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A Unanimous Vote Just Approved Legislation to Allow Self-Driving Cars in the U.S.
Autonomous vehicle technology has grown by leaps and bounds. A bill in the U.S. Senate — which already passed in the House — that ensures development won’t be unnecessarily hindered by state laws got committee approval today.
LEGISLATION AIDS INNOVATION
Today, inside the halls of the U.S. Senate, a committee unanimously approved legislation which secures a future for self-driving cars in the country — or at least lets carmakers test their autonomous driving systems with little to no hindrance from state governments. Dubbed the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act, the bi-partisan bill has moved forward with today’s vote.
Originally, as it was drafted by Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the bill contained a provision that allows car makers to field test 100,000 vehicles per year that are exempt from current safety standards. The number of vehicles comes from a similar bill that’s already been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. The provision that the Senate committee approved today, which was introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), reduces the number to 80,000.
Still, it’s a workable number that would give autonomous vehicle manufacturers a huge leeway to test and gather data for the advancement of self-driving vehicle technology. “The most important part of this legislation is it allows for innovation,” Sen. Peters said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “This is cutting-edge technology that is advancing extremely fast. It’s going to happen a lot sooner than people realize. This is not decades — it’s a matter of a few years.”
A DRIVERLESS FUTURE
The positive reception of this self-driving car bill, both in the House and in the Senate, shows how U.S. lawmakers are open to boundary-pushing, life-saving technology.
Data suggests that 90 percent of car crashes in the U.S., which takes roughly 40,000 lives every year, are due to human error. In addition to preventing crashes, some experts even predict that self-driving cars could eliminate traffic congestion by 2030.
Proponents of the bill in the Senate, however, said that concessions are necessary. The approved version has reduced the original bill’s provision for exempted cars in the first year of enactment from 50,000 to 15,000, and in the second year from 75,000 to 40,000, increasing to an annual 80,000 cap in the third year with no limit in the fourth.
To clarify, the bill allows for exemptions only in so far as manufacturers can show that self-driving vehicles are as safe as those already on the roads. But, while promising, Thune and others think that the bill has left out truck drivers who are part of another important industry that’s ripe for self-driving technologies.
“I do understand their anxieties,” Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.) told the Detroit Free Press, speaking about those hesitant to include autonomous trucks in the bill, “but we ought to be including large trucks. Large trucks are particularly likely to be involved in these fatal crashes… I really think we’re missing the boat here.”
At present, several U.S. states already allow car makers to test self-driving vehicles on their roads. Uber’s been testing driverless cars on Californian roads, despite previous hesitations and back in June, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee allowed autonomous cars to run without drivers. Detroit has also embraced self-driving cars since July of this year.
Toyota Will Test Their AI-Powered Driverless Cars in 2020
Toyota’s Concept-i vehicles, equipped with its AI virtual assistant called Yui, are going to hit the roads for trial runs in 2020. The Japanese carmaker wants to make waves in the future of transportation.
After unveiling a concept model for a new line of autonomous vehicles, Toyota expects to start testing these driverless cars in 2020. Sure, carmakers now seem to be testing their self-driving cars all the time, and governments are paving the way for these trial-runs. Toyota, however, promises that their 2020 autonomous vehicle tests will be different, as these vehicles will be powered by artificial intelligence (AI).
Toyota is supposedly combining their Concept-i cars with an AI called “Yui” — the product of spending billions on a venture capital arm meant for AI development. Yui isn’t your typical autonomous driving system. Toyota wants their AI to be able to chat with drivers and get to know them better by using their preferences, emotions, and habits, which Yui builds through deep learning.
“By using AI technology, we want to expand and enhance the driving experience, making cars an object of affection again,” said Makoto Okabe, general manager of Toyota’s EV business planning division, speaking to Reuters.
Yui isn’t the only notable development Toyota has in the works for 2020. The Japanese car manufacturer, in partnership with Cartivator Resource Management, is looking to bring a flying car to the Olympic games in Tokyo that year. The company is also planning to test drive their hydrogen powered trucks later this month.
Intel Buys Autonomous Vehicle Tech Firm Mobileye in $15.3 Billion Deal
First they partnered, and now comes the acquisition: the computing giant Intel has confirmed that it is acquiring Mobileye, a leader in computer vision for autonomous driving technology, for $15.3 billion — the biggest-ever acquisition of an Israeli tech company.
Specifically, “Under the terms of the agreement, a subsidiary of Intel will commence a tender offer to acquire all of the issued and outstanding ordinary shares of Mobileye for $63.54 per share in cash, representing a fully-diluted equity value of approximately $15.3 billion and an enterprise value of $14.7 billion,” the company noted in a statement. The deal is expected to close in about nine months, Intel said.
Mobileye today covers a range of technology and services including sensor fusion, mapping, front- and rear-facing camera tech, and beginning in 2018, crowdsourcing data for high definition maps, as well as driving policy intelligence underlying driving decisions. This deal will bring under Intel’s umbrella not only a much bigger range of the different pieces that go into autonomous driving systems, but also a number of relationships with automakers. In the call today, Mobileye’s CTO and co-founder Amnon Shashua said the company is working with 27 car manufacturers, including 10 production programs with Audi, BMW and others going into 2016.
“This acquisition is a great step forward for our shareholders, the automotive industry and consumers,” said Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO, in a statement. “Intel provides critical foundational technologies for autonomous driving including plotting the car’s path and making real-time driving decisions. Mobileye brings the industry’s best automotive-grade computer vision and strong momentum with automakers and suppliers. Together, we can accelerate the future of autonomous driving with improved performance in a cloud-to-car solution at a lower cost for automakers.”
“We expect the growth towards autonomous driving to be transformative. It will provide consumers with safer, more flexible, and less costly transportation options, and provide incremental business model opportunities for our automaker customers,” Ziv Aviram, Mobileye Co-Founder, President and CEO, added. “By pooling together our infrastructure and resources, we can enhance and accelerate our combined know-how in the areas of mapping, virtual driving, simulators, development tool chains, hardware, data centers and high-performance computing platforms. Together, we will provide an attractive value proposition for the automotive industry.”
Confirming our earlier report, Intel said that Mobileye’s CTO and co-founder, Prof. Amnon Shashua, will lead Intel’s autonomous driving division, which will be based in Israel. Doug Davis, Intel’s SVP, will oversee how Mobileye and Intel work together across the whole company and will report to Shashua.
Other notable exits that have also tapped into Israel’s expertise in computer vision and machine learning have included Google buying mapping startup Waze for $1.1 billion and Apple buying 3D sensor specialist PrimeSense for reportedly around $300 million.
The negotiations about what stays where for Mobileye and Intel are reminiscent of one of the other big M&A deals in Israel’s tech history, concerning Waze. Originally, Waze was being courted by Facebook, although there were disagreements over where Waze’s staff would be centered: engineering wanted to stay in Israel while Facebook was keen to get the to Facebook’s HQ in Menlo Park. Ultimately that delay led to Google swooping in, agreeing to Waze’s terms, and closing the deal.
Intel has been working officially with Mobileye since last year. Earlier this year, with BMW, the two started to test 40 self-driving cars equipped with the two companies’ technology. Mobileye was also an early partner of Tesla’s for its autonomous technology, although that relationship is ending amid some controversial undertones about safety measures at the carmaker.
Other investments that Intel has made in the space of cars include takin a stake in Here (which will feed into the mapping initiatives at Mobileye); acquiring Itseez and Yogitech for safety and navigation functionalities in autonomous cars; and making a commitment of at least $250 million to the space (which sounds so tiny considering today’s price tag); keeping a strong presence at auto shows, and in November launching a dedicated autonomous driving group, which is headed up by Doug Davis, who will now report to Mobileye’s CTO.
Mobileye went public on the Nasdaq in 2014 and currently has a market cap of about $10.5 billion. It’s trading up now more than 33 percent ahead of the market opening on the news. As a point of context, the company had moved only 0.83% on Friday’s trades.
Intel had been a leader in processors at the peak of the PC era, although it has competed hard (and often lost) as smartphones overtook the larger devices as consumers’ computers of choice.
Moving deeper into self-driving technology is part of Intel’s bigger strategy to build up its position in emerging areas of computing. Other verticals that Intel has focused on include connected “objects” (IoT) and virtual and augmented reality. It has been following through on this strategy with acquisitions as well as organic growth.
“The combination is expected to accelerate innovation for the automotive industry and position Intel as a leading technology provider in the fast-growing market for highly and fully autonomous vehicles,” the company continued. “Intel estimates the vehicle systems, data and services market opportunity to be up to $70 billion by 2030. The transaction extends Intel’s strategy to invest in data-intensive market opportunities that build on the company’s strengths in computing and connectivity from the cloud, through the network, to the device.”
Intel has disclosed several other acquisitions in Israel to fill out that strategy, including buying a personal assistant platform from Ginger Software; Omek Interactive for gesture-based technologies; and Replay Technologies for 3D video.
Intel is not the only company that is investing in and acquiring startups in the area of computer vision to raise its game in the area of autonomous cars.
Just earlier today, Valeo, the automotive parts giant, announced that it had acquired gestigon, a start‑up out of Germany that develops in-car 3D image processing software — used both to communicate to the driver as well as pick up signals from within the car and from the driver to communicate to a self-driving (or partially self-driving) car what to do next.
Terms of the deal, which includes staff as well as IP, were not disclosed. Valeo has been a regular investor in autonomous driving tech, taking a stake, for example, in French autonomous shuttle company Navya and getting a license in California to test self-driving cars. This latest acquisition shows that it remains serious about doing more in this area.