March 16, 2018 News of the Day: Lyft to Test Monthly Subscription Plan, Toyota & Uber In Talks On Self-Driving Technology

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【Summary】March 16, 2018 News of the Day: Toyota & Uber In talks on self-driving technology, Lyft to test monthly subscription plan, solar activity may disrupt autonomous cars, and more.

Eric Walz    Mar 16, 2018 4:26 PM PT
March 16, 2018 News of the Day: Lyft to Test Monthly Subscription Plan, Toyota & Uber In Talks On Self-Driving Technology

Lyft to Test a Monthly Subscription Plan for Ride-Hailing

Imagine having a monthly ride payment instead of a monthly car payment. Lyft is testing monthly subscription plans for heavy users of the ride-hailing service, a sign that the company may be shifting towards a subscription-based model. If successful, the subscription model may someday lead to a decline in car ownership.

The terms of the subscription models seem to vary, but appear targeted at daily users who spend up to $450 on ride-hailing a month. Lyft has been sending out invitations for the service. According to The Verge, one all-access pass offered up to 30 standard Lyft rides for $199 a month, another was priced at $300, and another at $399 for 60 rides. Individual rides up to $15 were covered under the all-access pass. It wasn't immediately clear how users would be charged for rides that exceed $15.

Lyft CEO Logan Green mentioned these subscription plans were the future of his company during a press event Wednesday to announce a partnership with auto parts producer Magna to build self-driving cars. "We are going to move the entire industry from one based on ownership to one based on subscription," he said.

According to Green, a subscription to Lyft could cost something along the lines of $200, which gets you 1,000 miles of traveling around. "You rely on the Lyft network for all your transportation needs," he said.

Uber tested its own subscription service in a number of cities in 2016, but has not released any updates about it since then.

Lyft often fancies itself a think tank with big ideas about the future of transportation. Green and Lyft's president John Zimmer have released policy papers predicting the end of personal car ownership in major cities by 2025, and calling for more people to carpool by charging a fee to those who don't.

Recently, both Green and Zimmer advocated for American households to sell their second cars as a way to reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions. Of course, all of these high-minded policy prescriptions also include the unspoken recommendation to spend more money on Lyft rides.

In a statement to The Verge, a Lyft spokesperson that the company had been testing all-access passes for several months. "We're always testing new ways to provide passengers the most affordable and flexible transportation options," the spokesperson said. "For the past few months, we've been testing a variety of All-Access Plans for Lyft passengers."

Toyota & Uber In Talks On Self-Driving Technology


TOKYO — Ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies is discussing the possibility of installing its self-driving system in Toyota vehicles, as the U.S. ride-hailing firm seeks to sell its autonomous driving technology to outside companies, Nikkei reported on Friday.

Without citing sources, the Japanese business daily said that the firms are negotiating a possible deal for Toyota to use Uber's autonomous driving technology in one of Toyota's minivan models, and that Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi had met with Toyota executives in the United States this week.

Toyota, which is developing its own automated driving functions, has said it is open to collaborating with other firms to quickly bring new mobility technologies to market. It already has partnerships with Uber on ride-hailing and development of self-driving systems.

"We regularly exchange information about automated driving with Uber for some time now," a spokeswoman said, adding that no decisions have been made beyond its existing partnership.

Global automakers and tech companies are racing to develop self-driving cars as the rise of autonomous, on-demand vehicle services upends the traditional business model of personal transportation that is largely based on individual car ownership.

As it battles with Alphabet Inc's Waymo and Lyft to develop self-driving car services, Uber has been testing autonomous vehicles in the United States, and has been working with Volvo Cars and Daimler AG on autonomous cars.

In January, Toyota said it was working with Uber to develop a system of self-driving vehicles for tasks including ride hailing and parcel delivery.

Toyota is an investor in Uber, and offers flexible vehicle leasing terms for drivers working for Uber. Toyota declined to comment on its size of its stake in Uber.

Too Much Sun Could Disrupt Autonomous Cars


Excessive sun can also pose a problem for the coming wave of self-driving cars, according to a report by Bloomberg.

The threat comes from solar storms, which can cause a massive spike in geomagnetic activity and radiation. The solar storms can sever the data connection between a vehicle's global-position system (GPS) and the satellites that supply location information. This can cause trouble for driverless cars currently being developed.

Scott McIntosh, director of the high-altitude observatory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, warns that self-driving systems should not be overly reliant on GPS. In the event of solar trouble, legions of computer-driven cars would pull over and wait for connectivity to return.

"There is a lot riding on this, from an actuarial point of view," McIntosh said. "All it is going to take is a couple of accidents" and the industry will suffer.

Solar storms are rated on a five-step scale, the biggest of which can cripple international power grids, knock out satellites and crush radio communication on the sunlit side of the Earth. McIntosh envisions a day when forecasts also include a synopsis of "space weather" so drivers—both human and digital—can account for these interruptions.

Three years ago, the U.S. launched a satellite into deep space to monitor the sun. When solar storms are coming, the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center acts as a warning buoy and gives a 30 to 60 minute notice to utilities, airlines and other industries that rely heavily on airborne data.

In September, the system paid off. Airplane flights bound for the poles were rerouted when the satellite recorded two coronal mass ejections.

"That is the kind of game we are playing with civilization," McIntosh said.

Solar flare ups generally follow an 11-year cycle, which last peaked in April 2014. The dawn of self-driving vehicles appears likely to coincide with a relatively quiet period.

There are other potential solar trouble spots for driverless cars—coronal holes. Magnetically charged particles from the sun generally arc back to whence they came. A coronal hole is what happens when they don't do that and simply blast out into the universe—possibly at a robotic car. These events can have an impact similar to that of solar storms but usually aren't nearly as severe.

The engineers working on automated vehicles are already taking steps to outsmart the sun. Self-driving systems mostly base navigation on a field of sensors, including laser pulses known as lidar, that read the immediate surroundings. More remote intelligence, such as the distance to the next interstate exit, is stored in high-definition maps that are regularly updated. That means that a Tesla relying on its Autopilot software or a Waymo vehicle shuttling passengers around Phoenix won't need GPS to safely stay on the road.

However, in the event of solar disruption affecting an autonomous car, there is enough redundancy for the car to calmly pull itself over and stop, said Danny Shapiro, senior director of the automotive unit at Nvidia Corp. Automated vehicles can operate quite well, even when online connectivity is hampered.

"With very detailed measurements like lane changes and bike lanes, you don't have time to take all this data and send it up to the cloud and back," Shapiro said. "You go to the cloud when you're asking, ‘Hey, what's the fastest route to Starbucks?'"

Pennsylvania House Advances Bill Allowing Driverless Work Vehicles


A bill allowing the use of autonomous vehicles by certain state agencies passed the Pennsylvania House this week.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Greg Rothman, would permit the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to use autonomous vehicles in work zones designated by either entity.

The bill is limited to "highly automated work zone vehicles," which the legislation defines as either fully self-driving vehicles or those connected by wireless systems for coordinated movement.

According to Roger Cohen, senior adviser to Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation Leslie Richards, the technology could enhance safety on hazardous roadside worksites operated by PennDOT.

"Our work zones are our most vulnerable function that PennDOT and our contractor workers are ever exposed in," said Cohen.

Cohen said driverless technology could replace drivers in what are known as vehicle-mounted attenuators, or VMAs. These vehicles, typically seen in moving PennDOT work zones like those used in landscaping or line painting, are equipped with large, spring-loaded barriers that prevent swerving cars from striking workers.

However, Cohen said, crashes injuring VMA drivers are common.

"Those vehicles get hit on an average of once a month during construction season, and while the drivers in those vehicles technically survive, unfortunately they are often injured," said Cohen.

Driverless vehicles could minimize that risk by closely following the work site and removing the need for a person to driver the VMA, said Cohen.

Cohen is also the co-chair of the Pennsylvania Autonomous Vehicle Policy Task Force, a committee of private and public sector representatives first convened in June 2016 by Secretary Richards. In December 2016, the committee issued its policy recommendations for the roll-out of autonomous vehicles in the commonwealth.

The bill passed this week by the House would also allow military vehicles to travel in groups of three while linked by wireless technology. Known as "platooning," the practice digitally connects multiple vehicles while giving the driver of the lead vehicle control over the acceleration and deceleration of the following vehicles.

With platooning, the lead driver does not take full control of the vehicles, however, and all three drivers in a platoon would still need to be active under Rothman's bill.  

The practice increases fuel efficiency for all three vehicles by allowing them to safely follow each other more closely, said Cohen, who compared the practice to drafting in cycling.

"By reducing the following distances, you create a windbreak that reduces the use of fuel resources," said Cohen.

The bill, known as HB 1958, will now move to the state Senate for consideration.

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