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August 15, 2017 News of the Day: Germany's Chancellor Says Non-Electric Cars Will Be Banned, Tesla Wants to Test Self-Driving Trucks Without Drivers, Texas City to Get Self-Driving Shuttle Service

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【Summary】August 15, 2017 News of the Day

Original Eric Walz    Aug 15, 2017 1:58 PM PT
August 15, 2017 News of the Day: Germany's Chancellor Says Non-Electric Cars Will Be Banned, Tesla Wants to Test Self-Driving Trucks Without Drivers, Texas City to Get Self-Driving Shuttle Service

Germany's Chancellor Says Cars Non-Electric Will Be Banned

In July, both France and the United Kingdom agreed to ban the sale of cars powered solely by gasoline or diesel by 2040. However, the government in Germany, a country perhaps more closely linked with its auto industry than any other, is understandably less reluctant to follow through with a similar ban, although Germany's Chancellor thinks its the right approach.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a recent interview with Super illu that the moves by France and the U.K. to ban combustion engines by 2040 was the correct path, but that it was still too early to say when it would be appropriate to implement.

"I can't give you a precise year yet, but the approach is the right one," she said.

Merkel also said that diesel engines, despite the Volkswagen Group's emissions cheating scandal, were still an ideal solution to curbing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions because of their efficiency. She said the automakers need to introduce "modern diesel engines" that meet all nitrogen oxide (NOx) regulations. The VW Group's diesel cars featured software that would reduce NOx levels to acceptable levels only during government testing.

Merkel also said that electric car charging infrastructure needed to be built up to help spur the transition to hybrid and electric cars.

Earlier this month, Germany's transport authority, the KBA, held an emergency meeting with the BMW Group, Daimler and the VW Group. The automakers agreed to upgrade around five million diesel cars with software aimed at reducing NOx emissions by between 25 and 30 percent, including in some older cars.

Tesla Wants to Test Self-Driving Trucks Without Drivers

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Tesla first announced plans for an electric truck in 2016, with company CEO Elon Musk indicating in April of this year that the truck will be unveiled in September 2017. However, Elon Musk did not mention any plans for autonomous capabilities at the time.

Reuters has learned that Tesla wants to experiment with "platooning," where several autonomous trucks, some without drivers, follow a lead truck on a highway using autonomous driving tech. This technique is viewed as allowing trucks to travel in small groups, creating some aerodynamic benefits for the following trucks and permitting the drivers in the group to switch to a "follow" mode that could not be accomplished with human drivers tailgating each other. In this platoon mode, all the trucks communicate to stay close, taking directions from a lead truck and reacting accordingly.

The benefit of platooning, in theory, is to allow one driver to drive the lead truck and to have driverless trucks follow (thus saving on paid professional drivers).

"To insure we are on the same page, our primary goal is the ability to operate our prototype test trucks in a continuous manner across the state line and within the States of Nevada and California in a platooning and/or Autonomous mode without having a person in the vehicle," Tesla regulatory official Nasser Zamani said in an email seen by Reuters, addressed to the Nevada DMV.

Tesla did not give a specific time frame for starting to experiment with driverless trucks in a platoon configuration, but testing behind platooning tech has been talked about by a number of truck manufacturers also looking into autonomous features.

Skeptics of autonomous trucks have cautioned that, regulatory issues aside, autonomous driving technology needs to mature before people will accept trucks without drivers in them. Platooning, with a lead truck driven by a driver, is seen as a logical stepping stone in that direction.

Lyft Exec Says Autonomous Cars Will Not Replace Human Drivers

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Lyft, the ride hailing company backed by GM, has big plans for self-driving cars. The company recently launched its own autonomous-car development lab, and is also working with Waymo and NuTonomy on the technology. Lyft has the optimistic goal of providing a billion rides in self-driving cars by 2025. So where will all the human drivers go?

According to one Lyft Executive, human drivers will continue to have a place at Lyft, Taggart Matthiesen, the company's director of product said in a recent interview with Recode that Lyft may look into other types of services that require a human in the car, even if that person isn't driving.

"Drivers have always been part of our family, they have been core to our service," Matthiesen said. "As far as I'm concerned, they will continue to be that. Over time, technology will give us the opportunity to provide additional services on our platform, whether that is a concierge service, whether that is an in-vehicle experience...these are all things that we will slowly evolve and work with our drivers on."

While mass deployment of self-driving cars is still several years away at least, an "advisory council" is already reaching out to Lyft drivers about the future of human workers in a world of autonomous vehicles, Matthiesen said.

Matthiesen's comments echo those of Raj Kapoor, Lyft's chief strategy officer. Kapoor said there will always be certain jobs that only humans can do, such as helping the disabled and elderly in and out of cars. And even if they do appear in the next few years, it will still take a long time for fully-autonomous cars to completely displace human drivers.

The first Lyft rides in self-driving cars will happen later this year in Boston. Lyft customers will be able to hail prototype cars from startup NuTonomy, which are already operating in a limited areas of Boston.

Toyota Plans to Show Off its Self-Driving Tech at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo

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Toyota will bring a fleet of autonomous cars to the Japanese games, Ken Koibuchi,the automaker's general manager for autonomous tech, told Automotive News during a preview of the 2018 Lexus LS. Toyota is a major Olympic sponsor and Japan's largest automaker, and believes the Olympics will be an important venue for showcasing new technology.

Executives believe the Odaiba waterfront area of Tokyo, where many of the Olympic venues will be, is ideally suited to demonstrations of self-driving cars. Unlike most of Tokyo, which is made up of narrow, congested streets, the Odaiba waterfront features wide, straight streets and relatively light traffic.

Toyota still has plans to launch fully autonomous cars in the near future, however the company is taking a slightly different approach than the competition. Toyota prefers not to use the term "autonomous," since it may instill false confidence in drivers, Koibuchi told Automotive News. Instead, it prefers the term "automated."

Toyota seems less eager to take human drivers completely out of the equation. Its "Mobility Teammate Concept" envisions the car as a partner for the human driver, rather than a replacement. Toyota is also emphasizing autonomous driving for people who can't drive on their own, such as the elderly or disabled.

Toyota faces some technical challenges in its path towards autonomy. Toyota must first adapt lidar for use in its production vehicles. However, the current costs of LiDAR makes that challenging.

Secondly, self-driving cars require high-quality digital maps, Koibuchi said. The Japanese government is trying to map the country's road network, but so far, only a portion of Japan's highways have been mapped. Koibuchi believes the entire highway network will be mapped in time for the 2020 Olympics, but noted that surface streets "are a huge task."

Arlington Texas to Have Autonomous Shuttles on NFL Game Days

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Sunday's this fall may get more interesting for fans of the Dallas Cowboys NFL team in Texas.

Beginning August 26th, the French-made EasyMile electric shuttles will operate in the city's entertainment district on days of Cowboys games, as well as during concerts and other events at the stadiums in Arlington, Texas, the home of the Dallas Cowboys football team and Texas Rangers baseball team.

The Milo shuttles, as they're called, will operate on fixed routes on paved trails near the venues. The shuttle rides will be free and each wheelchair accessible can seat up to 12 people.The shuttles can go up to 20 mph, but will only operate at 10 to 12 mph speeds. The autonomous shuttles are able to stop for pedestrians or other obstacles on their own, however, the shuttles will also have a certified operator on board to hit the stop button if needed.

The city says this is a pilot program that will run through mid-2018, as Arlington explores the possibility of using autonomous transportation technology in a larger setting.

Transportation Advisory Committee Chair Bill Verkest is optimistic that people will come to trust the technology. "It's kind of like an airplane," he said. "At one time we didn't know if you could put a plane on automatic pilot and it would fly itself. Well, this is new technology and as technology improves, people accept it."

Arlington joins Ann Arbor, Michigan in welcoming autonomous shuttles to its city. The University of Michigan is using vehicles made by Navya, another French company, to help students get around campus.

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