A self-driving Volvo vehicle, purchased by Uber, stops at an intersection in Tempe, Arizona. Picture: REUTERS
A self-driving Volvo vehicle, purchased by Uber, stops at an intersection in Tempe, Arizona. Picture: REUTERS

Development prototypes from Uber’s self-driving technology arm were involved in 37 crashes in the 18 months leading up to the company’s fatal Arizona crash last year.

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) confirmed last week that all 37 accidents involved Uber prototypes, with 33 of the 37 autonomous Uber crashes involving other vehicles, though the autonomous Ubers were not always at fault.

The prototype involved in the crash that killed Elaine Herzberg was in its autonomous mode, while its “driver” was watching The Voice on a mobile device. It was history’s first confirmed autonomous-vehicle fatal crash.

While police argued that the crash was “entirely avoidable”, prosecutors in Arizona insisted Uber wasn’t criminally liable.

While the NTSB will hold a probable cause hearing on the Arizona crash on November 19, Uber put its autonomous-vehicle development programme on hold in the aftermath of the fatal accident. It resumed testing with upgraded software in a different part of the country (Pennsylvania) in December 2018.

Uber has adopted critical programme improvements to further prioritise safety, Uber spokesperson Sarah Abboud said in a statement.

One finding already announced by the NTSB is that Uber intentionally disabled the Volvo SUV’s built-in autonomous emergency braking system.

While Volvo has not been involved in the NTSB discussions, Uber told the organisation that its upgraded software would have detected Herzberg 4.5 seconds before the impact and braked for four full seconds before the collision. 

Michael Taylor


 Toyota and Isuzu team up for black empowerment

Trade & industry minister Ebrahim Patel, left, shakes hands with Michael Sacke, CEO of Isuzu Motors SA. Picture: SUPPLIED
Trade & industry minister Ebrahim Patel, left, shakes hands with Michael Sacke, CEO of Isuzu Motors SA. Picture: SUPPLIED

Toyota SA Motors (TSAM) and Isuzu Motors SA are warring factions on monthly sales charts but have joined forces in a Black Supplier Development programme with Algoa Components Manufacturers (ACM).

When the Port Elizabeth-based, black-owned supplier of fuel fillers, side impact beams and instrument panel carriers reported concerns about the future sustainability of its business, the two original equipment manufacturers (OEM) intervened.

TSAM and Isuzu have partnered with Propella, a Port Elizabeth-based business hub, to offer skills transfer and mentoring support to ACM. The mentoring process is well under way in a bid to improve ACM’s production capacity as well as its future business sustainability.

TSAM and Isuzu have committed to assist ACM in the overall improvement and optimisation of product process flows, plant layout, space utilisation and the determination of material and manning standards — all in support of creating a more efficient production system.

Kim Nisbet, senior manager of enterprise and supplier development at TSAM, says: “We value this opportunity to work with Isuzu in jointly developing and supporting this black supplier and it is important to both OEMs in terms of increasing local manufactured content, but more critically it is our responsibility to ensure the sustainability of our local suppliers.

Isuzu Motors SA adds that it is equally committed to broad-based BEE and embraces opportunities to accelerate the transformation of the automotive value chain.

“We should always remember that an economy cannot grow by excluding people and that an economy which is not growing, cannot integrate all of its citizens in a meaningful way. It is thus vital that original equipment manufacturers are actively supporting the long-term sustainability of the automotive supply chain,” says Gregory Wood, GM of purchasing at Isuzu.

Trade & industry minister Ebrahim Patel has welcomed the announcement saying it will contribute immensely towards President Cyril Ramaphosa’s investment drive.


Jaguar Land Rover brings curved-TV tech to car interiors

Future dashboards will allow for more customisation. Picture: SUPPLIED
Future dashboards will allow for more customisation. Picture: SUPPLIED

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is working on curved screens to replace regular vehicle dashboards, and let drivers customise interiors thanks to colour-changing body panels.

JLR reports that it’s developing the Lightweight Electronics in Simplified Architecture (Lesa) research technology as used in flexible wearables and curved OLED TVs but for car interiors.

With Lesa technology, the company says it will be able to manufacture body panel displays to show information only when needed to help designers achieve streamlined and buttonless designs for future cars.

Such designs may include customisable interior ambient lighting systems, body controls, wraparound buttonless dashboards and advanced fabric-leather heated steering wheels.

The innovative printed electronics system will also reduce the weight of in-car electronics by up to 60% as wiring, sensors and computing is contained within all non-metal materials. It also brings the possibility of adding solar panels to the vehicle, with energy generated from the sun used to recharge the battery.

JLR say it has successfully trialled Lesa technology on an overhead control panel prototype, achieving a weight reduction of 60%. The research was awarded an Institution of Engineering and Technology innovation award with judges praising it as “the future of electronics in the car”.

Ashutosh Tomar, JLR Electrical Research technical manager, said: “Health care, aerospace, consumer technology and military industries are already harnessing the benefits of structural electronics and our research is leading the way in the automotive sector by bringing it into the cabin for the first time.”


Volvo brings blockchain technology to cars

Volvo is using blockchain to assure its customers that cobalt in batteries has been sourced responsibly. Picture: SUPPLIED
Volvo is using blockchain to assure its customers that cobalt in batteries has been sourced responsibly. Picture: SUPPLIED

Volvo Cars will become the first carmaker to implement global traceability of cobalt, the material used in electric-vehicle battery construction.

By applying blockchain ledger technology, which establishes a transparent and reliable shared data network containing a list of records linked to each other via cryptography, the technology creates records of transactions which cannot be changed, while also enforcing a common set of rules for what data can be recorded. This allows participants to verify and audit transactions independently.

The announcement follows the reveal in October of the company’s first fully electric car, the XC40 Recharge. Traceability of raw materials used in the production of lithium ion batteries, such as cobalt, is one of the main sustainability challenges faced by car makers and Volvo wants customers to know that the material has been sourced responsibly.

Volvo Cars has reached an agreement with its two global battery suppliers, CATL of China and LG Chem of South Korea, and leading global blockchain technology firms to implement traceability of cobalt starting in 2019.

“We have always been committed to an ethical supply chain for our raw materials,” said Martina Buchhauser, head of procurement at Volvo Cars. “With blockchain technology we can take the next step towards ensuring full traceability of our supply chain and minimising any related risks, in close collaboration with our suppliers.”

By 2025, Volvo expects half of its global sales to consist of fully electric cars, with the remainder being hybrids.