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Hello friends and new readers, welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways in which people and packages move from Point A to Point B.
Before I hit the news for the week, let’s do some cleaning. First, you may have noticed that The Station arrived in your inbox on Sunday, not Saturday.
I have received feedback suggesting that the newsletter is typically read on Sundays. Do you have an alternative view? Please get in touch with your opinion on this topic.
When would you like to see The Station? And what do you like and dislike about the newsletter?
One final point: I’m now a transportation editor at ProWellTech. The title change involves more responsibility and a mission. I will be hiring more freelancers to expand our coverage of the “future of transportation”. Mark Harris, an investigative reporter who has already delivered some wonderful articles for us, will be a fixture here. Harris has a knack for eradicating news hidden within legal documents and archives such as his article on Tesla fares in 2019 and insights into passenger capacity from Elon Musk’s Las Vegas Loop project.
I hope to add more faces to the transport office in the weeks and months to come.
Collection of the ESC
Maybe it was the virtual format, but autonomous vehicle technology didn’t play a major role at CES this year as it did in the past.
Many other issues emerged at CES, mainly around infotainment and advanced driver assistance systems. And continuing a trend in 2020, there were several giant screens, including the Mercedes Hyperscreen which is pictured below.
Pioneer, Harman and Panasonic have revealed all future products aimed at bringing more audio and video technology into the vehicle. Harman, for example, unveiled three new “experience concepts” that can transform a vehicle’s infotainment system into a concert hall, recording studio or game center.
Panasonic has also announced a partnership with UK startup Envisics to jointly develop and market a new generation of head-up displays for cars, trucks and SUVs. Head-up screens, or HUDs, seemed to be everywhere in this show. Technology is not new. But recent advances are pushing the capabilities of these systems, which are integrated into a vehicle’s dashboard and project images onto the windshield to help drivers with navigation and provide other alerts.
GM had perhaps the largest presence at virtual CES of 2021, at least in the transportation sector. The automaker has chosen the tech show to announce a new business unit called BrightDrop that will focus on electric vans and other products and services for the commercial market. But that wasn’t all.
GM took the opportunity to anticipate its next Chevrolet Bolt EUV – a vehicle that will have GM’s hands-free highway driving assistance technology known as Super Cruise – as well as the Cadillac Celestiq dashboard and even a new logo. The intent of this ad bouquet was clear: GM wants the world – and shareholders – to know that it is serious about electrification and connected car technology.
GM’s numerous announcements were hard to miss – there was even an eVTOL. By contrast, Mobileye’s ads have flown a bit under the radar, but they’re probably just as notable.
Mobileye outlined plans to expand autonomous vehicle testing to more cities, which was planned and is in line with the company’s previously stated plans.
What struck me was a speech given by Mobileye President and CEO Amnon Shashua who outlined the company’s vision and progress.
The Summary: Mobileye is adopting a three-pronged strategy to develop and implement automated vehicle technology that combines a full stack of autonomous driving – including redundant sensing subsystems based on camera, radar and lidar technology – with its mapping system REM and rules. Responsibility Sensitive Safety-Based Driving Policy (RSS).
Mobileye’s REM mapping system essentially collects data by tapping into nearly 1 million vehicles equipped with its technology to build high-definition maps that can be used to support ADAS and autonomous driving systems. Shashua said Mobileye’s technology can now map the world automatically with nearly 8 million kilometers tracked every day and nearly 1 billion kilometers completed to date.
The company has given more details to CES about a new Lidar System on Chip product that is in development and will hit the market in 2025. The lidar, which will use Intel’s specialized silicon photonics technology, is noteworthy because Mobileye is known for its tech cameras. To be clear, Mobileye doesn’t stray from that camera-based approach. Shashua explained that Mobileye believes the best technology and commercial approach is to develop a camera-first system and use lidar and radar as add-ons for redundancy.
In short: Mobileye has the money and existing network to commercialize automated vehicle technology and bring it to the masses.
Below is a sample of our CES coverage related to transportation:
Mercedes presents Hyperscreen, a 56-inch screen for its flagship electric vehicle EQS
GM aims for delivery with the new EV BrightDrop business unit
Mobileye is taking its autonomous vehicle test fleets to at least four other cities in 2021
Sony reveals more details about its secret Vision S sedan.
Holographic startup Envisics partners with Panasonic to accelerate AR technology in the car
Startups look beyond lidar for autonomous vehicle perception
BMW is previewing its new generation iDrive infotainment system
Sono Motor plans to license the technology that powers the solar electric car
Air taxi startup Archer collaborates with FCA
Another Uber spinoff is in the works
Remember when I predicted that autonomous delivery would gain momentum in 2021? It seems that sometimes he is right!
Postmates X, the robotics division of the on-demand delivery startup that Uber acquired last year for $ 2.65 billion, is looking for investors in its bid to become a separate company called Serve Robotics.
You might remember Serve, the yellow and black decorated autonomous sidewalk delivery robot that was developed and piloted by Postmates X. This robot, which recently partnered with Pink Dot Stores for deliveries in West Hollywood, will likely be the centerpiece of the new startup.
I have learned of some important details of this plan, which has not yet been defined. Uber will keep a stake in this new startup. Uber’s share was initially low, but has since jumped to around 25%, according to sources familiar with the deal.
The company would be run by Ali Kashani, who heads Postmates X and leads the Serve program. Anthony Armenta would lead the startup’s software efforts and Aaron Leiba would be in charge of the hardware, keeping the same positions they occupy at Postmates X.
I’ll give you more details as I learn them.