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Self-Driving Vehicles – Available Soon? Part 2

By General Posts

From https://www.motorists.org By Gary Witzenburg, Automotive Senior Writer and Contributing Editor, President of the North American Car, Truck, and Utility of the Year, and NMA Member.

Editor’s Note: HOUR Detroit Magazine has graciously permitted the NMA to publish this piece, which initially appeared in a slightly different version on its pages. Please Click Here to Read Part 1.

Missions and Issues

“Automated vehicles’ potential to save lives and reduce injuries is rooted in one critical and tragic fact: 94 percent of serious crashes are due to human error,” contends the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “Automated vehicles have the potential to remove human error from the crash equation, which will help protect drivers and passengers as well as bicyclists and pedestrians.”

Another mission will be to provide much-needed mobility for the aged and disabled, though ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are already serving many Americans. “Roads filled with automated vehicles could also cooperate to smooth traffic flow and reduce traffic congestion,” NHTSA continues. “With automated vehicles, the time and money spent commuting could be put to better use. In many places across the country, employment or independent living rests on the ability to drive. Automated vehicles could extend that kind of freedom to millions more.”

But major hurdles lie ahead.

To be as safe as envisioned, AVs will need to see, understand, analyze, and react to everything around them through a complex system of sensors, radar, LiDAR (radar-like, using laser light), and visual and thermal cameras.

All that will add a lot of cost.

And how effective will those systems be in darkness and nasty weather? When dirt covers their lenses? When snow blankets lane markers and road edges?

“Inclement weather is a challenge,” says GM engineer Jason Fischer, “We are working with suppliers on advanced cleaning systems that will help us solve those problems.” Ford’s John Rich says, “All varieties of weather are being tested, and there will be a learning curve with capability expansion over time.”

Will AVs be programmed to protect their occupants at the expense of others? Which way will they dodge if they can’t stop to avoid a sudden pedestrian hit when the alternative may be an oncoming vehicle, a tree, a lake, or a cliff? “We have to make these vehicles better than humans,” Rich says, “constantly alert with better reflexes and better ability to avoid an accident. They may never be perfect, but if they are considerably better than humans, we almost have a moral imperative to put them on the road because we will be saving lives.”

And when someone inevitably is hurt or killed despite everyone’s best intentions and preventions, who will be liable? The vehicle’s owner? Its manufacturer? The software programmer? The town or city where the incident occurs? All of the above?

“Initially, the lawyers will sue everyone involved,” says Carla Bailo, CEO of the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor. “As these cases are settled and precedent established, it will become more clear. The automakers and others must have the utmost confidence in the safety of these systems.”

And will AVs be rolling roadblocks obeying all (often too slow) posted speed limits while everyone else swarms around them at 5-10 mph faster? Will they hold up traffic waiting for openings at non-stoplight intersections while streams of human-driven vehicles take advantage of their excessive caution?

“The vehicles are programmed to obey the law,” Rich points out. “We won’t be able to speed or do a lot of things you see human drivers doing today.”

Partial Autonomy

So that scenario of Level 5 “Full Automation” for privately owned vehicles looks to be a long way off…if ever. “Level 4 is essentially here now,” CAR’s Bailo points out. “Level 5 is later pending many other non-technical parameters such as regulation, public policy, legal and insurance.”

And no current AV is intended for private ownership.

“They will be able to move goods and people in a controlled environment,” Rich says, “but you will not be able to go out and buy one. They are difficult to manage and will require professional service to run.”

The good news is that Level 2 “Partial Automation” is available today.

Many new vehicles, even at very affordable prices, offer Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), which adjusts speed to maintain a set gap behind the vehicle ahead, and Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), which keeps your vehicle in its lane; and that combo allows hands-off cruising for a few seconds where road edges and lane markers are clearly visible to their cameras.

Some systems work better than others; you must pay full attention and be ready to take control at any time. The system will tell you when to take the wheel, and it will shut off if you don’t. One of the best we’ve tried is Cadillac’s Super Cruise, available on some models now and expanding to more, which will soon add an auto-lane-change feature. GM says its ultimate Super Cruise vision is hands-off driving capability 95 percent of the time on “enabled” (precisely GPS mapped) roads.

What we envision in the not-too-distant future is a potentially worrisome mix of driverless AVs sharing the roads with a large majority of human-driven cars and trucks. The AVs will be capable of communicating vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) with each other and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) to avoid conflicts. Still, they will have to monitor everything around them continually and make assumptions (as alert drivers do) about other vehicles’ expected behavior.

Will you trust a vehicle with no driver (or controls) to shuttle you around, or will you prefer a human-driven Uber, Lyft, or taxi? Or to continue piloting those trips behind your own wheel? If you are not yet AV ready, you may be when your own capabilities someday diminish.

What the Analysts Say

“The development of autonomous vehicles continues to move forward steadily, though several automakers slowed their development in early 2020 and some commercialization targets were delayed. While there remains tremendous promise for the technology to ease congestion and contribute to reducing accidents, getting to the point where they are a fixture in the automotive landscape remains on the horizon. However, in 2021 and 2022, we expect to see deployments increase in limited situations. Waymo, GM, and Ford are among those most aggressive in this space in the US, along with the Aptiv-Hyundai joint venture Motional.”  – Stephanie Brinley, principal analyst, Automotive, IHS Markit

“Autonomous technology continues its march from test phase to widely-embraced, mainstream functionality. But the variety of circumstances facing a computer-controlled vehicle have proven far more difficult to address, delaying the 2020 arrival of self-driving cars that many were predicting as recently as 2018. Major obstacles include changing weather conditions and the impact they have on sensors, a standardized, functional communication network between cars (V2V) and infrastructure (V2X), and ensuring security against computer hackers. These hurdles will eventually be overcome, but we’re likely looking at 2025 or later before the average citizen can leverage autonomous vehicle technology on a wide scale. Look for the limited test zones in cities like Austin, Phoenix, and Miami to slowly spread across more metro areas as well as controlled environments, such as college and corporate campuses.” – Karl Brauer, executive analyst, iSeeCars

“The industry’s thinking about autonomous vehicles has evolved and focused on commercial fleets [and] delivery vehicles. AVs in the commercial vehicle space are like a laboratory experiment that will allow the opportunity to make sure the technology works and the gathering of data to glean insights about patterns of behavior of the users. The commercial vehicle business is lucrative. Automakers know how many orders they have and thus how many they need to produce versus the individual retail business that is unpredictable. – Michelle Krebs, executive analyst, AutoTrader

“Automakers have very ambitious plans to incorporate autonomous driving features into their vehicles. Most of this is a technology push rather than a consumer pull. Our data show that less than 10 percent of vehicle buyers want a fully autonomous vehicle. About 30 percent would consider some level of autonomy. Today’s ADAS [Advanced Driver Assistance Systems] are the first step that many drivers are experiencing on the road to autonomy. Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and lane-centering systems sometimes lets people drive for a short time, hands-free.

When we talk about Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy, the pandemic needs to be factored in. Car sharing, which was a cornerstone of some autonomous plans, looks more problematic now. How does a driver know the vehicle is clean and sanitary? – George Peterson, president, AutoPacific

“Autonomous cars that can drive anywhere and that you can buy at a dealership will not be available this decade. Maybe next decade. Tesla claims otherwise with its Full Self Driving, but it’s up to them to prove it since it’s been delayed multiple times. That said, 2020 is really the year of autonomous vehicles. They’re on the streets and running now. The technology is available, and it works. It’s expensive, but the cost is coming down fast. For now, AVs are relegated to geofenced areas that have been 3D mapped, but those fence posts keep moving. Waymo is covering a 50-square mile area in Phoenix that will soon expand to 100-square miles. For now, AVs make the most sense for fleets. They can run their vehicles almost continuously and amortize the cost of the AV equipment more easily.” – John McElroy, host, AutolineTV

“The best chance is in geo-fenced areas, not on public roads. The infrastructure is nowhere near ready for AVs, which are never going to be 100% safe. There is not enough computer code on the planet to cover all situations.” – Richard Truett, technology and engineering reporter, Automotive News

Self-Driving Vehicles – Available Soon? Part 1

By General Posts

From https://www.motorists.org By Gary Witzenburg, Automotive Senior Writer and Contributing Editor, President of the North American Car, Truck, and Utility of the Year, and NMA Member.

Editor’s Note: HOUR Detroit Magazine has graciously permitted the NMA to publish this piece, which initially appeared in a slightly different version on its pages. Part 2 will be presented in next week’s newsletter.

Ready for your family outing, to the mall, then dinner. You call your car. It backs out of the garage and waits in your drive. You pile in and sit wherever you want since no one will drive. You face front, your spouse and kids swing their seats around to face each other.

You’ve told the car where to go, so it chooses the quickest route, obeying all stops and speed limits, keenly aware of what is happening around it. Someone steps off the curb ahead, and it slows, ready to stop if necessary. It warily eyes an errant dog cavorting to one side. You’re catching up on emails, your spouse is texting, the kids are enjoying video games. It lets you out at the mall, then zips off to park.

Shopping done, you call it to pick you up. Then it’s off to your favorite restaurant. After dinner, you catch a quick nap on your way home.

That is the scenario most envision when they think of self-driving vehicles. But how far off is that scenario? Assuming that autonomous vehicles (AVs) will be wonderful for ride-sharing, ride-hailing, and deliveries (which will put a lot of drivers out of work) and that folks will happily embrace them for personal use whenever they become available and affordable, automakers and others have been investing billions of dollars in developing them.

But not everyone wants to give up driving. Some of us still enjoy it and will as long as we are capable.

Detroit Hard at Work
Automakers and others worldwide are testing and developing AVs on closed tracks and public roads while governments at all levels scramble to define rules and regulations for safe AV operation. Two Michigan facilities — the American Center for Mobility next to Willow Run airport in Ypsilanti Township and the 32-acre mock city called Mcity on the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus — are dedicated to AV testing and development.

General Motors’ Cruise LLC subsidiary has been testing Chevrolet Bolt EV-based Cruise AVs in San Francisco and elsewhere while developing a fully autonomous (no driver, no controls) Origin A.V. with Honda for urban passenger and delivery service. Unveiled this January 2020, the self-driving, six-passenger Origin has production approval, and development prototypes are being tested at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds.

“We feel that Cruise has all the building blocks in place to lead in self-driving vehicles,” says GM President Mark Reuss, “and the first ones will be built right here at Factory Zero, our Detroit-Hamtramck assembly facility. In October, Cruise received a permit from the California DMV to remove human backup drivers from its self-driving cars. That means Cruise can send its cars out onto the streets of San Francisco without anyone at the wheel.”

Cruise should have Bolt-based driverless AVs running around San Francisco by the time you read this. “This is our moonshot,” says Cruise CEO Dan Amman. “The chaotic, gritty streets of San Francisco are our launchpad, and it’s where over two million miles of city testing will truly hit the road for the first time: an electric car, driving by itself, navigating one of the most difficult driving cities in the world.” In addition, Walmart plans to start testing automated deliveries using Cruise AVs in Scottsdale, AZ, early this year.

GM’s bold commitment to no-driver AVs, focusing first on city transportation, is one major element of its ambitious vision of a world with “zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion.”

“We operate AVs in very clearly defined geofenced areas within the city that we have mapped,” chief engineer of the Cruise Origin Jason Fischer. “We will not go into areas that we haven’t mapped.” And while current Cruise AVs retain their steering wheel and pedals so a driver can take control if needed, the Cruise Origin does not. “There will be no ability to take control of the vehicle,” Fischer says. “The autonomous driving system will always be in control.”

Ford, partnered with technology developer Argo AI, has tested AVs (with safety drivers) on Michigan Ave. around Michigan Central Station. The automaker has established AV terminals, command centers, and high-resolution mapping for ride-hailing and deliveries in Austin, TX, Miami, FL, and Washington, DC, beginning in 2022. The company is also testing AVs in Pittsburgh and Palo Alto, CA. The Ford/Argo AI program will “assess the need for a safety driver and make a decision based on several factors, including the regulatory environment, safety performance data and an appropriate level of community acceptance” before operating without one.

“We are very focused on level 4 [see graphic above],” says Ford Autonomous Vehicles and director John Rich, “removing the driver from the equation and operating within a geonet.” A geonet, he explains, is different from a geofence, within which AVs should be able to self-drive anywhere. “We will initially choose not to drive some places within that area, but our geonet will expand as we move forward.”

Ford/Argo AI’s fourth-generation self-driving vehicles are Escape Hybrids equipped with the latest advanced sensing and computing technology. “We have upgraded our sensing suite with even more advanced LiDAR, higher resolution cameras, and more capable radar sensors,” says Ford Autonomous Vehicles chief engineer John Davis. “Combined, this helps improve detection of fixed and moving objects on all sides…providing a blind-spot curtain, detecting things like a passing car or bicyclist in a nearby bike lane.” A larger high-voltage battery supports these vehicles’ heavy electrical loads. A sophisticated sensor-cleaning system with forced-air chambers and high-pressure spray nozzles keeps its sensors and camera lenses clean.

Stellantis is partnered with self-driving technology company Waymo. Launched in 2009 as the Google Self-Driving Car Project, Waymo has developed a Level 4 Waymo Driver system that powers Waymo One, a ride-hailing service, and Waymo Via for trucking and deliveries. It claims 20 million-plus miles of autonomous driving on public roads in 25 US cities and 15 billion miles of simulation testing and is now offering AV rides to the public in Phoenix.

“Our now four-year partnership with Waymo continues to break new ground,” says Stellantis CEO Mike Manley. “By incorporating the Waymo Driver, the world’s leading self-driving technology, into our Pacifica minivans, we became the only partnership actually deploying fully autonomous technology in the real world, on public roads.” Stellantis is also working exclusively with Waymo on light commercial vehicles such as Ram ProMaster vans for deliveries and plans to expand it across its product line.

“Stellantis was our first OEM partner, and we’ve come a long way together,” says Waymo CEO John Krafcik. “Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans were the first vehicles in our Waymo One fleet and, guided by the Waymo Driver, have now safely and reliably driven more fully autonomous miles than any other vehicle on the planet. Together, we’ll introduce the Waymo Driver throughout the Stellantis brand portfolio, opening up new frontiers for ride-hailing, commercial delivery, and personal use vehicles around the world.”

Meanwhile, a very ambitious “connected corridor” linking downtown Detroit to Ann Arbor (and Metro Airport) along some 40 miles of Michigan Ave. (US 12) and Washtenaw Ave. (M-17) is in the planning stages.

“At the outset, the vision calls for one dedicated interior lane for both the east and west side of Michigan Ave,” writes editor R.J. King in the Nov./Dec. issue of DBusiness magazine. “Those two lanes will need barriers at first, to separate autonomous from general traffic including pedestrians. Several crosswalks will be needed, traffic lights must be coordinated, and all manner of hardware and software is required to connect GPS satellites, cellular arrays, Wi-Fi systems, sensors, and underground fiber cables.” An alternative plan suggests using a new lane along I-94 instead of Michigan Ave.

According to King, this project’s vision began with Ford executive chairman Bill Ford. It will be managed by Cavnue, a subsidiary of New-York-based Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, working with Michigan’s Department of Transportation, Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, Economic Development Corp., and Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, along with state and local partners, stakeholders and communities.

“The project will be designed to evolve to meet transportation goals,” he writes, “but in the beginning, the dedicated lanes will accommodate linked buses and shared mobility vehicles such as vans and shuttles and expand to other connected and autonomous vehicles like freight and personal vehicles.” Phase one completion is targeted for the second half of 2022.

Click Here to Read part 2 of Autonomous (Self-Driving) Vehicles –Available Soon (Yes and No). Gary explains the critical missions and asks the experts how soon we will see AVs on the road.

U.S. moving to block California vehicle emissions rules

By General Posts

Two U.S. agencies are preparing to submit for final White House regulatory review a plan to revoke California’s authority to set its own vehicle greenhouse gas standards and declare that states are pre-empted from setting their own vehicle rules, two people briefed on the matter said on Thursday.

WASHINGTON: Two U.S. agencies are preparing to submit for final White House regulatory review a plan to revoke California’s authority to set its own vehicle greenhouse gas standards and declare that states are pre-empted from setting their own vehicle rules, two people briefed on the matter said on Thursday.

The Environmental Protection Agency in August 2018 proposed revoking a waiver granted to California in 2013 under the Clean Air Act as part of the Trump administration’s plan to roll back Obama-era fuel economy standards through 2025.

The EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are expected to seek approval to finalize the first portion of the rule dealing with California and other states before completing action on setting yearly fuel efficiency requirements. The plan would not revoke California’s ability to set low-emission vehicle standards that has been in place since 1990, the sources said.

The move comes as President Donald Trump has expressed anger with automakers over the issue. In July, four major automakers, including Ford Motor Co and Volkswagen AG, said they had reached a voluntary agreement with California on fuel efficiency rules.

California and other states had vowed to enforce stricter Obama-era emissions standards, after Trump proposed rolling back the federal rules. Automakers had worried that court battles between state and federal governments could create years of uncertainty for manufacturers.

The plan, also backed by BMW AG and Honda Motor Co Ltd, is more stringent than Trump’s proposal but looser than the Obama-era rule. California, the most populous U.S. state, accounts for about 12% of American vehicle sales, and if the administration recognizes the deal, it would allow automakers to operate under one set of rules.

An administration official said it was close to submitting a rule internally dubbed the “One National Program rule” aimed at ensuring a single national level for fuel economy standards.

But other automakers, including General Motors Co and Toyota Motor Corp, have declined to back the deal. Mary Nichols, who chairs the California Air Resources Board, told Reuters in July that the four automakers had agreed not to legally challenge California’s vehicle regulatory authority.

Under Trump, federal regulators backed freezing emissions requirements for new cars and trucks at 2020 levels through 2026. Administration officials say its final regulation will include a modest boost in annual efficiency requirements but far less than what the Obama administration had set in 2012.

News Source: Reuters