We’ve reached a new milestone in the long road to getting AI-based self-driving systems to be truly autonomous.
Daimler and Bosch have now received approval from German regulators to run their automated driverless parking function without a human safety driver behind the wheel — making this the world’s first fully automated driverless SAE Level 4 parking function to be officially approved for everyday use. The nod comes four years after the companies started working together on the technology.
“This decision by the authorities shows that innovations like automated valet parking are possible in Germany first,” Bosch board member Dr. Markus Heyn said in a statement. “Driverless driving and parking are important building blocks for tomorrow’s mobility. The automated parking system shows just how far we have already progressed along this development path.”
Level 4 is a designation by SAE that means the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving in certain conditions without human intervention. Up to now, there have been other Level 4 trials in the works, but all of them have involved people behind the wheel as a back-up.
Bosch, one of the largest automotive tech and hardware suppliers in the world, handles the infrastructure piece of the automated parking function, which works in concert with Daimler’s vehicle tech on its Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Users access the autonomous valet service via a smartphone app.
Bosch and Daimler started developing fully automated driverless parking in 2015. That initial partnership included car2go, the car-sharing unit of Daimler. The companies debuted the so-called automated valet parking function in 2017 at the parking garage of the Mercedes-Benz Museum. The following year, and after intensive testing, museum visitors were able to test the automated parking service with one important caveat: a human safety driver was always behind the wheel.
Visitors were able to reserve vehicles from the facility using a smartphone app. Their vehicle would arrive autonomously to a designated pick-up spot in the parking garage. Once visitors were through with the vehicle, they could deliver it to the drop-off zone. The vehicle would then drive itself to its assigned parking spot, guided by the garage’s infrastructure and onboard sensors.
The pilot program was rather narrow in scope and restricted by the inclusion of a safety driver. But it served an important purpose for Bosch, Daimler and even other companies hoping to deploy automated driving functions in Germany.
Germany doesn’t have an official approval process for automated driving functions without a human driver. From the outset, Bosch and Daimler included authorities from Stuttgart and the state of Baden-Württemberg’s transportation ministry along with with experts from the German certification authority TÜV Rheinland.
As one might expect, the group assessed the safety of Bosch and Daimler’s parking function. But the process also helped regulators come up with a guidelines for testing and approval criteria that can be applied beyond this pilot project in one parking garage in Stuttgart.
For instance, Bosch and Daimler tested lighting concepts on the vehicles pilot project. The companies used turquoise lighting to indicate that a vehicle was in automated driving mode and informed passers-by and other road users that the vehicle is driving itself. The recently issued SAE standard 3134 reflects Bosch and Daimler’s insights on these lighting tests.
This isn’t the only Bosch-Daimler project in the works. The companies formed a partnership in 2017 to bring fully autonomous vehicles to urban roads “by the start of the next decade.” Last year, the companies announced plans to pilot a robotaxi service in San Jose, California.
The robotaxi trials, which will use automated Mercedes-Benz S Class vehicles, are supposed to begin in the second half of 2019 in a geofenced area in the San Carlos and Stevens Creek corridor between downtown and west San Jose. The pilot will use an on-demand ride-hailing service app operated by Daimler Mobility Services.
The rides will all be monitored by a safety driver.
Meanwhile, Bosch is building a $1.1 billion facility designed to produce semiconductors used in self-driving cars, smart homes and smart city infrastructure. The Dresden-based chip fab is set to start producing silicon commercially in 2021, and construction is supposed to be completed in 2019.
Mobvoi TicWatch E3 Wear OS smartwatch demands attention
Following a recent leak, Mobvoi has officially launched its new TicWatch E3 smartwatch, a Wear OS device that packs Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 4100 Platform, as well as a variety of sensors and a round display. The TicWatch E3 offers all of the features you’d expect from a smartwatch, including the ability to track your health, access popular apps, and fire up more than a dozen workouts.
The TicWatch E3 features a polycarbonate frame, 2.5D curved glass display, and a silicone rubber strap that Mobvoi describes as ‘ultra-flexible.’ The company designed its new smartwatch with a quick-release mechanism that enables users to swap out the watchband without extra tools, assuming the customer purchases one of the other strap color options.
This model packs a number of notable features, including a heart rate sensor with 24/7 monitoring capabilities. Users will be able to monitor their real-time heart rate, view graphs of their weekly data, and get alerts if the watch detects ‘unusual’ changes to the user’s heart rate. Likewise, the TicWatch E3 has a built-in speaker that provides an alert when the user reaches their desired heart rate zone while exercising.
Other features include blood oxygen saturation monitoring with the option to record the data all day, support for a 30-minute HIIT workout in addition to more than 20 other workout modes (football, skating, etc.), calorie tracking, Vo2 max monitoring, and the ability to automatically detect workouts. As for navigation, the watch sports GLONASS, GPS, and Beidou positioning for outdoor activities without using a phone.
Mobvoi says the TicWatch E3 can be used with the TicPods to listen to music and use voice commands. Data, including activity and sleep information, is available to users in the Mobvoi companion app, providing immediate access to things like sleep stage graphs, past history, and the option of sharing the data with someone else.
As for battery life, the TicWatch E3 has a 380mAh battery, up to a 48-hour battery life, and an ‘Essential’ reduced power mode that automatically turns on when the charge hits 5-percent. The wearable also has a battery-saving display that presents key data while reducing battery demands to keep the watch running for longer.
Finally, the watch also supports Google Pay contactless payments and smart home control with Google Assistant, which can be activated by holding down the power button. The full list of hardware specs can be found on Mobvoi’s website. The watch is available to order now in Panther Black for $199.99 USD.
IKEA and Sonos’ picture frame speaker has one big problem
Sonos and IKEA have returned with another surprisingly affordable speaker, but the SYMFONISK Picture Frame hides its music in plain sight. In the process it has added a new element of design to the partnership though, as excited as I am for more attainable connected speakers, I can’t help but feel that neither company has quite closed the loop on this third product.
I’m a big fan of Sonos and IKEA’s original SYMFONISK range, particularly the bookshelf speaker. At $99 it’s the most affordable speaker you can buy which will integrate with Sonos, and that opens up the door to expanding a Sonos system into rooms and spaces you might not otherwise have been able to justify. Home offices and kids bedrooms are good examples, but the affordable speaker also serves well as components for a rear surround sound system too.
Even when it launched the bookshelf and table lamp speakers, IKEA and Sonos weren’t coy in promising more from the SYMFONISK series. It was to be a long-term collaboration, the two companies insisted, leveraging the mass-market design chops of one with the tech-savvy of the other. We had to wait, of course, almost two years to see the third product arrive.
I’ll confess, I’m left scratching my head a little at the new SYMFONISK Picture Frame. Announced yesterday, it takes Sonos into a whole new form-factor compared to what the company is familiar with.
Sonos speakers aren’t exactly attention-grabbing, and Sonos Architectural installations can be positively surreptitious. However the new speaker for IKEA goes one step further, effectively hiding the audio side of things even as the SYMFONISK sits on the wall. Only the power cable really gives things away.
Speaker companies have tried flat speakers before, but never quite like this. IKEA’s contribution is, in no small part, the price tag. Yes, at $199 the picture frame is the most expensive of the SYMFONISK line-up so far, but it’s a far, far cry from the super-premium flat speakers we’ve seen attempted in the past. At 2.36-inches deep it’s not quite as slender as them, either, but I suspect the cost/thickness balance will be far more acceptable in terms of people opening their wallets.
What I struggle with, though, is the idea of it being a picture frame at all. More specifically, the fact that right now there’s no way to actually use your own art in there.
IKEA has designed it so that the picture pops out and can be replaced. The frame – in either black or white – is super-slim, to the point that you don’t really see it around the edge of the picture insert, but it means that you’ll be able to swap the default image for something new. That is, assuming IKEA has a design you like.
The two standard art pieces are the handiwork of European artist Jennifer Idrizi. They’re apparently inspired by visualizations of music and inter-connections, the result being an abstract interplay of lines that are more like a topographical network map than anything else. Neither is unpleasant, and you could easily picture them on the wall of a fancy apartment building’s show-suite.
At the same time, though, they’re hardly striking in an art sense. IKEA will have a couple of other designs, following on in August, and the retailer says that more versions will follow – and vary by geographic location – in due course. Much like the furniture company’s regular range evolves with the seasons, so too will SYMFONISK art, it seems.
What I’d really like, though, is the ability to put my own pictures in there instead. I doubt I’m alone in that. I suspect the challenge is that IKEA isn’t using paper or canvas for its art, instead relying on some sort of mesh that’s still acoustically transparent despite also showing Idrizi’s handiwork.
For now, Sonos tells me, there’s no provision for custom art for the SYMFONISK Picture Frame. That could change in the future, of course, and I really hope it does. The ability to upload a picture and have it reproduced on a speaker-compatible mesh seems like the sort of home decor idea people would love, and the Sonos audio side of that would be the gravy on top.
Honestly, I’m not sure SYMFONISK is going in the direction I – and others – expected it to. Sonos and IKEA’s plan to democratize music and design looked, initially, like a value play: the value that IKEA is already known for with so much of its range. However instead we’ve seen the attainable design side be emphasized, a reminder that part of IKEA’s charm has long been that it works with individual designers on products that are not only distinctive to look at but can be cost-effective to manufacture and ship at scale.
That’s arguably a far more exciting approach to the home audio category, and one I hope we don’t have to wait another two years to see the next installment in. More immediately, though, my fingers are crossed that Sonos and IKEA join up the dots on this new SYMFONISK offering, because while art is nice, art with personal meaning can be truly uplifting.
Here’s what the first Google Store is like on the inside
The first Google Store is almost open, and if you can’t make it to New York City to check out the new brick & mortar shop, a virtual walk-around is the next best thing. Google announced earlier in the year that it would be opening its first physical location for device sales, and now it has opened its doors in Chelsea, NYC.
At first, it seems like a fairly odd decision given the events of the past 18 months. Online shopping has soared in popularity, as the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing have kept people at home and online.
Still, Google argues that it does make sense. “This new space will be a natural extension of our commitment to NYC and provide customers with hands-on interaction with our lineup of devices and services — from Pixel phones and Nest products to Fitbit wearables and Pixelbooks,” Ivy Ross, VP of hardware design, UX & research, and Nathan Allen, head of store design & special projects, insist. Part of that is a recognition that Google’s device range is now considerable, and that can be overwhelming to new users.
As a result, the new Google Store takes a more hands-on, exploratory approach. Google worked with NYC-based architect Reddymade, even building a full-scale mockup in Mountain View, CA, where it could play with the layout and figure out how to best demo both hardware – like Pixel and Nest – and software.
The end result isn’t just a retail location, but a way for Google to showcase some of the other elements which have become increasingly important in product design. That includes sustainability: both for the devices on sale, and for the store itself. The building is certified LEED Platinum by the US Green Building Council, for example, around sustainable choices for construction and materials.
“Every element of the Google Store — the materials, building processes, mechanical systems and more — was painstakingly considered and selected,” Ross and Allen explain. “For example, the veneer on the walls is a soft gray responsibly sourced hickory, each lighting fixture is energy efficient and our custom cork and wood furniture was created with a local craftsman from Greenpoint, Brooklyn. We even attached our carpeting (which was manufactured with recycled materials) in a sustainable way.”
Of course, that still left room for some more playful elements. The most conspicuous is the “Google Imagination Space”: a 17 foot tall circular glass structure filled with huge touchscreens that can be used to show off immersive demos. That’ll begin with Google Translate, which will do real-time translation across 24 different languages as visitors speak.
There’ll be specially-trained staff to give advice and do demos, and an opportunity to see all of the different color options of each product. Gamers will be able to try out Google Stadia, too, in a specially set-up game hall.
The Google Store is open from tomorrow, June 17, from 10am ET.
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