The car of tomorrow, most of us imagine, is being built by the great automobile manufacturers of the world. More and more, however, we are seeing information technology companies joining the race to power the autonomous vehicle future.
Last year, chip-maker Intel paid $15.3-billion to acquire Israeli company Mobileye, a leader in computer vision for autonomous driving technology. Google’s autonomous taxi division, Waymo, has been valued at $45-billion.
Now there’s a new name to add to the roster of technology giants driving the future.
Amazon Web Services, the world’s biggest cloud computing service and a subsidiary of Amazon.com, last month unveiled a scale model autonomous racing car for developers to build new artificial intelligence applications. Almost in the same breath, at its annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, it showcased the work being done with machine learning in Formula 1 racing.
AWS DeepRacer is a 1/18th scale fully autonomous race car, designed to incorporate the features and behaviour of a full-sized vehicle. It boasts all-wheel drive, monster truck tires, an HD video camera, and on-board computing power. In short, everything a kid would want of a self-driving toy car.
But then, it also adds everything a developer would need to make the car autonomous in ways that, for now, can only be imagined. It uses a new form of machine learning (ML), the technology that allows computer systems to improve their functions progressively as they receive feedback from their activities. ML is at the heart of artificial intelligence (AI), and will be core to autonomous, self-driving vehicles.
AWS has taken ML a step further, with an approach called reinforcement learning. This allows for quicker development of ML models and applications, and DeepRacer is designed to allow developers to experiment with and hone their skill in this area. It is built on top of another AWS platform, called Amazon SageMaker, which enables developers and data scientists to build, train, and deploy machine learning quickly and easily.
Along with DeepRacer, AWS also announced the DeepRacer League, the world’s first global autonomous racing league, open to anyone who orders the scale model from AWS.
As if to prove that DeepRacer is not just a quirky entry into the world of motor racing, AWS also showcased the work it is doing with the Formula One Group. Ross Brawn, Formula 1’s managing director of Motor Sports, joined AWS CEO Andy Jassy during the keynote address at the re:Invent conference, to demonstrate how motor racing meets machine learning.
“More than a million data points a second are transmitted between car and team during a Formula 1 race,” he said. “From this data, we can make predictions about what we expect to happen in a wheel-to-wheel situation, overtaking advantage, and pit stop advantage. ML can help us apply a proper analysis of a situation, and also bring it to fans.
“Formula 1 is a complete team contest. If you look at a video of tyre-changing in a pit stop – it takes 1.6 seconds to change four wheels and tyres – blink and you will miss it. Imagine the training that goes into it? It’s also a contest of innovative minds.”
Formula 1 racing has more than 500 million global fans and generated $1.8 billion in revenue in 2017. As a result, there are massive demands on performance, analysis and information.
During a race, up to 120 sensors on each car generate up to 3GB of data and 1 500 data points – every second. It is impossible to analyse this data on the fly without an ML platform like Amazon SageMaker. It has a further advantage: the data scientists are able to incorporate 65 years of historical race data to compare performance, make predictions, and provide insights into the teams’ and drivers’ split-second decisions and strategies.
This means Formula 1 can pinpoint how a driver is performing and whether or not drivers have pushed themselves over the limit.
“By leveraging Amazon SageMaker and AWS’s machine-learning services, we are able to deliver these powerful insights and predictions to fans in real time,” said Pete Samara, director of innovation and digital technology at Formula 1.
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.
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.”
“Hello BMW” – Now we’re talking, with X5
BMW brings impressive safety features and a built-in voice assistant to its 4th generation X5, writes BRYAN TURNER.
Marking 20 years since its release, the BMW X5 has been given a substantial redesign for its fourth generation. A major revamp of aesthetics and functionality affirms this luxury Sports Activity Vehicle’s (SAV) position in the market.
New safety features not only make it safer but also more comfortable to drive. The redesigned headlights utilise laser lighting, which eliminates glare on reflective objects like signboards in dark driving conditions. The laser lighting technology also extends the distance of bright lighting to about 500 meters, 200 meters further than the previous generation.
The Driving Assist Professional package, an option for the SAV, comprises a steering and lane control assistant as well as a lane keeping assistant. These assistants work closely with a smart collision evasion system, which helps avoid collisions with vehicles or pedestrians suddenly appearing in the driver’s path. As soon as an evasive manoeuvre is detected, the system assists the driver with steering inputs to direct the vehicle into a clear, adjacent lane.
BMW Operating System 7.0, the latest version of the car’s software, focuses on customisability. This means that more aspects of the vehicle can be set up in a way that is most comfortable for the driver. For example, the 12.3” infotainment panel features a home screen which uses a three-tile layout, where one can have one large tile and two smaller tiles. These tiles can be swapped around and configured to the point where drivers no longer have to search through menus to get what they would need, as their favourites sit on a customised home screen.
The X5 gets a voice assistant with the BMW Assistant Professional. “Hello BMW” will wake the onboard voice assistant for voice commands. These voice commands could be anything from “Play rock music” to “Is my tyre pressure okay?”. Renaming the voice assistant’s wake prompt is also possible if the driver has named their car something other than BMW.
Keeping in line with the latest technology, the X5 features options for a wireless charging tray in the front and two additional USB Type-C ports. Other features include an adaptive navigation system, a hard-drive-based multimedia system with 20 GB of memory, Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity.
BMW’s attention to minor details goes a long way with massage seats and thermo-cupholders. Electrically adjustable and heated sports seats are fitted standard. Additional options include seat massage functionality and ventilated seats. The thermo-cupholder option allows a driver to keep a beverage heated or cooled during a drive.
Unlocking the X5 with a smartphone will soon be a reality with a planned update to the BMW Connected Drive app, in the second quarter of 2019. BMW Digital Key brings functionality to lock and unlock the car with a smartphone’s NFC chip, which eliminates the need for a traditional car key. The driver will simply hold the smartphone to the door’s handle and the car will unlock. Once the driver is inside, the smartphone can be placed on the built-in wireless charging tray, and the NFC chip will register again to verify the driver. From there, the engine can be started.
Overall, exciting technology features come with the new X5 and even more impressive features will come with software updates in 2019.