TIME Transportation

Driverless Cars Get a ‘City’ All to Themselves

Google Self-Driving Car
Stephen Lam—Reuters A Google self-driving vehicle drives around the parking lot at the Computer History Museum after a presentation in Mountain View, Calif. on May 13, 2014.

The 32-acre site, which mimics the urban traffic environment, is in Michigan

A 32-acre “city” where driverless cars will rule the roads opened Monday on the University of Michigan campus.

The facility, called “MCity” was developed to mimic urban traffic systems, with several different roadways and unpredictable events that match a true driving experience.

According to Bloomberg, MCity in Ann Arbor, Michigan has a bridge, a tunnel, obstructed views, angled intersections, a traffic circle and many building facades. There’s even “Sebastian,” an engineered pedestrian that can step into traffic to test whether the vehicles can sense him and act accordingly.

The investment cost of MCity was $10 million, Michigan Radio reports. The majority of the cost was covered by the University of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Transportation.

[Bloomberg]

TIME Innovation

Two Driverless Cars Almost Collide on the Road

Cars from Google and its competitor Delphi came close to an accident

Two driverless cars from competing companies came close to getting in a fender bender in Palo Alto.

Cars being tested by Delphi Automotive and its rival, Google, found themselves on the same road during recent test drives, Reuters reports. The Delphi car, an Audi, was planning to change lanes when the Google car, a Lexus, cut it off. A Delphi executive who was a passenger in the car said it reacted appropriately and abandoned its lane change. Google did not comment to Reuters.

While both company’s cars have been involved in minor fender benders with vehicles driven by humans, this is thought to be the first close call between two automated cars.

[Reuters]

 

MONEY Autos

Most Women Don’t Want a Driverless Car

Driverless Technology Showcased At Robert Bosch GmbH Automated Driving Event
Bloomberg via Getty Images A Samsung Electronics Co. smartphone camera displays a wrong-way driver warning app as it sits on the windshield of a Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) 3 Series automobile at the Robert Bosch GmbH driverless technology press event in Boxberg, Germany, on Tuesday, May 19, 2015.

About half of men surveyed said they do want one.

Automakers will have to focus on women if they hope to make driverless cars mainstream, according to a NerdWallet survey that shows men are far more likely to express interest in the new technology. The survey of more than 1,000 Americans nationwide also exposes a sharp divide in views on self-driving vehicles between millennials and older Americans.

Only 37% of women surveyed by NerdWallet expressed any interest in owning a self-driving car, while half of men expressed interest.

Meanwhile the survey found that 53% of respondents ages 18-29 were “very interested” or “somewhat interested” in owning a self-driving car, compared with just 41% of those 30 and older.

Women Say No Thanks to Driverless Cars, Survey Finds; Men Say Tell Me More
Via:NerdWallet

Among key findings of the survey:

  • Most women expressed concern about the safety of self-driving cars, with 55% citing safety as among the biggest drawbacks of the new technology. Only 37% of men were worried about safety.
  • Meanwhile 44% of men were concerned that driverless cars will take the fun out of driving, while only 23% of women felt that way.
  • Consumers have a limited amount of trust in autonomous car technology. When asked whether they would put a child alone in a driverless car to go to school or a friend’s house, only 6% of those surveyed would close the door and wave goodbye.
  • While consumers are not yet ready to embrace a driverless world, they are interested in safety technologies that are paving the way for fully autonomous vehicles. Blind-spot detection was by far the most popular new technology, with 42% citing it as the most appealing feature of semi-autonomous cars, followed by emergency braking to prevent crashes, favored by 30%.

Self-driving cars are here

Self-driving cars, also known as autonomous vehicles, once seemed the stuff of science fiction, but they are already testing on the highway and seem certain to end up in dealer showrooms before long. Yet our survey of more than 1,000 Americans found a distinct lack of enthusiasm toward the prospect of driverless cars, with only a small minority “very interested” in buying one and nearly twice as many saying they were “not at all interested.”

Nevertheless, a transition to autonomous cars seems inevitable.

Google recently announced that it will begin putting its self-driving cars on public roads in Mountain View, California, this summer. Over six years of testing, Google says its cars have been involved in only 11 accidents — none of which were the fault of the Google car. In most cases, the cars were rear-ended.

A self-driving Audi recently completed a trip from San Francisco to New York in nine days, driving in automated mode 99% of the time, according to Delphi Automotive, which made the technology.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently announced a software upgrade for some of the maker’s electric cars that will make it possible for the cars to drive from San Francisco to Seattle without human input — “from parking lot to parking lot,” as he put it at a news conference. However, the full autopilot feature will not be enabled, at least initially, he said.

While our survey found Americans as a whole relatively unenthusiastic about driverless cars, men were far more likely than women to express interest.

Women Say No Thanks to Driverless Cars, Survey Finds; Men Say Tell Me More
Via: NerdWallet

Self-driving cars use GPS and a variety of sensors (cameras, radar and lasers) to scan and identify the environment around the car. A computer in the car processes data from the sensors to decide on driving actions such as steering, braking and turning. Cars would be networked, using vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication to talk to one another. Ultimately, a human driver becomes just another passenger and would be able to sit back and do other things while en route.

The potential for reducing car accidents could be significant. After all, the computer never takes its “eyes” off the road, never gets distracted, never gets tired.

On May 13, Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation will fast-track rules to require V2V communication in future cars.

Still, many people are firm in their resistance to driverless vehicles: 28% vow they will never purchase a driverless car. Only a very small contingent (3%) is ready to buy a self-driving car right now. The majority of those surveyed (51%) would wait three years or longer after such cars became available before considering buying one.

Women Say No Thanks to Driverless Cars, Survey Finds; Men Say Tell Me More
Via:NerdWallet

NerdWallet also wanted to find out what would be appealing about driverless cars that could potentially win over customers. While more than one-third of consumers (36%) did not find anything appealing about driverless cars, about the same percentage liked the ideas of saving on car insurance and letting the car handle routine driving tasks.

HWomen Say No Thanks to Driverless Cars, Survey Finds; Men Say Tell Me More Via:<a href=NerdWallet

Notably, fewer than one-third of people found the potential for improved safety to be a compelling reason to own a driverless car.

The older the age group, the more likely respondents were to say they couldn’t find anything appealing about driverless cars, from a low of 26% among those ages 18-29 to 44% among those age 60 and older.

Safety and cost are top worries

Safety concerns are a major drawback of self-driving cars, according to 46% of respondents, but cost was the biggest worry.

Women Say No Thanks to Driverless Cars, Survey Finds; Men Say Tell Me More
Via:NerdWallet

Concern about safety also bubbled up when we asked about car insurance rates. Typically, cars that crash less are rewarded with lower auto insurance rates. But only 41% of people think owners of self-driving cars should pay less for insurance.

As another measure of trust in autonomous car technology, we asked whether people would put a child in a self-driving car alone to go to school or a friend’s house. Only 6% gave a thumbs-up to that idea. Most people (76%) said no, and the rest were unsure.

However, people did show interest in safety technologies such as collision avoidance, suggesting the possibility that they will eventually come around to self-driving cars if they can be sold on the cars’ safety promises (and if men can still have a little fun). Only 9% of people said they had no interest in any of the technologies we asked about.

Women Say No Thanks to Driverless Cars, Survey Finds; Men Say Tell Me More
Via:NerdWallet

There’s a very small, enthusiastic contingent of people who are ready to embrace driverless cars today: 3% of respondents say they would purchase a driverless car today if they could, and 6% say they’d be willing to pay more than $10,000 extra for a fully autonomous car over a regular car.

Another 15% say they would pay $5,001 to $10,000 more. (Experts generally predict that self-driving cars will cost about $7,000 to $10,000 more than regular cars when they are introduced, with the price differential decreasing in subsequent years.) But pessimism about the value of autonomous cars still prevails: 50% of people say they wouldn’t pay a dime more.

Methodology

NerdWallet conducted a national, online survey of 1,028 randomly selected Americans ages 18 and older on May 12-13, 2015, via SurveyMonkey. Respondents were 52% female and 48% male. By age, 22% were under 30, and 26% were over 60. Margin of error: 4 percentage points.

More From NerdWallet:

 

TIME Google

Google Will Now Tell Everyone When its Driverless Cars are in a Crash

Google's self-driving vehicle
Google Google's self-driving vehicle

A new website will disclose all accidents

 

Google has issued its first public report listing traffic accidents involving its self-driving cars.

The decision by the tech giant comes after years of silence about any crashes involving its test vehicles on public roads. Now, the company will publish the details online.

The change, originally announced in May, comes after Google co-founder Sergey Brin was confronted about the topic earlier this week at the company’s annual shareholder meeting. At the time, he defended keeping quiet about any accidents by saying that it was to protect the identities of the humans involved, according to USA Today.

In a monthly report for May published Friday, Google acknowledged that its self-driving cars had been involved in 12 minor accidents over six years of testing. “Not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident,” Google said. In most cases, cars driven by others ran into Google’s self-driving vehicle while it was on the street. In one case, a Google employee caused the crash while the car was in manual mode, the company said.

 

(Correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this story gave an incorrect number of accidents caused by Google employees in self-driving cars. There was one such accident. The story was also adjusted to clarify that Google initially disclosed plans last month to publish the report).

TIME Autos

Google Founder Explains Why It’s Making Self-Driving Cars

Gov. Brown Signs Legislation At Google HQ That Allows Testing Of Autonomous Vehicles
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Google co-founder Sergey Brin speaks about driverless cars in September 2012 at Google headquarters.

"We hope to make roadways far safer"

In form filed today with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Google cofounder Sergey Brin lays out the reasons for the company’s high interest in developing driverless cars.

In the form, Brin, whose official role at the company is now director of Google X, doesn’t reveal much about Google’s specific plans, but he does speak about the origin of its interest in ways he hasn’t before: “The increasing power of computation extends well beyond the internet,” he wrote. “One example close to my heart is our self-driving car project. The goal is to make cars capable of driving themselves entirely without human intervention. We hope to make roadways far safer and transportation far more affordable and accessible to those who can’t drive.”

Of course, the safety level of self-driving cars has been an issue of debate — not just whether the vehicles are safe on the road, but also the vulnerability of the systems to hackers. All of this is of major interest not only to Google, but also to Apple, as the battle for the “connected car” is heating up between the two tech giants.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, also has a keen interest in driverless cars. At an NVidia developer conference earlier this year the controversial entrepreneur theorized that autonomous vehicles would soon be so far along that we would take the technology for granted. He then made the much-publicized remark that in the future, people may even be outlawed from driving cars because “it’s too dangerous. You can’t have a person driving a two-ton death machine.” Musk had to walk back his comment a bit later on using Twitter.

In the 14a form filed today, Brin continues: “We can now rely on immense processing power and advanced sensors that would not have been possible only a few years ago. And while it will still take time before we see self-driving cars everywhere on our streets, over a million auto fatalities per year worldwide make this a risk worth taking … it is possible to create the technology that allows people to lead healthier, happier lives. And, along with our incredibly passionate employees, I am humbled and excited to try.”

MONEY Autos

This Chevy Concept Car Will Blow Your Mind

Chevy says its FNR concept car, unveiled at Auto Shanghai 2015, is a model for an affordable, autonomous car you could drive in the 2030s.

Tucked away in a nondescript commercial building in Fountain Valley, Calif., dozens of designers, engineers, and craftsmen have toiled secretively for months on a project that offers a glimpse of the way we may be driving 15 years from now.

Their hangar-like workspace belongs to GFMI Metalcrafters, a company that for decades has built many of the most important concept cars to hit the auto-show circuit. Laboring furiously in its password-protected workrooms, these teams have been assembling a car far ahead of its time.

Meet the FNR, perhaps Chevy’s most unusual concept car to date, and a stake-in-the-ground statement from Chevy’s parent, General Motors.

The FNR, unveiled this week at the Auto Shanghai 2015 car show in China, is a fully autonomous electric vehicle. It’s a family sedan-cum-techno-infotainment solution aimed squarely at China’s youth market — consumers who characteristically respond better to smartphones than sheet metal. The really great news, for real: This is GM’s best guess on what a family vehicle will offer on the affordable front within 15 years.

Chevy hopes that the FNR will hook millennials, not just in China but worldwide, with the promise of a vehicle that will be part Siri, part BFF and part Fitbit. “Everywhere in the world our time is constrained — commute time, work time, family time,” says Sharon Nishi, head of sales and marketing for Chevrolet in China. “Those are some of the things that inspired this car.”

In a departure from current trends in autonomous-vehicle development, Chevy envisions the FNR as a vehicle for the mass market. GM projects that by 2030 — the hypothetical model year for the FNR — self-driving technologies will have proliferated enough to have become less costly, and therefore feasible for a real-world family car. And GM’s executives think autonomous vehicles have particularly good opportunities for growth in developing countries like China, where cities and roads are crowding quickly, governments are anxious to resolve congestion, and much infrastructure is yet to be built.

“Design is really important in China,” says Nishi. Appropriately enough, the FNR’s exterior projects futuristic muscle-car attitude. Motors housed in the rims of its massive, hubless wheels will power the car (once that particular innovation is fully developed). The FNR’s sculpted exterior panels are made from composites like carbon fiber, to save weight, and designed with air intakes that add drama and aerodynamic flow to the overall shape.

Double scissor doors open on each side like lotus blossoms. The crowning touch: Thousands of LED lights swathe the vehicle, illuminating it outside and in with a bright blue light, chief designer Cao Min’s ode to Shanghai’s famous evening light shows.

The interior promises that driving itself can be an afterthought, if the user chooses. The FNR would allow occupants to sit back and enjoy the ride in motorized, webbed seats that can read everything from heart rate and blood pressure to mood — and adjust temperature, speed, lighting, and even musical selections for those who want to work or sleep.

Care to swap out the map projected on the oversized canopy to work on some spreadsheets? Simply swipe your hand over the gesture-controlled crystal ball in the center console to reconfigure the display. Of course, that’s assuming you’re in the car at all. The FNR could “take itself to the dealer for service so you don’t have to,” says Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president of global product development.

There’s much work to be done before cars come anywhere close to fulfilling the FNR’s fully autonomous promise. Like other manufacturers and suppliers, GM has gradually loaded more vehicles with active-safety technologies that are precursors to a car that could pilot itself — night vision, blind-spot alerts, lane-change warnings, adaptive cruise control, brake assist. Next year, GM will be the first automaker to bring to market vehicle-to-vehicle communication — cars “talking” to one another to help them avoid collisions — in a 2017 Cadillac CTS. “It’s a step-by-step progression; some of the things we introduced in 2010 and 2011 are now trickling down into our production cars,” says John Capp, GM’s global director of safety strategies and vehicle programs.

Other, more luxury-oriented companies, including Audi and Mercedes-Benz, are closer to putting autonomous vehicles on the road. But GM executives say that by 2030, that may not matter. “How will the consumer interface with and experience all this technology — will it really help, or will it become a secondary burden?” asks Bryan Nesbitt, GM China vice president of design. The automakers that integrate the tech most successfully, Nesbitt says, will come out ahead.

Correction: An earlier version of this post identified Sharon Nishi as head of sales and marketing for GM China. In fact, she is head of sales and marketing for Chevrolet in China.

TIME Autos

How Driverless Cars Will Sneak Up on Us All

Gov. Brown Signs Legislation At Google HQ That Allows Testing Of Autonomous Vehicles
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images A Google self-driving car is displayed at the Google headquarters on September 25, 2012 in Mountain View, California.

Our cars will gradually start doing more of the driving themselves — until they do all of it

The news that car-hailing company Uber is opening up a research facility to work on driverless cars foretells one of many possible automotive futures: A world in which personal car ownership is made obsolete by city-roaming fleets of autonomous cars waiting for you to ask them to come pick you up.

That particular future might never arrive. While major automakers and tech companies like Audi, Google and now Uber are hard at work perfecting autonomous cars, they have well-documented challenges in the form of technology and policy. But there’s another speedbump ahead, too: Convincing people to let a computer take control when they’re screaming down the interstate at 70 miles per hour. In an early 2014 study by research firm Harris Interactive, only 12% of respondents said they were ready to say, “HAL, take the wheel!”

For driverless cars to go mainstream, the companies working on them will have to convince consumers they’re as safe (or safer) than human-driven vehicles. The trick here lies in a gradual rollout. Semi-autonomous features like park assist or collision avoidance are already popping up in cars on the road today, marketed as convenience- or safety-boosting tools. (Such technology also helps manufacturers drive prices up.) That’s already gotten drivers slightly more comfortable with the idea that cars can do some driving themselves. Once those features become more widely available, it’ll mean that when cars start asking to do a little more—say, take control in a highway carpool lane—drivers will be more likely to let their car become a chauffeur.

What’s unclear here is what happens to automakers when one of them (or someone else) finally starts selling driverless cars. Audi, BMW, Ford and the rest would presumably prefer a world where millions of people still buy their cars. They don’t care if the cars are being driven by a computer instead of a person so long as they’re selling lots of them.

But the hypothetical autonomous Uber future clashes with that: Why should people bother buying a car when they can hail a self-driving car to their doorstep whenever they need one? In that world, Uber would still need to buy lots of cars, but it would probably be nowhere near the number consumers are buying today.

That’s the fascinating irony of automated cars: There’s a chance that, in building them, automakers could be innovating themselves into obsolescence. That explains why car companies are doing things like building Silicon Valley research labs: Their best hope might be beating Uber at its own game by supplying both the driverless cars and the software platform on which they’ll run. Thankfully for the automakers, they have plenty of time to figure things out before we’re all zipping around in cars without steering wheels.

MONEY Autos

Google, Uber May Clash Over Driverless Taxis

Google is reportedly developing a ride-booking app using driverless cars, while Uber is making a big investment in robotics. Game on!

TIME Autos

General Motors Open to Working With Google on Self-Driving Cars

‘We’d certainly be open to having a discussion with them,’ Jon Lauckner said in an interview at the Detroit auto show

‘We’d certainly be open to having a discussion with them,’ Jon Lauckner said in an interview at the Detroit auto show.

General Motors is open to working with Google on developing self-driving car technology, the chief technology officer for the U.S. automaker said on Monday.

“I’m not in charge of deciding what we will and won’t do, but I’d say we’d certainly be open to having a discussion with them,” Jon Lauckner said in an interview at the Detroit auto show.

Lauckner made his comments two days before the head of Google’s self-driving car project, Chris Urmson, is scheduled to speak at a conference held annually in conjunction with the auto show. Urmson is expected to announce his company’s plans to seek partnerships within the auto industry.

‘We’d certainly be open to having a discussion with them,’ Jon Lauckner said in an interview at the Detroit auto show.

General Motors is open to working with Google on developing self-driving car technology, the chief technology officer for the U.S. automaker said on Monday.

“I’m not in charge of deciding what we will and won’t do, but I’d say we’d certainly be open to having a discussion with them,” Jon Lauckner said in an interview at the Detroit auto show.

Lauckner made his comments two days before the head of Google’s self-driving car project, Chris Urmson, is scheduled to speak at a conference held annually in conjunction with the auto show. Urmson is expected to announce his company’s plans to seek partnerships within the auto industry.

Self-driving cars have been a hot topic for both companies in recent months. GM CEO Mary Barra made headlines in the fall when she said that some GM cars would have limited driverless tech, such as the ability to detect pedestrians, by 2017. She also announced that GM would be part of the team building 120 miles of so-called “autonomous” highway — roads with sensors that enable communication between cars — around Detroit.

And Google’s driverless car ambitions are well-known. Just last month, the Silicon Valley giantunveiled the first fully-functioning prototype of a driverless car. This model doesn’t really look like any car you’ve seen on the road, and certainly doesn’t look like something GM would produce — it looks more like something you’d see in a 1960s science fiction movie.

Combining these two perspectives and histories — GM’s ability to make cars that people actually want to buy with Google’s ability to innovate and push the technology envelope — could make a lot of sense in terms of ushering in the future of autonomous cars. Just how an arrangement might work, though, is a question.

“You have to figure out how would something like that actually work,” Lauckner said. “Would it be something where it would be an opportunity to work together in a joint development agreement?”

—Reuters contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME United Kingdom

Driverless Cars to Hit Public Roads in Britain by January 2015

A Google self-driving vehicle drives around the parking lot at the Computer History Museum after a presentation in Mountain View, California
Stephen Lam—Reuters A Google self-driving vehicle roams around the parking lot at the Computer History Museum after a presentation in Mountain View, Calif., on May 13, 2014

On Wednesday, the British government will announce its plans to test autonomous vehicles on public roads by January 2015, but first the Highway Code will need to be revised to allow the driverless cars on the streets

Driverless cars will be hitting British streets for test runs by January 2015 — the British government plans to announce on Wednesday — although the Highway Code will need to be revised to allow for the changes, industry experts say.

The self-driving cars for civilians will be an extension of ones already used by the British army, which are provided by MIRA, a vehicle-engineering and design company.

Britain’s trial of autonomous cars will join the ranks of other countries such as Singapore, Japan and Germany, which have already started testing driverless vehicles on public roads, Sky News reports. Google also recently unveiled plans to test out prototypes of its computerized automobile, which has no steering wheel or pedals, in California this summer.

Google says the autonomous vehicles will “shoulder the entire burden of driving,” the Telegraph reports. Despite the convenience that will be offered by the driverless vehicles, safety on the road remains a prevailing concern for British politicians and civilians.

Suzie Mills, a lawyer at the British law firm Ashfords, told Sky News that the government will have the onus of “clarifying exactly where responsibility sits,” for consumers and insurance companies in the case of an accident.

While the autonomous car remains a work in progress, the British government seems to be taking the high road by allowing consumers the option of maintaining control over the car. A government statement released earlier this month said, “Fully autonomous cars remain a further step, and for the time being drivers will have the option (and responsibility) of taking control of the vehicle themselves. Vehicle manufacturers and their systems suppliers continue to explore the opportunities for full autonomy,” the Telegraph reports.

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