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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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2021 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 AWD Review: Too much and not enough

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Infiniti is getting squeezed. On the one hand, its premium rivals have fresher ranges, more competitive models, and sports sedans like this 2021 Q50 Red Sport 400 AWD can no longer count on power alone to distinguish them. On the other, mainstream and more affordable vehicles are getting ever-stronger, including cars from Infiniti’s own Nissan sibling.

It’s a pinch that has already claimed the QX80, Infiniti’s three-row SUV being more expensive yet less user-friendly than its Nissan Armada counterpart, and the QX50, which delivers “acceptable” in a category where “outstanding” has become table-stakes. I suspect the Q50 will be next to succumb.

Launched in 2013, and then massaged back in 2016, the Q50 is no spring chicken. Lest I be accused of automotive agism, let’s be clear: older needn’t mean worse. Get the recipe just right – as the old G-Class and Defender showed – and you can coast for decades on enthusiast appeal alone.

Problem is, I’m not convinced the Q50 is cooked quite right. At least, not sufficiently to make it an icon of the sort that you willingly look beyond its peccadillos. In short, a great engine does not a great car make.

Make no mistake, Infiniti’s 3.0-liter V6 twin-turbo is a lovable thing. 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque are more than healthy, even half a decade after Infiniti unveiled it, and it sounds pretty darn glorious too. Raspy and prone to the occasional bark, it’s an exhaust that reminds you why – even with electrifications’ clear performance advantages at this point – EVs haven’t quite won over everybody yet.

Infiniti pairs it here with all-wheel drive and a 7-speed automatic transmission. The Q50 grips nicely, and though there’s a little lean through more aggressive cornering it’s never to the point where you’re afraid things might break loose. It’s definitely tuned on the firm side, and shoddy road surfaces do make themselves known in the cabin.

The automatic shifts smoothly, and is positively slushy when you’re pottering around town. It’s capable of faster stuff, though, however in Sport and Sport+ modes it’s perennially reluctant to upshift. That’s great when you’re pushing hard, but does leave you sounding like the person who forgot how to change gears when you’re tapping the 400 horses for more point-and-squirt play.

Since I’m British and already riddled with anxieties, I figured it was better to take over the gear-changes myself, lest people in the lane next to me think I just enjoyed the sound of a V6 spinning at 4,500 rpm while I was cruising at 35 mph or so. The good news is that manual overrides here don’t have any of the lag or seeming-disconnect that some automatics suffer, where it can feel like each snap of the paddle has to go via a panel of adjudicators before the cogs are actually shuffled.

My review car didn’t come with Infiniti’s most controversial option, the drive-by-wire steering. In theory, it allows for more responsive control as well as the ability to more comprehensively tweak the performance and feedback according to each drive mode. In reality, whenever I’ve driven an Infiniti with it, I’ve found it oddly light and distant: as though you’re using a console’s gaming wheel.

Honestly, even the Q50’s regular steering still feels a little disconnected from what’s happening at the road. Enough that, after my first drive, I double-checked the specs to make doubly-sure the Direct Adaptive Steering wasn’t added.

The overall feeling is a little… old-school. Infiniti’s V6 has plenty of torque from the get-go, but the underwhelming steering and transmission foibles just don’t make the best of it. A good sports sedan makes you want to drive it, even when you don’t have any other reason than desire. Even in Red Sport form, the Q50 just doesn’t inspire that lust.

The interior only helps a little. There’s plenty of space for those up front, but the rear bench is tight. Cabin nooks and cubbies are on the small side, too, and the 13 cu-ft trunk is easily bested by its competitors. It’s the tech where things really show their age, mind: Infiniti’s dual touchscreen dashboard is complex and the graphics are lumpen and ugly.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, as is – on the Red Sport 400 – a well-tuned Bose 16-speaker audio system, but they’re not enough to distract you from the small, outdated-looking display that’s sandwiched between the analog gauges.

Part of my frustration is the sense that Infiniti isn’t really trying, here. Or, at least, if the wishlist of potential upgrades for the Q50 had been ranked from easiest to toughest, the automaker hasn’t tackled even the low-hanging fruit. Sure, ditching the twin-screen infotainment for a whole new platform might be cost-prohibitive, but swapping in some metal paddle-shifters, replacing the cheap-feeling generic Nissan starter button, and upgrading some of the more plasticky trim would go a long way.

Instead you pay $145 to add charging ports to the rear, and that just seems ridiculous on a $58k luxury sedan. You do, at least, get leather, a power moonroof, heating for the front seats and steering wheel, adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assistance – that works well, unlike some rival systems – and dual-zone climate control. On the safety side, there’s predictive forward collision warnings with emergency braking, blind spot warnings and backup collision intervention, lane departure warnings, and a 360-degree camera that, though suffering woefully low-resolution graphics, does at least flag any moving objects to you.

Outside, 19-inch alloys are standard, plus red-painted calipers for the grippy sport brakes. All-in, with the carbon fiber side mirror covers and rear spoiler, the new Slate Gray paint, illuminated kick-plates, and the Cargo Package, it brings the 2021 Q50 Red Sport 400 AWD to $61,890 including the $1,025 destination.

For running costs, the EPA says you should see 19 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 22 mpg combined. Not great on paper – though the RWD version does nudge ahead a little – but I managed over 24 mpg without too much effort.

2021 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 Verdict

The market has spoken and, as buyers swarm SUVs and crossovers, the stakes and expectations are higher than ever for a sports sedan. Therein lies Infiniti’s problem: the Q50 Red Sport 400 feels a lot like the car which launched in 2016. For about the same money today, you could have an AMG C43 or a BMW M340i xDrive, both down on power but each more engaging to drive and with nicer accommodations.

Or, for that matter, you could soon buy a 2021 Acura TLX Type S. Again it’s down on power, but it’ll be considerably cheaper than the Infiniti and the difference in cabin design and tech is chalk-and-cheese. In the end, after all, while high horsepower numbers are nice they’re still only part of an overall package.

That’s the challenge the Q50 faces. The V6 under its hood is the star, but even a perfect powertrain can’t carry a car that’s lacking elsewhere, and Infiniti’s isn’t even a perfect powertrain. It’s a potent engine, and it sounds fantastic, but the rest of the pieces here just don’t add up to something properly compelling in a fiercely competitive segment.

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The mythical 255-MPH Corvette Callaway Sledgehammer is up for sale

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Sure, the C4 Corvette-based Callaway Sledgehammer is an old car, but we’re not talking about an ordinary fourth-gen Corvette. The Callaway sledgehammer is a one-off version with an aero-optimized body kit and a twin-turbo V8 engine.

Oh, and did we forget to mention it’s bloody quick? If you love Corvettes, you probably heard of Callaway Cars based in Connecticut, maker of the C8 Corvette AeroWagen. In 1988, Callaway created the Sledgehammer, and it cemented their reputation as one of the finest Corvette tuners in the world.

Only one Sledgehammer is in existence, and the owner happens to be Reeves Calllaway, founder of Callaway Cars. He drove the Sledgehammer from Connecticut to the Transporation Research Center in Ohio 33 years ago to see how fast it will go on the center’s 7.5-mile oval track.

As it turned out, it wasn’t just insanely quick, but it broke speed records along the way. Driven by John Lingenfelter (founder of Lingenfelter Performance Engineering), the Callaway Sledgehammer reached a top speed of 254.76 mph, breaking all existing speed records at that time. Back in ’88, that speed is simply unheard of in any production sports car. And now, you can own the Callaway Sledgehammer, albeit at a rather hefty price.

And guess what, the bid price is rising fast. The Callaway Sledgehammer is on sale at Bring a Trailer for $425,476, and the bidding ends in 10 days as of press time. Two days ago, the bid price was $100,255. For a one-off speed demon, we’re expecting prices to sky-rocket as the bidding war ends, so prepare your checkbook if you really want to own a piece of Corvette history.

For the money, you’ll get a bespoke and hand-built 5.7-liter twin-turbocharged V8 producing 898 horsepower and 772 pound-feet of torque connected to a six-speed manual gearbox. Other custom changes include selective ride control suspension, a roll bar with five-point harnesses, a set of Dymag magnesium wheels, and a bespoke stainless steel exhaust with central-mounted quad tailpipes.

After performing its record-breaking top speed run, the Callaway Sledgehammer spent the past 33 years in a climate-controlled, museum-like environment, which probably explains the vehicle’s relatively mint interior and exterior. Other goodies include the window sticker, an accident-free report from Carfax, a clean Colorado title, and a car familiarization course from Callaway cars.

Happy bidding! Oh, and do let us know if you got the winning bid. We’d love to hear this car scream.

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Dastardly patent outlines a method of serving ads inside the car

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It’s hard to do anything today without being deluged by ads. You can’t stream videos from many sources without ads, you can’t surf the Internet without ads, and you can’t drive down the road without seeing billboards and other types of advertisements. A patent has turned up that was published on May 6, 2021, called “Billboard Interfaces for Vehicle Displays.”

The patent was filed by Ford Motor Company back in December 2016. The patent outlines a method and apparatus for a billboard interface for the display inside a vehicle. Essentially it serves ads on the infotainment system screen. According to the patent, an example method for generating a billboard interface for vehicle display includes obtaining via a camera an image of a billboard and identifying a segment of that image via a processor.

Ford’s patent can determine an event associated with the image segment and generate a billboard interface inside the vehicle to include a hyperlink of the segment that initiates the event. Essentially, it appears to be outlining a way as you’re driving down the road that the camera could recognize a billboard, identify a product, and offer a page on the infotainment system screen with a hyperlink you can press to buy the product or learn more about it.

The line art from the patent filing, which can be seen above, indicates the system can recognize a billboard for a local restaurant and generate a page inside the car. The page has a phone number that can be dialed at the press of a link, or navigation information can be served based on the address at the press of the link.

The system could be helpful and welcome if it only works when the user wants more information about a billboard they see on the side of the road. However, it could be highly intrusive if the system automatically generates this information on the screen for each billboard you pass while driving.

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