The Autonomous Report: Tesla modifies Autopilot and self-drivers are evolving along two different lines
By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario — September 2, 2016 — There was a lot of action in the autonomous vehicle (AV) space in the last week, with Tesla making some changes to its Autopilot software, advance reports from the upcoming Connected Car conference and a look at how various OEMs seem to be following two different paths towards AVs.
– After a couple of months of ongoing criticism over the Autopilot function in Tesla vehicles, Elon Musk seems to have relented. The latest version of the function will lock out drivers who take their hands off the wheel of the car. When Autopilot was first released, Tesla insisted it was simply a driver assist function. Tesla nerds however quickly began posting YouTube videos of them engaging Autopilot and then jumping into the back seat while the car piloted itself.
This past summer a Florida driver was killed in a brutal accident that sheered off the top of the car when it went under a semi. The car’s sensors failed to pick up the white truck crossing in front a bright sun that was low in the sky. The driver, apparently watching a Harry Potter movie at the wheel, didn’t see the truck and was killed when he car went under it. Tesla has since warned drivers to only use Autopilot as an assist program. The function isn’t meant to turn a Tesla into an automated vehicle.
In response to the criticism Tesla released a new version that will turn off when “drivers take their hands off the wheel for more than a few seconds … the car will chime a warning. If the warning is ignored, Autopilot will disengage.”
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, “Advanced driver-assistance packages are growing in popularity as auto makers become more aggressive in marketing them or installing them on models at the point of production. Analysts consider features like automatic braking or adaptive cruise control to be among the most profitable components of a new vehicle sale when an auto maker offers those features as options.” The report also notes that, “Honda Motors Co.’s system is considered less capable then Tesla’s, but is about half the price. Volvo Car Corp. recently began selling its new S90 sedan with a standard “Pilot Assist” feature.”
– The sunset of smartphone growth? Kumar Abhimanyu, a columnist who follows the auto industry for TechCrunch, says our new future of connected cars suggests that, “At some point within the next two to three years, consumers will come to expect car connectivity to be standard, similar to the adoption curve for GPS navigation.” As this new era begins, telecoms will begin measuring “average revenue per car.”
Automotive OEMs will see a “variety of revenue-generating touch points for connected vehicles at gas stations, electric charging stations and more. We also should expect progressive mobile carriers to gain prominence….The industry crossed a critical threshold in the first quarter [of 2016] when net ‘adds’ of connected cars (32 percent) rose above the net add of smart phones (31 percent) for the very first time … The next big event to watch for…will be when connected cars trigger a significant redistribution of revenue among the value chain players … After phones, cars will be the biggest category for mobile-data consumption.”
– CarVi, a car technology startup from Silicon Valley, distributed a press release this week that talked about the company’s new Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). The company will present the tech at the Sixth Annual Connected Car Insurance USA Conference and Exhibition in Chicago on September 7, 2016.
According to the release, the technology firm “offers an affordable mobile driving assistant system which can be easily installed in any car, old or new. It includes a small dashboard camera connected to a driver’s smartphone through a mobile app. CarVi’s software analyzes the camera’s video stream in real time and alerts the driver about potentially dangerous situations. The system adds superior safety features to any car and encourages lower-risk driving behaviours.”
– Also at the Connected Car conference will be a start-up based out of Waterloo, Ont., Intelligent Mechatronic Systems (IMS), a “leading connected car and insurance telematics supplier,” according to a statement from the company. The company’s product, SmartRide, allows users to “receive coaching and feedback based on driving behavior while also being rewarded insurance discounts up to 40 percent for safe driving and 10 percent just for signing up.”
– The emerging automated vehicles sector is evolving along two different lines, according a report in The Detroit News. On one hand, OEMs like GM and Ford have “enough cash reserves that they are developing their own proprietary autonomous systems in close partnership with technology companies. Others are waiting to buy off-the-shelf systems like the fully autonomous one announced by [auto parts maker] Delphi Automotive PLC and Mobileye NV, which they said Tuesday will be ready for any automaker to purchase by 2019 … Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages: Automakers who create their own systems can potentially be first to market and have the authority to adapt and change the technology to suit their specific needs. Automakers who wait for a turnkey approach, however, avoid some of the risk of failure and potentially save hundreds of millions in research and development.”
Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler, seemed to suggest in January that his company is “waiting on a supplier’s system – like the one being developed by Delphi and Mobileye,” according to the story. “The proposed system would include a steering wheel and pedals, allowing for the possibility of a driver taking over in an emergency. New mapping software and hardware from Mobileye would work with a Delphi control module that uses data from its cameras, LiDAR (light-detection and ranging system) and radar to make driving decisions.”