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German auto giants BMW and Daimler (the parent group of Mercedes Benz) said last Thursday they would pool their resources in the development of autonomous vehicles.
Partly a reflection of the difficulty engineering next-generation cars and partly a (long-overdue) admission that the industry isn’t as far along as the hype (and a few CEOS) have implied, this remarkable tie-up between once-bitter rivals comes as the industry sobers up to a spiraling bar tab. The two have signed a memorandum of understanding that calls for an initial focus on advanced driver assistance systems, including automated highway driving and parking assist.
Notably, the hangover alliance comes on the heels of a handful of other significant partnerships:
- It was reported last month that Volkswagen, another German carmaker, was eyeing an investment of $1.7 billion in US-based Ford’s autonomous vehicle unit, Argo AI. The deal has yet to be confirmed, but the two previously announced a plan to build cars together.
- Last year, Honda agreed to purchase a $750 million stake in Cruise Automation, the self-driving unit of General Motors, and at the same time said it would inject an additional $2 billion into the initiative over the next 12 years.
It’s worth noting that Cruise and Argo were both independent startups before their acquisition by major automotive firms. Who will be the next carmaker to subsume an AV startup?
- Drive.ai, best known for its novel, human-robot interaction systems and deep-learning approach, has reportedly hired an investment banker to help secure a buyer. In its most recent funding round in 2017, the company raised $15 million from venture capital sources.
Parting thought: What was once a desperate, sharp-elbowed race to the moon is looking a lot more like a casual carpool these days.
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2. Gimme your keys, man
A team of Swedish researchers are working to develop a suite of sensor-based AI systems capable of judging a driver’s fitness to operate a motor vehicle and assume control when necessary, according to a new report by the European Commission.
The program would automatically transfer operation of the vehicle if the driver is deemed inebriated or dozing. The technology that underpins the system—like car ignition breath-alcohol tests and eye-tracking scanners—is already on the shelves, but the researchers hope that its application in the context of highly automated vehicles could save countless lives.
There’s just one problem: drunk (and sleeping) drivers, to the consternation of law enforcement and consumer safety advocates, already treat their ADAS-equipped cars like robo-chauffers even though they’re still wildly incapable of true self-driving.
3. The Auto(nomous) Bahn
- Could autonomous vehicles widen inequality gaps?
- Carmera, a high-def mapping startup, is collaborating with Toyota on a proof-of-concept project to develop off-the-shelf, camera-based automation of HD maps to be used by autonomous vehicles.
- A 25-year veteran of General Motors has reportedly taken a position with Amazon, a move that some believe points to the e-giant’s pivot towards AV applications.
- Tesla has restored a “full self-driving” feature to its website after the electric-car maker removed it in October amid criticism it was overselling the technology’s capability.
- A look at how Waymo hopes to overcome the challenge (and risks) of unprotected left turns.
- About those California disengagement reports: “Building worse self-driving cars with better disengagement rates.”