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It’s 1903 Again.

wright bros 1903

At the turn of the 20th century, there was a race to become the first to make a successful flight in a heavier-than-air craft. You’ve heard of the Wright Brothers, but there were groups worldwide in an all-out race to be the first to fly.

Samuel Pierpont Langley had the resources of the United States War Department, including grants of $50,000 and $20,000. And that’s in 1900 money. Langley was working on his version, called the Aerodrome, and others around the world were racing to do the same thing.

Fast forward just over 100 years, and we are scrambling to do the same thing with autonomous cars. Every manufacturer has their own version of this, from Mercedes to Nissan to Ford. Google is working on their own version, partly to benefit their mapping software, and vice-versa. And there are tons of smaller companies and large universities working on technologies to support partial and full vehicular autonomy.

This race will surely drive technology very quickly. Everybody wants to be the first to market. And we will likely all benefit from this. Which technologies will survive and drive our future (and company profits)? We will find out in the next few years.

I’d love to interview some of these companies. If you’re with one of them and want to talk about your projects, please contact me.


The Importance Of V2V Communication

Illustration from US DOT

Illustration of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication from US DOT

One of the biggest safety and traffic flow technologies coming is vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that it is beginning to take steps to enable V2V technology for light vehicles. It allows vehicles to communicate information about their speed, conditions, and surroundings.

The technology currently being used in testing utilizes Dedicated Short Range Communications, or DSRC. It works in the 5.9 GHZ range with bandwidth of 75 MHz and a range of about 1000 meters (.62 miles). That’s certainly far enough to warn of accidents, road hazards, slower traffic flow and even pedestrians, traffic signals and crosswalks.  It’s amazing, creating a sort of living mind on the roads. The implications are huge. Coupled with technologies like adaptive cruise control, it could even help adjust speeds between cars to make traffic flow much faster on freeways and highways. And more fuel efficient.

The icing on this cake is a potential 81% lower accident rate. That means less injuries, less fatalities and lower insurance rates. Airbags, seat belts and ABS are all great, but not getting into an accident in the first place is even better.

Freeway and highway driving can be made safer and more efficient by V2V communication.

Freeway and highway driving can be made safer and more efficient by V2V communication.

In 2012, the DOT conducted a test using 3000 connected vehicles (cars, trucks and buses). The vehicles were able to send and receive anonymous safety data between one another, and they were able to communicate warnings to drivers in cases of possible crashes.

This technology will be even more useful when it rolls out in larger numbers of new vehicles. The average vehicle on the road is 11 years old, meaning that it will take a years to reach critical mass to make it truly effective. There is talk of using smartphone apps to assist in this, though they would have to be coupled to another device in the car. GM has been experimenting with transponders. Possibly in the same way you can currently add a bluetooth speaker to your car to work with your phone in cars that don’t have it built in, you could have a device that does much the same for V2V, working with your smartphone (or without). It’s doubtful that could all be built in to your smartphone, as that adds a whole new radio. Think bigger, heavier phone with more battery drain. And unnecessary for anyone who doesn’t drive.

V2V data, according to the NHTSA, will be open to the public. Is this a good thing?

V2V data, according to the NHTSA, will be open to the public. Is this a good thing?

The NHTSA offers that anonymous data will be open to the public so it can be used for safety, mobility and environmental applications. Will it be truly anonymous?

This raises all kinds of security concerns. The information should be anonymized and only used between vehicles, not enabled for tracking vehicles, reporting speeds, etc. And it has to be secure enough that some yahoo on the side of the road can’t hack in and create custom traffic flow (or lack thereof) and wreak havoc. That technology is currently being worked on, to enable vehicles to know when they are communicating with a credible vehicle or infrastructure.

We are going to have a very close eye on this technology and how it is implemented. Standards will have to be set, not only to handle OEM standards and implementation, but also standardized controls and alerts so people can readily understand what is going on and how to respond/react and interact with automation (e.g. adaptive cruise control, etc.). This should be discussed internationally, because it won’t work well if Japanese cars have different controls than German or American cars. You can actually weigh in on your thoughts and concerns on the Intelligent Transportation Systems’ site here.


Will The First Driverless Cars Be Obvious?

Photo courtesy of Flickr member LotPro Cars


With Audi shrinking the computing power for autonomous vehicles to a size small enough to fit into ANY car on the market (see “Why Automakers Are Starting To Consider CES As Important As Any Automobile Show“), the question is, “Will they?”. As a culture, we love stuff that is new. And it has to look new. Remember when the iPhone 4s came out and all the Apple early-adopter fans were upset because it didn’t look any different than the iPhone 4? And in the car world, the early hybrids, including the original Echo-based Prius (and the generation after that) and the Honda Insight were really ugly. It seemed like the buyers wanted a conspicuous, ugly car to tell the world what good they were doing. Now there are hybrid versions of cars, trucks and SUVs that you can usually only tell based on the badge.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Michael Pereckas

Will early adopters of driverless cars want them to be obvious status symbol? I think they will. That’s not a bad thing. But do they have to be hideous? Think Tesla Model S, not original Honda Insight. That way we can save lives, save the environment, and save our eyes all at the same time.


DriverlessCar BMW Autonomous drifting

Some manufacturers, like Nissan and Mercedes-Benz, have promised to have autonomous vehicles available to the public by 2020. Mercedes has a long track record of having the best and newest safety technology. But BMW bills itself as maker of “The Ultimate Driving Machine”. They do make cars that are fantastic to drive. But what happens to that concept when many will want an autonomous vehicle to get them through the heavy, slow traffic of a big city.

I think more people would rather be chauffeured around to work and on errands, only true enthusiasts will want to drive cars. Driverless cars will certainly be status symbols at first, the extra equipment required to make them fully autonomous will come with a premium price. But that won’t last long, as everyone will jump on the bandwagon and fewer people will learn to drive. That’s a very sad truth.

BMW decided to show off their driverless car at CES this year, an experimental version of their 325i that can operate fully autonomously. But not just to shuttle you from point A to point B. This one can race around a track at high speeds, choosing great lines like a racer would. And, it DRIFTED. BMW had one turn wet, and the car would oversteer through the turn and properly compensate. This ain’t your grandmother’s autonomous car!

Britain’s Autocar posted a cool video of the car navigating and drifting the track:

BMW upped the ante with this, making it far more exciting. Not practical, but where’s the fun in that? BMW’s North American CEO, Ludwig Willisch, said BMW has no plans on taking the steering wheel fully out of the hands of drivers. Their culture dictates that they make cars for people who LOVE to drive. He took a jab at his competition with, “”Maybe if you have some car, some brand that’s not at all exciting to drive, it probably is okay if you’re driven by the car. Because you’re not losing anything.”


Don’t you hate it when you’re driving down the road and you’re stuck behind a big truck or bus? For whatever reason, they’re going much slower than the posted speed limit. And they’re too big to see around to easily and safely pass.

There’s an experimental way around that (no pun intended) using a clever array of cameras, LCD panels and DSRC (Dedicated, short-range communication). There’s a see-through LCD panel that acts as a heads-up display, and the road ahead is projected on it. You get an augmented reality view of the road, letting you see “through” vehicles ahead.



This technology has been developed by a team at the University of Porto in Portugal.


It’s a cool concept, but for it to work, it would have to be very widely adopted (so most or all vehicles have it), and to do that before we have simpler communications (non-visual) for autonomous cars seems unlikely.

Rupert Stadler, chairman of the board of management of AUDI AG, and Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CEA, during Audi keynote at 2014 International CES.

by Tony Donaldson

Carmakers have traditionally reserved the big auto shows, like Detroit, Tokyo and sometimes L.A. for big announcements with their vehicles and technologies. Now that computers and electronics are so heavily integrated in vehicles, and since that is where most of the innovation in modern cars is, it stands to reason that electronics should come to the fore.

CES, the International Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas every January, is where the tech companies congregate to show off where we are going with electronics. More and more connected devices are being shown off at the show, and there is a lot of it being integrated into cars.

Last summer, I saw the heart of one driverless project vehicle, the Autonomous Nissan Leaf. The back end of the vehicle was full of computers, inverters, telemetry, etc. Picture a vehicle with the back end filled fender-to-fender with computer desktop workstations (a FEW of them) and other electronics. Audi just showed off how they’ve shrunk a trunkload of computers into something the size of a hardcover book. Think about that for a second. That’s in the past year! This paves the way for existing cars and trucks to maintain their exact same form factor and lose virtually zero interior room or cargo space to the electronics needed to provide any level of autonomy.

At the Audi keynote speech, an A7 drove itself onto the stage. Audi Chairman Rupert Stadler talked about what he calls “Piloted Driving” and a new era of mobility. Stadler says people “want to be connected. So if mobility used to be about connecting places and people, it is now about connecting the driver with the car, the car’s surroundings, the traffic infrastructure, and all of the other connected elements of their life.” His full keynote speech can be read here.

Audi Sport quattro laserlight concept

Audi also revealed their new Audi Sport Quattro laser light concept car. It’s a plug-in hybrid that has brand new headlight technology, integrating matrix LED with laser lights. The laser lights will be like your brights on steroids, illuminating over 1600 feet ahead of you. They didn’t say if you could shoot stuff to get it out of your way, video game-style.


Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle

Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle

Toyota debuted their new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle at CES. Fuel cell vehicles may not be ready for mainstream use yet, but they’re getting close. Fuel Cell vehicles are awesome. They use the most abundant element in the universe, Hydrogen. It’s pressurized and you can fill the tank in your vehicle in roughly the same amount of time it takes to put gasoline in a traditional car. That’s the Achilles heel of full electric cars, when they die it takes HOURS to charge them.

The problem there is infrastructure. California, specifically Southern California at first, will be adding more hydrogen fueling stations. There are plans for 20 by 2015, and 20 more by 2016. That’s a start. And it will likely grow exponentially from there. There are about two million gas stations in the U.S. now. Retrofitting them and making hydrogen fuel easier to refine will take time. Hydrogen is plentiful, but scraping off the stuff that attaches to it (the oxygen molecule, in water, for example) takes some effort.

Honda Clarity. Photo by Tony Donaldson/tdphoto.com

Honda Clarity. Photo by Tony Donaldson/tdphoto.com

I’ve seen the Honda Clarity, Honda’s fuel cell vehicle, in the wild on the streets of Santa Monica, CA. There are plenty of places for plug-in electric cars to fuel up in the area, still only a couple of places to get hydrogen so far.

Hyundai integration with Google Glass

Hyundai is massively increasing their connectivity. The 2015 Hyundai Genesis Sedan has apps that work with your Android or iPhone, directly linking to its BlueLink Telematics Integration System. They even have compatibility with Google Glass. The apps allow you to remote start your car, tell you when maintenance is needed, help you with navigation, check if your doors are locked, etc.

Honda announced a month prior that they had Siri “Eyes-Free” integration and much more.

All of this stuff is exciting. We’re getting more and more connected to our cars. They will work with our smartphones, be more efficient, safer, more upgradeable as the rapidly-changing technology improves. With all the electronics in modern vehicles, expect CES to become even more important in the automotive world. Carmakers are embracing all this technology, and we are at the precipice of a new era in transportation.

Stay tuned!


Renault Debuts Self-Parking Car AUMP

pamu Renalult AUMP

By Tony Donaldson

Ready to feel like Michael Knight? Well, you’re a step closer to being able to at least call your car to come to you when you need it, maybe even by speaking into your watch (if you have Galaxy Gear or a Pebble)!

Renault announced it’s new AUMP (Advanced Urban Mobility Platform). It’s a Renault Fluence ZE electric vehicle with some crossover autonomous technology from Japanese corporate partner Nissan. It offers autonomous parking, something that is an incredible first step toward level 4 autonomy. You can get out of your car, send it on it’s way to find a good parking spot, then summon it when you are ready to go. It adds a very cool feature, an RFID scanner that you requires you to tap your card on the windshield to unlock it when it arrives. Who knows, that extra step might thwart thieves like the ones breaking into cars with the mysterious boxes.

If you’ve ever spent a long time looking for parking, this is an amazing development. And it offers some new parking technology opportunities, as well. If you haven’t seen it, I wrote up some of it here: Autonomous Parking is Coming. Who Wants To Profit?

In French, the sentence structure is wonderfully different to make this the PAMU (Plateforme Urbane de Mobilité Avancée, everything sounds better in French!). They offer a video demonstration here:

You can see the security features, as well as autonomous features including pedestrian and obstacle avoidance. Love the induction charging station at the end. Great idea, too, if they work well. Fulton Innovation has had this technology on display at CES for the past couple of years, always charging a Tesla Roadster.

The self-parking car is either the stuff of Dick Tracy and Knight Rider, or perhaps it harkens back to whistling for your horse.

Nissan has a self-parking Leaf on the way. Something tells me this autonomous valet will be on the streets very soon.



Connectivity On The Rise

Google Glass to be integrated into car systems

A number of companies are developing connectivity to devices, from smartphones of the iPhone and Android flavors to Google Glass. Official announcements are on the horizon.

There is already Honda’s Siri integration and a host of connectivity both wireless and wired in most car brands, with more and more coming. It started with streaming music, but a storm of other integration is coming. Imagine that if you live in a cold environment, your car could tell you if it had snowed and you could control remote start, defrost, and more from your phone. No more relying on “idiot lights” or cryptic OBD II codes to know when you need an oil change or other scheduled or currently needed maintenance. It could all go to your phone.

Both your phone’s app and car’s controls and interface can and will be updated and downloaded wirelessly. That’s all coming, and very soon. Stay tuned right here, exciting news is on the way!