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Plenty of automotive companies have announced plans to have an autonomous car on the roads at the start of the next decade, but Volvo went a step further and said no human supervision will be needed for its self-driving vehicle.

“The thing that is unique is that we are trying to deploy the technology in reality. And when I say that, I mean self-driving cars that allow drivers to do something else behind the steering wheel,” said Erik Coelingh, senior technical leader for driver support technologies, to Tech Insider.

See Also: Are live drivers too scared to merge with self-driving cars?

Volvo essentially wants to reach Level 5 autonomy, or completely driverless. Currently, a few cars are testing Level 3 (hands-off) technologies, like Tesla’s AutoPilot or Ford’s self-parking, but Level 4 (mind-off) and Level 5 are still off-limits on all public roads.

To prepare for this autonomous future, Volvo plans to launch a program next year, called DriveMe. It will give 100 normal customers the chance to drive an autonomous car in Gothenburg, Sweden, London, and select cities in China. This program will come on top of tests in China and Sweden, which are already underway.

DriveMe takes Volvo to next level

“What is unique with DriveMe, is that we are not only building a concept car or doing demos, we are really doing research to help us understand how we can bring self-driving cars to the real world, to public roads with ordinary customers behind the wheel,” said Coelingh. “And by accomplishing that objective, we will learn about the reality of self-driving cars, that it’s not just a fantasy. We will learn about technology, we will learn about the human factors, and how self-driving cars will impact society.”

Volvo also plans to add a semi-autonomous system to select cars in 2017, similar to Tesla’s AutoPilot. This public testing has been invaluable to Tesla, providing the company over one million miles of autonomous driving data to analyze.

Another plus for Volvo is the U.K.’s recent legalization of autonomous cars on public roads. Announced in the Queen’s Speech, the new legislation allows autonomous car owners to apply for insurance and test self-driving features in the country.

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This month’s report on Google’s autonomous car fleet reveals two new features coming to the company’s prototype car, the ability to honk the horn and a hum similar to most non-electric cars.

The sound of a car horn might be the stuff of nightmares for frequent drivers, but Google believes it can be a powerful tool that may prevent accidents on the road. For the first few months, the car honked internally, but Google recently made the honk audible to nearby cars.

See Also: Musk to Apple: Try and keep up, ok?

“Our self-driving cars are designed to see 360 degrees and not be distracted, unlike human drivers, who are not always fully aware of their surroundings. Our self-driving software is designed to recognize when honking may help alert other drivers to our presence — for example, when a driver begins swerving into our lane or backing out of a blind driveway,” said Google in the report.

Honk if you love attention

The self-driving system has two types of honk: two short honks as a friendly heads up to the other driver, and one long honk for urgent situations. Google’s testers report back to engineers on all honks, to make sure that the car is not being obnoxious on the road.

Google also wants to make sure pedestrians, cyclists, and visually impaired drivers know the car is active, and has added a ‘hum’ that is similar to most non-electric cars.

During the testing phase of the hum, Google explored a variety of sounds, including ambient art sculptures, consumer electronic products, and ocra noises. We hope when the car is available, Google adds these fake engine noises in a variety pack.

Google’s autonomous fleet, which totals 70 cars, reported one crash this month on May 3. The crash, according to the report, happened when a human driver was in control and nobody was hurt.

The post Google teaches car to honk; flipping the bird next? appeared first on ReadWrite.

Brooklyn Bridge and the Lower Manhattan skyline at sunset, as viewed from Manhattan Bridge

Legislators are trying to update a 45-year-old New York state law that currently makes self-driving cars illegal.

As reported by Gothamist, New York is the only US state legally requiring drivers to keep at least one hand on the steering wheel when the vehicle is moving. This technicality makes it illegal to test or demonstrate autonomous vehicles in the state, while also forbidding the use of parking assist features currently installed on certain cars.

Now State Senator Joseph Robach is looking to bring NY into sync with emerging autonomous vehicle technology by presenting a bill to amend the Vehicle and Traffic Law. If passed the revised law will make drivers maintain one hand on the wheel of moving cars except when “driving technology is engaged to perform the steering function.”

“We are just trying to have the law match up to the technology that people are using today and I think is only going to grow down the road,” said Robach who is also chair of the Transportation Committee.

How will scrapping law affect NYC traffic?

However, some politicians have raised concerns that driverless cars could pose dangers to others, especially in built-up urban areas like New York City.

“Self-driving car technology certainly has a lot of promise, but it’s in the very early stages of development,” said Liz Krueger, a State Senator who represents parts of Manhattan. “Right now I don’t think we’re at a place where we should be seeing driverless cars of any sort on the streets of Manhattan—there are simply too many variables, with pedestrians, bikes, delivery trucks, taxis.”

“If our laws and regulations need to be adjusted to allow for more R&D, that’s something that should be done carefully and deliberately, not by simply saying it’s okay to take your hands off the steering wheel,” she adds.

However, Senator Krueger may not have seen the Columbia University study that specifically examined Manhattan’s yellow taxi fleet. The report concluded that if NYC’s downtown borough replaced its cabs with a smaller number of driverless taxis, the cost-per-mile could fall from around $4 to $0.50 per ride. As well traffic congestion would be reduced.

Robach’s amendment has passed a Senate vote but now must survive a vote in the State Assembly. Proponents of autonomous vehicles hope that lawmakers remain in favor of the hands-off legal approach to driverless cars.

The post Will NY scrap old law to allow self-driving cars? appeared first on ReadWrite.

Red 1956 Ford Thunderbird Convertible Classic Car

Mark Fields, the CEO of venerable auto maker Ford, revealed how new technology like autonomous vehicles is playing an ever increasing role in its strategy for the future.

As reported by CNBC, Fields recently participated in an on-stage interview at the 2016 Code Conference where new connected technology was the recurring theme.

Fields said that Ford is striving to incorporate a startup mentality into its operations, with the 113-year old company going so far as to open a Silicon Valley field office to be closer to the high tech action. And to be closer to potential tech startup acquisitions.

Specifically, Ford is looking to boost its muscle in the area of mobility where it currently lacks expertise. In an effort to get into the game, it recently invested $182.2 million in Pivotal, a cloud-based software firm.

“We said to ourselves, we really need to up our game in learning around delivering these software services,” Fields said.

It is also looking to Silicon Valley for strategic partnerships to gain an advantage in the race to develop technology for self-driving and connected vehicles. Ford is reportedly in partnership discussions with various companies including Uber and Google, though Fields refused to elaborate, saying only “we are talking with everybody.”

Ford’s clear edge over newcomers: a car-building track record

And though Google may be one of the leaders in developing self-driving car technology, Fields says Ford still has a key advantage: it actually makes cars. And that ability requires a level of investment and expertise that can’t be generated overnight.

“With mobility, you do need a vehicle,” said Fields. “Designing, developing and manufacturing a car is a very intense and a difficult endeavor.”

Indeed, Google has said publicly that it does not plan to focus on automobile manufacturing, but would rather partner with big car makers like Ford instead.

One area of concern for the emerging self-driving vehicle segment is security and the fear of hackers hijacking connected cars. And considering the average vehicle today already has more than 150 million lines of code, vulnerabilities are expected to multiply the more connected cars get.

Fields says Ford is prioritizing security and making sure it has the capacity to adapt and defeat looming threats.

“We take it very, very seriously,” he said. “We want to make sure we have the policies and protocols in place.”

He said the company is using firewalls to keep the software for vehicles’ infotainment systems walled off from mission critical software that is vital to the cars’ primary functions.

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Rumors of Tesla’s Model 3 self-driving features have been circling for a few months, in part due to a cryptic tweet from CEO Elon Musk: “Thanks for tuning in to the Model 3 unveil Part 1! Part 2 is super next level, but that’s for later…”

Plenty of publications and pundits took that as a self-driving hint, that the Model 3 would come stocked with new features never before seen on the road. That could include Level 4 autonomy, also known as “eyes off”, where the car understands how to navigate urban environments and avoid accidents.

See Also: China LeEco unveils its own concept for self-driving car

Those rumors were shot down earlier this week by Sterling Anderson, head of Tesla’s AutoPilot division, who said that the Model 3 would not be the first fully autonomous car on the road.

“Our vehicles will receive the latest technology as soon as we have it,” said Anderson at the EmTech Digital conference. “We won’t wait for a given model to release a set of technology. Model S and X will continue to lead the way for the next little while in improvements.”

Tesla philosophy is to get features out quickly

Anderson added that it would be against Tesla’s core philosophy to hold features for a new model launch, so we can expect the latest autonomous features to arrive on the Model S and X at the same time once ready.

While we might see some new self-driving features in between now and the Model 3 launch, a fully driverless car is still projected to be five years away from completion. BMW has previewed its driverless car, called the iNext, which is scheduled for a 2021 release.

Anderson confirmed that the AutoPilot has completed over one million autonomous miles, catching up to Google’s self-driving fleet. He also said that Tesla would require a safety magnitude gain of “two to 10 X better than a human driver” before pushing a fully autonomous update to the Model S, X, and 3.

The post Will Tesla go fully self-driving before the Model 3? appeared first on ReadWrite.


Intel acquired startup Itseez to enhance the chipmaker’s capabilities with self-driving cars and the Internet of Things (IoT).

As related by Venture Beat, Intel bought the California-based startup that specializes in computer vision which includes methods for using real world images to automate actions and inform decision-making.

“Intel is transforming from a PC company to a company that powers the cloud and billions of smart, connected computing devices,” said Doug Davis, the senior vice president of Intel’s IoT group. “These devices will use the power of Intel technology to process data being generated from ‘things,’ connect to and learn from data being analyzed in the cloud, and deliver amazing new experiences.”

The acquisition signals Intel’s deeper commitment to developing technology for the autonomous vehicle market. Davis said that computer vision is fast developing into essential technology for such applications as self-driving cars as well as medical imaging and security systems.

Itseez going into Intel IoT arsenal

He said that Itseez will be integrated into Intel’s IoT group in order to help the company’s clients create applications in such areas as digital security surveillance, industrial inspection and autonomous driving. Itseez makes software for a variety of uses, including security systems and automobiles.

The company has also been a significant contributor to computer vision standards such as OpenVX and OpenCV.

“Together, we’ll step up our contribution to these standards bodies — defining a technology bridge that helps the industry move more quickly to OpenVX-based products,” said Davis.

Morgan Stanley predicts that autonomous vehicles could generate $507 billion in productivity gains annually. However, Davis said those productivity gains won’t be realized until many ongoing hurdles are overcome.

“While the possibilities are exciting, the reality requires solving a myriad of technology challenges,” he said. “Solutions will need to seamlessly deliver a combination of compute, connectivity, security, machine learning, human machine interfaces and functional safety.”

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