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self-driving cars

Luminar eyes production vehicles with $100M round and new Iris lidar platform

Luminar eyes production vehicles with $100M round and new Iris lidar platform

July 11, 2019

Luminar is one of the major players in the new crop of lidar companies that have sprung up all over the world, and it’s moving fast to outpace its peers. Today the company announced a new $100 million funding round, bringing its total raised to more than $250 million — as well as a perception platform and a new, compact lidar unit aimed at inclusion in actual cars. Big day!

The new hardware, called Iris, looks to be about a third of the size of the test unit Luminar has been sticking on vehicles thus far. That one was about the size of a couple hardbacks stacked up, and Iris is more like a really thick sandwich.

Size is very important, of course, as few cars just have caverns of unused space hidden away in prime surfaces like the corners and windshield area. Other lidar makers have lowered the profiles of their hardware in various ways; Luminar seems to have compactified in a fairly straightforward fashion, getting everything into a package smaller in every dimension.

Test model, left, Iris on the right.

Photos of Iris put it in various positions: below the headlights on one car, attached to the rear-view mirror in another and high up atop the cabin on a semi truck. It’s small enough that it won’t have to displace other components too much, although of course competitors are aiming to make theirs even more easy to integrate. That won’t matter, Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell told me recently, if they can’t get it out of the lab.

“The development stage is a huge undertaking — to actually move it towards real-world adoption and into true series production vehicles,” he said (…

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Zoox’s self-driving car will provide a smooth ride via independent active suspension

Zoox’s self-driving car will provide a smooth ride via independent active suspension

July 10, 2019

Zoox CTO and co-founder Jesse Levinson revealed a few more details today about the company’s autonomous vehicle hardware, which it’s designing along with its software stack from the ground up. Levinson told us onstage at TC Sessions: Mobility that Zoox’s vehicle will have fully independent active four-wheel suspension — a design detail that will translate to a much smoother ride for passengers.

Levinson took us through the Zoox vehicle design at a high level, including covering some of the information he and the company have disclosed previously. The car will have four seats, with sets of two front and back facing inward toward each other. To help accommodate this unique seating arrangement, airbags used in the car will essentially “envelop” passengers, and the absence of both steering wheel and dashboard will actually mean that it’s one of the safest vehicles on the road, in the company’s opinion, because it prioritizes the safety of all passengers in the car equally, rather than weighting the features for driver or front seat passengers like traditional cars.

Levinson also told us after the onstage interview that the vehicle will be just a bit taller than a BMW i3, but slightly shorter front to back than that electric compact car. That’s a small footprint for a four-passenger vehicle, but inside there will presumably be considerable space savings from the lack of dash, steering wheel and gas and brake pedals. On the subject of the independent, four-corner active steering, Levinson explained that while it incurs an additional cost, that will ultimately be insignificant on a per-trip basis, and the benefits for consumes will be huge.

“If you think about it, you know, when you drive a car, people like to feel connected to the road and feel the bumps, and it’s exciting,” Levinson said. “But if …

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TC Sessions: Mobility: Three live onstage demos that shouldn’t be missed

TC Sessions: Mobility: Three live onstage demos that shouldn’t be missed

July 8, 2019

TechCrunch Sessions is heading to San Jose on July 10 — just a few days from now — to dig into the future (and present) of transportation.

The agenda at TC Sessions: Mobility is packed with startups and giants in the tech industry. TechCrunch has brought together some of the best and brightest minds working on autonomous vehicle technology, micromobility and electric vehicles, including Dmitri Dolgov at Waymo, Karl Iagnemma of Aptiv, Seleta Reynolds of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Ford Motor CTO Ken WashingtonKatie DeWitt of Scoot and Argo AI’s chief security officer, Summer Craze Fowler.

It wouldn’t be a TechCrunch Sessions without an up-close look and demonstration of the tech. Alongside the speakers, TC Sessions: Mobility will have several demos, including the unveiling of one startup currently in stealth.

The demos will begin with Holoride, the startup that spun out of Audi that aims to bring a VR experience to the backseat of every car, no matter if it’s a Ford, Mercedes or Chrysler Pacifica minivan. Later in the day, check out Damon X Labs, a company aiming to make motorcycles safer with a system that anticipates accidents and warns the rider.

Finally, the day will wrap up with a Michigan-based startup coming out of stealth. We can’t say much yet, but this startup will show off its approach to getting things to people — even in winter.

Tickets are on sale now for $349. Prices go up at the door, so book today! And students, get a super-discounted ticket for just $45 when you book here.

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Tesla shows off next-gen automated emergency breaking stopping for pedestrians and cyclists

Tesla shows off next-gen automated emergency breaking stopping for pedestrians and cyclists

July 4, 2019

Back in 2017, Tesla introduced an automated emergency breaking (AEB) system for all its vehicles that’s powered by its Autopilot technology, which is available even for vehicles with haven’t purchased the actual Autopilot cruise-assist upgrade. Now, the automaker is showing off some of the more advanced features coming in its next-generation AEB update.

These include automatically engaging the brakes on a vehicle when the Autopilot-based system detects a pedestrian crossing the car’s path, and doing the same for a cyclist. Below, you can see those features reportedly working in real-life situations, according to Tesls’a official Twitter account.

These kinds of features aren’t new, and in fact have been present in some form since inclusion in a version of Volvo’s automated braking system in 2009. Safety organizations and regulators like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have been testing and advocating for these systems for years, as well.

Not all AEB and driver-assist features are built equally, however, and in theory the versions of these systems based on vehicles with more advanced sensors and on-board computation should be more effective at actually avoiding or preventing collisions in practice. Tesla has made bold claims about the capabilities of its own system, especially when paired with its in-house AI processor technology, which will serve as the ‘brain’ on its future autonomous driving technology in Tesla cars.

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Waymo is now allowed to transport passengers in its self-driving vehicles on California roads

Waymo is now allowed to transport passengers in its self-driving vehicles on California roads

July 2, 2019

Waymo, Google’s former self-driving venture that is now a business under Alphabet, has been given permission by California regulators to transport passengers in its robotaxis, TechCrunch has learned. The approval is a milestone for the company as it begins to ramp up toward a commercial service.

The California Public Utilities Commission granted Waymo a permit on Tuesday to participate in the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot. Waymo confirmed the approval. A statement from a Waymo spokesperson provides some hints as to how and where the company intends to use this permit.

“The CPUC allows us to participate in their pilot program, giving Waymo employees the ability to hail our vehicles and bring guests on rides within our South Bay territory,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “This is the next step in our path to eventually expand and offer more Californians opportunities to access our self-driving technology, just as we have gradually done with Waymo One in Metro Phoenix.”

The approval from CPUC is different than the permits issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test self-driving vehicles in the state. More than 60 companies have a permit to test in the state.

Instead, this gives Waymo permission to use its self-driving vehicles — which are the Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans and eventually the Jaguar I-PACE electric vehicle — to transport people. The company still faces certain restrictions. It can’t charge for rides and the vehicles must have safety drivers behind the wheel. Waymo will also have to provide reports to CPUC with information on total passenger miles traveled and safety protocols.

The CPUC also gave Waymo an exemption that will allow the autonomous vehicle technology startup to use a third-party company to contract out safety operators. Waymo argued in a letter requesting the exemption that while …

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Startups at the speed of light: Lidar CEOs put their industry in perspective

Startups at the speed of light: Lidar CEOs put their industry in perspective

June 29, 2019

As autonomous cars and robots loom over the landscapes of cities and jobs alike, the technologies that empower them are forming sub-industries of their own. One of those is lidar, which has become an indispensable tool to autonomy, spawning dozens of companies and attracting hundreds of millions in venture funding.

But like all industries built on top of fast-moving technologies, lidar and the sensing business is by definition built somewhat upon a foundation of shifting sands. New research appears weekly advancing the art, and no less frequently are new partnerships minted, as car manufacturers like Audi and BMW scramble to keep ahead of their peers in the emerging autonomy economy.

To compete in the lidar industry means not just to create and follow through on difficult research and engineering, but to be prepared to react with agility as the market shifts in response to trends, regulations, and disasters.

I talked with several CEOs and investors in the lidar space to find out how the industry is changing, how they plan to compete, and what the next few years have in store.

Their opinions and predictions sometimes synced up and at other times diverged completely. For some, the future lies manifestly in partnerships they have already established and hope to nurture, while others feel that it’s too early for automakers to commit, and they’re stringing startups along one non-exclusive contract at a time.

All agreed that the technology itself is obviously important, but not so important that investors will wait forever for engineers to get it out of the lab.

And while some felt a sensor company has no business building a full-stack autonomy solution, others suggested that’s the only way to attract customers navigating a strange new market.

It’s a flourishing market but one, they all agreed, that will experience …

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Check out the breakout sessions at TC Sessions: Mobility

Check out the breakout sessions at TC Sessions: Mobility

June 28, 2019

TC Sessions: Mobility on July 10 in San Jose is fast approaching. Get ready for a superb lineup of speakers like Dmitri Dolgov (Waymo), Eric Allison (Uber) and Summer Craze Fowler (Argo AI). See the full agenda here.

In addition to the outstanding main stage content, TechCrunch is proud to partner with today’s leading mobility players for a full day of breakout sessions. These breakout sessions will give attendees deeper insights into overcoming some of mobility’s biggest challenges and answering questions directly from today’s industry leaders.

Breakout Session Lineup


How much data is needed to make Autonomous Driving a Reality?
Presented by: Scale AI

We are in the early days of autonomous vehicles, and what’s necessary to go into production is still very much undecided. Simply to prove that these vehicles are safer than driving with humans will require more than 1 billion miles driven. Data is a key ingredient for any AI problem, and autonomy is the mother of all AI problems. How much data is really needed to make autonomy safe, reliable, and widespread, and how will our understanding of data change as that becomes a closer reality? Sponsored by Scale AI.


Think Big by Starting Small: Micromobility Implications to the Future of Mobility

Presented by: Deloitte

A host of new micromobility services have emerged to address a broader range of transportation needs – bikesharing, electric scooters and beyond. The urban emergence of micromobility offers powerful lessons on finding the right balance between fostering innovations that will ultimately benefit consumers and broader transportation systems, while safeguarding public interests. Sponsored by Deloitte.


If You Build It, Will They Buy? – The Role of the FleetTech Partner in the Future Mobility Ecosystem with Brendan P. Keegan
Presented by: Merchants Fleet

The future will bring a convergence of new technologies, …

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Former Anki engineers will steer Waymo’s self-driving trucks effort

Former Anki engineers will steer Waymo’s self-driving trucks effort

June 27, 2019

More than a dozen engineers, who lost their jobs after consumer robotics startup Anki shut down in April, have found a new home.

The 13 robotics experts, a group that includes Anki’s co-founder and former CEO Boris Sofman, are heading over to self-driving vehicle company Waymo, to lead engineering in the autonomous trucking division, according to a LinkedIn post. Sofman will report to CTO Dmitri Dolgov.

The group of engineers comprises nearly the entire technical team at Anki, many of whom have roots at Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics program, and includes its former behavior lead Brad Neuman and perception lead Andrew Stein. Anki’s head of hardware Nathan Monson and its former program manager Charlie Hite have also joined Waymo.

Axios was the first to report the move.

Anki built several popular products, starting with Anki Drive in 2013 and later the popular Cozmo robot. The Bay Area-startup had shipped more than 3.5 million devices with annual revenues approaching $100 million, Sofman wrote Thursday in a LinkedIn post.

Anki had raised more than $180 million, according to Crunchbase. The company was apparently prepared to take its robots business beyond entertainment, but it ran out of runway before it was able to activate that plan. “In the end we couldn’t overcome recent hurdles and the complexities of consumer hardware,” Sofman wrote.

Anki was a consumer robots company, which would seem like a bit of a leap over to Waymo. However, Sofman noted that it was autonomous driving that “first sparked” his attraction to the field and was the focus of his thesis at Carnegie Mellon.

“Throughout the last decade, I would look over at what was happening at Waymo and be inspired by the progress they were making, and the inevitable impact their technology would have on everyone’s lives in …

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Waymo starts self-driving pick-ups for Lyft riders

Waymo starts self-driving pick-ups for Lyft riders

June 27, 2019

Autonomous driving company Waymo has launched its tie-in with Lyft, using a “handful” of vehicles to pick up riders in its Phoenix testing zone, per CNBC. To be eligible, Lyft users requesting a ride have to be doing a trip that both starts and ends in the area of Phoenix that it’s already blocked for for its own autonomous testing.

The number of cars on the road is less than 10, since Waymo plans to eventually expand to 10 total for this trial but isn’t there yet. Those factors combined mean that the number of people who’ll get this option probably isn’t astronomical, but when they are opted in, they’ll get a chance to decide whether to go with the autonomous option via one of Waymo’s vans (with a safety driver on board) or just stick with a traditional Lyft .

Waymo and Lyft announced their partnership back in May, and the company still plans to continue operating its own Waymo One commercial autonomous ride-hailing service alongside the Lyft team-up.

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5 really, really good reasons to attend TC Sessions: Mobility

5 really, really good reasons to attend TC Sessions: Mobility

June 24, 2019

It’s stunning how fast emerging new technologies can coalesce around a simple human need and suddenly change everything, not to mention spur billions in investment.

That’s what has happened in the past five years to the basics of humans getting around town, or “mobility” in the shorthand of Silicon Valley. And that’s the first of the five reasons TC Sessions: Mobility is a must: The Mobility category is too momentous to walk on by. Arguably no tech category has invoked a bigger spectrum of emerging technology to deliver results that touch more lives.

The second reason? Mobility is still the Wild West any way you look at it. Very little is settled on either the tech or business front. What is true vehicle autonomy, for example, and when will we have it? At TC Sessions: Mobility, attendees like Waymo CTO Dmitri Dolgov, Zoox co-founder Jesse Levinson and Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli from Aurora, among others, will be weighing in on those topics — and many more.

Keeping those onstage interviews real when it comes to demanding topics is always a challenge, which brings us to the third reason: TechCrunch has some of the most respected editors anywhere when it comes to covering mobility. TechCrunch’s  Kirsten Korosec, Megan Rose Dickey and Matt Burns built this show and will handle most of the interviews onstage. You can trust them to ask the right questions.

Fourth, please check out the amazing agenda for the show. It really speaks for itself. There is no hot mobility topic — from autonomy to VC investing trends, from micro-mobility to mobility-first city design, to safety and security — that the agenda does not touch.

And the last reason, but perhaps most valuable of all: Consider who you will meet at this show, and

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