Driverless cars – a New Year news round-up

Car tyres on winter road

Happy New Year! To give you an easy way to catch up on the driverless news you may have missed over the holidays, we’ve put together this news digest wrapping up some of the key driverless stories from recent days.

Americans don’t trust driverless cars in the snow

In a survey published to coincide with the official start of winter, tyre manufacturer Hankook Tire explored the attitudes of Americans to driving in wintry conditions

One interesting finding for the self-driving car industry? Almost half of Americans say they are not comfortable with the idea of driverless cars operating in the snow.

At the same time, a quarter of those questioned (24%) claim they would not even be comfortable sharing the road with a driverless car in wintry conditions.

The findings highlight a particular challenge for the developers of driverless technologies, who must ensure that as autonomous vehicles take on a growing share of the driving task, they are able to ‘see’ as clearly in rain, snow and fog as they are in dry and sunny weather.

Ford to show next-generation autonomous development vehicle

Ahead of this week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Ford announced that it will introduce its next-generation Fusion Hybrid autonomous development vehicle at CES and at the North American International Auto Show, taking place later this month in Detroit.

Building Ford's Next-Generation Autonomous Development Vehicle

Ford’s new vehicle uses its current autonomous platform, but harnesses new computer hardware to increase processing power.

The manufacturer has also made adjustments to the car’s sensor technology. It uses two new LiDAR sensors with a sleeker design and more targeted field of vision to provide the car with a better view of its surroundings.

The new vehicle arrives three years after the company’s current generation first hit the streets.

Self-driving cars may add to a shortage of donor organs

The arrival of self-driving cars promises a number of benefits – from improved road safety to greater mobility and increased leisure time.

But two fellows of the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank based in Washington D.C., have identified an unintended side-effect of improving safety and reducing road deaths: a potential shortage of donor organs.

In an op-ed piece on the think tank’s website the authors – Anne Hobson and Ian Adams – note that one in five organ donations currently comes from the victim of a road accident.

With driverless cars expected to significantly reduce the estimated 94% of road accidents involving human error, say the authors, it is not just road fatalities that will fall.

The number of organs available for donation is also likely to decline, requiring policy-makers to think about a national solution.

“We're all for saving lives – we aren't saying that we should stop self-driving cars so we can preserve a source of organ donation,” say the authors. 

“But we also need to start thinking now about how to address this coming problem.”

Self-driving cars will most benefit disabled and elderly, say British drivers

A new survey has found that improved mobility is seen as the biggest advantage of self-driving cars, with British drivers believing that autonomous technologies will most benefit the disabled (56%), the visually impaired (42%) and the elderly (30%). 

Respondents to the poll, conducted by Nissan, believe that such benefits would outweigh some of the potential downsides of driverless cars. Almost half of the drivers questioned (49%) worry about the possibility of a driverless car malfunction, while 53% are concerned about not being in control of a self-driving vehicle.

However, found the poll, British drivers are aware of the safety potential of autonomous technologies. Just over half (51%) see a reduction in accidents caused by human error as a positive outcome and 45% believe driverless cars will lower motorists’ stress levels.

A third of respondents (33%) were also ‘excited’ about the possibility of more self-driving cars on the roads, while just under half (45%) claimed they would be comfortable travelling in a driverless vehicle.

Digital mapping company HERE makes raft of announcements

  • Partnership with NavInfo and Tencent to target Chinese market; NavInfo and Tencent join with GIC to invest in HERE
  • Strategic partnership with Mobileye to link respective autonomous driving technologies
  • Intel to take 15% stake and collaborate with HERE on autonomous driving technologies

It’s been a busy few days for digital mapping company HERE, whose maps and location-based services provide crucial information for autonomous vehicle navigation.

HERE first announced a strategic partnership with NavInfo, a leading mapping and location services company in China, and Tencent, China’s largest Internet service portal, to develop location services for the Chinese market. 

At the same time, HERE announced that the two companies, along with global investment firm GIC, plan to acquire a joint 10% stake in HERE.

Two days later, the firm announced plans for a strategic partnership with Mobileye that will link the two companies’ autonomous driving technologies. HERE will harness Mobileye’s raw sensor data and technology as it expands its global high-definition map to provide precise, real-time information for autonomous vehicles.

This week, HERE also announced that technology company Intel has agreed to purchase a 15% ownership stake in the digital mapping firm from Audi, BMW and Daimler.

In addition, the two companies will collaborate on the research and development of a proof-of-concept architecture that supports real-time updates of HD maps, to help make autonomous driving as safe and predictable as possible.

HERE CEO Edzard Overbeek said: “A real-time, self-healing and high definition representation of the physical world is critical for autonomous driving, and achieving this will require significantly more powerful and capable in-vehicle compute platforms.

“As a premier silicon provider, Intel can help accelerate HERE’s ambitions in this area by supporting the creation of a universal, always up-to-date digital location platform that spans the vehicle, the cloud and everything else connected.”