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AI start-ups win in Merc innovation challenge

Three artificial intelligence start-ups were the winners of the Mercedes-Benz South Africa Innovation Challenge.

Nine finalists presented their innovative ideas at a final selection event in the MBSA East London plant – the culmination of a unique partnership between MBSA, the LaunchLab and STARTUP AUTOBAHN that kicked off at the end of August this year.

The two winners in the manufacturing category were DataProphet, a group of machine learning specialists which provides A.I./ML development through corporate partnerships with the aim of delivering bleeding-edge machine solutions, and Vizbility Insight, an artificial Intelligence company specialising in globally scaleable predictive and prescriptive risk management software.

The winner in the sales and marketing category was NumberBoost, a startup that builds machine learning and artificial intelligence applications.

DataProphet was the overall winner.

These category winners each receive R300 000 to pilot their idea for future use within MBSA. DataProphet will also travel to Europe next year to pitch the innovative idea in front of hundreds of automotive decision makers at a big STARTUP AUTOBAHN event in Germany.

“I am highly impressed with the innovative solutions that were displayed at the MBSA Innovation Challenge,” said Markus Schäfer, Member of the Divisional Board Mercedes-Benz Cars, Manufacturing and Supply Chain for Daimler AG, MBSA’s parent company. “South Africa has some serious talent. The presentations were absolutely awesome and provided real solutions to the tasks that we face as a company. I congratulate all start-ups that presented at this event.”

The Mercedes-Benz South Africa Innovation Challenge targeted two streams. It asked interested students and professionals (as a first stream) and existing startups (as a second stream) to pitch innovative ideas to revolutionise the automotive manufacturing and marketing and sales environment.

“From an MBSA perspective, this challenge is crucial in that it will assist us in increasing agility while developing internal capability that changes organisational culture and the way we work,” said Andreas Engling MBSA CEO and executive director for manufacturing. “Most importantly, these innovative ideas will allow us to respond to changes and adapt to new market challenges quicker. In this process, we can increase our productivity.”

Innovation has always been a key to success for the automotive sector. In a world where disruption reigns and new opportunities need to be seized, innovation will be even more important in future.

Anne Knierim, senior manager for technology management and research policy and head of STARTUP AUTOBAHN, Daimler AG, said: “STARTUP AUTOBAHN globally scouts startups and matches them to the right colleagues within Daimler. I am impressed about the passion and capabilities of the South African startups in the challenge and I am really excited about the results we will see during the next months.”

The challenge also aims to provide a gateway for existing startups to grow and sustain their businesses.

MBSA will extend the opportunity for the student stream into 2018, to determine who will get the opportunity to be enrolled by the LaunchLab in its Lift-Off Programme for an initial three-month period. The Lift-Off Programme will be facilitated from the Nedbank Stellenbosch University LaunchLab, in Stellenbosch.

“This is what the LaunchLab is all about: facilitating valuable connections for startups and corporates for their mutual benefit,” said Philip Marais, CEO of the LaunchLab. “Through this Innovation Challenge, South African startups can have a global impact. Financial support from MBSA and support from high-profile representatives from Daimler and MBSA has really raised the profile of this event and helped to make it a great success. Well done to the winners.”

Ends.

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Two-thirds of adults ready for cars that drive themselves

The latest Looking Further with Ford Trends Report reveals that behaviour is changing across key areas of our lives

Self-driving cars are a hot topic today, but if you had to choose, would you rather your children ride in an autonomous vehicle or drive with a stranger? You may be surprised to learn that 67 per cent of adults globally would opt for the self-driving car.

That insight is one of many revealed in the 2019 Looking Further with Ford Trend Report, released last week. The report takes a deep look into the drivers of behavioural change, specifically uncovering the dynamic relationships consumers have with the shifting landscape of technology.

Change is not always easy, particularly when it is driven by forces beyond our control. In a global survey of 14 countries, Ford’s research revealed that 87 per cent of adults believe technology is the biggest driver of change. And while 79 per cent of adults maintain that technology is a force for good, there are large segments of the population that have significant concerns. Some are afraid of artificial intelligence (AI). Others fear the impact of technology on our emotional wellbeing.

“Individually and collectively, these behavioural changes can take us from feeling helpless to feeling empowered, and unleash a world of wonder, hope and progress,” says Kuda Takura, smart mobility specialist at Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa. “At Ford we are deeply focused on human-centric design and are committed to finding mobility solutions that help improve the lives of consumers and their communities. In the context of change, we have to protect what we consider most valuable – having a trusted relationship with our customers. So, we are always deliberate and thoughtful about how we navigate change.”

Key insights from Ford’s 7th annual Trends Report:

Almost half of people around the world believe that fear drives change
Seven in 10 say that they are energised by change
87 per cent agree that technology is the biggest driver of today’s change
Eight in 10 citizens believe that technology is a force for good
45 per cent of adults globally report that they envy people who can disconnect from their devices
Seven out of 10 consumers agree that we should have a mandatory time-out from our devices

Click here to read more about the seven trends for 2019.

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At last, cars talk to traffic lights to catch ‘green wave’

By ANDRE HAINZLMAIER, head of development of apps, connected services and smart city at Audi.

Stop-and-go traffic in cities is annoying. By contrast, we are pleased when we have a “green wave” – but we catch them far too seldom, unfortunately. With the Traffic Light Information function, drivers are more in control. They drive more efficiently and are more relaxed because they know 250 meters ahead of a traffic light whether they will catch it on green. In the future, anonymized data from our cars can help to switch traffic lights in cities to better phases and to optimise the traffic flow.

In the USA, Audi customers have been using the “Time-to-Green” function for two years: if the driver will reach the lights on red, a countdown in the Audi virtual cockpit or head-up display counts the seconds to the next green phase. This service is now available at more than 5,000 intersections in the USA, for example in cities like Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland and Washington D.C. In the US capital alone, about 1,000 intersections are linked to the Traffic Light Information function.

Since February, Audi has offered a further function in North America. The purpose of this is especially to enable driving on the “green wave”. “Green Light Optimized Speed Advisory” (GLOSA) shows to the driver in the ideal speed for reaching the next traffic light on green.

Both Time-to-Green and GLOSA will be activated for the start of operation in Ingolstadt in selected Audi models. These include all Audi e-tron models and the A4, A6, A7, A8, Q3, Q7 and Q8 to be produced from mid-July (“model year 2020”). The prerequisite is the “Audi connect Navigation & Infotainment” package and the optional “camera-based traffic sign recognition”.

Why is this function becoming available in Europe two years later than in the USA? 

The challenges for the serial introduction of the service are much greater here than, for example, in the USA, where urban traffic light systems were planned over a large area and uniformly. In Europe, by contrast, the traffic infrastructure has developed more locally and decentrally – with a great variety of traffic technology. How quickly other cities are connected to this technology depends above all on whether data standards and interfaces get established and cities digitalise their traffic lights.

On this project, Audi is working with Traffic Technology Services (TTS). TTS prepares the raw data from city traffic management centres and transmits them to the Audi servers. From here, the information reaches the car via a fast Internet connection.

Audi is working to offer Traffic Light Information in further cities in Germany, Europe, Canada and the USA in the coming years. In the large east Chinese city of Wuxi, Audi and partners are testing networks between cars and traffic light systems in the context of a development project.

In future, Audi customers may be able to benefit from additional functions, for example when “green waves” are incorporated into the ideal route planning. It is also conceivable that Audi e-tron models, when cruising up to a red traffic light, will make increased used of braking energy in order to charge their batteries. Coupled with predictive adaptive cruise control (pACC), the cars could even brake automatically at red lights.

In the long term, urban traffic will benefit. When cars send anonymised data to the city, for example, traffic signals could operate more flexibly. Every driver knows the following situation: in the evening you wait at a red light – while no other car is to be seen far and wide. Networked traffic lights would then react according to demand. Drivers of other automotive brands will also profit from the development work that Audi is carrying out with Traffic Light Information – good news for cities, which are dependent on the anonymised data of large fleets to achieve the most efficient traffic management.

In future, V2I technologies like Traffic Light Information will facilitate automated driving. 

A city is one of the most complex environments for an autonomous car. Nevertheless, the vehicle has to be able to handle the situation, even in rain and snow. Data exchange with the traffic infrastructure can be highly relevant here. 

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