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What happens when driverless car meets delivery robot at an intersection?

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Just before Christmas last year, Telia and Ericsson opened a 5G pilot network on Tallinn University of Technology’s campus. It’s a permanent network, created for TalTech scientists and the local startup hub to test new applications that need next-generation technology.

Its first trial was to stream live 4K video from the Christmas market in Tallinn, which according to Telia Estonia, was the first live 4K broadcast in the region.

Although it will take some time until mobile end users in Estonia can start signing up for 5G, there are other areas where the technology is already being put to use.

One exciting project that’s now powered by Telia’s 5G network is ISEAuto, the first self-driving vehicle built in Estonia. ISEAuto is a last-mile autonomous shuttle, which is shorter and narrower than a Mini Cooper, although it is a meter higher than a Mini.

It is being tested on the TalTech self-driving car track. The vehicle has six spaces for passengers or luggage, with a 47kW main motor to give a cruising speed of 10kph to 20kph (6mph to 12mph).

The technology it uses to drive autonomously includes Lidar, ultrasonic sensors, short-distance radar, cameras, inertial measurement unit (IMU), and GNSS-RTK positioning technology.

Raivo Sell, a senior researcher at TalTech and one of the leading scientists behind the project, tells ZDNet that this month the team has already started the next stage of project, which involves building the second and more autonomous version of the car.

“The new version will be a street-legal version with optimized systems. It means ISEAuto v2 can perform pilot drives in urban environments,” he says.

SEE: The new commute: How driverless cars, hyperloop, and drones will change our travel plans (TechRepublic cover story) | download the PDF version

This next phase also involves the vehicle being tested and trialed in various countries.

“For example, we’re applying for pilots in Tallinn, Estonia, and Helsinki, Finland, as well as some later pilots in Latvia. We’re also starting to cooperate with Florida Polytechnic University to apply new testing and validation methods to our vehicle to make it safer and more reliable,” explains Sell.

Although ISEAuto is soon going to have the opportunity to explore new tarmac paths in various places around the world, it doesn’t mean it will be abandoning the smart-city environment of TalTech campus.

In addition to 5G and ISEAuto vehicles, the test area is equipped with intelligent road signs and is also being used by Starship Technologies’ autonomous delivery robots, providing rare opportunities for scientists and entrepreneurs to test solutions to problems that could emerge in the near future in various traffic situations.

“New test cases are planned for late January and February to test V2V and V2I communication. The first test case will demonstrate ISEAuto and delivery robot communication, to agree on their driving behavior at intersections. This requires low latency communication, which is enabled by 5G,” Sell says.

“The second case study involves real-time Lidar and camera-stream uploads to the cloud to perform real-time processing and cloud-based situation awareness analysis during the drive.”

The ISEAuto project started in February 2017, when Väino Kaldoja, CEO of Silberauto, one of the biggest enterprises in the automotive field in the Baltics, came to the university and proposed some innovative projects for TalTech’s 100th anniversary in 2018.

During the meeting with Raivo Sell, the idea of making a self-driving vehicle was agreed. The project started officially in June 2017 where both the company and the university invested 50 percent of the project cost.

“The project was very ambitious: to develop a fully operative self-driving car in one year,” says Sell.

A team of students was put together to work on autonomous driving software, sensor technology, and electronics, while Silberauto engineers started to manufacture the vehicle body.

SEE: IT pro’s guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)

The project’s main objectives were to develop relevant expertise, offer practical, state-of-art studies for students, and create a smart-city environment on the university campus. Those goals have been met, and now the one-off project might end up as something much bigger.

“We’re now setting up the long-term financial and strategic plan for ISEAuto’s future developments,” says Sell.

“As so far it’s been a project-based initiative, we need to establish a long-term strategy. In cooperation with the smart-city concept on TalTech campus and our partner, the ISEAuto project will be reorganized to meet long-term objectives and business opportunities.”

The international interest is certainly there. In addition to receiving invitations to several fairs and exhibitions in Baltic and Nordic countries, ISEAuto has already received quite a few cooperation proposals.

“One of our partners in this project is ABB Estonia, and the project has also gained the interest from ABB headquarters in Switzerland,” says Sell.

“We’re invited to be a partner in several EU H2020 projects and have also started collaborating with Japan and US universities and companies. We’re just beginning a new partnership with Florida Polytechnic University and the International Transportation Innovation Center in the US.”

So, when can we see the first ISEAuto driving independently on the public streets? According to Sell, quite soon.

“Tallinn will announce the tender for self-driving last-mile vehicle pilots where we will participate. If we succeed, our vehicle will be in traffic by the end of 2019.” 

ISEAuto and delivery robot interactions are being tested using low-latency comms enabled by 5G.


Image: ISEAuto

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This is the new Tesla Model S

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Tesla has redesigned the Model S, its electric sedan, with a new interior and even more range on offer. The upgrade includes new battery modules, battery packs, and drive units, Tesla said today, complete with an entirely new interior. The automaker is also reworking its Model X SUV, it says.

It’s a welcome revamp for what is the oldest EV that Tesla currently sells. The Model S was certainly groundbreaking when Tesla first launched it, and not only for its reliance on all-electric propulsion: its touchscreen-dominated dashboard went on to arguably set expectations for what a modern car interior should look like.

Tesla built on that with the Model 3 and Model Y, its more affordable models, and in comparison to their minimalistic lines the Model S’ interior looked positively fussy. That’s all being upturned today, with the reveal of the new Model S cabin that Tesla says it’s been preparing its Fremont factory to build.

It’s definitely unique. The steering wheel has been cut down to a pared-back rectangle which Tesla calls the yoke, similar to what we’ve seen Tesla show before on the second-generation Roadster. That has simple controls built-in – a pair of scroll wheels flanked by buttons for indicators, lights, and multimedia control – with a dedicated 12.3-inch driver instrumentation display behind.

In the center console, meanwhile, there’s a full touchscreen for controlling the infotainment system. As in the Model 3, it’s oriented horizontally, a change from the Model S’ vertical touchscreen. Beneath it there’s cubbies along with a wireless charging pad for phones.

The 17-inch center display has a 2200 x 1300 resolution now, and can be tilted from left to right depending on visibility needs. Tesla says the onboard processing is good for up to 10 teraflops of power, which can be used for in-car gaming. There’ll be support for wireless controllers, too.

Overhead, there’s a full glass roof as standard, which uses infrared and UV blocking to avoid heat and glare. Meanwhile, there’s a 22-speaker, 960 watt audio system for music, with microphones embedded for active noise canceling. Each seat gets heating, as does the steering wheel and the windshield; front seats also get ventilation.

Tri-zone climate control with HEPA air filtration is standard, as is ambient lighting. Custom driver profiles are supported, and the power liftgate and power folding side mirrors are standard too. Wireless and USB-C fast charging is fitted for each passenger. Buyers of the new Model S get a year’s Premium Connectivity bundled, with live traffic, satellite view maps, music streaming, internet browser, and video streaming with access to services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Twitch.

The dashboard as a whole is far cleaner, with Tesla’s invisible air vents system for the HVAC. In the rear, meanwhile, there’s now a second, 8-inch touchscreen display presented at the back of the center console. That’s used to control things like climate control and other settings.

Outside, the changes aren’t quite so dramatic, though it’s still a different look to the Model S we’re familiar with. The big difference is the arrival of the redesigned Model S Plaid, its most potent version of the EV. That, the automaker says, should be capable of doing 0-60 mph in under 2.0 seconds, the quarter mile in under 9.3 seconds, and a top speed of 200 mph. It starts at $119,990 for the Plaid with 390 miles of range, or $139,990 for the Plaid+ with a whopping 520+ miles of range. The new Model S Dual Motor All-Wheel Drive Long Range – which can do 412 miles – starts at $79,990

Under the sheet metal, the changes have been led by advancements made for the Model 3 and Model Y, Tesla says. “While our Model S and Model X battery module architecture evolved over the past 8 years, both the battery pack and modules have now been fully redesigned,” Tesla says. “Additionally, we have incorporated Model 3 and Model Y motor technology throughout as well as our heat pump for better winter range.”

The changes also help with high-speed quarter-mile runs, Tesla claims, with an apparent 5x improvement in how many can be carried out. The Model S and Model X Performance models have been replaced by the Plaid trim, with its tri-motor configuration. The controversial “Full Self-Driving Capability” package is $10,000.

Production of the new Model S and Model X will resume later in Q1 2021, Tesla says, “and ramp back to full capacity over time.” According to the online order system, new orders should ship from March for the Dual Motor All-Wheel Drive and Plaid, and late 2021 for the Model S Plaid+.

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EV drivers are getting better Google Maps route planning – with a catch

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Google is adding new features for electric vehicle drivers to Google Maps, improving its algorithms for EV route planning, though just who’ll be able to make the most of them will depend on what’s parked in your garage. The goal, Google says, is to improve how trip planning for journeys that involve two or more recharging pitstops is handled, to reduce stress and trim driving time.

The new routing algorithms rely on what’s known as graph theory, effectively calculating multiple routes through different charging locations so as to pick the most efficient. That’s not just a matter of distance: factors like speed, altitude changes, weather, traffic, and other trip metrics have a significant impact on how far an EV can actually go on a charge. Meanwhile, the speed of individual chargers also needs to be taken into account.

Google says that it can combine all of those factors for the best route in under 10 seconds. “You can see how long each charge will take and your updated total trip time,” Alex Donaldson, Product Manager for Google Maps explains, “so your final ETA will never again be a mystery.”

It’s not the first addition to Google Maps with EVs in mind. Google previously updated its listings for charging locations with extra details about just what sort of connectors you might find at each charger, so that drivers could better match their car’s capabilities to the plugs on offer. It then added real-time status to the maps, so that drivers would know not only whether a compatible plug was there, but if it was currently in use with another vehicle.

The difference between that and Google’s new features announced today, of course, is just who can access them. The real-time charger location and status information is available to anybody with Google Maps on their phone or in the browser, whereas the updated routing algorithms launching today require having a vehicle that’s running Android Automotive OS. That’s Google’s platform for vehicles – not to be confused with Android Auto, which involves projecting your smartphone display on top of the car’s underlying infotainment system – which so far is only available on a couple of models.

Right now, indeed, you’ll need to be driving either a new Polestar 2 or a new Volvo XC40 Recharge in order to have Android Automotive OS on your dashboard. Volvo is set to launch more models with the platform, along with other automakers like GM, but it’s worth noting that the timescales of car companies are typically a lot more protracted than that of consumer tech firms.

Other additions to the version of Google Maps built into car dashboards are more information on charging locations. That includes which are the fastest, and which are compatible with any specific charging company membership you might have. “You can also see if a charging spot is close to a grocery store or coffee shop,” Donaldson says, “so you can knock out errands or recharge yourself with a latte while you wait.”

In Europe, Google Maps will also begin showing what payment methods are supported at different stations. That’s launching initially in twelve countries – Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, and Luxembourg – with more promised in the pipeline.

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This Ferrari Breadvan pays homage to a 1960s racing icon

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What you’re staring at is a one-off homage to Ferrari’s 250 GT SWB Breadvan racecar that first appeared at the 1962 24 Hours of Le Mans. The vintage-inspired bodywork is the brainchild of Dutch coachbuilder Niels van Roij Design and is commissioned by an anonymous client.

“We see it as a great privilege that we can honor the Breadvan through this Hommage commission,” said Van Roij. “It is a complex task to translate the essence of the legendry ’62 car into a contemporary design. We intend to be inspired by the old car, but will ensure we are not limited by it in our creativity.”

This modern Ferrari Breadvan started life as a Ferrari 550 Maranello. After many sketches and building a full-size clay model, the Breadvan Hommage gains a new front bumper, a domed hood, and fresh air vents. The body panels were hand-beaten to perfection by coachbuilder Bas van Roomen, and only the windshield was carried over from the donor vehicle.

It’s a different story in the rear. The roofline stretches flat towards the back, where the line breaks into a nearly 90-degree angle to form the silhouette of a bread van. Like the vintage model, Niels van Roij saw it proper to fit four round taillights, a glass rear window, and lengthy quad exhaust tips as the original.

Of course, the retro theme is applied to the cabin with hand-beaten aluminum trim pieces, quilted black leather trim, and milled aluminum switchgear. Meanwhile, carbon-fiber sport seats are standard, and the groovy blue upholstery adds a nice vintage flair.

Otherwise, the mechanical bits and pieces were untouched save for a new handmade exhaust system, bespoke Koni shock absorbers, and Vredestein Ultrac Vorti+ tires. Motivating this modern Ferrari Breadvan is a naturally-aspirated 5.5-liter V8 engine producing 478 horsepower and 419 pound-feet of torque with a six-speed gated manual gearbox and rear-wheel drive.

Since the Ferrari Breadvan Hommage is a one-off, you won’t expect to see it outside a swanky coffee shop or restaurant anytime soon, unless you’re lucky. We’ve seen a lot of one-off Ferraris before, but the Breadvan is definitely one of the most fascinating by far.

Ferrari Breadvan Hommage Gallery

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