Uber is buiding its own mapping solution

Leslie Hook for Financial Times:

Uber is preparing to pour $500m into an ambitious global mapping project as it seeks to wean itself off dependence on Google Maps and pave the way for driverless cars.

It is interesting to watch how car manufacturers (namely VAG, BMW, Daimler) and the bigger mobility companies are trying to cut their dependencies with Google Maps.

It is not surprising though: Google is very vocal about its Autonomous Driving ambitions and sooner than later will have to clarify how Google Maps fits in its overall strategy. Mapping will be strategic for the AV future and I do not think that Google will provide all the needed mapping features (e.g. accuracy) to direct competitors.

By developing its own maps Uber could eventually reduce its reliance on Google Maps, which currently power the Uber app in most of the world.

Although Google was an earlier investor in Uber, the two companies have avoided working closely together and are now developing rival technologies for driverless cars.

Last year Uber hired one of the world’s leading digital mapping experts, Brian McClendon, who previously ran Google Maps and helped create Google Earth.

“Accurate maps are at the heart of our service and backbone of our business,” Mr McClendon said in a statement. “The ongoing need for maps tailored to the Uber experience is why we’re doubling down on our investment in mapping.”

Competition is always good and brings nothing but better products!

Samsung invests in nuTonomy

Pulse News Korea reports: 

South Korea’s electronics giant Samsung Electronics Co. is stepping up its efforts to solidify its position in the automotive electronics industry through aggressive investment in smart car technology. 

According to multiple sources in the industry on Wednesday, Samsung Group’s unit Samsung Venture Investment Corp. invested in nuTonomy Inc., a venture that develops self-driving car software based on robotics, together with Signal Ventures Ltd. and Fontinalis Partners LLC and others. Following the successful fundraising campaign, the venture has raked in about $3.6 million (4.3 billion won) worth of funds in total, according to the industry sources. 

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based nuTonomy is a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), headed by Karl Iagnemma who has led the Robotic Mobility Group at MIT. With the investment, nuTonomy will focus on developing software that could enable an autonomous car to drive even in busy city traffic conditions, which is yet to be achieved by Google Inc. with its self-driving car project that proved to be a success on a highway. 

nuTonomy seems to be one of the few companies jointly with Google that is aiming to create an Operating System for autonomous vehicles. 

Most of the OEMs are focused on building those capabilities in house and consider the OS a central piece of their value proposition. My only question here is: would they be able to attract the right talent to build something that is well beyond their core business? 

Only time will tell…

Pearl, a new startup entering the aftermarket automated features for cars space

Alex Webb for Bloomberg:

Founded by a team of Apple veterans, Pearl Automation Inc. said Tuesday that its first product, a rear-view camera, will be available in September in the U.S. After the camera, which is similar to those that come standard on many new autos, the startup plans a slew of devices that can be built into your car to bring it up to speed with the latest driving capabilities.

There are new startups entering the AV and automated features for cars space every other week. I just can’t but wonder:

  1. For how long is it going to be profitable this market?
  2. How long before the market gets regulated and the party is over?

Also, the US has a long tradition of tinkering around with their cars.  However, this is far from “normal” in Europe beyond the tunning culture and the plug and play aftermarket gadgets. 

It is going to be interesting to watch how this market develops. 

Faraday Future goes AV

Russ Mitchell of Los Angeles Times reports that Faraday Future, the recently created company that aims to revolutionize the market of electric vehicles, wants to enter the AV space like any other car manufacturer:

Electric car maker Faraday — based in Gardena, with additional offices in Silicon Valley and an assembly plant outside Las Vegas — is planning to build vehicles designed like high-end Italian sports cars with a space-age twist, judging from the concept car it unveiled in Las Vegas in January. 

I don’t think that a car designed like “high-end” Italian sport cars is going to be that relevant when talking about automated features but… You never know!

George Hotz’s $1,000 aftermarket self-driving car kit

Michael Zelenko, writing for The Verge:

Unlike Tesla, Hotz says, Comma.ai is committed to building a product for the general public — or as he likes to put it, deliver “ghost riding for the masses.” For less than $1,000 Hotz promises to sell a kit that will let customers transform dumb cars into smart, self-driving ones. Installation will be a cinch, he says — no more difficult or time-intensive than building a piece of Ikea furniture. Though he’s vague about which cars the final product will work on — “if your car has electronic stability control and electronic power steering, there’s a chance we could make it work; it won’t work on your ‘72 Chevy” — he’s confident it’ll ship by the end of the year.

I’m really curious about Hotz’s aftermarket strategy. I do understand the beauty of transforming your 2014 car into a self-driving car. However, I am not sure that such kit will not terminate the guarantee of your vehicle. Let’s find out at the end of the year if everything works as expected.

Mark Zuckerberg on self-driving cars and AI

Mathias Döpfner interviewed Mark Zuckerberg for Die Welt this week and apparently Facebook’s CEO is also paying attention to what is happening in the space of autonomous vehicles:

[…] I think that along the way, we will also figure out how to make it safe. The dialogue today kind of reminds me of someone in the 1800s sitting around and saying: one day we might have planes and they may crash. Nonetheless, people developed planes first and then took care of flight safety. If people were focused on safety first, no one would ever have built a plane.

This fearful thinking might be standing in the way of real progress. Because if you recognize that self-driving cars are going to prevent car accidents, AI will be responsible for reducing one of the leading causes of death in the world. Similarly, AI systems will enable doctors to diagnose diseases and treat people better, so blocking that progress is probably one of the worst things you can do for making the world better.

Will Facebook ever get into autonomous vehicles? Let’s face it, mobility is probably the ultimate social connector in a physical world…

 

Mark Zuckerberg and the social VR

I own an Oculus Rift DK2 and it literally blowed my mind away the firts time I tried it. I cannot wait enough for a future where VR is the new killer platform. The possibilities are going to be endless! 

There’s a kid-in-a-candy-store vibe to Zuckerberg’s $2 billion bet on this virtual future. But Dixon agrees with him, comparing the Oculus deal to Google’s acquisition of Android back in 2005. “I remember thinking ‘Wow, that’s a futuristic investment,’” Dixon says of Google’s Android buy. “I remember admiring Google for that, but also thinking: ‘It’s a little strange.’ It turned out to be genius.” But that genius wasn’t obvious right away. Android needed time to mature. Virtual reality does too.