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Tesla driver banned

Tesla Model S

A man who switched on his car’s autopilot before moving to the passenger seat while travelling along a motorway has been banned from driving for 18 months.

Bhavesh Patel, 39, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving at St Albans Crown Court in the UK. 

While his Tesla S 60 was in motion, Patel chose to switch on the supercar’s autopilot function before moving across to the passenger seat and leaving the steering wheel and foot controls completely unmanned.

A witness noticed Patel, who had owned the car for a maximum of five months at the time of the incident, sitting in the passenger seat of the vehicle.

No one could be seen in the driver’s seat and Patel appeared to have his hands behind his head. The witness, who was a passenger in another car, filmed Patel as the car drove past.

Witnesses estimated that the vehicle was travelling at approximately 65km/h at the time.

Footage of the incident was first posted on social media before it was reported to police.

He was later interviewed by officers at Stevenage Police Station, where he admitted that he knew what he had done was silly, but that the car was capable of something “amazing” and that he was just the “unlucky one who got caught.”

As part of the investigation, officers obtained a statement from a Tesla engineer who described autopilot as a ‘suite of driver assistance features’.

They stated that these are hands-on features intended to provide assistance to a “fully-attentive driver.”

Investigating officer PC Kirk Caldicutt, from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Road Policing Unit, said: “This case should serve as an example to all drivers who have access to autopilot controls and have thought about attempting something similar. I want to stress that they are in no way a substitute for a competent motorist in the driving seat who can react appropriately to the road ahead.”

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Driver killed in Tesla crash

A driver has died after his Tesla Model X crashed in California on Friday morning, and concerns about its exposed battery contributed to more than six hours of lane closures, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The accident was reported when the 2017 Tesla, traveling at freeway speed, collided with a median barrier. 

Soon after the crash, the vehicle caught on fire, and then an approaching Mazda and Audi hit the Tesla.

The Tesla driver was removed from the car and taken to hospital with major injuries, and was pronounced dead Friday afternoon, Officer Art Montiel said. 

Road crews were prevented from immediately clearing the wreck from the roadway because explosion concerns after the car’s sizeable battery was exposed by the crash.

Engineers from Tesla were sent to evaluate the battery, and after about an hour they deemed the car safe to transport, Montiel said.

The semiautonomous Autopilot feature had also been turned on before the crash raising more questions about the safety of the company’s self-driving technology.

The company said in a statement posted on its website that the driver in the crash last week had “about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view” before he crashed into a median barrier, adding that “the vehicle logs show that no action was taken.”

The driver had been given “several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive,” Tesla said.

Still, Tesla defended its Autopilot hardware. In its statement, the company said there was one automotive fatality for every 138 million kilometres across all vehicles in the United States, compared with one fatality for every 515 million kilometres in vehicles equipped with Autopilot.

“If you are driving a Tesla equipped with Autopilot hardware, you are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident,” the company said.

The crash occurred five days after a fatality which involved the first pedestrian death associated with self-driving technology.




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Uber had issues prior to crash

One of Uber’s autonomous cars

Uber’s self-driving vehicle project was not living up to expectations months before a self-driving car operated by the company struck and killed a woman in Arizona, USA.

The cars were having trouble driving through construction zones and next to tall vehicles, with Uber’s human back up drivers having to intervene far more frequently than the drivers of competing autonomous car projects.

Waymo, formerly the self-driving car project of Google, said that in tests on roads in California last year, its cars went an average of nearly 9,000 km before the driver had to take control from the computer to steer out of trouble. 

As of March, Uber was struggling to meet its target of 20 km per “intervention” in Arizona, according to company documents obtained by The New York Times and two people familiar with the company’s operations in the Phoenix area but not permitted to speak publicly about it.

There was also mounting pressure to live up to a goal to offer a driverless car service by the end of the year and to impress top executives.

Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive, was expected to visit Arizona in April, and leaders of the company’s development group in the Phoenix area wanted to give him a glitch-free ride in an autonomous car.

Tech companies like Uber, Waymo and Lyft, as well as automakers like General Motors and Toyota, have spent billions developing self-driving cars in the belief that the market for them could one day be worth trillions of dollars.

On Monday, Uber halted autonomous car tests in Arizona, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. It is not clear when the company will revive them.

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What the Uber fatality reveals

The tragedy of the first fatal collision between an autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian points to a potential vulnerability with the emerging technology now being tested on the open roads.

While self-driving vehicles can reliably see their surroundings using sophisticated sensors and cameras, the software doesn’t always understand what it detects.

New details have been released about Uber’s autonomous vehicle that struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona, which indicate that neither the self-driving system nor the human safety driver behind the wheel hit the brakes when she apparently stepped off a median and onto the roadway, according to an account the Tempe police chief gave to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The human driver told police he didn’t see the pedestrian coming, and the autonomous system behaved as if it hadn’t either.

“The real challenge is you need to distinguish the difference between people and cars and bushes and paper bags and anything else that could be out in the road environment,” said Matthew Johnson-Roberson, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan who works with Ford Motor Co. on autonomous vehicle research, to BloombergTechnology. “The detection algorithms may have failed to detect the person or distinguish her from a bush.”

After the Uber collision, the car continued traveling at 38 miles per hour, according to the Tempe police chief, and the driver told police he wasn’t aware of the pedestrian until the car collided with her. A police spokeswoman said the speed limit where the accident occurred is 35 mph.

This highlights what Johnson-Roberson describes as a shortcoming in robot reasoning.

“I live in Ann Arbor, a college town,” Johnson-Roberson said. “So on football weekends, when there’s a bunch of drunk college kids, I drive at a lower speed. Those are the kind of human decisions we make to anticipate a situation, and that’s hard with autonomous cars. We’re not there yet.” 

Autonomous vehicles also struggle to master weather elements. Snow, ice and rain can obscure sensors and render the most advanced computing power useless. That’s one reason most self-driving cars are being tested in sunny climates like Arizona and Texas.

The death is a tragedy for her family, and also a public-relations disaster for Uber and other companies that want to test their technology on public roadways. Waymo announced last year it would begin testing vehicles with no backup drivers. 

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Toyota launches a $4b automated car company

Toyota Motor Corp. revealed plans to form a new company, “Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development” (TRI-AD) that will accelerate its efforts in advanced development for automated driving.

James Kuffner – CEO and representative director

To enable the new efforts at TRI-AD, Toyota Motor Corporation, Aisin Seiki Co., and Denso Corporation have concluded a memorandum of understanding on joint development of fully-integrated, production-quality software for automated driving.

The company is set to launch this month and will be headquartered in Toyota’s native Tokyo with operations around the world. Together, TMC, Aisin and Denso plan to invest more than NZ$4 billion in TRI-AD.

It’s expected to employ about 1,000 workers and will be headed by James Kuffner, who currently serves as the chief technology officer of Toyota’s U.S. research division. 

The primary focus of the company is primarily on developing the software components necessary for autonomous vehicles.

“Building production-quality software is a critical success factor for Toyota’s automated driving program,” said Dr. Kuffner.

“This company’s mission is to accelerate software development in a more effective and disruptive way, by augmenting the Toyota Group’s capability through the hiring of world-class software engineers. We will recruit globally, and I am thrilled to lead this effort.”

However, even with NZ$4 billion entirely for self-driving vehicle development, Toyota can expect to face an uphill battle with players such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Alphabet (Google) Inc.’s Waymo are already testing autonomous vehicles on public roads.

To catch up, Toyota may have to partner with one of the several startups that offer autonomous driving software for car manufacturers. 


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Toyota introduces “e-Palettes”

Toyota Motor Corporation announced today a new mobility service, “e-Palette”, to tackle mobility and delivery services in the age of autonomous vehicles.

“This announcement marks a major step forward in our evolution towards sustainable mobility, demonstrating our continued expansion beyond traditional cars and trucks to the creation of new values including services for customers”, said Akio Toyoda, Toyota Motor Corporation President.

The e-Palette is both an announcement of a mobility alliance and partnership, and a physical concept of that alliance, a blank slate for a variety of transportation needs.  

“The new e-Palette Alliance will leverage Toyota’s proprietary Mobility Services Platform to develop a suite of connected mobility solutions and a flexible, purpose-built vehicle.”

Launch partners include Amazon, Mazda, Pizza Hut and Uber, who will collaborate on vehicle planning, application concepts and vehicle verification activities.

The e-Palette is a fully-automated, next generation battery electric vehicle (BEV) designed to be scalable and customisable for a range of “mobility as a service” businesses. 

It comes in three different sizes, with their lengths ranging from 4 meters to approximately 7 meters and is purposely designed to be flexible and reconfigurable to accommodate a wide range of equipment and an even broader range of uses.

Each e-Palette is also designed to be shared between businesses and to quickly transition between applications.

The e-Palette could serve an Uber during the day and be quickly transformed for shipping packages overnight. The exterior appearance can also be quickly switched by changing the exterior graphics.

Toyota plans to conduct feasibility testing of the e-Palette in various regions, including the United States, in the early 2020s.  It also hopes to contribute to the success of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 by providing mobility solutions like the e-Palette and other innovative mobility offerings.

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World first winter testing facility


The world’s first winter-testing facility for self-driving cars is to be built in New Zealand.

Steve Gould,  manager at the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground, told Wheels Mag earlier in December that planning is well ahead for the facility and has hinted that several companies have already approached them about instigating winter testing for their cars.

Gould says the reason for the facility already gathering attention comes down to car maker’s being nervous about their car’s cameras having to read lane markings and road signs in white out winter conditions.

“Autonomous cars rely on GPS as well, of course, but they check what the radar is reading against that GPS reading, so once the radars are gone, what does the car do then?”

“Meanwhile the cameras are looking for a line down the side of the road and one in the middle, but they’re both covered in snow and ice. It’s going to be a challenge,” said Gould to Wheels Mag.

However, the people at Ford claim they are already having success with autonomous technology tackling winter conditions. Ford uses high-resolution 3D maps of roads, which include detail about where curbs, lane lines, trees and signs are, so the car knows where it is, even if it can’t ‘see’ them.

Despite those claims, Gould believes what we’ll probably see first are some autonomous vehicles being signed off to work in clear conditions, and the next stage will be teaching them to drive in winter’s worst.

“We might see a situation where you can only use the autopilot when the weather is right. When the car knows the temperature has dropped below zero or it’s snowing, it will tell you to take over control,” he adds.

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Australians unsure on autonomous cars

Ford’s latest Trends report reveals that only 52 per cent of Australians are hopeful about the use of autonomous vehicles in the future.

“The global average is 61 per cent supporting it, but the numbers really vary in an extraordinary fashion,” says Sheryl Connelly, Ford Motor Company’s Futurist, and the author of the report.

China is the most hopeful regarding the future of autonomous vehicles at 83 per cent. India comes in at 81 per cent, but then there’s a pretty big drop when it comes to Australia at 52 per cent.

Both China and India are some of the most populated countries in the world, and with the levels of population density in some areas of the city comes extraordinary congestion.

The prospect of having someone drive you around by either, machine or hiring someone could have a substantial impact on how you spend your day.

She continues, “I also think it’s a market there that doesn’t have the same infrastructure of roads, so we know the rates of accidents and road fatalities are higher in those markets, which you would expect because of the population density, and correlation of how big the market is.”

When it comes to Australia’s low score, Connelly believes that a sense of self comes into play. This is also backed by the report’s numbers, which reveal that The United States, Canada and The United Kingdom had far less hope in autonomous vehicles as well – all coming in at 50 per cent or less

“In the Western world, the so called rich world, [we] have a much longer history and deeper foundation of seeing a car as an extension of one’s identity. I hear it from one of my colleagues who loves cars, who says ‘no way will I ever get in an autonomous vehicle. I love the thrill of driving far too much to ever turn it over to someone else.’

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Autonomous cars – drivers aren’t ready

Autonomous cars becoming part of everyday life is a situation that is drawing ever closer, but it seems the end of the driven car may not be as close.

Mazda recently commissioned a study to find out whether or not people would still want to drive even if their cars could drive autonomously.

According to the study it seems as though most drivers would still want to be able to drive their own cars, even with self-driving technology available.

The research, carried out by research firm Ipsos MORI, revealed that 71 per cent of people said they would still want to drive themselves, while only 29 percent would actively welcome the arrival of autonomous vehicles.

Three-quarters still want to drive autonomous cars themselves.

Mazda believes driving is a skill that people want to keep, it is an activity that can be fun as well as functional and many would like to see this skill retained for future generations.

The research also reveals a significant emotional connection between car and driver as demonstrated by the following statistics, 70 per cent of drivers questioned “hoped that future generations will continue to have the option to drive cars”, while 62 per cent of respondents stated that they have driven “just for fun” and 81 per cent of those who enjoy driving saying it is because it “gives them independence”.

Instead of completely autonomous vehicles, Mazda’s opinion is that autonomous car technology should act as a co-pilot that is primarily used to avoid accidents, not take the pleasure away from the act of driving.

Mazda UK Managing Director Jeremy Thomson said, “Yes, self-driving cars are coming and yes they have a role to play, but for us, there is nothing quite like the physical pleasure of driving; the quickening of the pulse, the racing of the heart, the open road, the special moments to treasure and share.”

“If you look at the car industry in general, we believe that many manufacturers are taking a lot of driving pleasure away from drivers. At Mazda we are fighting against this and it’s clear from the research that there’s still a huge percentage of drivers who just want to be behind the wheel.”

But it’s clear that drivers, well three quarters of them, aren’t quite interested in relinquishing control to an automated system just yet.

Data from the consumer research conducted by Ipsos MORI was based on an online survey conducted among adults across 11 European markets (UK, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, with a minimum of 1000 surveys in each market). All interviews were conducted between 7–22 September 2017.

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Significant milestone in autonomous driving

A world first autonomous driving initiative has launched which will ultimately see 100 families testing fully autonomous vehicles on public roads in Sweden.

Autonomous Driving Brain in Volvo’s XC90 Drive Me car.

The first two families from the Gothenburg area have received the specially equipped Volvo XC90 SUVs with which they will support the Drive Me project. Three more families will follow early next year, and over the next four years up to 100 people will be involved.

Drive Me is an autonomous driving experiment that now includes families in Sweden and will be extended to London and China in the future. The goal is to provide Volvo engineers with customer feedback for its first model with Level 4 autonomy, which means the car can drive itself but still has a steering wheel and pedals so that the driver can take control when needed.

The families will contribute to Drive Me with invaluable data by allowing engineers to monitor their everyday interactions and developments with the car, as they drive to work, take the children to school or go shopping for groceries.

Volvo’s NZ general manager, Coby Duggan says the human-centric trial is unique as it involves families driving in a real world environment.

“The Drive Me project is a significant milestone in the development of autonomous driving technology and one that will one day help make roads safer for Kiwi families,” he says.

Duggan says Volvo expects to have a fully autonomous car commercially available by 2021 and the data which is collected in the Drive Me trial will play a crucial role in the development of these vehicles.

The Simonovski family, one of the first two families from the Gothenburg area to have received the specially equipped Volvo XC90 SUV.

Alex Hain, one of the first people to receive their vehicle says the opportunity to be part of the trial was too good to pass up.

“It feels great to be a part of this project. We get the chance to be part of developing technology that will one day save lives,” says Hain.

During these first stages, the families will keep their hands on the steering wheel and supervise the driving at all times when using their cars. But, over time, all participants in the Drive Me project will gradually be introduced to more advanced levels of assisted driving, after receiving special training.

Even then, testing these more advanced cars will initially take place in controlled environments with supervision from a Volvo safety expert. No technology will ever be introduced if there is any question over its safety.

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Production facility for autonomous vehicles in Christchurch

An Auckland company has announced it will establish a production facility to build autonomous vehicles in Christchurch.

Ohmio Automotion launched in Christchurch yesterday with the company showcasing three shuttle buses, which feature self-driving vehicle technology.

Fully operational prototypes of the electric Ohmio Hop shuttles carried passengers including school children as they performed on a circuit around the Christchurch Art Gallery.

Ohmio claims to be one of the first companies whose shuttles can form a connected convoy.

An Ohmio autonomous bus outside the Christchurch Art Gallery.

Ohmio vehicles include self-mapping artificial intelligence. Once they have completed their route once, they are able to self-drive the route over and over.

A range of four Ohmio models is planned for production before 2019, the vehicles will range in size from small to large shuttles and freight pods and vehicles will be customisable to suit their customer. All models will be built around the innovative technology developed by parent company HMI Technologies, a technology company that specialises in Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS).

Richard Harris of HMI Technologies says that he expects the autonomous vehicles would operate well in a confined area, when fully introduced.

“I can imagine them moving around a set space, perhaps a CBD, picking up and dropping people off, rather than shooting out to the airport or somewhere further away.”

HMI has been developing and manufacturing ITS solutions for 15 years, their customers include governments and transport agencies. Their technology includes electronic signs, sensors and software for monitoring transport to aid management of urban and rural transport environments, making transport safer and more efficient.

Being in New Zealand offers the new company a formidable advantage, explains Mohammed Hikmet, founder of HMI Technologies. 

“The testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles elsewhere is slowed down by legislation or requires special permits. Here in New Zealand, the government already allows for testing of driverless vehicles. That gives Ohmio an advantage as we scale up and develop our technology, especially as we understand regulations here and in Australia.”

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel is excited by the Ohmio technology and what it will mean for the city’s future direction.

“And they have done it here in Christchurch where we are seizing the opportunity to become a testbed for emerging technologies. We won’t be swamped by disruption – we will embrace it, learn from it and turn it on its head,” says the Mayor.

“This could help write a regulatory framework for the roads and the signals that provide guidance to the vehicles. We can set the standards for NZ and the world.”


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