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Cars will be smart enough to save lives

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Autonomous care are evolving at a rapid pace, but the question many are asking themselves is will they be able to handle unpredictable situations and keep their occupants safe? Nissan MD, MIKE WHITFIELD, sheds some light on the situation.

Autonomous driving technology is developing at a rapid pace. Business Insider publication’s research platform has forecast that there will be around 10 million cars with various self-driving features on the road in the UK by 2020. But the closer we get to our ultimate goal of completely driverless cars, the more critical it becomes for manufacturers to ensure it’s safe for us to place these vehicles on the road.

It’s no secret that autonomous driving technology has the ability to change lives and to save them. Not only is this technology expected to reduce serious traffic incidents – the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) predicted that in the UK accidents would reduce by 25 000 a year by 2030 – but it will also make automotive transportation available to people who were previously unable to drive.

But as advances in autonomous driving technology continue, so important questions around the complexity of having these vehicles on the road continue to arise. For example, how can drivers learn to trust autonomous vehicles? How will vehicles communicate with drivers and alert them to the presence of other vehicles on the road? And, what actions will vehicles take after identifying objects, signs and other road infrastructure such as painted lanes?

Can driverless cars handle unpredictable situations?

One of the biggest questions around the safety of this technology is what would happen in an unpredictable situation? Would the system make the right decision and navigate the vehicle through the scenario safely?

At the moment the autonomous driving technology used on roads is not fully autonomous. Nissan’s ProPILOT, still requires a driver to be present and ready to take over the control of the vehicle at any moment.

The technology, which launched and went on sale in Japan last year, enables cars to drive autonomously is a single lane, including in heavy stop-and-go-traffic. It’s the first time that a combination of steering, acceleration and braking has been operated in fully automatic mode, easing the workload of the driver in heavy traffic.

However, ultimate control and responsibility remains with the driver.

In fact, should the driver remove their hands from the steering wheel, a warning light will come on and an alarm will sound. The system will literally deactivate until the driver places their hands back on the wheel.

The day is fast approaching, though, when completely driverless cars will become a reality.

When that day comes, the question of who takes control in an emergency situation will need to be answered.

Particularly a situation in which the technology would be required to make an ethical decision. For example, the decision to swerve and avoid hitting a pedestrian might endanger the passengers within the vehicle. How does the technology discern the right course of action in this instance?

Not surprisingly, the inability of autonomous vehicles to ‘handle’ these unpredictable situations is one of the major stumbling blocks to a future of fully autonomous driving.

Meet SAM

The good news, however, is that SAM has the ability to solve this problem. Nissan’s Seamless Autonomous Mobility system (SAM) can navigate unforeseen situations such as accidents, road construction and other obstacles. Ultimately, SAM will help us realise a future in which autonomous cars can operate safely and smoothly.

How does SAM work?

Basically, SAM is smart enough to know when not to navigate a potentially dangerous situation by itself.

Let’s say while driving you encounter an accident scene at which police are using hand signals to direct traffic, possibly against the normal rules of the road. In this scenario SAM will bring your vehicle to a safe stop and request help from the command centre.

This request is passed on to a mobility manager – an actual person who is using vehicle images and sensor data (streamed via the wireless network) to assess the situation, decide on the correct action, and create a safe path around the obstruction.

The mobility manager paints a virtual lane for the vehicle to drive itself through. Then once it clears the accident scene, the vehicle again resumes full autonomy.

The great thing about SAM is that it’s able to learn from experience – and as autonomous technology improves, vehicles will require less assistance from the mobility managers.

This technology will literally speed up the introduction of autonomous vehicles to our roads by decades.

Watch this space!

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Volvo and Uber get closer to self-driving XC90

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Volvo Cars’ first autonomous drive (AD) ready car has entered the next stage of pre-series production at Volvo’s manufacturing plant in Torslanda, Sweden ahead of full production start later this year. The AD-ready XC90 SUV, developed together with Uber, the leading ride-hailing firm, marks a key milestone in the strategic collaboration between the two companies.

Pre series production refers to the stage in the manufacturing process that is undertaken before full-fledged mass scale production. These cars are built in limited numbers for testing and verification purposes.

Uber and Volvo Cars entered a joint engineering agreement in 2016 and have since developed several prototypes aimed at accelerating the companies’ self-driving car development.

The autonomous drive-capable production vehicle is part of Volvo Cars’ 2016 commercial agreement with Uber for the delivery of tens of thousands of autonomous drive-ready base cars in coming years.

The AD-ready XC90 SUV, developed on the SPA2 modular platform is equipped with features that facilitate the introduction of autonomous drive systems and robotaxi services. In particular, the car is equipped with back-up systems for functions such as steering, braking and the battery. If any of the primary systems fail, these systems would immediately act to bring the car to a safe stop instead of relying on a human driver to achieve the task.

The XC90 is one of the first autonomous drive-ready cars in the world and previews the type of autonomous base platform that will be available to consumers on SPA2 cars from the early 2020s.

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Maserati goes ‘e’

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In line with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ €5 billion investment program for Italy, Maserati has announces an innovation plan for production, electrification and autonomous driving technologies. 

With regards to production, Maserati has announced plans for a lineup of new and electrified products at Modena, Cassino and Turin (Mirafiori and Grugliasco). 

All of Maserati’s new models will be 100 percent made in Italy and will adopt hybrid and battery electric propulsion systems capable of providing both innovation and the high performance embedded in the brand’s DNA. Maserati’s all electric models will combine traditional Maserati driving dynamics together with next-generation battery electric technology, offering unique driving modes, extended range and ultra-fast charging capabilities. 

An important step for Maserati innovation is the level of autonomous driving. All new Maseratis, including the updated current models, will offer a range of autonomous driving capabilities, starting with Maserati Level 2 enhanced Highway Assist, progressing to Level 3 with hands-off offering close to full autonomy, having the ability to maneuver in and out of lanes or bring the vehicle to a safe stop at the side of the road if the driver is unable to take control of the vehicle.  

In 2020, the Company will embark on electrification and the Maserati Ghibli, produced in Turin, will be the first hybrid electric propulsion for the brand. 

The first of the totally new Maseratis to appear will be an eagerly-anticipated sports car – packed with technology and reminescent of Maserati’s traditional values. It will be produced in the Modena plant, where major production line upgrades are also underway to accommodate its electric powertrain. 

Next up will be a new Maserati utility vehicle, set to be built at Cassino and destined to play a leading role for the Brand thanks to its innovative technologies. An investment of approximately €800 million has been earmarked for the construction of the new production line, scheduled to open at the end of the first quarter of 2020. The first pre-series cars are expected to roll off the line by 2021. 

After many years of success, GranTurismo and GranCabrio remain part of the Brand’s roots and these models will herald the full electrification era for Maserati. The totally New GranTurismo and GranCabrio will be produced at the Turin production hub, where FCA is investing €800 million.  

Production of the new models will complement that of the prestigious and continuously improving line-up of current Maserati range: Levante, Quattroporte and Ghibli. 

With the introduction of various product innovations, Maserati is reinforcing the importance of Italy with regards to its production — particularly Modena, which will also continue to play a strategic role as the Brand’s headquarters.  

Construction has already begun in Modena on a paint shop, a new feature for the plant, which will be equipped with innovative, low environmental-impact technologies. The design of the paint shop will also allow Maserati customers to watch their car being painted. 

Finally, Maserati is developing an entirely new customization program for customers seeking a one-of-akind level of exclusivity. A dedicated customization workshop will be created within the Modena plant. 

The 2019-2021 FCA investment plan for Italy, announced on 29th November in Turin, includes thirteen totally new or significantly updated FCA models and electrified versions of 12 new or existing models, including the Maserati products, the recently announced all-new electric version of the Fiat 500 to be produced at Mirafiori, and a new premium vehicle for Alfa Romeo to be produced at Pomigliano. 

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