+++ Japanese companies have jointly started work to develop high-precision three-dimensional maps that will support AUTONOMOUS driving technologies.
Enhancing the safety of autonomous driving requires more detailed information than the capability of exiting car navigation systems, such as the numbers of traffic lanes and their widths, the locations of traffic lights, utility poles and road signs and the slope angles of roads. The consortium of companies, including Mitsubishi Electric and map publisher Zenrin, aim to complete the development of 3-D map standards by 2020, when the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held. Existing autonomous driving technologies mainly utilize information from sensors and cameras mounted on vehicles. But the sensors and cameras may not be able to detect traffic lanes in certain weather and sunlight conditions. High-precision 3-D maps are expected to help overcome those problems, industry sources said. For the development of such maps, 6 car navigation systems-related companies, including Aisan Technology, and 9 major automakers, including Toyota, established Dynamic Map Planning in June. Mitsubishi Electric is the top shareholder of the new company, with a stake of 18 percent, while the nine automakers each own 3.3 percent. The companies plan to make high-precision 3-D maps of the nation’s roads with measuring errors of as little as 10 centimeters, nearly 20 times as precise as conventional car navigation systems. One of the challenges they face is deciding how frequently the maps need to be updated, as roads are continually being repaired. With Toyota and other automakers aiming to realize autonomous driving technologies by 2020, Dynamic Map Planning will speed up its development efforts, the sources said. +++
+++ KIA is considering shelving its electrically boosted hybrid diesel engine project as the Dieselgate fallout continues. Although the project is still officially under way, Kia performance development boss Albert Biermann has admitted it is becoming hard to justify the development of more expensive diesel engines in the face of increasingly tough emissions standards. “The research project is still going on”, Biermann told Autocar, “but the cost of electric motors and batteries in a hybrid is already significant. The question is whether it is really necessary to throw in a more expensive diesel engine”. The research is unlikely to be wasted. Biermann suggested the hybrid system might well be re-engineered to work with a petrol engine. He said: “We also have a very efficient Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine, so I think that is the good choice here”. The project was introduced with the Optima T-Hybrid, which was first shown at the 2014 Paris motor show. This featured the familiar Hyundai-Kia 1.7 CRDi diesel engine, which was boosted by a 48V electric supercharger; similar in principle to the one Audi has just introduced on the considerably more expensive V8-powered SQ7 TDI. This set-up worked in conjunction with a 48V starter/generator that turned it into a mild hybrid. Kia estimated that a production version would be able to cut the emissions and fuel consumption of any car it was fitted to by 15-20%. +++
+++ Automobile and parts manufacturers are developing “MIRRORLESS vehicles” that use cameras and monitors instead of traditional rearview and side mirrors. In June, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry lifted a ban on designing and manufacturing mirrorless vehicles. Actual sales are expected to start around 2018, but hurdles regarding safety and other areas still need to be cleared. In a mirrorless car, cameras replace the side mirrors mounted near the left and right doors, and the driver uses monitors inside the car to make safety checks. The rearview mirror is replaced with a monitor, which shows images taken by a camera mounted on the back of the vehicle. The transport ministry revised safety criteria and other standards for road transport vehicles to allow mirrorless cars to drive on public roads, aligning Japan with new vehicle safety criteria adopted by the United Nations. The absence of side mirrors will likely reduce air resistance, which could improve fuel efficiency. Also, areas obstructed by the side mirrors would become visible, reducing blind spots. At night and during bad weather, image processing software could help increase visibility. Major domestic and foreign auto parts makers have taken the lead in developing the necessary technology. The French firm Valeo is moving forward on developments made using an experimental vehicle in Japan, and plans to start mass producing parts for mirrorless cars in 2018. Shizuoka-based Murakami, a leading manufacturer of rearview mirrors, has also developed a system of cameras and monitors. The company aims to start mass production in fiscal 2018, and is currently trying to sell its system to key domestic automakers. Manufacturers such as Toyota and Nissan have already revealed prototype cars, and are discussing their designs and other plans with parts makers and others to put the ideas into practical use. The main issue is how to improve precision for safety purposes. Even a small time lag between camera and monitor could lead to serious accidents. Steps also need to be taken so that drivers accustomed to side mirrors do not get flustered. “We can’t just replace the mirrors with cameras. We need to find ways to support safe driving”, said Shoji Akiyama, a director at Valeo Japan. For example, one automaker is considering a function that would allow a vehicle to accelerate if the car behind it looked like it was about to cause a rear-end collision. Equipping vehicles with cameras and monitors “would increase the sales price of a regular car by at least 10,000 euro” an employee of a major automaker said. Hence, striking the right balance between safety and price is another issue automakers need to tackle. +++
+++ The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says Hyundai and Mitsubishi are RECALLING certain car models in the U.S. because of problems the companies say can increase the risk of crashes. Hyundai is recalling 2013 models of the Elantra because the brake pedal stopper pad can deteriorate, a condition that could lead to the brake light staying on or the transmission shifting out of park without applying the brake pedal. More than 64,500 cars are affected by the recall. Mitsubishi North America is recalling 2015-2016 models of the Outlander Sport (asx) and 2016 models of the Outlander and the Lancer. The vehicles have a constant velocity transmission that can cause a delay in acceleration in certain driving conditions. That recall affects more than 82,000 cars. Toyota is recalling 337,000 vehicles for a third time. The recall involves the RAV4 from the 2006-2011 model years. Toyota first recalled the vehicles in 2012 because of a wobbly rear suspension. The company recalled them again in 2013 because the nuts it used to adjust the rear wheel alignment weren’t tightened properly. This time, Toyota found that rust can form on the suspension arm threads if the nuts for the rear wheel alignment weren’t tightened correctly. If that happens, the suspension arm could separate from the vehicle and cause the driver to lose control. Toyota will contact owners and replace both rear suspension arm assemblies for free. +++
+++ The TESLA Model S was given a facelift in April, but did it also receive more power? Though the company hasn’t said anything, tests run by independent outlets seem to say “yes”. The Model S’s refresh earlier this year seemed to focus on bringing the car’s design more in line with the Model X and Model 3, mainly by removing the large grille and adding some interior trim. Hardware-wise, Tesla also said that the HEPA air-filtration system with its bioweapon defense mode were improved, added swiveling LED headlights, and increased the charging system’s amp intake by 20 percent. What the company maintains officially, however, is the power and torque ratings are unchanged. However, Drag Times conducted some independent testing and found that the new powertrain (engine and battery pack) that underpins both the Model X and new Model S P90D could have as much as 55 horsepower more than the old one. The result? A 0-60 time of 2.65 seconds in Ludicrous Mode, significantly lower than the 2.8 seconds previous Model S P90D sedans have exhibited. Moreover, the test was conducted with 19-inch all-season tires rather than the available 21-inch performance tires that the 2.8-second time was presumably registered with. Theories include better aerodynamics, though at such low speeds that is unlikely to have that much of an effect. More likely, Drag Times’s Brooks Weisblat theorizes, is that the battery packs have been improved somehow. Of course, there’s always the speculation that the 100 kWh battery pack has already been smuggled aboard these new cars. +++
+++ In a few weeks, UBER will start using self-driving cars to carry passengers in Pittsburgh, raising the stakes in an intensifying race to deploy autonomous vehicles. The ride-hailing company said Thursday that customers will be able to opt into the test program, which will use autonomous Ford Fusions (Mondeo) summoned through the touch of a smartphone. Although other companies are testing self-driving cars on public roads, this is the first time the public can get access to them. The rides, which come with a human backup driver to handle situations that the autonomous cars haven’t seen, will be free to those willing to take part, the company said. Uber, which has a self-driving research lab in Pittsburgh, has no immediate plans to deploy autonomous cars beyond the Pittsburgh experiment. But its CEO, Travis Kalanick, has said that without drivers, the cost of hailing a ride will be cheaper than owning a car. Kalanik, in a Thursday interview with The Associated Press, said development of autonomous cars is paramount for the 7-year-old San Francisco company. “We’ve got to be laser-focused on getting this to market, because it’s not a side project for us”, he said. “This is everything. This is all the marbles for Uber”. Uber wouldn’t say exactly how many Fusions would be operating in Pittsburgh, but said it was fewer than a dozen. Uber also announced a $300 million alliance with Volvo to supply vehicles and technology, and the acquisition of an autonomous big-rig startup in San Francisco as it pushes forward with self-driving vehicles. The announcements may push it ahead of its prime competitor, Lyft, which earlier this year took a $500 million investment from General Motors. They’re part of a flurry of deals between Silicon Valley companies, traditional automakers and ride-hailing operations as they vie for leadership in what could become the next evolution in transportation. Google parent company Alphabet, which has been testing autonomous cars on public roads since 2009, is among the leaders, but has not carried passengers. Uber’s push to carry people with autonomous vehicles is not surprising, given the company’s history of gravitating toward gray areas where there is little or no regulation, said Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina professor who studies self-driving technology. Pennsylvania, he said, has no laws governing autonomous cars and how they relate to ride-hailing, but local laws may require a driver behind the wheel. By using human backup drivers, Uber basically is going to test the technology and take people along for the ride, he said. “Part of this is marketing in the sense that they’re going to be doing continued research and development of these systems, but they’re going to carry people in the process”, he said. Walker Smith predicted that drivers often will have to intervene in Pittsburgh, with its winding, hilly roads and vast number of bridges. The city also gets a fair amount of snow, which can cover lane lines and trick autonomous car sensors. Use of the backup drivers also is an acknowledgment that autonomous driving systems to date cannot handle the wide range of unpredictable circumstances on public roads, Walker Smith said. Timothy Carone, a Notre Dame professor and author of “Future Automation: Changes to Lives and to Businesses”, said Uber is trying to get first mover advantage by putting its cars on the road before competitors. But unlike Tesla, which put semi-autonomous technology in the hands of individual customers, Uber is mitigating the risk by putting its own drivers in the front seat. “This is a way to get autonomous cars out there and accepted and increase the adoption rate”, Carone said. “It will take a decade of testing before an 18-year-old can get in the car and tell it where to go”. Carone expects Uber competitors like Lyft and others to accelerate their plans. But he thinks they will all adopt the same sort of risk-management approach as Uber. Ford, for example, said earlier this week that it will have a fully autonomous car with no steering wheel or pedals on the road by 2021, but it will only be used by car-sharing services and won’t be sold to individual customers. The announcement was one of three made by Uber in the autonomous car race. It’s also the latest tie-up between Silicon Valley, ride-hailing firms and major automakers. Uber announced a $300 million deal for Volvo to provide SUVs to Uber for autonomous vehicle research. Eventually the Volvo SUVs will be part of the self-driving fleet in Pittsburgh. Volvo will develop base vehicles for research and both companies will design autonomous vehicles on their own. Uber also announced that it is acquiring a self-driving startup called Otto that has developed technology allowing big rigs to drive themselves. With Otto, Uber gets a fast infusion of self-driving expertise, including Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski, one of the founding fathers of autonomous technology. Though the Google car project just lost its director, Chris Urmson, it has a big head start on Uber and others. Its leaders have suggested they could launch public pilot tests of cars with no steering wheels or pedals in the next year or two. Putting robotic vehicles on the road has been an obsession for Levandowski. One earlier effort, a self-driving motorcycle named Ghostrider, is now in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Until the start of this year, Levandowski was at Google, but he left to found Otto with 2 other former Google employees. +++
+++ The next generation VOLKSWAGEN Touareg will receive a more luxurious interior and a design influenced by its smaller sibling, the Tiguan, when it lands in less than a year’s time. The five-seat SUV model will sit directly above the Tiguan when it replaces the current Touareg, which has been on sale since 2011. It’ll also eventually sit above the Crossblue production model when that car is launched into the US and Chinese markets sometime next year. The recently sighted 2017 Touareg test mule is heavily camouflaged but LED lighting and the car’s more angular design is clear. The car’s shape looks similar to that of the Crossblue, but more rounded wheel arches, a larger front grille and a shorter wheelbase are the most obvious differences. The Touareg’s light design is expected to take more influence from the Tiguan than the Crossblue. Beneath the covers, it looks like the latest Touareg test mule features horizontal structures on both its front and rear lights, as previewed by this year’s Beijing motor show concept. Under the bonnet of that concept was a plug-in hybrid powertrain that produced 385 hp and 700 Nm ft of torque. The system could run in full-electric mode for up to 80 kilometers. A hybrid powertrain like this is therefore expected to be offered with the 2017 Touareg, but more conventional turbocharged four-cylinder diesel and petrol units are likely to form the bulk of its engine line-up. As is the case with the current car, all versions of the new Touareg will come with four-wheel drive as standard. Volkswagen is said to be working hard to ensure the new Touareg’s cabin is significantly more luxurious. With the BMW X5 and Volvo XC90 down as key rivals, the Touareg will also have some of the market’s best infotainment systems to contend with. Volkswagen hasn’t revealed when the 2017 Touareg will make its debute, but it’s expected to be at the Geneva motor show next March. Pricing is likely to stay close to that of the current car. +++