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Singapore to Open Robocar Testing Facility

More and more research sites are coming on line that are dedicated to studying the basketful of challenges that must be overcome before today’s cars morph into fully autonomous vehicles. The latest one is on the campus of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore.

The facility, which will be a research and testing grounds for robocars and intelligent traffic system infrastructure, is a partnership between NTU and NXP Semiconductors. The primary focus of the Smart Mobility Test Bed, as it will be known, will be vehicle-to-everything, or V2X, technology that will let cars communicate with each other and with roadways to prevent collisions and traffic jams.

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BMW's Mini Will Augment Your Vision

The problem with your car’s heads-up display is that it can only augment the reality that’s straight in front of you—when you look to one side, all you get is the boring kind of reality. BMW proposes to change that with a pair of glasses that Google and Oculus Rift might have imagined. Or already patented.

The prototype system goes on display this week at the Shanghai Auto Show, where it’ll be paired with BMW’s Mini—an interesting choice because it doesn’t cost an arm and leg.

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Aston Martin's Robocar: Stirring, Not Shaken

In the 1997 James Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies,” Pierce Brosnan’s 007 summons his BMW with a command from his mobile phone—a mere trick of remote control. To top that feat some future Bond car will have to drive itself whenever its hero is, ahem, otherwise occupied.

The movie makers had better roll the idea out soon, before futuristic dreams turn quotidian. The upcoming Bond movie, to be called “Spectre,” will include a DB10 by Aston Martin, the quintessentially Bond-ish (and very British) car maker. And Aston Martin has just announced that it may incorporate self-driving technology in its showroom cars, via its technical partnership with Mercedes. 

“If I’m stuck in traffic in New York or Seoul or Jakarta, why not let the car drive me?” said Marek Reichman, Aston Martin’s chief designer. “People can still see me inside, and when I do feel like driving, I can still enjoy my Aston.”

The ultra-luxury brand won’t need Q and a top-secret lab, either: It has Mercedes, the current leader in putting semi-autonomous technology in showrooms. In return for a five percent stake in Aston Martin, Mercedes will supply hand-built AMG engines and transmissions, along with its advanced electronics—all things that Aston needs to meet tougher fuel-economy standards and the demands of people who spend from US $110,000 to $2.3 million on a new Aston.

That technology infusion will begin with next year’s replacement for the Aston-Martin DB9 grand tourer. That model will become the first Aston to adopt Mercedes’ latest COMAND navigation and infotainment system, a major leap from the clunky and out-of-date Volvo-based system in its current lineup. Mercedes’ semi-autonomous functions could easily be next, Reichman said, noting how they’ve given Mercedes a technological and marketing edge in models from the flagship S-Class sedan to the affordable C-Class sedan.

Those models can manage their own accelerator and brakes even in stop-and-go traffic; steer themselves along gentle highway curves; and stop automatically to prevent collisions with cars, pedestrians or large animals. Mercedes’ investment, Reichman says, has given Aston a roughly $800 million war chest to spend on new models in coming years, including an electric Rapide sedan whose production was announced at the recent New York International Auto Show.

That cash infusion is allowing Aston to access “the full  à la carte menu of Mercedes technology,” Reichman said. Each German menu item comes at a price, so the British automaker will pick and choose which features make sense for its customers.

“There’s no way as an independent automaker that we could access that level of technology, including electronics which cost Mercedes billions to develop.”

Stop Worrying, Your Electric Car Will Have Plenty of Range

As if having to worry about the range of electric cars wasn’t bad enough, it’s very important to also worry about the fact that with every charge discharge cycle, the amount of charge that the car’s batteries are able to hold decreases. For people thinking about making the switch from gas to electric, this can be a big issue, since it seems inevitable that after just a few years, they’ll have to pay a whole bunch of money to swap their degraded battery out for a fresh one.

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory looked at how battery degradation effects the ability of an electric car to do what it needs to do, and it turns out that for most people, they don’t have to worry about it at all.

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Nvidia Wants to Build the Robocar's Brain

Nvidia, the graphic-card master, wants to do for self-driving cars what it’s done for gaming and supercomputing. It wants to supply the hardware core—the automotive brain onto which others can build their applications.

It’s called Drive PX, and next month it will be released to auto makers and top-tier suppliers for US $10,000 a pop (that’s a development kit—future commercial versions will cost far less). It packs a pair of the company’s Tegra X1 processors, each capable of a bit more than a teraflop—a trillion floating-point operations per second. Together they can manage up to 12 cameras, including units that monitor the driver for things like drowsiness or distractedness. “Sensor fusion,” which puts the various streams of data into a single picture, can even include input from radar and its laser-ranging equivalent, lidar. The result is the ability to recognize cars, pedestrians and street signs.

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Experiments to Show if Robocar Tech Will Make Us Too Lazy to Drive Safely

There you are, daydreaming, when suddenly someone yells “heads up!” and lobs a ball at you. It’s a childish ploy to see how fast you can pull yourself together and catch the ball with your hands rather than with your forehead. 

That’s pretty close to what researchers did recently to test drivers’ responses to a collision with a car they’d been following. Actually, it was just a blow-up model of car, towed on a platform by a truck 15 meters up ahead of them. Still, the sudden appearance of even a balloon-like car sure does concentrate the mind.

“Most people were really surprised,” says Caroline Crump, a cognitive neuroscientist who worked on the experiment. “A lot of them brake to a stop, then start nervously laughing.”

Crump works for Exponent Failure Analysis Associates, a Los Angeles engineering firm that consults for  private clients, mostly on legal liability cases. But this project is being done to test how people adapt to various driver-assistance programs, and the results will be presented next month  at the annual Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress, in Detroit. 

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Eye Tracking Headlights Point Where You Look

Every year, car headlights waste an unconscionable number of photons by illuminating things that the driver of the car doesn’t care about. All those poor photons, just uselessly flying off into the darkness. GM has been feeling guilty about this, so they’ve got engineers at Opel/Vauxhall working on a system that makes sure your car’s headlights point where your eyes are looking and nowhere else.

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Freightliner's SuperTruck Prototype Boosts Efficiency by 115 Percent

While we tend to focus on smart cars around here, smart trucks are just as important. Arguably, they’re even more important, because while your car spends most of its life not being used, semi trucks spend most of their lives actually being driven, bringing you (and everyone else) all kinds of important goods. Numbers I found from 2006 suggest that semi trucks average between 72,000 and 161,000 kilometers per year. With that much driving time, even small increases in efficiency can make a huge difference.

Freightliner, which has been building trucks for something like 70 years, is interested in much more than small increases in efficiency. Last week, the company showed off its “SuperTruck” prototype, which is a ludicrous 115 percent more efficient than a standard semi truck, thanks to solar panels, waste heat harvesters, and some wicked aerodynamics.

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Ten Years of Top Ten Tech Cars: An Analysis

For this year’s “Top Ten Tech Cars” we have a retrospective analysis of the feature’s past decade by Chen Liu and William B. Rouse of Stevens Institute of Technology. Liu is completing a doctorate in systems engineering. Rouse, an IEEE Life Fellow, holds the Alexander Crombie Humphreys Chair in Economics of Engineering in the School of Systems and Enterprises.

Every year IEEE Spectrum chooses 10 cars to highlight in its April “Top 10 Tech Cars” issue, and we have analyzed the 10 issues published through 2014 to discover what happened to the technologies those cars embody. We particularly wanted to measure the lag between Spectrum’s discussion of a technology and its success in the marketplace.

First, we considered the brand, model, and configuration of the 100 cars and also mined the text of the ten articles to determine technology-related term counts across cars. We considered that the more frequently occurring terms suggested that the associated technologies had captured the writer’s attention.

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Internet of Things Dramatically Increases Demand for IT Specialists at Bosch

Bosch, widely known as an automotive manufacturing supplier, has announced that it plans to hire 12,000 new workers this year. Although this figure may seem staggering, it reflects not only the size of the company—360 subsidiaries and regional companies in 150 countries—but also the fact that it has become one of the main global players in the Internet of Things. Not surprisingly, 75 percent of the new hires will be engineers; for about 30 percent, it will be their first job. The largest group of new "associates" will have a background in IT. More specifically, Bosch's plans call for 3,200 new hires in India, 2,600 in China and 1,200 in Germany.

“We are increasing the number of associates hired for software design and development,” Christoph Kübel, director of industrial relations at Bosch, said in a 24 March press release. “As connectivity expands in every business sector, from mobility solutions to industrial technology, the importance of software does too.”

Bosch is not only at the forefront of technology, it is also known for its advanced approach to personnel relations, which it calls “family friendly.” Associates can choose from about 100 working-time models, including telecommuting, part-time employment, and job sharing.

The company says it will also try to increase the percentage of women in leadership positions to 20 percent, a goal already reached in China. Bosch acknowledges that diversity is good for business. “We want more female executives because mixed leadership teams are more successful,” Kübel said in the press release.


Cars That Think

IEEE Spectrum’s blog about the sensors, software, and systems that are making cars smarter, more entertaining, and ultimately, autonomous.
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