Volvo’s self-driving car venture gets nod to test on Swedish roads

A self-driving Volvo electric truck with no cab called Vera is seen during a presentation in Berlin, Germany, September 12, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 28 January 2019
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Volvo’s self-driving car venture gets nod to test on Swedish roads

STOCKHOLM: A Volvo Cars joint venture has won approval to begin hands-free testing of its software for self-driving cars on Swedish highways, partner Veoneer said on Monday.
Veoneer said the Zenuity joint venture’s software for Level 4 autonomous driving — the second highest level — would be tested in a Volvo car by trained drivers with their hands off the steering wheel at a maximum speed of 80 kilometers per hour (50 miles per hour).
The venture is striving to keep up with larger rivals in the race to develop self-driving vehicles.
US companies are leading the pack, with Google’s Waymo last year winning the first approval to test cars without safety drivers on Californian public roads.
General Motors’ Cruise has said it is ready to deploy a self-driving car with no manual controls, while Germany’s BMW and Audi have also secured testing rights.
Securing permissions has got tougher after an accident involving a Volvo car that Uber was using to test its own self-driving software. Uber last month resumed limited testing on public roads.
Zenuity has been running tests in Sweden to collect data to develop autonomous functionalities and sensors, while Volvo has been carrying out separate tests to gather data to improve driver experience and study driver behavior.
Veoneer Chief Technology Officer Nishant Batra said the approval to do real-life tests was “essential for gathering important data and test functions.”
“It is a strong proof-point for the progress of Zenuity’s self-driving capabilities,” he said.
Veoneer spokesman Thomas Jonsson said it was too early to say when Zenuity could potentially test without a safety driver.
Zenuity, formed by Volvo and Veoneer in 2017, is expected to have its first driver assistance products on sale by 2019 with autonomous driving technologies shortly afterwards. Volvo and its Chinese parent Geely are customers.
Volvo has goals of delivering self-driving cars sometime after 2021 and deriving a third of its sales from fully autonomous cars by 2025.
Documents obtained from the Swedish Transport Authority showed Volvo in September secured the right to test self-driving cars at 80kph and the permit removed a previous condition that a driver has at least one hand on the steering wheel.
The cars Volvo was testing were “for the development of fully autonomous vehicles” and it was using outside parties and test drivers, a Volvo spokesman said.
A top Level 5 vehicle, or fully autonomous vehicle, will be able to navigate roads without any driver input in all conditions.
Volvo teamed up with Baidu last year to use the Chinese company’s autonomous software to develop a Level 4 car.


Scientists amazed as Canadian permafrost thaws 70 years early

General view of a landscape of partially thawed Arctic permafrost near Mould Bay, Canada, in this handout photo released June 18, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 19 June 2019
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Scientists amazed as Canadian permafrost thaws 70 years early

  • “This premature thawing is another clear signal that we must decarbonize our economies, and immediately”

LONDON: Permafrost at outposts in the Canadian Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted, an expedition has discovered, in the latest sign that the global climate crisis is accelerating even faster than scientists had feared.
A team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks said they were astounded by how quickly a succession of unusually hot summers had destabilized the upper layers of giant subterranean ice blocks that had been frozen solid for millennia.
“What we saw was amazing,” Vladimir E. Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the university, told Reuters by telephone. “It’s an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years.”
With governments meeting in Bonn this week to try to ratchet up ambitions in United Nations climate negotiations, the team’s findings, published on June 10 in Geophysical Research Letters, offered a further sign of a growing climate emergency.
The paper was based on data Romanovsky and his colleagues had been analizing since their last expedition to the area in 2016. The team used a modified propeller plane to visit exceptionally remote sites, including an abandoned Cold War-era radar base more than 300 km from the nearest human settlement.
Diving through a lucky break in the clouds, Romanovsky and his colleagues said they were confronted with a landscape that was unrecognizable from the pristine Arctic terrain they had encountered during initial visits a decade or so earlier.
The vista had dissolved into an undulating sea of hummocks — waist-high depressions and ponds known as thermokarst. Vegetation, once sparse, had begun to flourish in the shelter provided from the constant wind.
Torn between professional excitement and foreboding, Romanovsky said the scene had reminded him of the aftermath of a bombardment.
“It’s a canary in the coalmine,” said Louise Farquharson, a post-doctoral researcher and co-author of the study. “It’s very likely that this phenomenon is affecting a much more extensive region and that’s what we’re going to look at next.”
Scientists are concerned about the stability of permafrost because of the risk that rapid thawing could release vast quantities of heat-trapping gases, unleashing a feedback loop that would in turn fuel even faster temperature rises.
Even if current commitments to cut emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement are implemented, the world is still far from averting the risk that these kinds of feedback loops will trigger runaway warming, according to models used by the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
With scientists warning that sharply higher temperatures would devastate the global south and threaten the viability of industrial civilization in the northern hemisphere, campaigners said the new paper reinforced the imperative to cut emissions.
“Thawing permafrost is one of the tipping points for climate breakdown and it’s happening before our very eyes,” said Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International. “This premature thawing is another clear signal that we must decarbonize our economies, and immediately.”