War and suffering are still rampant among our Ukrainian neighbors, and it still feels weird to write a blog that focuses on something entirely different.
A speaker at an event earlier this month quoted German author Bertolt Brecht, who aptly captured this feeling in his poem To Those Born After from the 1930s:
“What kind of times are these, when
To talk about trees is almost a crime
Because it implies silence about so many horrors?”
These lines really resonate with me as I try to talk about trees and horrors alike. It helps that our industry does not exist in a non-political vacuum and that the war on Ukraine has effects on automotive – and possibly vice versa:
Sanctions of unprecedented extent have been imposed on Russia – also contributed to by automotive companies: Lots of car makers and their suppliers have suspended sales, production and other operations in the country.
I attended this month’s Technical Congress by the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) where the speaker lineup included Robert Habeck, Vice Chancellor of Germany and Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action. Him and VDA President Hildegard Müller were both very clear in their speeches:
The German automotive industry condemns Russia’s war of aggression and is ready to stand with Ukraine – even if that means having to stomach serious consequences of economic sanctions. Judging from international news, such as this article, it would appear that the automotive industry in other countries is ready to do the same.
Mercedes Will Be Legally Responsible While Drive Pilot System Is Engaged – via CleanTechnica
Mercedes-Benz isn’t being ambiguous about who’s responsible if an S-Class equipped with their “Drive Pilot” system (powered by the Nvidia DRIVE stack) crashes during automated driving: they are.
Of course, the system will need to give control back to the human driver in certain situations. I don’t think it’s public information yet how exactly a safe handover is envisioned, but it is known that there will be a 10 second period for this. Since the system is a highway traffic jam pilot that can only be activated at speeds lower than 40 miles per hour, that translates to a buffer of approx. 180 meters maximum travel distance. Mercedes-Benz says the system will deactivate if it detects hazard lights or emergency sirens, but it’s not clear if those are the only instances.
According to this article, the required HD maps are now available for all German highways, which is a good step up from the ~13k kilometers of Autobahn that were initially announced as L3-ready. Mercedes-Benz’ next goal is to get approval for the S-Class/EQS to drive itself on roads in California and Nevada.
Philip Koopman points out that “US state laws are being passed that says the AV operator is to blame, or maybe even the car’s computer”, though – and asks the question “Can Mercedes tell the [District Attorney] to prosecute it instead of someone else for a potential criminal reckless driving case?” So the legal framework in the US might need some sorting out …
BMW Level 3 Autonomous Driving Tech Is Coming in 2025 – via Car and Driver
Speaking of Level 3, of course BMW isn’t going to let their long-term rival Mercedes-Benz have all the fun: The Bavarian car maker has announced its own handsfree driving system for the second half of 2025.
This system will be built based on Qualcomm Snapdragon chips and computer vision technology developed by Arriver. If you are not familiar with Arriver: They are a daughter company of Veoneer that was established after Veoneer’s ADAS/AV joint venture with Volvo Cars, Zenuity, was disbanded in 2020. Qualcomm struck a deal to buy all of Veoneer last year for 4.5 billion USD – an acquisition that, I’ve been told, was aimed specifically at Arriver.
This February I undertook a long trip in an almost-new BMW 5 series equipped with their current Level 2 system, which offers a combination of adaptive cruise control and lane centering. The experience was really quite pleasant; and the perspective of being able to truly hand off driving to the car seems very desirable to me. As far as I know this current system is powered by Mobileye technology – it will definitely be interesting to see what experience the complete replacement of the tech stack results in.
Less than a year after acquiring DeepMap, Nvidia announced Drive Map for automotive this month: It aims to offer “coverage of over 300,000 miles of roadway in North America, Europe and Asia by 2024”, according to CEO Jensen Huang’s keynote at GTC.
This would cover approximately the highway networks in the main markets of those continents. That makes sense: The announcement of Drive Map coincides with the release of a new version of Nvidia’s Drive Hyperion stack for perception and automated driving – used by OEMs including Mercedes-Benz (see above) and Volvo Cars to power their Level 3 functions on highways.
Dedicated AV companies such as TuSimple and Zoox also use Hyperion and are likely to profit from Drive Map: “The mapping tool features three localization layers — camera, lidar and radar — to provide the redundancy needed for autonomy.”
Building and maintaining these will be a complex task, yes – but it sure looks like HD maps will be the way to go for some time. And with the Mobileye IPO expected for later this year, this niche might be getting a lot more attention in the future …
VW’s Cariad looks to harness intelligent data collection for development – via Autonomous Vehicle International
One of the challenges on the road to autonomous driving is the near-infinite test space of edge and corner cases a vehicle might encounter during its lifecycle.
The key challenge in ADAS/AV verification and validation: How can you make sure your system encounters (almost) all relevant scenarios during testing that it will later need to handle in operation? Traditional test approaches would require driving millions upon millions of kilometers across all continents and in all conditions – for every individual vehicle type, configuration and software release.
While that type of driving coverage is impossible for a test fleet, it is something an OEMs regular fleet of series production vehicles may come close to. So if your new system could do a “ride-along” with every car that’s in operation, all the time, it would obviously be exposed to a vast amount of relevant, real-life situations – a resource CARIAD aims to leverage with the Volkswagen fleet starting in 2025:
“The protected [system] is a piece of hardware within a vehicle’s scalable compute platform (SCP), physically located next to the platform’s ADAS blade and completely isolated from other vehicle systems.
The ring-fenced nature of the hardware means it can be used for development purposes without any potential knock-on effect on a vehicle’s operation; for example, pre-release software can be tested in real-world conditions without any safety concerns.”
CARIAD are not the first to have this idea, and many questions will need answering: Series production vehicles obviously have constraints in how much data you can store/transmit or compute onboard; and lots of data does not necessarily translate to high quality of coverage. So what will make or break this approach is probably implementation, which will be interesting to follow – as well as which other players might come up with similar approaches.
I hope you find this month’s read worth your while – and as always, you are most welcome to share any thoughts and feedback.
Have a lovely rest of your week!
All the best