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Google Loses Autonomous Vehicle Guru

Long-time leader moves on to “next adventure.”

by on Aug.08, 2016

The face of Google's autonomous vehicle program, Chris Urmson, just announced he's leaving the technology giant for his "next adventure."

Google’s autonomous vehicle program has taken some big hits in recent days. Two of the project’s top engineers have reportedly left to work on a new start-up, but the biggest setback appears to come with the departure of Chris Urmson, the venture’s technology chief.

A pioneer in autonomous vehicle research at Carnegie Mellon University, Urmson joined Google in 2009 and was heading the program until John Krafcik, the former Hyundai Motor America CEO, took the helm a year ago.

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“I’ve decided the time is right to step down and find my next adventure,” Urmson said in a blog post. “After leading our cars through the human equivalent of 150 years of driving and helping our project make the leap from pure research to developing a product that we hope someday anyone will be able to use, I am ready for a fresh challenge.” (more…)

FCA Open to More Autonomous Partners; Marchionne Talks Product Location

FCA CEO says 200 will live on despite poor sales.

by on May.06, 2016

FCA chief Sergio Marchionne said that he would not limit the company's autonomous vehicle partners to just Google at this point.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles could use the re-tooled assembly plant in Windsor, Ontario, to build another vehicle now under development, FCA chief executive Sergio Marchionne told reporters after the official launch of the company’s latest version of the minivan, the 2017 Pacifica.

Marchionne said the new vehicle would require additional investment in Windsor, but said the platform underneath the new Pacifica was versatile enough to support other vehicles.

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“It was designed that way,” said Marchionne, who declined to add further details, but noted. “Just to clarify, this plant and this architecture is capable of making the successor front wheel drive – all-wheel drive replacement for the Chrysler 300.” (more…)

Fiat-Chrysler Reportedly Talking Autonomous Car Deal with Google

But prior rumors of Google-Ford deal failed to materialize.

by on Apr.29, 2016

Google is already testing its bubble-shaped prototype in California, Texas and Nevada.

Two partners in search of mates? Both Google and Fiat Chrysler have been open in their need to form alliances, and the two companies just might be ready to team up.

According to several online reports, they’re in advanced talks that could lead to Fiat Chrysler putting Google’s self-driving vehicle technology into production. The Silicon Valley firm is already testing its autonomous car software with a fleet of prototypes, but Google officials have repeatedly said they want to find a partner within the auto industry, rather than setting up their own manufacturing operation.

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The talks have reportedly been underway for several months, according to the Wall Street Journal, while a separate online report on autoextremist claims negotiations are in late stages and could see Google’s autonomous technology used on a variety of different Fiat-Chrysler products.


Google, Volvo Expand Autonomous Vehicle Testing

Swedish maker looks to China, while tech giant goes to Arizona.

by on Apr.07, 2016

Google is expanding its testing areas to Phoenix, Arizona, and its suburbs.

As the proponents of autonomous vehicles in Washington D.C. gird themselves for an onslaught of dissension at public hearings later this week, the automakers developing the vehicles continue about the work of improving them.

Google’s just been cleared to run a fleet of self-driving cars in Phoenix, Arizona and the surrounding suburbs while Volvo is preparing a gaggle of as many as 100 vehicles to test in China.

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The tech giant has been expanding its test environments in recent months, including adding Austin, Texas, and Kirkland, Washington, to its home base of Mountain View, California. Google is already mapping the Phoenix area in anticipation of the self-driving testing. (more…)

Latest Google Crash Could Set Back Autonomous Project

Effort to humanize autonomous tech could be a factor.

by on Mar.02, 2016

The latest accident involved a Google-modified Lexus.

There have been more than a dozen crashes involving Google’s autonomous vehicles since testing began on public roads in 2014, but for the first time, a collision has been blamed directly on one of the self-driving vehicles and it could prove a setback for the technology many had hoped would soon revolutionize the automotive world.

An investigation is still underway involving the February 14th incident, though Google has posted a blog note saying “We clearly bear some responsibility.” It occurred when a stopped autonomous prototype attempted to nudge into traffic striking a public transit bus moving at about 15 mph on a road near Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.

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Ironically, the crash may have been at least partly the result of efforts to make Google’s autonomous vehicles think more like human drivers. A number of earlier crashes were blamed on drivers trying to do things like race through a yellow light while Google car prototypes strictly obeyed the law, jamming on the brakes the moment the lights turned yellow.


Google on Hiring Spree for Autonomous Vehicle Program

Will it build cars, after all?

by on Feb.12, 2016

Google plans to expand the range of places it is testing its autonomous prototypes.

Google is putting out the “Help Wanted” sign, and it could signal a major shift in plans for its Google X autonomous vehicle program.

For the last several years, the high-tech firm has said it doesn’t want to produce its own vehicles but would rather find partners – a term used by Google X CEO John Krafcik during a visit to Detroit last month. But among the dozens of jobs being advertised, at least some put a focus on manufacturing skills.

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That includes one for a manufacturing process engineer who would be responsible for “designing factory assembly stations, optimizing production floor layout, automating critical manufacturing processes and approving fixture designs used in the assembly of electronic modules for the self-driving car.”


Google Gets Major Endorsement from NHTSA for Autonomous Test Program

Feds say AI system is equivalent of human driver under federal law.

by on Feb.10, 2016

No humans required?

Google’s autonomous vehicle program has achieved a significant milestone as it moves closer to being production-ready.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has told the high-tech firm that the artificial intelligence system used in its prototype vehicles can be considered the same as a human driver according to federal regulations.

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Google had sought that ruling in a letter sent to NHTSA last November in which it claimed the vehicles have “no need for a human driver.” The high-tech project is in the midst of rolling out about 100 specially designed prototypes designed to test the latest version of Google self-driving technology under real-world conditions. The company wants to remove even the traditional steering wheel and pedals from some of those prototypes.


Still Secret Apple Car Project Suffers Series of Setbacks

But project moving ahead, says key rival.

by on Jan.26, 2016

Apple execs won't confirm their plans but hint of "massive change" coming in the auto industry.

While tech giant Apple isn’t ready to confirm the car project it has reportedly dubbed Project Titan, it has become what one rival calls “an open secret.” But while the program appears to be moving ahead, sources warn that it has suffered a series of unexpected setbacks.

One of the key members of a team now said to number as many as 1,000 employees plans to leave, while another senior Apple exec has expressed his frustration at the progress the program is making, according to reports from Silicon Valley.


That said, after touring Silicon Valley this past week, Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche told the German publication Welt am Sonntag he was impressed with what he learned about the car programs at Apple and tech rival Google.


Obama Administration Wants $4 Billion for Connected Cars, Autonomous Vehicles

DoT chief announces plans to accelerate vehicle safety innovations.

by on Jan.14, 2016

DOT Sec. Anthony Foxx, at podium, with auto industry leaders at the Detroit Auto Show.

As he wraps up his final year in office, President Barack Obama is calling for significant improvements in vehicle safety and will, among other things, seek $3.9 billion in funding for the development of connected car technology and automated vehicles, a senior administration official announced in Detroit today.

During a visit today to the North American International Auto Show on Thursday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx outlined the new budget proposal as well as a number of broader steps the Department of Transportation plans to take to accelerate vehicle safety innovations.

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“We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology with enormous potential to save lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and transform mobility for the American people,” said Sec. Foxx, calling the new actions a “path forward for manufacturers, state officials and consumers to use new technologies and achieve their full safety potential.”


Watchdog Clamors for Controls on Google Cars

Test drivers take over for confused cars.

by on Jan.14, 2016

Opponents to Google's plans for a car with no steering wheel, gas pedal or brake pedal claim recent events support their position.

California, which seems to be the location for the largest number of self-driving test vehicles, recently released its proposed rules for autonomous vehicles. Chief among them? Steering wheels and gas and brake pedals.

Not a big deal … unless you’re Google, which wants its vehicles to have nothing more than a big red button to shut the vehicle down.

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For obvious reasons, Google is protesting, calling the move “gravely disappointing,” but the tech giant’s own data is adding fuel to the fire for opponents that the company’s desire for just the red button is enough to keep roads safe. The company said in a recent state-mandated disengagement report that test vehicles turned control over to the test driver more than 270 times. (more…)