Tag: Transportation

Avis is testing a system that unlocks a rental car with your phone

Avis announced today that it has teamed up with Continental to bring keyless car rental to its customers, Roadshow reports. As part of a pilot program taking place in Kansas City, the company has equipped some of its cars with Continental's Key-as-a-Service technology, which allows users to lock, unlock and start their rentals with just a smartphone and the Avis app.

Continental's keyless system doesn't require any major changes to the vehicle's structure or circuitry, meaning it's easy to incorporate into pretty much any make or model. "Our partnership with Continental helps us deliver the next generation of mobility solutions and lays the foundation for entirely keyless car rental," Avis CEO Larry De Shon said in a statement.

Avis, which last year introduced a feature that let its customers choose which rental they wanted through the Avis mobile app, hasn't said how long it plans to run the pilot program or when it might see a larger rollout. But it will be demoing the new feature at the 2018 CES trade show next month.

Via: Roadshow

Source: Avis

Lyft’s first international service goes live in Toronto

Lyft's first offering beyond US borders is finally up and running. The ridesharing service has gone live in the Greater Toronto Area, giving you a big-name alternative to Uber whether you're in Toronto's core or living as far away as Hamilton or Oshawa. To mark the launch, Lyft is offering $5 off your first ride and round-up-based donations to the SickKids Foundation.

The addition is crucial for Lyft. If it's going to compete with Uber on a large scale, it needs to do more than strike deals with foreign companies -- it has to run its own service in other countries. Canada is a logical choice given that it's relatively close both culturally and physically, minimizing the amount of work Lyft needs to do.

And for Canadian passengers, it's an important step. While Americans who've wanted to ditch Uber over its policies (at least, before Kalanick left) have frequently had Lyft and other services as options, Canucks haven't had that choice. More often than not, the choice has been between Uber and old-school taxi service. Uber has already improved its services in response to criticism, but Lyft's international expansion could pressure it to step up its game.

Via: Reuters

Source: Lyft

The 2018 Nissan Leaf gets a semi-autonomous upgrade

The Nissan Leaf is the top-selling electric vehicle in the world. Sure, Tesla and Chevy get all the hype with the Bolt and Model 3, but with more than 290,000 cars sold, Nissan's little electric car is the one people are buying. After seven years without a design refresh, the automaker dropped a new and improved model to continue to dominate the EV world. Although, that task will be a lot tougher thanks to increased competition.

The new Leaf starts at $30,000 and has a 150-mile range. That's really what everyone wants to know, so let's get it out of the way. Besides traveling farther on the road, the car is an all-around improvement over the outgoing version. It has a stiffer chassis, better steering, a way better design and Nissan's first foray into semi-autonomous driver (ProPilot Assist is an option).

When it comes range, the Leaf sits between the likes of Honda's Clarity EV and the Hyundai Ioniq EV, which hover around the 100-mile mark, and the 200-mile-plus Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3. That said, at 150 miles, its range is better than most in the increasingly crowded EV market. The closest real competitor is the Volkswagen e-Golf, with a 125-mile range and roughly the same starting price. But the Leaf has a secret weapon: Nissan's aforementioned semi-autonomous ProPilot Assist system.

While Nissan is a bit late to the semi-autonomous game, ProPilot is a solid system on par with nearly every other automaker's combination of lane-keep assistance and adaptive cruise control. While it performed marvelously on the highway, it also did a bang-up job on Napa's backroads, something none of these systems is really made for but is a good indication of how well they read lane markings.

The vehicle stayed within its lane at or slightly above the speed limit and even around corners sharper than those found on the average highway. Unfortunately, we never encountered stop-and-go traffic, but the adaptive cruise control was able to track the vehicle ahead of it at a line for a stop sign.

ProPilot is an impressive start for the company. But while the car is great at keeping itself between lanes, the technology upgrades seemed to stop once the company got to the seven-inch capacitive touch center display. The automaker's infotainment system, Nissan Connect, isn't that great to begin with and the Leaf is saddled with a low-resolution display that makes it difficult to read media information and the feed from the back-up camera look like it's covered in Vaseline. Yes, it works, but it's not pretty to look at. Fortunately, it supports CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.

Thankfully, driving the car is a sharper experience. The Leaf kicks out 147 horsepower with 236 pounds of torque, which delivers quick bursts of speed off the line and while driving. But it's not sustainable, after few seconds you're reminded you're in an economy EV. Considering that most buyers will be using it in urban areas where swift, small bursts of acceleration (to get out of tight situations) are all they really need, it's not so much a ding as a reality check.

On the efficiency end, during our drive with the Leaf, the 150-mile stated range seems pretty much on par with our experience. I drove the Leaf 118 miles through winding mountain roads on a single charge. I spent most of our drive in "normal" mode. I also tested the vehicle's "Eco" mode and the e-pedal one-pedal driving system. I returned the car with a 9 percent charge or about 14 miles left on the battery.

The test was held on and around the rural mountain roads near the town of Calistoga, north of San Francisco. In my daily commuting life, driving through San Francisco, I'd more than likely use the e-pedal system extensively. It brings the car to a gentle stop when you lift your foot off the accelerator. After a few tries I was able to get the car to stop right at the stop sign without using the vehicle's brake. That was more of a personal win than anything else.

Nissan says that e-pedal will keep the car stationary on up to a 30 percent grade. I never encountered that steep of a road to test it on, but it was solid on the few hills I did encounter. It'll be interesting to see how it handles the streets of San Francisco.

While the drivetrain (powered by its new 140kWh battery -- up from 130 kWh found on the previous model) is a solid performer and the handling of the vehicle improved, I'm not a fan of the sitting position and leg room. I'm 6-foot-3, and I felt like I was way too close to the dash and the seat was higher than my liking. If you're taller than me, the Leaf probably isn't for you. Anyone shorter than me, should probably be fine.

Sure, the old Leaf was the number-one-selling EV in the world, but things have changed in the past seven years and Nissan needed to step up its game -- and with the new Leaf, it did. This is largely thanks to the new and impressive ProPilot Assist system option. I'm a fan. Still, the center console display is a huge disappointment. But you can mostly solve that by just plugging in your phone, which is something you probably planned on doing anyway because, after all, you're reading this on a tech site.

Honda and Toyota are still backing hydrogen fuel-cell cars

Toyota, Honda and Nissan are partnering with eight industrial firms to make a fresh push on hydrogen refuelling stations in Japan. The group wants to build 80 stations within the first four years of the partnership -- which is expected to last a decade -- with nine in operation by March 2018. The plan would nearly double the 91 stations currently in the country.

Japan's carmakers have made big strides with fuel-cell cars in recent times. Toyota launched the Mirai, the first for the mass-market, in late 2014, while Nissan last year announced its plans to develop fuel-cell technology using plant-based ethanol. The problem, predictably, is cost. A Mirai car costs 6.7 million yen ($59,000), which is nearly double the price of a comparable electric car, while hydrogen stations can cost as much as 500 million yen ($4.4 million) to build. As such, there are only around 2,200 fuel-cell cars in Japan.

The partnership, which also involves Tokyo Gas, oil refiner Idemitsu Kosan, gas maker Iwatani and the Development Bank of Japan, aims to drive down the costs involved in building hydrogen stations, and should also bolster their lobbying power to push for looser regulations around the technology. The government set a target in 2016 to increase the number of fuel-cell cars in Japan to 40,000 by March 2021, so with the industry otherwise stalling, this partnership could be the catalyst needed to bring the technology mainstream.

Source: Honda

Ford exec: Hybrids are better suited for self-driving cars than EVs

Automakers like Nissan and Mercedes-Benz, as well as Lyft, have been bundling their autonomous car experiments into electric vehicles. But Ford will keep one foot in fossil fuels, at least for now. An executive from the company told Automotive News that the self-driving car Ford intends to release in 2021 will be a completely new hybrid.

While Ford is making a conservative choice to stick with gas-powered autonomous cars, it's hoping to eke out an edge with longer ranges than competitors' electric vehicles. After all, it's a lot quicker to fill up a gas tank than fully recharge an EV. More to the point, that time off the road is time spent not making money. Ford plans to keep its autonomous hybrids driving for about 20 hours per day, Ford's president of global markets Jim Farley told Automotive News:

"Anytime you're not carrying goods and people, you're losing money," Farley said. "The most important thing is uptime and profitability. What we see is the [hybrid] is a much better cost-of-ownership model."

Unlike other automakers, Ford isn't planning to slide its autonomous cars into the ride sharing business. Instead, it's looking for other commercial opportunities that require cars on the road around the clock. The company started testing its tech earlier this year when it deployed self-driving Ford Fusions to Domino's locations in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area to gauge customer enthusiasm for AI-controlled pizza delivery.


Source: Automotive News

Apple AI chief reveals more progress on self-driving car tech

After remaining tight-lipped for years, Apple is now more than eager to share how much progress it's making on self-driving car technology. AI research director Ruslan Salakhutdinov made a presentation this week that revealed more of what the company's autonomous driving team has been up to. Some of the talk was familiar, but there were a few new examples of how far the fledgling project had come.

To start, Apple has crafted a system that uses onboard cameras to identify objects even in tricky situations, such as when raindrops cover the lens. It can estimate the position of a pedestrian even if they're hidden by a parked car. Other additions included giving cars direction through simultaneous localization and mapping, creating detailed 3D maps using car sensors and decision-making in urgent situations (say, a wayward pedestrian).

It's still not certain if or how Apple will commercialize its self-driving know-how. At the moment, its next goal is to produce driverless employee shuttles. The company isn't currently expected to sell its own cars, but licensing its work to others would be unusual when Apple is well-known for preferring to develop everything in-house.

The talk in itself is notable. Apple has been slowly opening the kimono on its AI research, but it hasn't been clear on just how much it was willing to discuss. Salakhutdinov's chat shows that it's willing to offer at least some kind of consistent openness rather than maintaining its legendary secrecy. Not that it has much of a choice. Apple has struggled to attract AI talent in part because its secretive approach has been unappealing for researchers used to receiving academic and industry recognition. Presentations like this could keep Apple's AI team in the spotlight and reel in scientists who'd otherwise go to Facebook, Google or tech giants.

Source: Wired

Uber to settle second lawsuit from India rape victim

Uber's determination to address its past scandals remains in effect. The ridesharing firm has agreed to settle the second lawsuit from the Indian rape victim who accused the company of improperly obtaining her medical records. While the company isn't commenting on the settlement or its terms, a court filing revealed that the two sides will formally reach a deal in June. The suit represented a particularly dark chapter for Uber, as it underscored the outfit's Kalanick-era tendency to fight legal challenges that few other companies would resist.

The lawsuit argued that Uber obtained the records because it privately doubted the woman's claims. While Uber executives publicly supported the victim, they reportedly theorized in secret that she had conspired with Uber's Indian rival Ola to undermine their business. In other words, they were apparently willing to violate the accuser's privacy in hopes of discrediting her.

This isn't to say that Uber has refused to settle cases in the past. It settled the victim's original lawsuit in 2015, and settled multiple American sexual assault cases in 2016. However, this is still somewhat reflective of the strategy under new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. Uber wants to make amends for past abuses and improve its reputation, both to keep customers and to reassure investors who want to know that Uber's unscrupulous days are in the past.

Source: Reuters

Uber will soon have to compete with China’s Didi Chuxing in Mexico

China's major ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing is expanding its services to Mexico, Reuters reports. This will be Didi's first international expansion and sources told Reuters that the company is planning to launch in Mexico during the first quarter of 2018, though exactly where in the country wasn't made clear.

This move means Didi will be encroaching on some of Uber's territory -- Uber already has seven million users throughout 45 cities in Mexico -- but this isn't the first time Didi and Uber have battled it out. Uber tried to gain a foothold in China and lost around $2 billion doing so. But last year it gave up that fight and sold its Uber China arm to Didi. In another challenge to Uber, Didi has invested in its rivals around the world including Southeast Asia's Grab, Brazil's 99, India's Ola, Estonia's Taxify, the Middle East's Careem and Lyft.

Along with Uber, Didi will be competing with Cabify -- another ride-hailing company currently used in seven Mexican cities. And this could be just the first global move on Didi's part. It raised around $5.5 billion from investors back in April, part of which was to spur its international expansions.

Via: Reuters

Uber loses another operating licence in the UK

Uber's UK troubles continue to mount. The company's operating licence has been suspended in Sheffield following what it calls "an administrative error." In early October, Uber told the council that its licence would need to be updated because the person named on the document was leaving the company. The council refused, however, and said it would need to submit a new licence application. "The legislation does not allow for the transfer of an operator's licence," a council spokesperson said. Uber went along and filed for a new permit on October 16th, which is still being processed.

In the meantime, the council has suspended Uber's licence because it "failed to respond to requests, made by our licensing team, about the management of Uber." The decision was made last Friday (November 29th) and comes into effect on December 18th. Uber says it didn't receive any of these requests, however, because the council sent their letters to an incorrect address. "We hope this administrative error can be quickly resolved so we can continue serving tens of thousands of riders and drivers in Sheffield," an Uber spokesperson said. Sheffield City Council is standing firm, though, while its licensing department assesses the new application.

Uber can appeal the suspension if its new licence is denied. During the appeal process, it would be able to continue operating in the city.

The suspension follows a similar ruling by Transport for London (TfL) in September. The regulator said it was due to "a lack of corporate responsibility" in key areas including "greyball" and how it reports serious criminal offences. Uber has appealed the decision and a first hearing is expected to take place on December 11th. At the same time, Uber is fighting a legal battle over the classification of its drivers, which critics say should be entitled to additional benefits. It's also challenging a decision that would force private hire drivers in London to take extensive English tests.

Oh, and a number of high-profile executives are leaving the company. All told, there's plenty to keep Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi busy.

Via: Bloomberg

Source: Sheffield City Council

Anheuser-Busch wants to deliver beer with Tesla’s electric semi-trucks

Anheuser-Busch just joined the list of companies that have placed an order for Tesla's upcoming semi-trucks. In an announcement today, the beer-maker said it has ordered 40 of the trucks that are set to go into production in 2019. "Integrating the Tesla semi-trucks into the brewer's distribution network will help Anheuser-Busch achieve its commitment to reduce its operational carbon footprint by 30 percent by 2025 – the equivalent of removing nearly 500,000 cars from the road globally each year," said the company.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Anheuser-Busch plans to use the Tesla trucks for shipments to wholesalers lying within 150 to 200 miles of its 21 breweries and they'll become part of the approximately 750-strong truck fleet it currently uses to ship its product. As of now, the company hasn't decided whether it will buy the trucks, lease them or have one of its dedicated carriers do so.

Nearly a dozen companies have now placed orders for around 140 of the trucks and Tesla's customers include Walmart, DHL and Canadian grocery store chain Loblaws.

James Sembrot, Anheuser-Busch's senior director of logistics strategy, told the WSJ that the company spends around $120 million each year on fuel. So a move towards electric vehicles stands to have a major impact on its fuel costs, not to mention how the environment will benefit. The company is also interested in Nikola Motor Co.'s hydrogen-electric semi-trucks, which will reportedly be able to travel between 800 and 1,200 miles on one fill-up versus Tesla's 500 mile range. "We have needs for all those types of distances," said Sembrot.

Via: The Verge

Source: Anheuser-Busch