BMW revamps “i” electric car division to focus on self-driving tech

June 5th, 2016 § Comments Off on BMW revamps “i” electric car division to focus on self-driving tech § permalink

MUNICH, June 2 (Reuters) – BMW has transformed its “i” division into a development centre for self-driving cars, a board member told Reuters, a major strategic shift for the unit previously focused on making a family of lightweight electric vehicles.

While Tesla’s Model 3 will hit showrooms in 2017, and as rivals Porsche and Audi are working on all-electric cars for release by 2019, the German carmaker appears to have put such cars on the back burner. Its next fully-electric car is not due until 2021.
The company has changed tack after its only fully battery-powered car, the i3, failed to gain traction with the public, with only 25,000 sales last year. By contrast, Tesla has already received more than 370,000 orders for its Model 3.
Now, rather than seeking to match the likes of Tesla and Porsche with a new zero-emissions sports limousine for release within the next two years, its main focus will be on developing an electric car with the next generation of technology: autonomous driving.
In an interview at the company’s headquarters in Munich, BMW board member Klaus Froehlich, who is in charge of development, said he had relaunched the i division in April as a unit devoted to producing cars that drive themselves.
“It is now in ramp-up stage. We call it Project i Next.”
The revamp also follows at least four high-profile staff defections from the division this year. Dirk Abendroth, manager of BMW’s “i” powertrain group, Henrik Wenders, vice president product management BMW “i”, and Carsten Breitfeld, vice president engineering, head of the i8 vehicle programme, were poached by a Chinese electric vehicle startup.
As part of its autonomous driving push, BMW is hiring experts in machine learning and artificial intelligence. It is also integrating the functions of existing computer driven assistance systems like cruise control, emergency braking, lane-keeping support and automatic parking.
RIDE-HAILING
With a fully autonomous vehicle, BMW could launch a ride-hailing business without having to pay drivers, Froehlich said, giving carmakers a competitive edge over new ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft which are eroding car sales by making part-time use as convenient as ownership.
Earlier this month Toyota Motor Corp said it would invest in Uber, and Volkswagen announced a $300 million investment in Gett, a smaller ride-sharing company.
BMW too may partner with a ride-hailing firm, particularly in markets like China, but the Bavarian carmaker’s strategy on potential partnerships with companies in this space is still being worked on, Froehlich said.
Sales of highly autonomous vehicles – ones where permanent active input from the driver is not required – are not expected to gain traction until 2020, but could then rise to around 9 million a year by 2025, according to analysts at Exane BNP Paribas.
China, the world’s largest car market, is likely to be the market where autonomous cars will first emerge on a large scale, Froehlich said.
“China is extremely fast implementing technology. Last year more electric cars were sold in China than in all the other global markets combined,” he added.
BMW is also considering expanding in the area of reserving parking spaces and electric car charging stations over mobile phones, a market which is still fragmented within countries. The carmaker has already invested in ParkNow and Parkmobile, two digital parking and payment services.
“We want to actively participate in a consolidation process,” Froehlich said. (Reporting by Edward Taylor and Irene Preisinger; Editing by Pravin Chark)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/reuters/article-3623212/BMW-revamps-electric-car-division-focus-self-driving-tech.html

Dyson plots electric car with breakthrough battery

May 18th, 2016 § Comments Off on Dyson plots electric car with breakthrough battery § permalink

Tech firm Dyson is secretly working on an electric car, which would give Britain an answer to the EVs in development from heavyweight Silicon Valley giants, Google and Apple. And the Dyson car could have double the energy density and range of today’s EVs, thanks to a breakthrough solid-state battery.

News of Dyson’s EV was accidentally leaked in the government’s recent National Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2016-2021 which stated: ‘Dyson [is] to develop a new battery electric vehicle at their headquarters in Malmesbury, Wiltshire… This will secure £174m of investment in the area, creating over 500 jobs, mostly in engineering.’

Source: http://www.carmagazine.co.uk/car-news/tech/dyson-plots-electric-car-with-breakthrough-battery-car-june-2016/

Tesla VS Dyson, as the latter Challenges Tesla With $1.4 Billion Battery Tech Investment

April 5th, 2016 § Comments Off on Tesla VS Dyson, as the latter Challenges Tesla With $1.4 Billion Battery Tech Investment § permalink

Dyson, the U.K. producer of innovative vacuum cleaners and hand dryers, will spend 1 billion pounds ($1.44 billion) on battery development over the next five years as it increases its efforts to expand into new sectors.

It follows a 2015 acquisition of Satki3, a U.S. maker of solid-state lithium-ion batteries, for $90 million. Dyson Ltd. had previously invested $15 million in the Michigan firm, which said it has found a way to produce batteries with twice the energy storage potential of standard lithium-ion models, at a half to a third of the cost.

Dyson’s battery efforts also received a lift from the U.K.’s 2016 budget, announced last week. As part of the package, the British government awarded Dyson a 16-million-pound grant to undertake research on longer-lasting batteries. The grant came from a regional development fund.

Batteries are a key component in Dyson’s cordless vacuum cleaners, a category that grew 66 percent globally in 2015 and in which Dyson currently holds about a 25 percent share of the market, the company said in an e-mailed statement.

While the immediate application for new batteries would probably be in Dyson’s existing cordless products, they have potential uses in everything from electric cars to tablet computers. In moving into the battery field, Dyson is taking on the likes of Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors, which is also developing advanced cells to power vehicles and home appliances.

From: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-03-21/dyson-challenges-tesla-with-1-4-billion-battery-tech-investment

woop: Dyson to build electric cars

March 24th, 2016 § Comments Off on woop: Dyson to build electric cars § permalink

Dyson is developing an electric car at its headquarters in Wiltshire with help from public money, according to government documents.

The company, which makes a range of products that utilise the sort of highly efficient motors needed for an electric car such as vacuum cleaners, hand dryers and bladeless fans, last year refused to rule out rumours it was building one.

But on Wednesday, the government appeared to have accidentally disclosed Dyson is working on one, along with other big companies outside of the automotive industry, such as Apple.

“The government is funding Dyson to develop a new battery electric vehicle at their headquarters in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. This will secure £174m of investment in the area, creating over 500 jobs, mostly in engineering,” said the National Infrastructure Delivery Plan, published on Wednesday.

When Dyson CEO, Max Conze, was asked last year if the company was working on an electric car, he said: “We are ruling nothing out. Like our friends in Cupertino [Apple] we are also unhealthily obsessive when it comes to taking apart our products to make them better.”

Dyson recently reported profits up 20% in 2015, driven by strong growth in China, and said it plans to invest £1bn in battery technology over the next five years. Last October, Dyson bought solid-state battery company, Sakti3, for $90m, which founder Sir James Dyson said had “developed a breakthrough in battery technology.”

Asked if the company was, as the government suggested, developing an electric car, a Dyson spokesman said: “We never comment on products that are in development.”

The Guardian has also contacted the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles, which encourages the roll-out of electric vehicles as a way to cut air pollution and lower carbon emissions, and is awaiting details on the exact level of funding.

Dyson, 68, has a long history of inventions. He designed the Rotork Sea Truck, a fast cargo boat in 1970, which has been used by the military and is still sold today. In 1974, he designed the Ballbarrow, a barrow with a ball replacing the wheel, having been frustrated by wheelbarrows getting stuck in mud on a building site.

His breakthrough was the bagless vaucum cleaner, which was inspired by air cyclones used in sawmills to suck up sawdust. Since then, he has created bladeless fans and the Airblade hand dryer.

Many of Dyson’s devices use small, light and efficient electric motors developed over 10 years by his company, which may find application in developing a new electric car. Dyson is a now worth several billion pounds and in 2014 pledged his company would spend £1.5bn on research and development to create future products, aiming to launch 100 new electrical products by 2018.

 

From: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/23/dyson-developing-electric-car-government-documents

The North East Combined Authority has received £1.5m to build to super-fast charging points on the A19 and at Science Central

January 25th, 2016 § Comments Off on The North East Combined Authority has received £1.5m to build to super-fast charging points on the A19 and at Science Central § permalink

The drive to see more electric cars on Tyneside has received a funding boost.

New electric filling stations will be installed at Science Central, in Newcastle, and on the A19 on the outskirts of Sunderland, after the North East Combined Authority announced it received £1.5m grant as part of the government’s Go Ultra Low fund.

Each filling station will feature six to eight rapid chargers which top up electric vehicles in 15 to 20 minutes – rather than the eight hours it takes for a standard charger.

And the stations will feature cafes for drivers waiting for their cars to charge.

NECA made a bid to the Office for Low Emission Vehicle’s (OLEV) £40million Go Ultra Low Scheme in October last year and the results were announced on Monday.

Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council and NECA portfolio holder for regional transport, said: “We made an ambitious bid to the Go Ultra Low City’ scheme and whilst its disappointing that we have not been awarded the Go Ultra Low City status – it’s great news that this development funding will help us showcase the filling stations of the future.

“We are seeing more and more people switching to electric vehicles in the North East and we have done a huge amount to make this a practical and viable choice by installing charging points across the region.

Potential design of an electric car charging station. The North East Combined Authority has received £1.5m for stations in Newcastle and Sunderland
Potential design of an electric car charging station. The North East Combined Authority has received £1.5m for stations in Newcastle and Sunderland

» Read the rest of this entry «

Lamp posts with charging points and free parking for green cars: Four cities get £40m pot to improve electric-car infrastructure

January 25th, 2016 § Comments Off on Lamp posts with charging points and free parking for green cars: Four cities get £40m pot to improve electric-car infrastructure § permalink

A fund of £40 million will be spread across four towns and cities in a Government bid to promote the uptake of electric and plug-in hybrid cars, it was announced on Monday.

Local authorities competed for a share of the pot, with Nottingham, Bristol, Milton Keynes and London being the big winners of the electric-vehicle investment, the Depart of Transport confirmed.

The money from the Go Ultra Low City Scheme will now be used to boost the infrastructure for alternative-fuel vehicles in the UK new new proposals predicted to save commuters up to £1,300 a year.

Electric-car boost: A new £40m pot to improve the infrastructure for charging electric and plug-in hybird cars has been awarded to four UK cities, the DfT announced. Erik Fairbairn, ceo of POD Point, is pictured here.

» Read the rest of this entry «

Ford Wants To Develop Its Own Battery Chemistries For Hybrids, Electric Cars, But Why?

January 3rd, 2016 § Comments Off on Ford Wants To Develop Its Own Battery Chemistries For Hybrids, Electric Cars, But Why? § permalink

When it announced a range increase for its 2017 Focus Electric earlier this month, Ford executives also revealed an intriguing snippet about the company’s battery plans.

The company is conducting its own research into fundamental battery chemistries, and could develop its own cells for use in future electrified vehicles.

The question then becomes: Why? » Read the rest of this entry «

Daniel Kim’s Lit Motors: The Fully Enclosed electric motorcycle is in testing phase

December 21st, 2015 § Comments Off on Daniel Kim’s Lit Motors: The Fully Enclosed electric motorcycle is in testing phase § permalink

Daniel Kim is a dreamer. Like all dreamers, he has an idea for a product he thinks the world could use. His dream is a self balancing, enclosed electric motorcycle that would serve as a safe, efficient transportation pod for urban dwellers.

Lit Motors says more than a thousand people have reserved one of its auto balancing electric vehicles (AEVs). When will they receive them? “The AEV’s development timeline and delivery date are dependent on several factors: engineering development & testing, design freeze, supply chain, assembly line development, and financing,” the company says. In other words, your machine may be ready in time for Christmas, just not this Christmas.

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lronic Issue: The Big Problem With Electric Cars: They’re Too Reliable

November 25th, 2015 § Comments Off on lronic Issue: The Big Problem With Electric Cars: They’re Too Reliable § permalink

Matt Richtel has an intriguing article today in the New York Times about electric cars. The question is: why aren’t they selling better? Is it because they have weak performance? Because they can only go a hundred miles on a charge? Because they’re expensive?

Those are all issues.1 But it turns out that people who want to buy an electric car anyway have a hard time getting dealerships to sell them one:

Kyle Gray, a BMW salesman, said he was personally enthusiastic about the technology, but…the sales process takes more time because the technology is new, cutting into commissions….Marc Detsch, Nissan’s business development manager for electric vehicles said some salespeople just can’t rationalize the time it takes to sell the cars. A salesperson “can sell two gas burners in less than it takes to sell a Leaf,” he said. “It’s a lot of work for a little pay.”

He also pointed to the potential loss of service revenue. “There’s nothing much to go wrong,” Mr. Deutsch said of electric cars. “There’s no transmission to go bad.”….Jared Allen, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said there wasn’t sufficient data to prove that electric cars would require less maintenance. But he acknowledged that service was crucial to dealer profits and that dealers didn’t want to push consumers into electric cars that might make them less inclined to return for service.

I suppose this makes sense. And to all this, you can add the fact that none of these cars can fly. There are so many hurdles to overcome before we make it into the Jetson’s future we were all promised.

1We are, of course, talking about the non-Tesla market here.

From: http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/11/big-problem-electric-cars-theyre-too-reliable

“What it’s like riding in a million-dollar autonomous Nissan” (yes, it is self driving)

November 7th, 2015 § Comments Off on “What it’s like riding in a million-dollar autonomous Nissan” (yes, it is self driving) § permalink

Here’s the ironic thing about today’s autonomous car development programs: The latest prototypes actually require that the person behind the wheel concentrate more, not less.

from cNet Post


That’s because while self-driving vehicles like this Nissan Leaf Piloted Drive 1.0 prototype can do a remarkable job negotiating roads on their own most of the time, a drive of any length and complexity almost always carries with it the specter of an occasional flub or near miss. By contrast, were a human behind the wheel, most of these situations would have never escalated to the point where a need for a momentary swerve or panic braking resulted.

Here’s the ironic thing about today’s autonomous car development programs: The latest prototypes actually require that the person behind the wheel concentrate more, not less.

 That’s because while self-driving vehicles like this Nissan Leaf Piloted Drive 1.0 prototype can do a remarkable job negotiating roads on their own most of the time, a drive of any length and complexity almost always carries with it the specter of an occasional flub or near miss. By contrast, were a human behind the wheel, most of these situations would have never escalated to the point where a need for a momentary swerve or panic braking resulted.

That may sound discouraging, but it’s not meant to. The radical progress that has been made on autonomous vehicles in just the last couple of years suggests that such incidents will be nothing but a brief transitional hiccup for the technology, a blip on its evolutionary timeline. In fact, my 40-plus minute Nissan test drive in unrestricted, live Tokyo traffic was nothing short of hugely impressive.

 Even with the current state-of-the-art tech’s momentary autonomous foibles, it’s easy to see the promise such vehicles have for greatly decreasing accident rates and traffic congestion, not to mention for restoring autonomy to the world’s elderly and infirm. Autonomous technology isn’t just a game-changer for personal transportation, it’s poised to usher in a whole new game.

On my drive, Nissan’s all-electric hatchback prototype executed a complex drive route including merging, along with left and right turns. It negotiated dense traffic including busses, commercial trucks and pedestrians, all with minimal intervention. It was truly fascinating to have a front-row seat while the car moved itself nearly seamlessly through dense traffic.

Were it not for the logos slathered on the sides of our Leaf, our fellow motorists would likely have never suspected that this was anything other than an ordinary human-piloted car. That’s a remarkable achievement. Just a couple of years ago, a car with half of this vehicle’s capabilities would’ve had the outward appearance of a science project.

In part, this dramatic progress has been made possible because the Leaf’s complex network of cutting-edge cameras, sonar hardware and lidar sensors (remote-sensing technology which uses lasers and radars to measure distances) have been miniaturized and innocuously mounted to its bodywork. Up until now, these sensors have been large and ungainly, incorporating an attention-grabbing, aerodynamics-spoiling spinning element that needed to be mounted on a vehicle’s highest point (the roof) for a 360-degree view.

This Nissan makes use of groundbreaking pre-production flash lidar sensors from Santa Barbara’s Advanced Scientific Concepts Inc. which are exponentially smaller than rooftop sensors and contain no moving parts. I bet you didn’t notice them subtly flush-mounted on the car’s front doors and in the bumpers in the pictures above. In all, this car has no fewer than a dozen cameras, four lidar scanners and five radar sensors attached to its panels. I bet you didn’t notice those, either.

Two years ago, a previous-generation system utilized just five cameras and employed comparatively bulky and primitive laser sensors. In the case of this Leaf, which is one of three such million-dollar prototypes, this network of sensors is acted upon by a trunk full of wires and silicon chippery. This hardware figures to be much easier to miniaturize than the sensor arrays themselves, and Nissan expects to downscale the associated componentry to the size of a laptop by the time it introduces a production system by 2020.

At the wheel keeping tabs on the prototype’s systems during my test ride was Tetsuya Iijima, Nissan’s general manager of its advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous engineering department. Iijima has been working on ADAS and self-driving technology at Nissan for a remarkable 18 years — he spearheaded the development of the company’s first intelligent cruise control, which he proudly notes was among the very first systems in production over a dozen years ago (concurrently entering the market with a similar technology from Mercedes-Benz).

During our drive, Iijima constantly scanned a trio of screens, including a 10-inch center-stack display that looked production ready (the current Leaf features a 7-inch unit) and a 12-inch screen in place of traditional analogue gauges. There’s also a third, temporary-mounted tablet screen mounted just ahead of the round gear selector displaying additional information, and a head-up display. The in-cluster display is the one Iijima spent the most time looking at. It shows a radar image of the traffic ahead highlighting objects the sensors detect with either red or green boxes depending on their relevance. These objects can include other vehicles, traffic lights or pedestrians.
The vast majority of our test loop was uneventful in the best possible way — the Leaf accelerated, braked and negotiated turned with alacrity under almost all circumstances. It signaled nearly every time it changed lanes, and it even functioned perfectly in a long tunnel with a substantial bend in the middle and a fair amount of traffic.

After noting our smooth progress, I asked Iijima whether the instant-on torque of electric motors and the lack of a multi-speed transmission makes developing an autonomous EV easier than a traditional internal-combustion vehicle, and his face lit up as he nodded.
Given that there are occasions where Piloted Drive may require human intervention, the person in the driver’s seat needs to continue to pay attention to his or her surroundings. Even when this technology is perfected and autonomous drive becomes at least as safe as human piloting, Iijima says it will be important for drivers to remain awake and maintain situational awareness. To that end, he says, “We may need something to keep the driver involved in the driving task.” That could take the form of vehicle occupant monitoring, something this car doesn’t do (but Nissan is working on), or it could even take the form of something like an interactive game. This, too, may be a temporary need. In its just-revealed IDS Concept at the Tokyo Motor Show, Nissan envisions a future where the steering wheel actually folds away when not in use, and where the seats shift toward each other to encourage conversation.

As it turns out, fast-approaching cars or an oblivious pedestrian at a crosswalk seems easier for the Piloted Drive to react to than a nearby vehicle whose speed closely matches that of our car — it’s hard for the sensors to determine relative speed in such scenarios.

To illustrate the point, while queuing in slow-moving traffic, our Leaf attempted to merge into the rear end of a commercial truck, coming within inches of wiping off its own front end in what would’ve been a sickeningly expensive slow-motion accident. Only Iijima’s override with the brake pedal saved our car’s skin. Piloted Drive also had trouble detecting a merging Nissan X-Trail under similar circumstances. In that situation, Iijima was able to use the steering wheel as a momentary override, at which point the car immediately retook control seamlessly and uneventfully. Piloted Drive won’t disable itself fully in the latter circumstance, it will only turn off when the driver manually activates the brake pedal or hits an emergency kill switch — integrating momentary manual steering or accelerator inputs seem easy.
Interestingly, while Piloted Drive won’t call out lane-change maneuvers or bends in the road, when it comes time for a significant directional change (as when turning on to another road at a four-way stop), the system will call out its maneuver over the speakers, just like a normal navigation system. Iijima says that’s so that vehicle occupants aren’t taken by surprise. IIjima believes that voice support like this could be a transitional step until people get used to the sensation of traveling in autonomous cars.
Nissan

The auto industry’s pace of development of autonomous technology has been nothing short of thrilling, and much of the basic “blocking and tackling” work is nearing production readiness. But there’s still lot of scenarios for which it will be very tough to program. For instance, while Nissan’s Piloted Drive can account for a pedestrian in a roadway, it can’t detect that the individual is actually a policeman, urging the vehicle’s driver to proceed with a wave of his hand.

Weather remains a challenge, too — Iijima says sun glare and heavy rain isn’t a problem, but admits fog and snow are more difficult. Will an autonomous car’s exterior sensors need to be heated and self-cleaning in order to work in inclement weather, or will the technology simply shut off when sensors get dirty or packed with snow, the way today’s intelligent cruise-control systems warn check out?

Nissan promises a full-autonomy system like this will be in production by 2020 and Iijima says it will have a “common-sense” price, but admits it will be initially offered on a high-end model. By that time, less capable self-driving systems will also be available on more mainstream Nissans, which will likely be hardware similar to the semi-autonomous tech currently offered on luxury cars like the Tesla Model S or Nissan’s own Infiniti Q50.

In the face of such impressive technology, I couldn’t help but ask Iijima if he thinks manual driving has a long-term future, especially if self-driving cars ultimately prove to be significantly safer, as most experts believe. Iijima pointed to the continued presence of motorcycles in a world where four-wheeled cars are infinitely less dangerous and suggested that “(driving) will become kind of a sport,” in other words, a source of entertainment. Many experts agree, pointing to how some people enjoy horseback riding even though the sun has long since set on using equines as primary transportation.

Me? I’m not so sure. I welcome autonomous technology, especially for boring freeway transits, megacity stoplight-to-stoplight slogs, and for drivers who can’t be bothered to look up from their mobile phones. But I suspect that over the long haul, if human beings are causing a disproportionate amount of accidents versus their computerized counterparts, manual driving will be taken off the table, at least on public roads. Whether that reality manifests itself legislatively or merely practically — likely taking the form of prohibitively high insurance rates — I’m not so sure.

Either way, while the road to autonomy isn’t fully mapped out, it’s clear we’re well on the way to a self-driving future. And thanks to engineers like Nissan’s Iijima, that future is coming up in the rearview mirror far quicker than you might imagine.

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