December 11, 2017 News of the Day: Apple AI Director Reveals More of the Company's Self-Driving Tech, Couple Says Daimler Rented and Disassembled Their Tesla Model X to Study It

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【Summary】December 11, 2017 News of the Day

  Eric Walz  ·  Dec 11, 2017 12:04 PM PT
author: Eric Walz   

Apple AI Director Reveals More of the Company's Self-Driving Tech

CUPERTINO, Calif., — Apple is a notoriously secret company, especially with its self-driving car efforts. Now Apple's AI director have revealed more about the progress the company is making in autonomous driving.

AI research director Ruslan Salakhutdinov made a presentation this week that revealed more of what the company's autonomous driving team has been up to, and how much progress Apple is making.

Salakhutdinov said that Apple has crafted a system that uses onboard cameras to identify objects even in tricky situations, such as when raindrops cover the lens. It can estimate the position of a pedestrian even if they're hidden by a parked car.

Other additions included giving cars direction through simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), creating detailed 3D maps using car sensors and decision-making in challenging situations, such as when pedestrians make unpredictable movements.

It's still not certain if or how Apple will commercialize its self-driving technology. Apple's next goal is to produce driverless employee shuttles. The company is not expected to sell its own cars, but licensing its work to others would be unusual when Apple is well-known for preferring to develop everything in-house.

The talk in itself is notable. Apple has been slowly offering details on its AI research, but it hasn't been clear on just how much it was willing to discuss. Salakhutdinov's chat shows that it's willing to offer at least some kind of consistent openness rather than maintaining its legendary secrecy. Not that it has much of a choice.

Like many technology companies, Apple has struggled to attract AI talent in part because its secretive approach has been unappealing for researchers used to receiving academic and industry recognition by publishing their research. Presentations like this could keep Apple's AI team in the spotlight, and attract talent away from competitors, such as Alphabet.

Couple Says Daimler Rented and Disassembled Their Tesla Model X to Study It

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The Tesla Model X

Automakers frequently procure competitors vehicles to study components and engineering technology, and may even disassemble parts of a vehicle to see what makes it tick. A Bavarian couple learned that Daimler did just that to their prized Tesla Model X.

According to a report in Der Spiegel, the German automaker used a rental company to acquire a Tesla Model X from a Bavarian couple, put it through heavy testing and dismantle it, returning the re-assembled battery-electric SUV to its owners heavily damaged.

An appraisal estimated the damage to be $18,602, with more than $2,300 in lost value to the car. The vehicle's owner's, Monika Kindlein and Manfred van Rinsum, wrote an invoice to Daimler and rental agency Sixt totaling nearly $118,000, a figure that includes repair costs, lost income from being unrentable and violations of the rental agreement. In a statement, Daimler wouldn't comment on the specific case but said renting vehicles for comparison purposes is commonplace in the auto industry and that insurance claims normally settle cases where rental vehicles are damaged.

The incident took place over seven weeks in July and August, after Sixt reached out to Kindlein and van Rinsum about renting one of the three Teslas they sometimes offer as rentals to wedding parties and other events for extra income. The couple say they didn't know who rented their Model X, but they said the Sixt representative asked a variety of unusually technical questions about software versions and autonomous-driving capabilities and had an email signature that read "Automotive Industry Relations."

Shortly after renting it out, van Rinsum said he received notifications on his phone that the Model X was being charged near Barcelona, which was well outside the distance allowed in the rental agreement. Onboard GPS systems would later show the car was on test tracks near Barcelona and Sindelfingen, Germany, near the Mercedes-Benz headquarters in Stuttgart. Additionally, the car reportedly underwent extreme heat and testing on vibration and traction tracks.

Lear to Acquire EXO Technologies, a Developer of GPS Technology for Autonomous Vehicles

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SOUTHFIELD, Mich., — Lear Corporation (NYSE: LEA), a leading global supplier of automotive seating and electrical systems, today announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Israel-based EXO Technologies, a developer of GPS technology providing high-accuracy solutions for autonomous and connected vehicle applications.  EXO Technologies has operations in Silicon Valley California and Tel Aviv, Israel.

"Lear is a leader in automotive connectivity solutions including Vehicle-to-Vehicle and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure communications.  The acquisition of EXO Technologies will provide Lear with a differentiated technology to significantly improve GPS accuracy and reliability, thereby enhancing vehicle safety and enabling autonomous driving," said Matt Simoncini, Lear's president and chief executive officer.  "The combination of EXO Technologies with Lear's existing resources further strengthens our connectivity capabilities.  We see excellent growth opportunities for our E-Systems business as the proliferation of connected and autonomous vehicles will drive increased demand for improved accuracy and reliability in vehicle positioning."    

EXO Technologies has developed core technology that addresses the need for high-accuracy positioning in a vehicle.  Its proprietary technology works with existing GPS receivers to provide centimeter-level accuracy anywhere on the globe without the need for terrestrial base-station networks. The integration of EXO's technology with Lear's vehicle and connectivity expertise enables an industry leading vehicle positioning solution.

"EXO has developed technology that is essential for the future of connected and autonomous vehicles," said Nuri Golan, EXO's Co-Founder and CEO. "We are extremely excited to join the Lear family where we will provide unparalleled solutions for Vehicle-to-Vehicle, autonomous driving and other applications."

Southfield, Michigan.  

Tesla Reservation Holders May Get Their Model 3's Next Week

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Tesla Model 3's stockpiled and awaiting delivery in a California parking garage

So far, the earliest versions of Tesla's Model 3 electric sedan have gone exclusively to employees, family members and company insiders. That may be changing soon.

A Reddit user posted on the popular website that his non-employee Model 3 was being delivered on Monday, and also uploaded a photo of what appears to be a confirmation email from the company with a photo of a white Model 3, with a request from Tesla to submit final payment.

The news follows a recent Model 3 Owners Club video uploaded to YouTube saying that Tesla had begun sending out configuration emails to reservation holders and promising deliveries in four weeks. Photos have also been showing up on social media of Model 3's being stockpiled in fenced-off parking lots across California, presumably being stored for delivery.

In the Reddit thread, ry8 says he lives in "California SF Bay Area day 1 almost first in line." A separate thread by user ‘garthreddit' suggests his Model 3 order was assigned VIN 1534.

The Model 3, Tesla's attempt to make a mass-market electric vehicle, is at the center of what Elon Musk calls "production hell." Last month, the company said it was pushing back its timetable to build 5,000 Model 3s per week by three months from its original target date in December. At the time, it had managed to make just 260 units of the sedan.

Ford Says Hybrid Vehicles Are Better Suited For Autonomous Driving

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DETROIT —  In response to GM's autonomous driving progress with the electric Bolt, Ford offered more information on the autonomous vehicle it aims to release in 2021, saying it will be an all-new, purpose-built hybrid. Ford is upping its investment and adding assembly jobs in Michigan dedicated to building that vehicle, moving planned production of a long-range electric crossover to Mexico to make room.

The moves come amid growing perceptions that Ford lags behind GM in these fields, but Ford's top sales executive, Jim Farley, asserted that the company is taking a more purposeful approach than its rivals. Picking a hybrid over an EV will allow it to stay on the road longer without charging, he said, and designing a new vehicle to be autonomous instead of converting an existing nameplate, as GM has done with the Bolt, should better serve commercial businesses.

Both choices are meant to help Ford's autonomous vehicle become profitable quickly — a goal GM is obviously shooting for, too.

"Others have made a big deal about verifying the technology; we think that's table stakes," Farley, Ford's president of global markets, told Automotive News.

"We think what's important is to verify the business model. The most important thing is that we execute well. We don't want to get ahead of our skis."

GM has announced plans to test its autonomous technology by deploying self-driving Bolts in New York next year and has already been running them in Michigan, Arizona and California.

Ford, meanwhile, plans to verify its business model with multiple unnamed partners in a yet-to-be-named test city next year. Farley said, as it will on the customer experience, rather than on miles driven.

GM plans to use its autonomous Bolts for a ride-hailing service in cities. However, Ford is taking a different route, saying its autonomous hybrid will be used for a host of commercial purposes, such as package delivery. This year, it announced a pilot with Domino's to deliver pizza in a self-driving vehicle.

"We have to have a more diverse revenue model than ride-hailing," Farley said.

Ford expects its vehicles will be on the road for roughly 20 hours a day, and Farley said using battery-electric vehicles doesn't make business sense because they would need to recharge multiple times a day, cutting into profits.

He said fast-charging an EV battery also deteriorates its shelf life, which would necessitate more frequent replacement.

"Anytime you're not carrying goods and people, you're losing money," Farley said. "The most important thing is uptime and profitability. What we see is the [hybrid] is a much better cost-of-ownership model."

Ford said it plans to work with its dealers as it explores the best uses for robot vehicles, noting that many dealers already do much of the work that will be required for autonomous vehicles, such as 24-hour and mobile service, through their work with fleet companies.

Farley's comments build on Jim Hackett's assertions since taking over as CEO in May that Ford must work at perfecting the customer experience and figuring out how to offer the most effective services.

"I think in this world, you can hear all sorts of examples of getting out there and building a platform, but the business model — how this all comes together — is very important for us," Farley said. "We want to be production-ready, commercial-ready from day one."


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