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Is it goodbye, private car?

Could cars be the next part of everyday life to be transformed from a physical product into an on-demand service? Some technologists and economists predict that the privately-owned car will go the way of the horse and buggy within in a decade, writes ALEX THOMSON, co-founder at Naked, an AI-based car insurance business.

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Over the past decade or so, the technology industry has transformed many things we used to buy as physical products into digital services we subscribe to or access on a pay-per-use basis. Think about how we have moved from buying CDs towards paying a monthly subscription to use Spotify, or the shift from DVDs to Netflix.

Could cars be the next part of everyday life to be transformed from a physical product into an on-demand service? Some technologists and economists predict that the privately-owned car will go the way of the horse and buggy within in a decade. In their view, only motor enthusiasts and the rich will one day own personal cars, which they will use for leisure rather than transportation.

One study in the US, for example, forecasts that private car ownership will fall by as much 80% by 2030 and that using electric ride-shares will be four to 10 times cheaper than buying a new car by 2021. The researchers foresee a world where communal, autonomous (self-driving) electric cars owned by cities or ride-sharing companies offer a safe, efficient and flexible personal transportation system.

We’re already at the beginning of this revolution, with ride-hailing services like Uber and Taxify already potentially cheaper for some people than owning a car. Car sharing services such as Zipcar – which enables you to subscribe by the month and then hire a car by the hour – and Turo – an Airbnb-like service that matches car owners with car renters – have also started to pop up around the world.

MyTreasury.co.za crunched the basic numbers and found using Uber could be more cost-effective on a per-kilometre basis for people in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban who travel less than 50 kilometres a day. The reason for this is that you pay only for the distance you travel, without the costs of car ownership such as maintenance, insurance, financing, licences and depreciation.

One also needs to add in the lifestyle costs. How much of your time do you spend stuck in traffic or looking for parking? What if you could be making calls and working on your computer during your commute instead of sitting at the wheel?

The end of the parking lot?

The authors of the US study I cited earlier believe that the effect of shared ride-hailing will completely change how cities work in the years to come. Not only will it be more efficient to increase the utilisation of vehicles by sharing them, it will also reduce the amount of space we currently use for parking in cities where real-estate is expensive and in short supply.

What’s more, autonomous vehicles should be safer since their software will not make mistakes, drive recklessly or get behind the wheel after a beer too many after a long lunch on Friday. In theory, a shift to shared, driverless cars should also improve traffic flow by reducing the stop-start rhythm of human driving.

As great as that all sounds, shared, driverless vehicles are most likely further in the future than the more optimistic forecasts suggest. While the technology is advancing fast, it may take longer to change human behaviour. For many of us in the middle classes, a car is more than a way to get from point A to point B. It is also a status symbol, a fashion statement and an emblem of personal freedom.

This is why car ownership remains stubbornly high even in European and Asian cities with cheap, reliable public transport and bans on, or congestion charges for, private cars in their centres. The transition will be even slower in a country like South Africa. The taxi industry, unions and government will resist the job losses; autonomous vehicles are probably also not ready to navigate the unpredictable drivers of Jozi’s mean streets.

Transforming car ownership

Still, the rise of on-demand technology is already affecting many aspects of the car ownership experience. Our data at Naked indicates that a surprisingly small percentage – just over 21% – of our customers opt for car hire as part of their insurance cover. We suspect the reason for this is that many of our customers choose to save on their premiums knowing that they can Uber for a while if something happens to their car.

Car insurance itself is also turning into an on-demand service, powered by artificial intelligence and algorithms, just like ride-hailing services. For example, Naked’s CoverPause allows customers to switch their accident cover off when they are not using their vehicle for a while.

You can save around half of your insurance premium on the days that you are not driving. Simply press one button on the app to downgrade your cover. If you want to drive again, you can switch back to full cover with one click. In future, we can also expect to see car insurance pricing models, such as paying for each kilometre you drive, to become more common.

So, while car ownership and car insurance are likely to be a part of your life for some years to come, connected technology will change your experience in remarkable ways. Today, buying and switching insurance from your phone is as quick and easy as registering for Uber and hailing your first ride.

Cars

The promise of the self-driving car: Getting closer to reality?

Although the technology still faces plenty of hurdles before commercial viability, autonomous vehicles will one day rule the road, writes ANNA KUČÍRKOVÁ

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Are you ready for your next car to drive itself?

The promise of the self-driving car: Getting closer to reality? 

It’s a question being asked more frequently – “when will self-driving cars become the dominant presence on streets everywhere?” 

Automakers and tech companies alike continue to push the narrative that self-driving cars have indeed arrived. However, a better answer of when they actually will scale to consumers is some variation of “be patient.” 

For better and for worse, it remains the best possible response in today’s tech-heavy, yet uncertain climate.

Back in 2015, outspoken Tesla CEO Elon Musk foresaw a self-driving car by 2018, with the claim: “My guess for when we will have full autonomy is approximately three years. In some markets, regulators will be more forward-leaning than others, but in terms of when it will be technologically possible, it will be three years.” 

That bold prediction has yet to materialize.

Google was also bullish on the fast rise and adoption of vehicle automation. While parent company Alphabet continues to advance their Waymo self-driving division beyond most competitors, it’s offset by the need for someone to sit in the driver’s seat. 

In 2018, GM and Ford made bold declarations of putting cars into production that were free of steering wheels and pedals, by 2019 and 2021, respectively. Since that time, GM has backed off their original plan with Doug Parks, GM’s vice president of autonomous vehicles, citing regulation: “Until we have exemptions [from the federal government], which we filed a petition for, and/or law changes, we probably wouldn’t go forward with Gen 4. But we think it’s really something we’ve got to talk about, we’ve got to work on.”

Ford, however, continues to push ahead towards their goal.

The hard truth though is that similar to many of history’s biggest advancements, there will be growing pains.

While that’s not as optimistic as one would hope, the reality is the sphere of self-driving technology, and the vehicles and they’re deployment, remains a work in progress. 

The good news is that real-world testing and application of certain autonomous concepts are well past the infancy stage.

As technology matures and the idea of a car without a steering column or pedals become less radical, the day will arrive when autonomous, self-driving vehicles rule the road.

But where are we now?

Let’s look at how far we’ve come in self-driving tech, including where the industry leaders stand in their development. And, what’s holding us back from a fully autonomous future.

The Current State of Automotive Autonomy

Any ground-up discussion on self-driving cars begins with the question, “what does it mean for a car to be considered self-driving or fully autonomous?”

Autonomous standards defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and adopted by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) include six levels of vehicle automation.

Starting at Level 0, where there is no automation, the standards top out at Level 5 – full self-driving capabilities, no steering wheel, no pedals.

Most personal vehicles on the road today possess Level 1 or Level 2 automation – features such as adaptive cruise control, advanced assistance with acceleration and steering, automatic braking, or lane guidance. 

Many of these features are becoming standard on most classes of vehicle. So unless you’re driving around in a car built prior to the early 1990s, chances are high that yours has some form of automation.

However, the leap from Level 2 to Level 3 automation is a big one. Then the holy grail, of course, is Level 5. But how close are manufacturers to this pinnacle of long-promised self-driving technology?

Who’s Leading the Revolution?

No fewer than 50 different companies are working to bring self-driving vehicles to a street near you. The diverse list of firms involved ranges from luxury automakers such as Mercedes-Benz and Audi to small tech startups responsible for creating key components of the driverless technology. 

Others companies making a play include rideshare giants Lyft and Uber, the latter of which recently netted a $1 billion investment into their self-driving program. German manufacturer Continental who aims to revolutionize delivery and distribution by blending autonomous vehicles with delivery robots.

American legacy automakers GM and Ford have also made substantial investments towards mass-producing driverless cars. Even as they backed off their bold 2019 production goals, GM’s self-driving car program, Cruise, pulled in roughly $5 billion in outside investments.

Ford, for their part, have flown under the radar relative to others in the driverless segment. Even after admitting initial plans might have been too lofty, the automaker, in a partnership with startup Argo, are testing autonomous vehicles in Detroit, Miami, and Washington, D.C. They remain optimistic in hitting their 2021 production goal.

There are three companies, however, that collectively appear to be outpacing most others in the push to go driverless – Nvidia, Waymo, and Tesla.

Nvidia

In producing some of the top next-gen GPU and AI platforms for self-driving solutions, Nvidia has built an impressive partner roster which includes Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Volkswagen. 

Earlier this year, the company announced that Volvo is adopting Nvidia’s AutoPilot solution to deliver Level 2+ vehicle automation. In all, over 300 companies use Nvidia in the production of self-driving vehicles and related technologies.

Waymo

When looking at actual miles driven by autonomous vehicles, no one comes remotely close to Alphabet (Google’s parent company) subsidiary Waymo. More significant, Waymo’s commercial self-driving taxi service, Waymo One, is set to expand beyond its Phoenix-based test group of  400 early riders. 

With the opening of a new tech center in Mesa, Arizona, it positions the company to increase its fleet of driverless cars (with safety operator in the driver’s seat) and the group of early adopters.

Tesla

Perhaps most ambitious of all is Tesla, thanks in large part to its outspoken Principal and CEO, Elon Musk. The electric car company continues to push the boundaries of its current automated software, Tesla Autopilot, into a full-blown “self-driving suite.” Their commitment to doing so as early as next year runs counter to the measured approach adopted by the rest of the industry. 

It reflects just how far ahead Tesla might be (or believe they are) from everyone else. Consider the company’s claims that the self-driving hardware is already in place, and bringing it to the public is now only a matter of getting the software right. In addition, Tesla is pursuing automation without the bulky equipment that accompanies other self-driving cars.

The concern is that the rush without reason or continued research might lead to accidents.  Some worry a backlash would reinforce the belief that the world isn’t ready for fully autonomous cars. Or add to the laundry list of reasons why others maintain they are doomed to fail.

Expressing concern is Dieter Zetsche, former chairman at Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz. Mr. Zetsche, according to the Washington Post, likens it to Boeing’s 737 Max air crashes: “Even if autonomous cars are 10 times safer than those driven by humans, it takes one spectacular incident to make it much harder to win widespread acceptance.”

The Question of Safety

There is little doubt that eventually, autonomous cars will become ubiquitous on streets and highways throughout the country. To reach that point, there are still plenty of obstacles the self-driving segment must clear.

As evidenced by Mr. Zetsche, first among them is safety, or in more precise terms, the perception of safety.

Currently, perception lingers that autonomous technology is far from safe. Before achieving mass acceptance, people will require reassurance that an AI-driven car is more adept at keeping them safe than their own driving instincts and abilities.

Long term, the point of AI performing better at navigating the hazards of the road will prove accurate. Humans, after all, are flawed beings, and there’s little doubt when viewing it collectively, self-driving cars will make roads safer. Consider this:

  • They’ll eliminate drunk and distracted driving.
  • AI controlling one car may better anticipate the actions of the AI in another vehicle, removing the unpredictability of two human drivers interacting.
  • Travel will also become more efficient, thus reducing the prevalence of speeding or dangerous/aggressive drivers.

Even with our shortcomings behind the wheel, recent accidents involving self-driving tech do give people pause. As the knowledge level of self-driving AI expands at an increasingly rapid pace, there is still a considerable learning curve to navigate.

Self Driving Cars Are Coming, Be Patient

Let’s reconsider our original question:

When will self-driving cars become the dominant presence on streets everywhere? 

While lacking a consistent approach to solving, then advancing, the pursuit of a self-driving car, that so many have committed to finding an answer is a positive sign for the future of automated transportation.

For a timely comparison, the 50th Anniversary of the first Apollo moon landings has reignited interest it what it took to reach the lunar surface. Hundreds of companies and billions of dollars moving toward a singular goal. And it was accomplished in less than a decade.

The circumstances may be different, the interests more disparate than unified, it remains a worthwhile note of what’s possible with industry and innovation all seeking a common goal. 

So while the answer to when we’ll see mass adoption of self-driving cars may still be some variation of “be patient,” the scope continues to narrow. Soon enough, being patient will give way to being a passenger.

Article reposted with permission. Original article here.

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SA pioneers connected car strategy

Toyota has partnered with Vodacom and Altron to make smarter cars, using SIM cards to automate car management across its entire range, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Vodacom has announced a partnership with Toyota and Altron Netstar to connect every Toyota car to the Internet. The solution is South African-engineered and pioneers connected driving in the global market, in terms of standardising the offering across the entire range of cars.

“From the 1st of September, every Toyota and Lexus model sold will be connected,” says Kerry Roodt, General Manager of Marketing Communications at Toyota South Africa. “This includes Wi-Fi connectivity and 15GB of data. This enables the app to work wherever the driver is situated, so they don’t need to be near the car to use the app.”

Those who don’t want the 15GB of data will still be able to use the features of the connected car, without the Wi-Fi hotspot, free of charge.

Andrew Kirby, President and CEO of Toyota South Africa Motors, says: “For any mainstream brand, we are a first to introduce this technology as standard across all models, whether it be a Land Cruiser or an Etios. This is not cheap technology; it is a significant investment on our part that we were ready to make.”

The benefits of having a connected car are: 

  • being connected to a reliable secondary network;
  • having an automated log book;
  • functionality to book a service with the tap of a button;
  • having connected safety features like a battery monitor;
  • being cognisant of driving habits with a driving score, which monitors harsh breaking, fast cornering, and speeding.

“Our collaboration with Toyota has been a global first,” says Mteto Nyathi, chief executive officer of Altron Group. “We needed to make sure we met the global standards, as well. Anyone who knows Toyota’s standards knows that they’re high. We’re excited because now we’ve made this high-quality technology that can compete in the global market.”

“This is important when you consider where we’re coming from,” says William Mzimba, CEO of Vodacom Business. “When you contextualise this partnership, this speaks to a connected future. We don’t have to wait for 5G, we have technologies that can connect us at rapid speeds. It’s exciting to see that Toyota is not just talking about it, they’re actually doing it. We are now taking the user experience and connecting users with their car.”

The Altron Netstar group has pioneered connected tracking technology, but had to develop new technology to make this happen.

“It should never be confused with stolen vehicle technology,” says Nyathi. “We have a completely separate solution for telematics and WiFi. To combine WiFi with telematics in a small device, I am proud of our team to address these challenges. To be able to come up with a technology that’s developed and manufactured in South Africa is quite something, and ultimately contributes to South Africa’s economy.”

Kirby says: “Vodacom has managed to separate telematics data on a prepaid portion of the SIM, while another portion belongs to the WiFi in the car. If the WiFi runs out, the car can continue running applications like linked GPS maps and car tracking free of charge.”

This partnership marks the start of a longer-term vision to enable a more connected society by paving the way for the expansion of broadband access to as many South Africans as possible.

Vodacom’s partnership with Altron Netstar and Toyota is the first step towards a more connected future, where autonomous cars will become a reality.

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