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March 26, 2018 News of the Day: BMW to Install 80,000 EV Chargers in China, Waymo CEO Says its Autonomous Tech Would Have Prevented the Uber Accident in Arizona

Author: Eric Walz   

BMW to Install 80,000 EV Chargers in China

BMW has committed to further expanding its EV charging networks in the world's largest auto market—China. By the end of this year, BMW plans to install more than 80,000 public charging ports in more than 100 Chinese cities. The goal is to provide more efficient, convenient and intelligent public charging services, especially for its own new energy vehicle users in China, according to the company.

"BMW is already the market leader of the premium electric car segment and will continue to lead e-mobility development," Martijn Oremus, head of brand management, new energy vehicles at BMW Brilliance, told reporters.

The latest BMW Charging Station Wallbox charges the BMW i3's battery to 80 percent in just under four hours, according to the company. BMW also provides a 1,680-hour or two-year free charging service to car owners who don't have their own private charging facilities in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hangzhou and Chengdu.

As of 2017, BMW had installed more than 65,000 charging poles scattered across more than 90 Chinese cities, in cooperation with the four major Chinese charging network operators, including Qingdao Teld New Energy.

China is the host of the world's largest public charging network for electric vehicles, with a total of more than 440,000 charging poles in the country, including 213,903 public charging poles and 231,820 private charging poles.

In addition to the announcement by BMW, German automaker Daimler AG has acquired a 3.93 percent stake in Beijing Electric Vehicle Co, a subsidiary of BAIC Group. The investment made earlier this month will deepen their strategic cooperation in the new energy vehicle sector and further development of electric mobility in China. BJEV possess a charging network with 46,000 public charging poles and 32,000 private ones.

Rival automaker Volkswagen has announced a 22.8 billion euros ($28.18 billion) investment package for the next five years covering the future viability of its plants throughout the world. In 2020, the Volkswagen I.D., the first vehicle in the new generation of electric automobiles will be launched on the market.

Waymo CEO Says its Autonomous Tech Would Have Prevented the Uber Accident in Arizona

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Waymo Chief Executive Officer John Krafcik is highly confident in the company's self-driving technology and said Waymo's self-driving software would likely have avoided the pedestrian death in Arizona, in which an Uber vehicle operating autonomously fatally struck a person in the roadway.

"We have a lot of confidence that our technology would be robust and would be able to handle situations like that one," Krafcik said on Saturday in his first public comments since a pedestrian was killed by an Uber self-driving vehicle last Sunday night. The fatal incident in Tempe, Arizona, has rattled the nascent industry and prompted further lawmaker scrutiny.

Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo, the former Google car project, is considered the technical leader in the field and started testing back in 2009. Waymo began ferrying passengers in Arizona last year, without safety drivers behind the wheel, and is planning a paid robo-taxi service this year.

Uber Technologies Inc. halted its testing program on the day after the incident. Other companies, including Toyota have followed suit. Waymo declined to say if it was changing its plans, but kept vehicles on the road in Arizona.

"For those of us at Waymo, it was a very sad day," Krafcik said during a speech at the National Automobile Dealers Association conference in Las Vegas on Saturday. "It is that vision of safety and avoiding accidents just like that one that really bring us all together as a company." Waymo is continuing its tests in Arizona, Krafcik said.

Uber's fatal crash immediately sparked a series of questions, long debated driverless car industry. While states such as Arizona have embraced the tech, permitting companies to test without backup drivers behind the wheel. Regulators nationwide have yet to settle on issues of liability and standard safeguards. California demands companies testing these cars disclose how many times humans must take over the systems -- a rare requirement that sent some firms to other states with less-stringent regulation.

Waymo has been testing cars in 25 other cities. The company's plans to rollout is Arizona pilot in a second city this year, Krafcik said. The former automotive executive also told the dealer audience the tech giant is working to make personal car ownership work with self-driving.

Krafcik played a video of Waymo's test program in Phoenix. "This is a little bit of what the future looks like," he said. "I don't know how you feel about that, but there's no one in the driver's seat."

Many experts who viewed the video of the Uber crash pointed to apparent failures in Uber's sensor system, which failed to detect 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg crossing the road pushing a bicycle. Tempe police and the National Transportation Safety Board are still investigating the collision. Ten U.S. senators on Friday released a letter to companies testing autonomous cars asking them to remove provisions that prevent consumers from suing.

In 2017, Waymo filed a lawsuit against Uber for allegedly stealing self-driving sensor designs. The companies settled in February with Waymo taking $245 million in Uber equity.

BMW Selects Tennessee for its New Car Subscription Service

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BMW AG will begin its car-subscription pilot in Tennessee next week, joining the ranks of automakers experimenting with new ownership models as ride-hailing apps and smartphones upend the traditional automotive retail market.

The service, called Access by BMW, will be offered by a local BMW dealership in Nashville starting on April 2, according to a person familiar with the company's plans who asked not to be named because the information isn't yet public.

Automakers are searching for ways to reach younger consumers whose shopping and transportation habits have been shaped by Silicon Valley giants like Uber Technologies Inc. and Airbnb Inc. BMW is following in the footsteps of General Motors' Cadillac, which launched its Book subscription service in January 2017, and Care by Volvo announced at this year's CES, which combines lease, insurance and maintenance into one monthly payment.

BMW's North American CEO Bernhard Kuhnt said the company was contemplating such a service at the Detroit Auto Show in January. A spokesman for BMW said the company is planning a subscription pilot program for 2018 but declined to give further detail.

Subscription services allow consumers to switch between different car models as often as they want, instead of committing to one vehicle that they buy or lease. For example, a customer may opt for a convertible model or SUV for the weekend. The monthly payments are usually higher than traditional auto lease contracts, as insurance and maintenance are included.

This isn't BMW's first foray into new models for transportation. In January, its captive finance arm introduced a flexible lease program that allows owners of its BMW and Mini brand vehicles in California, Washington and Oregon to share their cars with peers or use them to drive for ride-sharing services. The leases are designed to help BMW integrate itself into "the fabric of the sharing economy," the company said at the time.

BMW rival Mercedes-Benz also has been contemplating a U.S. subscription program, Britta Seger, Mercedes head of global sales, said in Geneva earlier this month.

"We are currently in investigation in which area to try it out," she told Automotive News.

Elon Musk in talks with Israeli AI Vision Company Cortica

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Tesla is reportedly in talks with an Israeli startup developing artificial intelligence technology for autonomous driving. Reports claim the executive is in the country to discuss a potential collaboration or acquisition with Tel Aviv-based Cortica.

Founded in 2007, Cortica has filed hundreds of patents related to unsupervised machine learning. Such technology is particularly important for self-driving cars, theoretically allowing vehicles to effectively respond to unique scenarios that cannot be predicted using traditional software.

Cortica says its AI platform can identify everything from pedestrians to hoverboards and baby strollers. Object recognition is combined with predictive AI to assign a probability of each object's next possible course of action. The company has also developed advanced technologies for sensor fusion, localization and handling of big data.

Volkswagen Group is reportedly among several automakers planning to use Cortica's technology for autonomous cars.

The talks between the two companies could develop into financial investment in Cortica, or even an acquisition of the company. Cortica declined to comment and Tesla denied that there were talks.

Cortica has raised $70 million, and has registered about 200 patents on its technology.

Elon Musk has denied the reports. However, sources very close to the subject have told Israeli news company Globes that Cortica is indeed in talks with Tesla and that the talks were initiated by Tesla, which is interested in a collaboration. No deal has yet been reached.

Self-Driving Startup Aurora Hires Former SpaceX and Google Engineer

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Self-driving car startup Aurora Innovation, which has dual headquarters in Palo Alto and Pittsburgh  announced a new vice president of software engineering and said it's planning to open a new office in San Francisco.

Jinnah Hosein, who previously worked at SpaceX and Alphabet's Google was announced as the president of software engineering at Aurora. Jinnah Hosein was previously SpaceX's VP of software.

Chris Urmson, CEO and co-founder of Aurora, wrote about Hosein's appointment in a blog post Monday, referring to Hosein's position at SpaceX to the progress of Aurora:

At Aurora, we're taking the rocket ship approach to self driving technology. We're building our autonomy system from the ground up, eschewing demo-ware, and focusing on rigorous engineering and thoughtfully applying machine learning.

Our rocket ship metaphor becomes a bit more poignant today as we welcome Jinnah Hosein, previously SpaceX's VP of software. That's right, Jinnah has spent the last few years building software for actual rockets. At SpaceX, he helped develop their software process and contributed to 40 launches, including delivering the software for landing their reusable rocket boosters.

An Aurora spokesperson confirmed that the company plans to open a new office in San Francisco, but didn't provide further details.

The startup recently raised $90 million in Series A funding and landed two prominent Silicon Valley tech executives as board members: Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn co-founder who invests at Greylock Partners, and Mike Volpi, the former head of routing at Cisco Systems Inc. who now invests at Index Partners. Their venture firms led the funding round.

Aurora has partnerships with Volkswagen, Hyundai and Chinese car-maker Byton. Since mid-2017, experts from the Aurora team have worked closely with specialists from the Volkswagen Group in Germany to integrate Aurora's self-driving system with Volkswagen's vehicle platforms.  

The company also announced that it will expand its Pittsburgh presence, moving into a new office there.

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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