volvo Cars said Monday it has signed an agreement to supply “tens of thousands” of self-driving cars to the ride-sharing company, Uber.

Volvo—which is owned by China’s Geely and has yet to build a self-driving system—said in a statement that it would supply Uber with “autonomous driving compatible base vehicles between 2019 and 2021.”

The were not disclosed and, when contacted by AFP, a Volvo spokesman did not specify the number of cars.

But the statement said that “Volvo Cars’ engineers have worked closely together with engineers from Uber to develop the XC90 premium SUVs that are to be supplied to Uber.”

The base vehicles “incorporate all necessary safety, redundancy and core technologies that are required for Uber to add its own self-driving technology,” the statement said.

The deal builds on a non-exclusive agreement signed by the two parties back in 2016.

Uber’s head of auto alliances, Jeff Miller, said the deal “puts us on a path towards mass produced self-driving vehicles at scale.”

Uber was thrown into disarray earlier this year when Transport for London (TfL) refused to renew its licence to operate in the British capital due to concerns about public safety for passengers and the process of driver registration.


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Uber to Expand Autonomous Driving Through New Volvo Agreement

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Uber is expanding its fleet of autonomous cars with help from Volvo (VOLVY) .

Swedish automaker Volvo Cars on Monday announced that it had signed a framework agreement with ride-hailing giant Uber to sell tens of thousands of self-driving compatible base cars between 2019 and 2021.

“We’re thrilled to expand our partnership with Volvo,” said Jeff Miller, Head of Auto Alliances, Uber. “This new agreement puts us on a path towards mass produced self-driving vehicles at scale.”

The vehicles will be manufactured on Volvo’s fully modular, in-house developed Scalable Product Architecture (SPA). Volvo calls the SPA, a global full-size unibody automobile platform, one of the “the most advanced car architectures in the world” and currently uses it to develop its 90 series cars as well as the new XC60 midsize SUV.

While terms of the deal were not disclosed, Uber is reportedly buying 24,000 XC90 vehicles between 2019 and 2021 in a deal worth potentially $1.4 billion for Volvo, according to Financial Times calculations.

“Volvo Cars’ engineers have worked closely together with engineers from Uber to develop the XC90 premium SUVs that are to be supplied to Uber,” Volvo said. “The base vehicles incorporate all necessary safety, redundancy and core autonomous driving technologies that are required for Uber to add its own self-driving technology.”

The non-exclusive agreement builds upon the purchase by Uber in 2016 to develop a fleet of 200 Volvo sporty utility cars, equipped with self-driving technology that carries out tests in cities like Pittsburgh.

“The automotive industry is being disrupted by technology and Volvo Cars chooses to be an active part of that disruption,” said Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive. “Our aim is to be the supplier of choice for AD ride-sharing service providers globally. Today’s agreement with Uber is a primary example of that strategic direction.”

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