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February 22, 2018 News of the Day: Audi to Launch Mirror Integrated Toll Payment Tech, Automotive Supplier Bosch Acquires the Ride-Sharing Startup SPLT

February 22, 2018 News of the Day: Audi to Launch Mirror Integrated Toll Payment Tech, Automotive Supplier Bosch Acquires the Ride-Sharing Startup SPLT

Author: Eric Walz   

Audi to Launch Mirror Integrated Toll Payment in its Models

Audi said it will begin integrating automated toll payment technology into its U.S. vehicles later this year that will allow drivers to pay tolls without the need for an additional device.

The integrated toll module is built into the vehicle's rearview mirror, which is supplied by Gentex Corp., and can be controlled through the vehicle's on-board infotainment system. Audi, in a statement Wednesday, said that the module is compatible with 98 percent of the toll infrastructure in the United States, as well as toll roads in parts of Canada and Mexico.

To use the feature, consumers open an account for their vehicle online through Gentex, which coordinates with electronic toll collectors across the country. Integrating the module into the rearview mirror eliminates the need for an external device that would clutter the windscreen and reduce visibility. It also eliminates the need for multiple automated collection devices in regions where municipalities use different electronic vendors to collect tolls.

Audi said drivers would be able to adjust mobile settings through equipped vehicles' infotainment systems, including turning the device on and off and changing the occupant settings for high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

A spokeswoman for Audi declined to say which vehicle the integrated toll module would launch on, except to say that it would be later this year and limited to North America. The Q8 crossover is expected to launch in the latter half of this year. Audi did say it was likely that the technology would spread across Audi's U.S. lineup.

Automotive Supplier Bosch Acquires the Ride-Sharing Startup SPLT

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Bosch announced Tuesday it has acquired Splitting Fares (SPLT), a Detroit startup that provides a software platform through which companies can offer carpooling options to their employees.

Bosch recently created a new division called Connected Mobility Services, and its new acquisition will function as an independent subsidiary within that unit. While the likes of Uber and Lyft already deliver ride sharing for the masses, Splitting Fares, better known as SPLT, has essentially carved a niche within ride sharing. It sells its platforms specifically to business and others, such as universities, who want to set up shared transportation for their employees and students.

Carpooling rides can be set up as one-time occurrences or as recurring trips. Using an app, workers can connect with others in their organizations who share similar commutes. Then an algorithm computes their fastest route to the office. Bookings can be made both in advance or on demand.

With service operational in the United States, Germany, and Mexico, SPLT says it already has approximately 140,000 users. New markets are planned as part of the Bosch deal, although there are no specifics yet available.

Like Uber and Lyft, SPLT doesn't own vehicles that operate within its network—those details are entirely up to customers. Large companies might hire drivers and run their own vehicles on dedicated routes, while employees at smaller businesses could essentially operate as ride-sharing drivers, using their own cars to haul their colleagues to work while earning back some of their commuting costs.

Ford has started similar services with its Chariot shuttle subsidiary, which works with businesses to establish routes that help employees get to and from transportation hubs to their places of employment. Chariot lets employers determine those routes and gives them an option to open the service to the general public to help defray the costs of running the service, a blurring of sorts between the business-to-business and business-to-consumer models.

A recent report from Navigant Research ranked the company's collaboration with Daimler on automated driving systems as the third best among the 19 companies pursuing such technology. The acquisition of SPLT gives Bosch a foothold in the connected-mobility realm.

"Smartphones are becoming the most important means of travel," says Markus Heyn, a member of the company's board of management. He projects double-digit growth, especially as the company adds new markets.

By 2020, Bosch says the number of people worldwide using ride-sharing services is expected to grow by 60 percent, to 685 million. That increase comes at a time when the number of commuters is climbing, and, as a result, traffic congestion is increasing.

In Germany, roughly two-thirds of the working population uses their personal car for daily commuting, according to the German Federal Statistical Office. In the United States, 76.3 percent of commuters say they drove alone to work in 2016, according data from the American Community Survey, a part of the U.S. Census, while 9.3 percent carpool.

With the proliferation of smartphones and now ride-sharing options, Bosch, through its SPLT subsidiary, is betting it can begin to reverse what has been a very stubborn trend.

Uber Launches New Express Pool Service

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Uber is launching its latest innovation in ride-hailing called Express Pool. Instead of providing door-to-door service, Uber's new Express Pool asks riders to walk a block or two to a designated meeting spot.

Riders might be dropped off a block or so away from their destination. The goal of Express Pool is to save drivers and riders time by eliminating more congested parts of shared rides. For example, the Express Pool eliminates the need for a Uber driver to circle around the block in heavy traffic to grab a fellow rider from wherever they're standing when they tap on the app.

Uber Express Pool is the service's first new product since Uber Eats, its food delivery service. The service is going live today in six more cities—Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Washington, DC—along with Boston and San Francisco, where it's been running as a pilot for the past three months.

It should save riders money as well as time. Express Pool fares are as much as 50 percent cheaper than your standard shared Uber Pool ride and up to 75 percent less compared to UberX fares.

The pool discount puts fares in range of what you pay to ride the bus or subway. When new users open the app and choose the new Express option, they'll select an area rather than a exact pick-up location and wait there approximately two minutes while Uber matches them with the other ride-pool passengers.

Once the app has decided on what the Pool ride will look like, it tells passengers exactly where to meet their driver. "This is a fundamental breakthrough in affordability that can open up new use cases for existing riders and for new riders who aren't able to build [the service] into their daily routines," says Ethan Stock, who manages shared rides at Uber.

City agencies have concerns about relying less on existing mass transit options. "We at the MTA feel like, if these services are moving passengers who otherwise would have taken mass transit, with all of its environmental and space efficiencies, in more and smaller vehicles, then they're likely working against our big picture mobility policy," says Tom Maguire, who oversees street, transit, bicycle, pedestrian and parking infrastructure for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. "If they are bringing people to and from mass transit, and serving as the last mile, then they certainly can become a complement."

Last year, UC Davis researchers found 49 to 61 percent of ride-hailing trips in seven cities wouldn't have happened without the apps, which probably indicates the services have made traffic worse. The researchers also found that 91 percent of riders haven't ditched their personal cars, one of Uber's long term goals.

Currently, the average bus speed in New York City is just 7.4 mph, and 5.5 mph in Manhattan. If Uber pool is successful city transit authorities will need to find ways to retain riders, by evaluating service frequency, reliability, capacity, routing, and even passenger comfort.

Could private tech companies find ways to serve entire cities more efficiently?  Uber's new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi believes they can. At a Goldman Sachs event this month, he said he'd like a crack at running a city's bus system.

UPS and Workhorse Reach Deal on Electric Vans

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DETROIT — A deal Thursday between UPS and U.S. electric van maker Workhorse Group Inc hopes to resolve a major obstacle to deployment of battery-powered commercial vehicles—charging costs.

UPS is partnering with Workhorse to build an all-new electric delivery van. The first 50 vehicles with a driving range of 100 miles (160 km) will be delivered in 2018. UPS faces pressure from regulators in major cities around the world to clean up its fleet of petroleum-burning vehicles.

The 100 mile range is good enough to allow UPS to replace about 35,000 diesel or gasoline delivery trucks, company officials said. However, UPS would have faced substantial costs for the charging stations and related infrastructure to charge the trucks daily.

"With the large-scale deployments of vehicles, if you can't put them somewhere to take advantage of them then it's irrelevant," Scott Phillippi, UPS senior director for automotive maintenance and engineering for international operations, told Reuters. "We have to have solutions in place to make that happen."

Solutions for the charging problem are now in sight, UPS and other industry officials say.

UPS recently rolled out "smart charging" software at a central London facility that allowed the company to nearly triple its local electric fleet to 170 delivery vans.

The smart charging technology determines when and how fast to charge vehicles. If vehicles are not scheduled for a full route the next day, the system can opt not to fully charge them and charge other vehicles more.

Without the software, UPS would have had to install enough infrastructure to charge all the vehicles at the same time, which is the equivalent of powering an office building or hospital - at a cost of millions of dollars for electric grid hardware.

The project at UPS's London facility was partly funded by Innovate UK, the British government innovation agency.

If successful, UPS will use its London experience as a blueprint around the world as it expands its electric delivery vehicle fleet. UPS' approach could also serve as a model for smaller companies that cannot afford major infrastructure investments.


Eric Walz
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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