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Uber, Volvo, team up for self-driving in SF

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Uber is expanding its self-driving pilot to San Francisco, California, using specially-converted self-driving Volvo XC90 premium SUVs.

The move marks the next phase in a deepening alliance between Volvo and Uber after the two companies signed an agreement in August 2016 to establish a jointly-owned project to build base vehicles that can be used to develop fully autonomous driverless cars. These cars were initially tested in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The latest cars to be used in San Francisco have been built by Volvo and sold to Uber, after which Uber’s own self-driving hardware and software package has been added, most visibly in the roof-mounted control apparatus.

These cars will drive around the streets of San Francisco autonomously, but as part of the pilot programme they will at all times have an Uber technician on board to supervise the car’s operation.

“The promise of self-driving ride sharing is becoming a reality,” says Mårten Levenstam, vice president product planning at Volvo Cars. “Volvo is proud to be at the forefront of the latest developments in the automotive world alongside our partners at Uber.”

The alliance with Uber forms one part of Volvo’s three-part plan to develop autonomous driving (AD) technologies.

In January 2017 it will begin a project entitled Drive Me, which will be the world’s largest autonomous driving test in which up to 100 AD cars will be given to members of the public to be driven on real roads around Gothenburg, Sweden. Their experiences will be used to co-develop Volvo’s AD cars.

The second part is a joint venture with Autoliv, the leading automotive safety technology company, to set up a new jointly-owned company to design and manufacturer separately-branded AD and driver assistance software technology packages for sale to third party OEMs.

The new company will have its headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden, and an initial workforce taken from both companies of around 200, increasing to over 600 in the medium term. The company is expected to start operations in the beginning of 2017.

The third part is the ongoing relationship with Uber to build and co-develop base vehicles for AD cars. This deal reduces Volvo’s developments costs, gives it a chance to develop cutting edge technology and could ultimately boost sales significantly.

The base vehicles are manufactured by Volvo and then purchased from Volvo by Uber. Volvo Cars and Uber are contributing a combined USD 300m to the project. Both Uber and Volvo will use the same base vehicle for the next stage of their own autonomous car strategies.

The cars to be used in San Francisco are developed on Volvo Cars’ fully modular Scalable Product Architecture (SPA). SPA is one of the most advanced car architectures in the world and is currently used for Volvo Cars’ top-of-the-line, multiple award-winning XC90 SUV, as well as the S90 premium sedan and V90 premium estate.

SPA has been developed as part of Volvo Cars’ USD 11bn global industrial transformation programme, which started in 2010, and has been prepared from the outset for the latest autonomous drive technologies as well as next generation electrification and connectivity developments. It is these capabilities that attracted Uber to Volvo.

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MWC: Cars begin talking to each other via V2X

Vehicle-to-everything communication is ready to roll out globally, says the 5G Automotive Association

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At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) announced that ‘Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything’ (C-V2X) communication technology was about to see its first commercial standard: LTE-V2X. In effect the 4G version of C-V2X, the initial version allows vehicles to communicate with each other and their surroundings. Together with 5G enhancements, it will facilitate broad scale improvements in road safety.

“These end-to-end integrated solutions bring enhanced safety, sustainability, and convenience to all road users,” said Thierry Klein, 5GAA vice chair and Head of the Disruptive Innovation Program at Nokia Bell Labs. “5GAA is very excited to be pioneering the revolution towards a smarter and more connected mobility world.”

C-V2X communication is the state-of-the-art, high-speed cellular communications platform that enables vehicles to communicate with one another, with roadside infrastructure, with other road users (such as pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists) using either direct short-range communications or cellular networks. While C-V2X network-based solutions are already widely deployed, direct communication solutions will be commercially available as of this year. As such the C-V2X platform delivers safety, mobility, traffic efficiency, and environmental benefits. C-V2X is designed with an evolutionary path to 5G and supports safe and efficient operations of autonomous vehicles.

Click here to read about 5GAA members spearheading C-V2X.

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Project Bloodhound saved

The British project to break the world landspeed record at a site in the Northern Cape has been saved by a new backer, after it went into bankruptcy proceedings in October.

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Two weeks ago,  and two months after entering voluntary administration, the Bloodhound Programme Limited announced it was shutting down. This week it announced that its assets, including the Bloodhound Supersonic Car (SSC), had been acquired by an enthusiastic – and wealthy – supporter.

“We are absolutely delighted that on Monday 17th December, the business and assets were bought, allowing the Project to continue,” the team said in a statement.

“The acquisition was made by Yorkshire-based entrepreneur Ian Warhurst. Ian is a mechanical engineer by training, with a strong background in managing a highly successful business in the automotive engineering sector, so he will bring a lot of expertise to the Project.”

Warhurst and his family, says the team, have been enthusiastic Bloodhound supporters for many years, and this inspired his new involvement with the Project.

“I am delighted to have been able to safeguard the business and assets preventing the project breakup,” he said. “I know how important it is to inspire young people about science, technology, engineering and maths, and I want to ensure Bloodhound can continue doing that into the future.

“It’s clear how much this unique British project means to people and I have been overwhelmed by the messages of thanks I have received in the last few days.”

The record attempt was due to be made late next year at Hakskeen Pan in the Kalahari Desert, where retired pilot Andy Green planned to beat the 1228km/h land-speed record he set in the United States in 1997. The target is for Bloodhound to become the first car to reach 1000mph (1610km/h). A track 19km long and 500 metres wide has been prepared, with members of the local community hired to clear 16 000 tons of rock and stone to smooth the surface.

The team said in its announcement this week: “Although it has been a frustrating few months for Bloodhound, we are thrilled that Ian has saved Bloodhound SSC from closure for the country and the many supporters around the world who have been inspired by the Project. We now have a lot of planning to do for 2019 and beyond.”

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