Autonomous a decade away? What about connected smart apps until then?

Last week saw the big CES show in Las Vegas, where autonomous vehicles took over five years ago; the star then was the Audi A7 self-driving prototype. Many attendees this year were very disappointed that automakers and tech partners have changed their story from the AV Revolution over to cool, connected features being added to new cars.

Consulting companies Gartner and PwC now estimate that autonomous vehicles reaching mass production and sales — along with the much-hyped robotaxis — will take another decade or so to get here. Auto sales will probably continue declining for a while and then should go back up in the US to over 17 million or more as car buyers aren’t going to be ready to change their lifestyles with AVs — and electric vehicles and mobility services — for quite a while.

At last year’s CES show, several companies revealed advanced driver-assist technologies. It was a letdown for many attendees, and began signaling that the AV Revolution is going to take a while.

“I remember the projections from CES four or five years ago that by 2021, we’d have autonomous fleets and, obviously, that’s not happening as quickly,” said Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which runs CES. “There’s a lot of barriers,”

A Deloitte study launched right before CES affirms it. Nearly half of US consumers (48 percent) of the respondents believe that fully autonomous vehicles will be unsafe; and 58 percent aren’t willing to pay more than $500 for AV technology.

The Deloitte 2020 Global Automotive Consumer Study surveyed more than 35,000 driving-aged consumers, from 20 countries, across the world. While increased connectivity in new vehicles is thought to be the bridge between the current models and AVs of the future, surveyed consumers have mixed feelings. People in India (80 percent) and China (76 percent) are embracing the idea at over twice the rate compared to Germany (36 percent), followed by the US (46 percent). Some issues do carry over to India and other countries — concerns over privacy and data security being a top issue.

Consulting company PwC says autonomous vehicles used in robotaxi operations will not reach roads in any significant presence until after 2030.

Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility sets a clear example of where the technology is now, and where it’s headed. Intelligent Mobility offers a suite of integrated technology designed to increase safety, comfort, and control while driving, “connecting you with your vehicle and the world around you.” Intelligent Driving starts now with driver assistant technology like Safety Shield 360 that helps you see more and sense more, giving you a helping hand when you need it. Then there’s the e-Pedal that makes electric car driving even more fun. And going to the next step: smart vehicles that connect with each other in an ecosystem that improves safety and traffic flow.

Automakers and tech giants like Apple and Alphabet are following the lead set by Amazon in recent years with the launch of its Alexa and Echo systems. They integrate control systems and devices into a personalized, customized system for giving voice commands to driving directions, EV charging, playing the music you love to hear, and much more. You might say, “Alexa, tell me the best place nearby to pickup a low-carb dinner, and the best way to get there fast while playing great music from the 1980s.”

Highlights from this year’s CES:

  • Sony unveiled an electric car concept that could set the Japanese tech giant up as a partner for self-driving EVs of the future. The company said sensors are embedded within the vehicle, in order to “detect and recognize people and objects inside and outside the car, and provide highly advanced driving support.” Magna Steyr built prototype, and Sony listed Benteler, Blackberry, Bosch, Continental, Elektrobit, Genetex, Nvidia, Qualcomm, and ZF Friedrichshafen as partners.
  • Along with reminders about its intelligent mobility offerings, Nissan revealed a new twin-motor, all-electric, all-wheel-drive system. It’s expected to debut in Nissan’s first all-electric crossover utility vehicle that may arrive in the US in 2021. Called e-4ORCE, the new system will deliver high-torque, precision handling and stability, Nissan said. This will be possible by optimizing power delivery to each of the four wheels.
  • Toyota’s Woven City was shown off as a prototype community of the future that will be built near Mount Fuji in Japan. The 175-acre site will house an experimental laboratory of future technologies including self-driving vehicles run on hydrogen fuel cells, robots, smart homes and new forms of personal mobility. People will be able to live in this community of the future.
  • Hey there, hardcore gamers:  This year, both Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation will launch new, next-generation game consoles. Both are scheduled to arrive this holiday season, and both are being slowly finished up for major launches. And you can always get a cutting-edge TV of the future to play the games on and watch your favorite show. Samsung showed off its Q950 8K TV with a minimal 15mm frame and AI processor that can track screen objects and position the sound to match. LG unveiled its latest rollable OLED TV, that can roll down from the ceiling like a projector screen with no need for a projector; there’s also a more affording OLED TV with a smaller 48-inch display.
  • Uber and Hyundai Motor Co. have a new partnership to develop Uber Air Taxis for a future aerial ride share network, and the new partners unveiled a new full-scale aircraft concept. Hyundai is the first automotive company to join the Uber Elevate initiative, bringing automotive-scale manufacturing capability and a track record of mass-producing electric vehicles.
  • Renault is developing a solution enabling automatic and secure interaction and communication between cars and connected objects in homes in partnership with French smart-home startup Otodo. Users will be able to control their home’s connected objects directly from their vehicle’s dashboard, as well as send instructions from their home, using a smartphone or connected speaker, to their connected Renault vehicle to prepare or share an itinerary, and other functions. It will be available in all Renault models that have the new Renault EASY LINK multimedia system, including the all-new Zoe, Clio, and Captur.
  • Hey there, Avatar fans:  Something that could be called “Ava-car” will be launched to promote upcoming sequels to the hugely popular Avatar movie made by the legendary director James Cameron. He spoke at CES to announced an Avatar-themed partnership with Mercedes-Benz, revealing the futuristic AVTR concept car. It offers what the German carmaker sees as the future of automotive design, featuring things like a steering wheel that will “merge” man and machine. AVTR will be able to recognize the driver based on their heartbeat and breathing patterns. The look of the car is based on non-human characters from Avatar’s fictional eco-universe. The seats and floor are made from sustainable materials, and the battery is recyclable, too.

Autonomous and electric vehicles steal the thunder at CES

CES 2016 logoSelf-driving cars and electrified vehicles were key themes at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last week in Las Vegas. CES has become the leading showcase arena in the U.S. for the coolest, cutting-edge devices for cars and other consumer products. It seems to be evolving into the leading event of the year for the auto industry, slightly surpassing the North American International Auto Show right before it starts up this coming week in Detroit.

Analysts say we’re 15-to-20 years from seeing hundreds of thousands of fully autonomous vehicles on our roads. In the meantime, the concept of self-driving cars appears to be an ideal platform for automakers and technology partners to be rolling out, and testing out, new bells and whistles that will eventually become standard features. Electric vehicle technologies were also shown off by OEMs during CES.

  • Ford CEO Mark Fields was a keynote speaker at CES, where he announced a deal with Amazon to incorporate the cloud-based voice assistant, Alexa into its vehicles. Using Alexa will allow a driver to not just open a garage door but turn on lights and adjust the thermostat by voice command, among other features. Fields talked about Ford’s commitment to personal mobility through supporting ridesharing and carsharing programs. However, he didn’t mention the alliance with Google on self-driving car technologies that had been announced shortly before CES. Fields did talk about a new light and radar sensor (LiDAR) that can be mounted in the mirrors of a car. Developed by Silicon Valley-based company Velodyne, Inc., this third-generation sensor can extend the LiDAR range by 200 meters, which is essential for the safety of autonomous vehicles. It’s called the “Ultra Puck,” and will enable a driverless vehicle to create a real-time, 3D map of its surroundings, Fields said.
  • General Motors chairman and CEO Mary Barra, during her keynote Wednesday, confirmed that the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt electric car would be in production this year and would sell, after government rebates, for $30,000. While it will be competing with the Nissan Leaf, it will get about double the range at 200 miles. Barra’s unveiling of the Bolt at CES came just days after GM announced an alliance with ridesharing service Lyft that includes the creation of a fleet of shared GM vehicles available for Lyft drivers to rent. The Bolt will be a key display feature for GM this week at the Detroit Auto Show.
  • As Volkswagen continues to battle the diesel emissions violations scandal, CES was a platform for showing off its electric people-mover concept. VW’s BUDD-e minivan concept has been designed to show what connected, electric transportation could look like a few years from now. The BUDD-e concept, revealed at CES on Tuesday, offers a new modular platform toolkit designed for electric vehicles that the automaker intends to deploy across its brands. BUDD-e packs a 101-kilowatt-hour battery providing up to 373 miles of range in the New European Driving Cycle, a test cycle designed to assess emissions. It can be recharged to 80% in 15 minutes, the company said.
  • Automakers and leading automotive suppliers have been taking self-driving car technologies very seriously in recent years – according to a study released during CES by Thomson Reuters. According to the new report from the Intellectual Property and Science business of Thomson Reuters, there were more than 22,000 new inventions related to self­driving automobiles between 2010 and 2015. Companies such as Toyota, Bosch, Denso, Hyundai, GM and Nissan, have been the global leaders in self­driving vehicle innovation. Toyota alone has patented over 2,000 new driverless tech inventions in the last five years, double the number two player Bosch, according to the report. LG, Samsung, Google, Boeing, IBM, Amazon, Carnegie Mellon, and MIT also have contributed significant new intellectual property in the category over the last five years.
  • While Apple is new to the autonomous vehicle game, Thomson Reuters IP & Science analysts predict that Apple will soon make a collaboration announcement with Tesla Motors; while Apple is not a leading innovator in this field like Google has become, a partnership with Tesla would be a predictable move for both companies, based on a thorough review of both companies’ patent portfolios, according to Thomson Reuters.
  • Nvidia has introduced a new computer for vehicles that includes artificial-intelligence features to make them more autonomous. Volvo will use the new product in its public trials of autonomous vehicles in 2017, the company said. Nvidia designs graphics processing units, as well as system on a chip units for the mobile computing market, and is working on playing a role in the automotive technology market.
  • Self-driving cars was the topic of several surveys and studies released last week. New data from an Autotrader study reveals 70% of consumers are more likely to consider vehicles with autonomous features such as parking assist, collision avoidance, and automatic braking.
  • Self-driving cars are involved in fewer crashes on average than vehicles with a driver behind the wheel, according to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute commissioned by Alphabet Inc’s Google unit. It looked only at Google’s fleet of more than 50 self-driving cars, which has logged 1.3 million miles in Texas and California in self-driving mode. The test fleet has reported 17 crashes over the last six years, although none were the fault of the self-driving cars, Google said. After adjusting for severity and accounting for crashes not reported to police, the study estimated cars with drivers behind the wheel are involved in 4.2 crashes per million miles, versus 3.2 crashes per million miles for self-driving cars in autonomous mode.
  • A survey conducted by Volvo found that 92% of respondents believe that people should be able to take control of self-driving cars at any moment while 81% of the people agree that automakers, not car owners, should take responsibility if an accident occurs while a vehicle is driving autonomously.
  • While self-driving cars grabbed most of the media attention at CES, Panasonic Corp.’s President Kazuhiro Tsuga says it will be years before autonomous systems contribute meaningfully to the company’s bottom line. Panasonic, which has partnerships with Ford, Toyota, Tesla, forecasts sales in the automotive segment will climb to $17.8 billion in the year ending March 2019. Most of that will come from cockpit infotainment systems and car batteries, Tsuga said.
  • Kia executives said that said the Korean automaker will offer their first “partially autonomous” vehicle by 2020, with “highly autonomous” technology to follow five years later. The company will invest up to $2 billion in autonomous vehicle technologies, the company said.

Toyota working hard at building its image as the leader in safe, connected and autonomous vehicles

Self driving Lexus test modelToyota Motor Corp. is striding forward to reestablish its name as a manufacturer of safe vehicles and a forerunner in advanced, autonomous vehicle technologies. Its vehicle communication system, called ITS Connect, will go on sale in Japan this year in the Toyota Crown luxury sedan; it was unveiled on Oct. 6 during a demonstration near the Tokyo waterfront. Toyota said it will deploy autonomous driving systems by 2020 supporting vehicles talking to each other, scanning blind spots, and keeping safe distance from other cars.

Toyota’s work is aimed at supporting developing technologies that could lead the auto industry’s transition to autonomous vehicles. That will come through ITS Connect, which deploys vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems in its cars; these technologies are also described by transportation planners as “intelligent transportation systems” (ITS). Some experts believe that ITS technologies will be key components in autonomous vehicles. For now, Toyota is considered a leader in connected car technologies that will play a role in the future of autonomous vehicles.

Toyota is continuing to recover from its massive vehicle recall during 2009-2010 for “unintended acceleration,” and was part of the major recall this year with Takata airbags. In February 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in collaboration with NASA, released findings into the investigation on the Toyota drive-by-wire throttle system. After a 10-month study, NASA and NHTSA scientists found no electronic defect in Toyota vehicles; the crisis wasn’t over in court rooms, but the ruling helped Toyota emerge from the crisis on solid ground.

General Motors seemed to follow Toyota’s lead in 2014 with its massive recall of 39 million vehicles globally over a faulty ignition switch, bringing in outside investigators to get to the root of the problem. Analysts and commentators are encouraging Volkswagen to follow a similar ethical path in its diesel emissions scandal accountability.

Along with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, Toyota has been investing in safety and innovative technologies that could support development of future autonomous vehicles. Toyota has been testing out its own Advanced Safety Research Vehicle – a Lexus LS used for research at the Toyota Research Institute in Ann Arbor, Mich. It uses forward-looking and side-facing millimeter-wave radar sensors, as well as a 360-degree laser scanner. Onboard computers use data from those scanners, and data collected from the engine and wheels, to collect data on the car’s surroundings, and operate the car’s controls.

Eight automakers – Toyota, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, and Volkswagen – have been developing vehicle-to-vehicle communications (V2V) technology in cooperation with the federal government for several years through a group called the Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership (CAMP). The V2V transmitters and software are expected to cost an estimated $350 per vehicle in 2020; but automakers so far have supported NHTSA’s objective.

On Aug. 18, 2014, NHTSA released an advance notice of proposed rulemaking and a supporting research report on V2V communications technology. “Safety is our top priority, and V2V technology represents the next great advance in saving lives,” said US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The rules will give drivers early warnings of approaching danger in vehicles built after 2020. NHTSA predicts that V2V technology could prevent 25,000 to 592,000 crashes and save 49 to 1,083 lives annually when the entire US vehicle fleet has adopted the technology; that would come from adopting Left Turn Assist (LTA) and Intersection Movement Assist (IMT) applications.

The Ann Arbor test, managed by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), is testing out several different accident-prevention approaches. The most sophisticated includes 64 cars, three buses and three trucks driven by the public and specially built by the automakers with a sampling of six safety-warning features, along with video cameras to capture traffic incidents.

On the green car front, Toyota is counting on the redesigned 2016 Prius to reestablish the Prius brand as a technology innovator. For fuel cell cars, Toyota will be displaying the Toyota FCV Plus at the Tokyo Motor Show. Toyota is counting on the 2016 Mirai to essentially become the Prius of hydrogen fuel cell cars.