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

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.


China’s tech titans fight for cloud control

Updated 04 July 2020

China’s tech titans fight for cloud control

  • Tencent flexes its muscles in race with arch-rival Alibaba as pandemic opens new business frontiers

HONG KONG: For Chinese cloud services companies, the coronavirus outbreak has become a rainmaker, bringing in new business far and wide as firms shift work online, and authorities develop apps and systems to help contain outbreaks and manage social restrictions.

For Tencent Holdings, in particular, it has also become the perfect time to flex new muscles as it seeks to catch up with Alibaba Group Holding, its arch-rival and the dominant player in the country’s cloud market by far.

Tencent began to display a new level of aggressiveness after positioning its cloud business as a major area of growth in September 2018, and that has only amped up amid the pandemic, employees say.

“The competition with Alibaba is so fierce right now, the sales teams are fighting them for every deal,” said a source in Tencent’s cloud division who was not authorized to speak on the matter and declined to be identified.

This year alone, Tencent has hired more than 3,000 employees for its cloud division. And as China went into lockdown and demand for corporate video bandwidth surged in February, it added 100,000 cloud servers in eight days to support a two-month old product, Tencent Conference — a feat the company says is unprecedented in Chinese cloud computing history.

It has expanded use of cloud servers designed in-house, pledged to speed up construction of a digital industry center in Wuhan to handle cloud and smart city projects in central China and joined a central government initiative to support pandemic-hit small businesses with free cloud services.

The social media and gaming behemoth also announced in May it will invest 500 billion yuan ($70 billion) over five years in technology infrastructure including cloud computing — just weeks after Alibaba said it would invest 200 billion yuan in its cloud infrastructure over three years.

Poshu Yeung, vice president of Tencent’s international business group, notes huge interest in shifting further into the cloud from businesses and for online education.

“We actually see more demands, requests coming in,” he said in an interview in April. “It’s a good wakening call for a lot of businesses.”

During the first quarter, China’s cloud infrastructure services market grew an impressive 67 percent from a year earlier to $3.9 billion, data from research firm Canalys shows.

Alibaba commanded 44.5 percent of the market while Tencent, which started its cloud business in 2013, four years after Alibaba, had just 14 percent. Huawei Technologies also had 14 percent.

“Although Tencent came to the space later than Alibaba, I believe the company is willing to endure a relatively long period of investment cycle for this business, hoping to catch up or one day becoming the No. 1 player in this field,” said Alex Liu, tech analyst at China Renaissance.

Tencent’s cloud division accounted for more than 4.5 percent of its annual revenue last year while Alibaba’s cloud computing division accounted for 8 percent of its overall revenue.

Tencent employees have told Reuters the company is working hard to become more adept in business-to-business sales where products are often designed from the ground up for one client, as well as in government relations.

 Those are areas where Alibaba excels while Tencent’s strength lies more with consumer-centric products and design.

“Tencent has great genes in business-to-consumer, but in business-to-business, we either didn’t have product managers or we just hired folks with a business-to-consumer background so it took a bit of time to convert their thinking,” said a second Tencent source in the company’s cloud business.

Tencent declined to comment on staff observations.

One area where Tencent has gained ground in recent years is government contracts — a relatively small part of the market in revenue terms but one that brings prestige and helps attract private-sector clients.

Underscoring its determination to win tenders, Tencent in 2017 offered to complete a Fujian province government information platform project for 0.01 yuan.

From 2016 to 2017, Alibaba scored 28 cloud-related contracts for government entities, state-owned enterprises, and academic institutions, while Tencent landed just seven, government procurement records show.

But in 2018, they secured 28 each before Alibaba took the lead again last year with 49 compared with Tencent’s 46.