Uber unveils next-generation Volvo self-driving car

An Uber self-driving Volvo on exhibit at the Uber Elevate Summit 2019 in Washington, DC on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 13 June 2019
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Uber unveils next-generation Volvo self-driving car

  • The new vehicle has several backup systems for both steering and braking functions
  • Carmakers have struggled to maintain profit margins faced with the rising costs of making electric, connected and autonomous cars

WASHINGTON: Uber Technologies unveiled its newest Volvo self-driving car in Washington on Wednesday as it works to eventually deploy vehicles without drivers under some limited conditions.
Uber said the new production XC90 will be assembled by Volvo Cars in Sweden and have human controls like steering wheels and brake pedals, but also with factory-installed steering and braking systems designed for computer rather than human control.
Uber Advanced Technologies Group chief scientist Raquel Urtasun showed off the company’s artificial intelligence technology that allows it to drive autonomously for long distances on highways without maps and “on the fly” to plot its course and navigate construction zones.
“Our goal is get each one of you to where you want to go much better, much safer, cheaper,” Urtasun said.
As the race to push out autonomous cars across the globe heats up, other companies are also working to deploy self-driving vehicles in limited areas.
Ford Motor Co’s majority-owned autonomous vehicle unit, Argo AI, launched its new fleet of self-driving test vehicles — Ford Fusion Hybrid — in Detroit on Wednesday, expanding to five US cities.
The No. 2 US automaker also opened a research center in Tel Aviv, joining a growing number of major automakers and suppliers setting up shop in Israel’s tech hub.
General Motors Co. in January 2018 sought permission from US regulators to deploy a ride-sharing fleet of driverless cars without steering wheels or other human controls before the end of 2019, but is still struggling to win regulatory approval.
Alphabet Inc’s Waymo unit is operating a robotaxi service in Arizona and said last month it is partnering with Lyft Inc. to serve more riders.
South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. both said they would invest in the self-driving car software startup Aurora and speed up development of their respective autonomous vehicle technologies.
Carmakers have struggled to maintain profit margins faced with the rising costs of making electric, connected and autonomous cars. As a result, they are setting up alliances and lining up outside investors to combat spiraling development costs.
Previously, Uber had purchased about 250 Volvo XC90 SUVs and retrofitted them for self-driving use.
The new vehicles — known by the internal code number 519G and under development for several years — are safer, more reliable and will replace the older vehicles in Uber’s fleet “soon,” according to Eric Meyhofer, the head of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group.
“This is about going to production,” Meyhofer said in an interview at an Uber conference in Washington on Tuesday.
The new vehicle also has several backup systems for both steering and braking functions as well as backup battery power and new cybersecurity systems.
Uber is not ready to deploy vehicles without human controls, Meyhofer said.
“We’re still in a real hybrid state,” he said. “We have to get there and we’re not going to get to thousands of cars in a city overnight. It’s going to be a slower introduction.”
The new XC90 vehicles have an interior fish-eye camera to scan for lost items, Uber said. They also do not have sunroofs since the self-driving vehicles have large sensors on the roof and are equipped with auto-close doors to prevent an unsafe departure.
Uber, which has taken delivery of about a dozen prototypes of the new vehicle, but has not yet deployed them on public roads, said the car’s “self-driving system will one day allow for safe, reliable autonomous ridesharing without the need” for a safety driver.
Asked if Uber will deploy self-driving cars without safety drivers in limited areas in the next few years, Meyhofer said: “Yes — way before that.”
But he added that Uber wants to be in “the good graces of public trust and regulatory trust” before making the business decision to deploy.
In December, Uber resumed limited self-driving car testing on public roads in Pittsburgh, nine months after it suspended the program following a deadly accident in Arizona.
In March 2018, authorities in Arizona suspended Uber’s ability to test its self-driving cars after one of its XC90 cars hit and killed a woman crossing the street at night in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, then Uber’s largest testing hub. The crash was the first death attributed to a self-driving vehicle.
In March 2019, prosecutors in Arizona said the company was not criminally liable in the crash and would not pursue charges. Uber has since ended testing in Arizona, but plans to eventually resume testing in Toronto and San Francisco, Meyhofer said.
The death prompted significant safety concerns about the nascent self-driving car industry, which is racing to get vehicles into commercial use.
Volvo Cars Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said in a statement that “by the middle of the next decade, we expect one-third of all cars we sell to be fully autonomous.”
Volvo Cars, which is owned by China’s Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd, will use a similar autonomous base vehicle concept for the introduction of its first commercially available autonomous drive technology in the early 2020s.
Volvo and Uber said in 2017 that the rideshare company planned to buy up to 24,000 self-driving cars from Volvo from 2019 to 2021 using the self-driving system developed by Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group.
An Uber spokeswoman said Tuesday that the company plans “to work with Volvo on tens of thousands of vehicles in the future.”


Nissan post-Ghosn governance steps, board win shareholders’ approval

Updated 7 min 11 sec ago
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Nissan post-Ghosn governance steps, board win shareholders’ approval

  • The Japanese automaker had seen profits and dividends tumble amid a high-profile scandal involving its former chairman Carlos Ghosn
  • Some shareholders expressed worries about the future of the automaker

YOKOHAMA, Japan: Scandal-battered Nissan won shareholders’ approval Tuesday for a new system of committees to oversee governance and for keeping Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa on its board.
The Japanese automaker had seen profits and dividends tumble amid a high-profile scandal involving its former chairman Carlos Ghosn. Some shareholders expressed worries about the future of the automaker.
Saikawa and the other board members, including French alliance partner Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard, bowed deeply at the meeting at a convention center in the port city of Yokohama, where Nissan Motor Corp. is based.
“I’d like to offer my deepest apologies, representing the company, for how the misconduct has caused serious concern for our shareholders,” Saikawa said.
Ghosn, who led Nissan for two decades, was arrested in November and is awaiting trial in Japan on charges of financial misconduct, including falsifying documents related to retirement compensation. He says he is innocent.
The proposals to have committees overseeing compensation, board nominations and auditing required a majority of shareholders for a quorum and two-thirds of those voting for passage.
Approval was shown by clapping among the more than 2,800 people present at the meeting. Most of the votes were submitted in advance.
French automaker Renault, which owns 43 percent of Nissan, had earlier signaled it may abstain, saying it wanted more representation on the committees.
To satisfy that request, the committees have Senard, who replaced Ghosn on the Nissan board, and Renault Chief Executive Thierry Bollore.
Saikawa told shareholders he had “two kinds of responsibility,” for what had happened in the past as well as building toward a future and a recovery, including nurturing his successor.
“I would like to work toward putting Nissan on a stable track,” he said, asking for shareholders’ approval for his remaining as Nissan’s leader. “I want to speed up the preparations for a succession.”
Although Nissan has been trying to put the scandal behind it, many have been wondering why the alleged wrongdoing, if true, had gone unchecked, especially how much Saikawa knew. One shareholder asked whether Nissan officials besides Ghosn shared in the alleged misconduct.
For the fiscal year that ended in March, Nissan’s profit plunged to about half of what it was the previous year, partly because of the scandal, as well as problems in the lucrative North American market. The maker of the Leaf electric car and Infiniti luxury models is projecting a further deterioration in its earnings, but promising a recovery for the year after that.
It logged $83 million (¥9.2 billion) in costs for the fiscal year that ended in March from alleged underreporting of Ghosn’s compensation.
The proposal, which won shareholders’ approval, called for an 11-member board, including seven outside directors such as Andrew House, formerly with Japanese electronics and entertainment company Sony Corp.
For the appointment of directors, a third of the shareholders made for a quorum, and passage needed a simple majority of those voting.
Some analysts suggest a deepening rift between Renault and Nissan after a planned merger between Renault and Fiat Chrysler fell through earlier this month. Nissan expressed reservations about immediately joining the merger.
Some shareholders expressed worries about the alliance, and one who stood up to ask a question said the main person who had made decisions, referring to Ghosn, was now gone.
Nissan held an extraordinary shareholders’ meeting in April to oust Ghosn. Last week, Mitsubishi Motors Corp., a smaller Japanese automaker in which Nissan owns a 34 percent stake, won shareholders’ approval to oust Ghosn.