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February 6, 2017 News of the Day: BYTON Partners with Self-Driving Technology Company Aurora, Volvo Owner Geely Buying a Majority Stake in Daimler

Author: Eric Walz   


BYTON Partners with Self-Driving Technology Company Aurora

SANTA CLARA, Calif., — EV startup BYTON has announced a partnership with Aurora, a Silicon Valley-based self-driving technology company. The partnership will help BYTON incorporate Level 4 autonomous-driving vehicle capabilities into BYTON vehicles and enable BYTON to become among the very first group of carmakers to bring L4 and eventually Level 5 cars to market.

Aurora was founded by Chris Urmson, the former head of Google's self-driving project, along with Sterling Anderson, former director of the semi-autonomous Autopilot program at Tesla; and Drew Bagnell, who headed the autonomy and perception team at Uber. The company's headquarters is in  in Palo Alto, California.

Over the next two years, BYTON and Aurora will jointly conduct pilot deployment of Aurora's L4 autonomous driving systems in BYTON vehicles. Additionally, BYTON and Aurora will explore the use of Aurora's autonomous driving system in BYTON's series production vehicles. Level 4 autonomous vehicles are those which can drive independently in most environments, where humans may need to drive in some conditions.

"BYTON is designed for the age of autonomous driving. We are pleased to partner with Aurora, as Aurora is supremely focused on a mission to deliver the benefits of self-driving vehicles safely, quickly and globally," said Dr. Carsten Breitfeld, CEO and Co-Founder of BYTON.

Dr. Daniel Kirchert, President and Co-Founder at BYTON, added, "I'm confident that Aurora will be instrumental in helping BYTON achieve its objectives as an innovator of smart, premium electric cars with Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous driving."

Chris Urmson, CEO at Aurora, said, "We are excited to partner with BYTON, an innovator in the electric vehicle industry, to further advance our goal of delivering self-driving vehicles quickly, broadly and safely. We look forward to piloting this technology in California."

At CES 2018 in Las Vegas, BYTON premiered its BYTON Concept and announced plans to design and build smart premium electric cars for the Chinese, U.S. and European markets. Sales are set to begin in China in 2019, and sales in the United States and Europe to start in 2020.

Volvo Owner Geely Buying a Majority Stake in Daimler

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Geely, the Chinese owner of Swedish carmaker Volvo, is still pursuing a stake in German automaker Daimler. The German paper Bild am Sonntag reported in its feature on Geely's chairman Li Shufu that the Chinese industry giant is seeking to become Daimler's biggest shareholder, exceeding the 6.8-percent stake held by the Kuwait Investment Authority wealth fund.

Daimler has reportedly already turned down Geely's $4.5 billion offer for a 5-percent stake via a discounted share placement, saying that Geely could instead buy shares in the open market. Institutional investors currently own 70.7 percent of Daimler, and the company already has strong ties to Chinese automakers BAIC and BYD.

Bild am Sonntag suggests the move intends to form a strategic alliance against Apple, Google and Amazon, indicating that it's all about autonomous and connected cars. Reuters says Daimler itself wants to have bespoke "robo taxis" on the road quicker than Google's Waymo, and the German newspaper says that a strong partner would help them achieve that.

The head of Daimler and Mercedes-Benz strategy, Wilco Stark, told the German publication Automobilwoche that "apart from highly autonomous level-3 vehicles, we will also bring fully autonomous vehicles - level 4/5 - to the streets in the foreseeable future."

Daimler's electric car battery technology is also another aspect that interests Geely. Sources quoted by the German paper say there are plans to establish joint electric car manufacturing in Wuhan, China, as Chinese authorities are about to impose smog-reducing quotas in an effort to reduce pollution in China and become less reliant on fossil fueled vehicles.

Porsche to Invest $6 Billion Euros in E-Mobility

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ATLANTA — Porsche has recently put together an unprecedented future development plan. The German sports car manufacturer will invest more than six billion euros in e-mobility, focusing on both plug-in hybrids and purely electric vehicles by 2022.

The decision was made by the Porsche AG Supervisory Board at its most recent meeting. "We are doubling our expenditure on electromobility from around three billion euros to more than six billion euros," explains Oliver Blume, Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG.

"Alongside development of our models with combustion engines, we are setting an important course for the future with this decision." The plans have been bolstered significantly to include around three billion euros of investment in material assets and slightly more than three billion euros in development costs.

Among the additional investment of three billion euros, 500 million euros will be used for the development of Mission E variants and derivatives, around one billion euros adding electric and hybrid powertrains to the existing product range, several hundred million for the expansion of sites, plus around 700 million euros in new technologies, charging infrastructure and smart mobility services.

At Porsche AG's headquarters site in Stuttgart, a new paint shop, a dedicated assembly area, and a conveyor bridge for transporting the painted bodies and drive units to the final assembly area are currently being constructed. The existing engine plant is being expanded to manufacture electric drive trains.

Porsche's new electric Mission E sports car is rated at 600 hp, and can accelerate from from 0 to 60 mph in about 3.5 seconds. It will also be able to accelerate and brake repeatedly without any loss of performance. The Mission E will offer a range of 500 kilometers on the New European Drive Cycle (NEDC). The Mission E's 800 volt system will take approximately 15 minutes to charge to achieve another 400 kilometers of range.

Porsche is also working with all 189 dealer partners to install fast-charging infrastructure for its customers. Six rapid chargers have just been installed at the Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta, with the Los Angeles experience center to follow. Porsche is also working with other organizations on a network of DC fast-chargers for U.S. cities and highways.

Embark Self-Driving Truck Completes Cross Country Trip

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A high tech self-driving truck operated by startup Embark recently completed a test run from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Fla., which the company hailed as the first coast-to-coast journey by an automated truck.

The modified Peterbilt tractor, outfitted with an array of sensors and guided by self-driving software, traveled 2,400 miles over the course of five days along the east-west length of Interstate 10 across the southern United States.

Embark's onboard technology handled nearly all of the autonomous highway driving during the journey. However, a driver was behind the wheel at all times, watching the road and ready to take over if needed.

"The driver is always responsible for being attentive and making sure that everything is safe, but the driver will regularly go many hours down the road without actually being involved, and when they are involved, it's usually just for a few seconds," Embark CEO Alex Rodrigues said in an interview with Transport Topics.

Embark's current system achieves level 2 automation, where the driver is required to actively monitor the vehicle's progress as it drives itself on the highway. The company's goal  is to further develop its technology to enable Level 4 automation, where the vehicle can travel on limited, specific highway routes with no driver at all.

"That will be [our] first commercial product and will hopefully be available in a few years," Rodrigues said.

Embark envisions these Level 4 driverless trucks operating as part of a redesigned freight system, where trailers are exchanged between local drivers and driverless trucks at freight hubs situated along highways.

The autonomous trucks would haul trailers from hub to hub on the freeway, while local drivers will continue to handle the more complex driving tasks associated with the beginning and end of each trip — from origin to highway and from highway to final destination.

Uber's Advanced Technologies Group, is also working on self-driving truck technology, and has promoted the same transfer hub model. In a recent blog post, Uber ATG argued that these freight hubs could generate an increase in local truck driving jobs that would more than offset an eventual decline in long haul jobs.

Embark's first coast-to-coast run took the normal five days to complete because the driver was still operating within hours-of-service limits. A truly autonomous Level 4 truck, however, would be able to complete the same trip in just two days by operating around the clock, Rodrigues said. "Obviously that would radically change the dynamics of freight."

While Embark's autonomous truck pulled an empty trailer on the test run to Jacksonville, the technology company is already transporting freight on a long portion of Interstate 10.

Since last year, the company has been transporting refrigerators for appliance maker Electrolux, parent of the Frigidaire brand, on an automated freight route between Los Angeles and El Paso, Texas.

"The way we think about it is moving freight is one of the best ways to perform tests," Rodrigues said. "It teaches us a lot about how you actually interact with loads, how the timing works, how locations for pickup and drop-off work. It makes the systems much more effective in the real world."

Rodrigues said Embark has expanded its fleet of test vehicles to five trucks, up from a pair of trucks four months ago. By year's end, the company plans to grow its fleet to 40 trucks.

Embark has a formal partnership with Peterbilt Motors Co., which is installing specialized components designed to support self-driving on the trucks it sells to the company.

Elon Musk Successfully Launches a Tesla Roadster into Space

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With a dummy driver called "Starman" behind the wheel wearing a SpaceX space suit, Elon Musk launched a Tesla Roadster into space from the same launch pad where NASA launched astronauts to the moon in 1969. The midnight cherry-red Tesla Roadster in the reusable SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket took off from its launchpad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida today.

If everything goes according to plan, the car and driver will eventually be released into a Mars orbit around the sun, blasting David Bowie's popular song "Space Oddity" for as long as the car can do so.

The vehicle has been loaded with three cameras, it should be able to beam back its own unique perspective on the cosmos as it travels through space.

"There's going to be a bunch of sensors on the upper stage [of the rocket], so we'll get a lot of data back, but I think the most fun stuff is going to be the three cameras that are mounted on the Roadster," Musk said on press call yesterday. "They should really provide some epic views if they work and everything goes well."

Traditionally, blocks of concrete or steel have been used to test a rocket's payload capability, however Elon Musk and SpaceX decided to test the rocket using a Tesla Roadster as cargo.

Elon Musk has tweeted out an update earlier today on the upper stage saying that his Tesla Roadster is cruising through high-energy radiation belts circling the Earth, heading towards deep space.

The projected path of the car would bring it close to Mars, but Musk has said there is only an "extremely tiny" chance that it might crash into the planet. If it stays on course, it would instead drift through space, potentially for millions of years.

Eric Walz
Originally from New Jersey, Eric is an automotive and technology reporter specializing in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley. Eric has over fifteen years of automotive experience and a B.A. in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the automotive industry and beyond. He has worked on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology. Outside of work, Eric likes to travel to new places, play guitar, and explore the outdoors.
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