Eclipse Foundation launches open source collaboration around software-defined vehicles

One of the world’s largest open source software (OSS) foundations, the Eclipse Foundation, this week announced an invitation to leaders in the technology sector to join in the commencement of a new working group initiative specifically focused on developing a new grade of open source software-defined vehicles.

Alongside the Eclipse Foundation are several top industry players that are joining the foundation’s open source collaborative effort including Microsoft, Red Hat, Bosch, and others.

“With digital technologies unlocking the future of accessible, sustainable, and safe transportation experiences, mobility services providers are increasingly looking to differentiate through software innovation,” said Ulrich Homann, corporate vice president and distinguished architect at Microsoft. “By standardizing the development, deployment, and management of software-defined vehicles through collaboration in the open-source space, businesses can bring tailored mobility solutions to their customers faster and can focus on innovations.”

The Eclipse Foundation’s initiative aims to provide “individuals and organizations with a mature, scalable, and business-friendly environment for open source software collaboration and innovation,” according to the foundation’s press release.

Benefits for mobility

The new working group will focus entirely on building next-generation vehicles based on open source. By open-sourcing this project, the foundation is hoping to pull solutions and innovation from the best and brightest enterprises and individuals across the globe — and doing so with an eye toward creating a strong foundation for software-defined vehicles and future mobility.

“The software-defined vehicle will play a key role in the future of mobility,” Christoph Hartung, president and chairman of embedded systems maker ETAS, said in a press release. “The explosive increase in complexity can only be mastered by working closely together as we do in this initiative.”

The foundation is focused on fostering an environment from which to pave the way for software-defined vehicles, but it doesn’t stop there. Eclipse is also looking at how both its new working group and the innovation of software-defined vehicles can be used to create robust accessibility options for people with various disabilities and physical needs.

“The transfer of personalized functionality across vehicles and brands will be eased — assume a rental car,” Sven Kappel, vice president and head of project for Bosch, told VentureBeat. “So, in the given hardware restraints, the needs of [an] impaired car user could be far faster retrieved and be met by a large developer base with lower implementation cost than classical vehicle architecture and software developing paradigms.”

A software-defined future

Software-defined vehicles have captured the attention of industry leaders, academics, and the public alike. Next-gen vehicle developers are increasingly looking to provide advanced mobility options to serve the global community, just as smart city technologies and initiatives are similarly on the rise.

The benefits from this open-sourced working group can extend beyond vehicles into other industries as well, including cloud computing and manufacturing. A similar open source-focused working initiative in another industry sector could create benefits ranging from collaborative interdisciplinary solutions to ensuring thoughtful inclusion of anticipated consumer needs early on.

As the automotive industry, like other sectors, continually pivots toward a software-defined future, interdisciplinary collaboration with open source technology will further enable innovation. Manufacturers and suppliers will be better equipped to leverage standards that make innovations available to more people — for the software-defined vehicle space, this means being able to bring customizable features to drivers and passengers at an accelerated rate, Homann explained to VentureBeat via email.

“A global open source community can leverage a wide variety of voices, which can lead to greater participation, such as contributing tools and development principles that can enhance diversity and inclusion,” Homann said.

By building and utilizing a strong, open foundation, vehicle manufacturers worldwide will be able to zero in on key differentiators for customers, like mobility services and end-user experience improvements, at the same time that they are saving both time and cost on the non-differentiating elements, such as operating systems, middleware, and communication protocols, Eclipse’s press release claims.

“Although we have extensive roots with the automotive community, a project of this scope and scale has never been attempted before,” said Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation. “This initiative enables participants to get in at the ‘ground level’ and ensure they each have an equal voice in this project.”

The future of software-defined vehicles

The Eclipse Foundation — which has reportedly fostered more than 400 open source projects to date — is eyeing the future as it attempts an open source project unmatched to any of its previous 400. By creating an environment that it anticipates will become “an open ecosystem for deploying, configuring, and monitoring vehicle software in a secure and safe way,” and will assist with achieving a significant transformation for the industry at a large scale.

“The end goal of this project is a completely new type of automobile defined in free, open-to-anyone software that can be downloaded into an off-the-shelf chassis. Adding new features to your call will simply require a software update. An enormous first step in a new era of vehicle development,” a press release from Eclipse stated.

A transportation and logistics report released in August by the market data firm Statista projects that electronic systems will account for nearly 50% of the total price of a new car by 2030. Additionally, the report claims that even before then, by 2025 about 33% of new cars sold will be operated by an electric battery. In fact, the report predicts that within the next decade, the rise of mobility services and autonomous vehicles will launch a revolution throughout the entire auto sector.

In addition, another recent report, titled “Software-defined vehicle Research Report 2021: Architecture Trends and Industry Panorama,” points out that in order to keep up with the Joneses of the automotive industry, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) must “open up vehicle programming to all enterprises by simplifying the development of vehicle software and increasing the frequency of updates, so as to master the ecological resources of developers.” This further underscores the Eclipse Foundation’s ultimate goal of inviting industry leaders to collaboratively build next-generation vehicles based on open source.

According to the press release, Eclipse plans to create a space fueled by “transparency, vendor-neutrality, and a shared voice” in order to ensure all participants in the open source-driven project have the opportunity to shape the future of the working group — and the very future of vehicle development itself.


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Regulators know teleoperation is key for self-driving vehicles to succeed

Elevate your enterprise data technology and strategy at Transform 2021.

The first article in this series highlighted one of the biggest and most revolutionary changes ever to come our way — autonomous vehicles (AVs). AV technology will mark the first time in history that transportation is possible without requiring any active human labor.

Autonomous Driving (AD) is made possible by the harnessing of cutting-edge sensors, advanced computing, and sophisticated algorithms. Nevertheless, while some claims are being made that AVs are ready for prime time, they are premature. There remain significant kinks in the technology. Hence, regulatory bodies are closely monitoring the development of such systems in order to ensure public safety.

41 U.S. states have approved development of self-driving cars

No fewer than 41 U.S. states have enacted legislation or issued executive orders regarding the development of self-driving cars, but the bottom line for activation is “not yet.” For now, there must be a human in the loop.

The missing link, of course, is teleoperation. Numerous countries and states are paving the way. The United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, California, Michigan, and Texas are just some of the places where teleoperation is mandatory for any operation of autonomous vehicles for testing purposes or pilot programs. With trailblazers like these, surely the need, acceptance, and demand for teleoperation and its legislation is expected to spread.  This happened in a major way last month when Germany took the lead in this roster of teleoperation trailblazers.

Germany authorizes commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles (AVs); teleoperation required

On May 28, the German Bundesrat approved the new Level 4 AV law. Level 4 refers to levels 0-5 of autonomy in vehicles as defined by SAE International, a global standards developing organization for engineering professionals. Levels 4 and 5, being the highest two, are the only levels that do not require active participation from an in-cabin human driver. In essence, the German government passed a law stating that AVs can be commercially deployed on the roads of Germany. As part of this groundbreaking initiative, officials mandated that humans must still be able to intervene, from a distance. They legislated teleoperation into law.

Sometimes legislation is written in ambiguous terms, leading to confusion and abuse. Fortunately this is not the case with Germany, where the new law stipulates that:

  1. Manual remote driving is not allowed.
  2. Only indirect controls are allowed. This is when the autonomy system offers one of a menu of choices for the human to choose from, or where the human gives “high-level” commands.
  3. The Self Driving System (SDS)/Autonomous Driving System (ADS) is always in control of the driving task, and is always responsible for driving. Even after a command is given by a human operator, the SDS/ADS decides when and how to execute it safely.
  4. Teleoperation is intentionally called “Technical Supervision (Technische Aufsicht),” to make the role distinction clear.
  5. The SDS/ADS always decides when it needs support from the Control Center (CC) and initiates a teleoperation session. This only happens after the vehicle performs a minimal risk maneuver [MRM] and brings the vehicle to a safe stop with hazard lights on, aka a minimal risk condition [MRC]. There is one exception: A teleoperation session can be initiated from the CC in order to issue a safe stop command only in special circumstances, including a cybersecurity attack.
  6. There is no longer a requirement for each vehicle to be monitored 1-on-1 by a human. Humans can monitor on an as-needed basis.
  7. A continuous data link through cellular network(s) is mandatory.

Legislation for AV technology is beginning to catch up

Germany has always been a leader and an innovator in the automotive sector. This legislation demonstrates how the country continues to lead the pack. Surely other governments will take their cues from Germany and will begin to adopt very similar laws. Legislation has been lagging behind AV technology, but it’s starting to catch up.

Changes like these tell us a few things. First and foremost, it tells us that governments are really taking autonomy seriously and understand its importance. Furthermore, it tells us that this is all happening in real time. We are yet another step closer to self-driving cars. Finally, it tells us that the future will have to incorporate teleoperation. The importance of a human having the ability to intervene in critical situations is of great importance, and all companies dealing with autonomous vehicles will have to adopt this technology.

Amit Rosenzweig is founder and CEO of Ottopia, a teleoperation software company.



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The success of self-driving vehicles will depend on teleoperation

Elevate your enterprise data technology and strategy at Transform 2021.

There is a lot of chatter right now about self-driving vehicles, which is understandable, as we stand on the threshold of an entire new world of driving. It’s not just the dream of self-driven vehicles, but also of green cars and trucks that glide silently without emitting any climate- threatening pollutants.

The cutting edge electric vehicle (EV) and autonomous vehicle (AV) technologies are virtually symbiotic, with a great deal of collaboration between the two emerging sectors. Yet, EVs actually are way ahead of autonomous driving in terms of fulfilling their vision in the real world. And it’s not just because people are gun-shy when it comes to tooling around in a driverless car. An empty driver’s seat is perhaps all fine and well on a straight road with almost no traffic and no sudden surprises. But when it comes to real-life traffic, there’s still no substitute for a hands-on driver. A human behind the wheel can see and properly respond to unexpected problems; autonomous technology has a long way to go before it can match wits with a human in such situations.
For the time being, self-driving technology falls short of the vision. Among the stumbling blocks are imperfect sensors, lack of mathematical models that can successfully predict the behavior of every road user, the high cost of collecting enough data to train algorithms, and, of course, passenger inhibition.(When elevators were introduced in the 1850s, it took years for most people to overcome their fear of the new contraptions.)

Today’s self-driving vehicles operate on a complex marriage of camera, lidar, radar, GPS and direction sensors. Combined, these are expected to deliver an all-situation, all-weather answer empowering an AV to see all, anticipate everything, and guarantee safe delivery to one’s destination.

Only they don’t. And they can’t.

Poor visibility, temporary detours, and lane-changes are challenges the current technology cannot process to provide an all-weather, all-situation solution. On-board computers, algorithms, and sensors are just not good enough today to deliver instant, and possibly life-saving, reactions.

While AVs have learned to recognize a fixed traffic light and a moving pedestrian, they cannot yet adapt to all new situations, especially at high speeds and in complex urban environments.
It’s no wonder that government regulators are reluctant to clear AVs for prime time. There is just not enough data to insure confidence in an AV’s ability to prevent damage, injury, and death. Understandably, consumer confidence is also just not there yet.

These are just some of the reasons why teleoperation is necessary to make the era of AVs practical. Simply put, teleoperation is the technology that allows one to remotely monitor an AV, take control as needed, and solve problems quickly and remotely.

With teleoperation, a single controller positioned at a distance from, say, a fleet of robo-taxis can observe each vehicle in real time and override their autonomy as necessary or provide much-needed input. When the problem is solved, the AV continues on its autonomous way. In effect, the remote “driver” takes over or issues commands only when human intervention is needed. And he or she can monitor and handle a number of vehicles simultaneously. The teleoperator is also there to speak with passengers who might be concerned about why the AV is taking a few extra seconds to cross an intersection.

Problem solved? Not so fast.

Because not all teleoperation technology is created equal. Guiding a vehicle remotely requires an ability to transfer, with as close to no delay as possible, information between the vehicle and the teleoperation center. Continuous and reliable two-way data streaming, regardless of changing network conditions, is absolutely critical, and a big challenge of its own. And yet, neither 4G LTE nor WiFi are equipped to support such high bandwidth and low latency communication, especially from a vehicle in motion. It will be a while before 5G will be the universal standard, and even with that network upgrade the challenges will remain.

Another obstacle is one that’s measured in milliseconds. Even with the strongest data connection, there is still a split-second difference between what is happening on the road and what the teleoperator can see. This drastically affects their ability to react.

The human factor (or UX, for user experience) is also an issue. The way different teleoperators perceive driving environments varies, and is different from that of an in-vehicle operator. It is insufficient to merely receive a video feed and follow through with commands. Tools that help create situational awareness are necessary — for example, an overlay to employ sensor systems and translate their information into recommended decisions.

The final bogeyman is hackers, the devils who delight in throwing in a virtual spanner that can ruin one’s day. When a bank account is hacked, money is lost. When a teleoperation post is hacked, lives can be lost, as safety and ingenuity are compromised.

Clearly, all of these issues require solutions that depend on deep innovation in multiple technologies. Details on the teleoperation solution will be explored in succeeding articles. Stay tuned.


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Tech News

Pros and Cons of Electric Vehicles

Largely fueled by government regulations, the electric vehicle (EV) segment is growing on a regular basis in many markets around the world. Most carmakers are developing at least a couple of battery-powered models, and many already have at least one in their portfolio. If you’ve never driven an electric car, let alone owned one, there are a few things to keep in mind before giving up gasoline for good. Here are the pros and cons of living with an EV.

Pro: They’re cheaper to maintain

Electric cars are considerably more expensive than comparable gas-powered models, but you’ll spend less money to keep one on the road. They’re built with fewer moving parts, which reduces the likelihood of something breaking. Plus, the regular maintenance your gasoline-powered car needs to run smoothly (oil changes, fluid flushes, and the like) is no longer necessary. The biggest expense with EVs is the eventual need for a battery replacement, which will come with a four-digit price tag. Still, you should be able to get many miles out of your EV before that becomes an issue.

Oil changes, fluid flushes, and the like are no longer necessary.

Con: Finding electricity and generating enough of it

While charging your EV is easier than ever, the charging station infrastructure is still hit or miss in many areas. Tesla has spent billions of dollars developing its own network, but it still doesn’t have enough, which forced it to limit the time customers can charge in a single stop at its Superchargers. Other third-party providers are stepping up in the meantime, including Electrify America, but demand seems to be outpacing supply.

If there are not many charging stations nearby, you’ll want to add a plug at home. That’s not a simple job, however, as your vehicle requires 220V power to charge quickly and efficiently. Rewiring your home for this may run into the thousands of dollars, adding to your already high startup costs.

Electricity generation is another issue. Analysts warn that the electricity use by EVs may strain the power grids in some areas if action isn’t taken to increase generation capacity. However, it will probably be five to 10 years down the road (if not longer) before this becomes an issue.

Pro: They’re quiet and quick

Have you ever been in an electric vehicle? It’s a completely different experience from riding in a regular car. The lack of any engine noise — just wind and road noise — might take some getting used to. Some EV-makers, like Jaguar, have even added fake motor noises to make the car sound more traditional from the inside, but we like cruising in soothing quiet.

Those who appreciate more spirited driving will undoubtedly find an EV very fun to take zero to 60.

Either way, they’re quick. Put your foot on the accelerator, and an electric car will take off faster than many gas-powered cars on the road. That’s because all of the torque is immediately available to the wheels. And, in many models, the brake energy recuperation technology means you can slow down without using the brake pedal.

Con: The fun doesn’t last long

While it might be fun to launch your EV off the line and really put it through its paces, you’ll also significantly limit your range by always flooring it. In everyday driving, the most affordable EVs might offer as little as 150 to 250 miles of range (especially older models). To get longer ranges that are more comparable to a gas-powered vehicle, you’ll spend considerably more. Even then, the best cars still deliver a driving range typical of an average gasoline tank.

This means you might spend a lot of time planning your routes rather than throwing an address into your GPS and getting on your way. If your route’s long enough, you’ll need to factor in recharging time and the locations of charging stations, too. That might take some getting used to.

Pro: They’re truly zero-emission vehicles

While hybrid owners sing the praises of their vehicles, the cars still rely quite a bit on the gas-powered portion of the drivetrain for forward momentum. EVs, on the other hand, produce no emissions at all. Also absent are oil, antifreeze, and other fluids. Yes, the batteries do pose a potential environmental issue down the road, and they’re often manufactured using minerals that need to be mined in conditions that are sometimes dubious, but the industry is already at work figuring out ways to recycle used EV batteries.

Con: The electricity you charge with may be problematic

Depending on where you live, the electricity you use to charge your EV is fairly likely to use “dirty energy,” those types of power sources that pollute the most. Even in states where renewable energy makes up the largest portion of energy usage, it’s only 20%. That means that, in an indirect way, your car is still contributing to pollution.

Envision Solar is setting out to make charging stations as clean as possible, even more so than they are currently. The company is in the middle of designing and developing a charging station that is 100% renewable. Upon its completion, we expect to see many other competing companies follow in their footsteps. Until this happens, EVs must settle for standard charging stations.

Pro: They’re good cars to lease

EVs are typically very expensive and are almost always too high for the majority of peoples’ budgets. This makes sense, as EV’s come in a limited supply, which skyrockets the price and makes them a costly investment for many customers. Fortunately, there is still hope for customers who want an EV without the bank-breaking car payments. It’s possible to experience a newer, cleaner way to drive by leasing an EV. Doing this is an excellent option for most people, as leasing doesn’t depreciate value.

BMW i3

Con: There isn’t a very large selection — yet

Although they appear as though they are popular, in reality, EV vehicle sales consist of only a small number, coming in at only 2% of new car sales. However, EVs are projected to grow significantly in the 2020s but remain small as of 2020. Tesla works on a variety of EV models, but many manufacturers have focused on a single EV. Electric vehicles are being produced more and more each day, including crossovers and SUVs. 

Pickups are around the corner, along with sedans, station wagons, coupes, and a few sports vehicles.

Editors’ Choice

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Tech News

The Best Off-Road Vehicles for 2021

The emblematic Jeep Wrangler remains the best off-roader you can buy new in 2020. It will take you and yours just about anywhere, and you can rely on a seemingly endless list of aftermarket companies to customize nearly every aspect of it, from the tires to the gears. The fourth-generation model is tamer to drive on pavement, thanks to an improved cabin and better technology.

We at Digital Trends love hitting the trails, and we’ve tested every off-roader on the market in the conditions they were designed for. If the Wrangler isn’t for you, we’ve selected the most luxurious off-roader, the best pickup truck for off-roading, the best off-roader for families, and the most reliable off-road vehicle you can buy.

At a glance

Product Category
Jeep Wrangler Best overall
Land Rover Range Rover Best luxury off-road vehicle
Ram 1500 Rebel Best off-road pickup truck
Toyota 4Runner Most reliable off-road vehicle
Nissan Armada Best family off-road vehicle

The best: Jeep Wrangler

Why should you buy this: It’s the quintessential off-roader.

Who’s it for: People who want to live life unencumbered by roofs and doors.

How much will it cost: $28,295+

Why we picked the Jeep Wrangler:

What hasn’t been said about the Jeep Wrangler? The styling references the original World War II-era Jeeps, and the Wrangler’s convertible top and removable doors make it easier to get close to nature. It’s a story that’s been told many times before, so it’s easy to believe the Wrangler is over-hyped. It’s not.

While it has as much in common with a World War II Jeep as a Mercedes-Benz GLE has with one of the German automaker’s Formula One cars, the Wrangler remains the real deal when it comes to no-nonsense off-roading. It’s one of the last SUVs available with a traditional four-wheel drive system, which includes a crawl ratio that helps maintain traction over loose surfaces. Rubicon models get full locking differentials to improve traction further, plus 33-inch BF Goodrich KM all-terrain tires. In other words, they’ll keep going where others get stuck.

Every Wrangler model sports a generous amount of ground clearance (10.9 inches, according to Jeep), and approach, departure, and breakover angles (44 degrees, 37 degrees, and 27.8 degrees, respectively), allowing the Wrangler to climb over obstacles without taking damage. Skid plates afford further protection to vital mechanical components. Jeep also claims the Wrangler can ford up to 30 inches of water.

With the launch of the current-generation Wrangler (called JL internally), Jeep has also emphasized tech to a greater degree than before. The latest Wrangler is available with an 8.4-inch touchscreen that runs the easy-to-use Uconnect infotainment system, which is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Buyers can also pay extra for a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which provides adequate power and an EPA-rated 24 mpg combined, but a burlier 3.6-liter V6 is standard. The list of engine options also includes a turbodiesel, and Jeep will release a gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid model badged 4XE before the end of 2020.

Read our Jeep Wrangler review

The best luxury off-road vehicle: Land Rover Range Rover

best off-road vehicles 2019 Land Rover Range Rover

Why should you buy this: It’s like taking a five-star hotel off-road.

Who’s it for: Rich outdoor enthusiasts.

How much will it cost: $90,900+

Why we picked the Land Rover Range Rover:

The Range Rover is one of the most well-rounded vehicles on sale today. It’s far from cheap, but you get a lot for your money. Land Rover’s flagship offers a high-class interior comparable to many German luxury sedans and impressive on-road manners for a big SUV. It can also take you places no other luxury vehicle could hope to reach.

While rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, the Bentley Bentayga, and the Rolls-Royce Cullinan have cropped up recently, Land Rover remains ruler of the mud. To start with, the Range Rover’s body was designed to maximize ground clearance and features short front and rear overhangs — all to make climbing over obstacles easier. Land Rover’s Terrain Response system also sets various vehicle parameters for different types of terrain. The Range Rover can even wade into water up to 35.4 inches deep.

The Land Rover Range Rover isn’t a Spartan truck, though. Its leather-lined interior incorporates a dual-screen infotainment system and a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot that can support up to eight devices. The high-end SVAutobiography version even sports reclining rear seats and a refrigerated drink compartment. Land Rover also offers a variety of powertrains, from a plug-in hybrid to a supercharged V8. Finally, the 2021 model year brings a cool, heritage-laced limited-edition model named Fifty that celebrates the model’s 50th anniversary.

The best off-road pickup truck: Ram 1500 Rebel

best off-road vehicles 2019 Ram 1500 Rebel

Why should you buy this: It was designed to tame the trail.

Who’s it for: Off-road enthusiasts who need cargo space.

How much will it cost: $44,740+

Why we picked the Ram 1500 Rebel:

Pickups tend to be tall and rugged, but not every model in the segment is capable of serious off-roading. Trucks make a good foundation to build an off-road vehicle on, but those who want to fully exploit their potential will need to install the right equipment. Thankfully, adding the right equipment is exactly how Ram created its Rebel model.

The Rebel is based on the 1500, the brand’s bread and butter truck (and America’s second best-selling vehicle in 2019). While the Ford F-150 Raptor takes the formula of upgrading a basic truck even further, the Rebel is a more sensible package that more people will be able to get the most out of.

The list of upgrades over the standard 1500 models includes 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires and an electronic locking rear differential to aid traction. It also gets a 1-inch suspension lift, which helps improve ground clearance, and a skid plate that protects the vital mechanical components. Like other 1500 models, the Rebel is available with air suspension, but the standard suspension is a coil spring setup with Bilstein shock absorbers that feature a remote reservoir design intended to keep them cooler, which improves performance.

The Rebel is available with the same powertrains as other Ram 1500 models, including a 3.6-liter V6 teamed with Ram’s eTorque mild-hybrid system, a 5.7-liter Hemi V8, or the EcoDiesel 3.0-liter V6. The ubiquitous Uconnect infotainment system — including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — is available as well.

The most reliable off-road vehicle: Toyota 4Runner

best off-road vehicles 2019 Toyota 4Runner

Why should you buy this: It will never let you down.

Who’s it for: People who need something dependable in their lives.

How much will it cost: $36,020+

Why we picked the Toyota 4Runner:

The 4Runner was once Toyota’s mainstay family SUV, but the more civilized Highlander now occupies that role. While the 4Runner is a traditional SUV with body-on-frame construction, the Highlander is a more modern car-based crossover. Being freed from family duty means the 4Runner can now live a life of rugged adventure.

The bulky body-on-frame layout and the traditional four-wheel drive system leave less room for kids and groceries, but they make this Toyota a natural off the beaten path. The desert-wise TRD Pro model receives a 1-inch suspension lift, upgraded shocks and springs all around, and an aluminum skid plate. Toyota also offers a generous list of driving aids, including hill-start assist, downhill assist, crawl control, and a multi-terrain select system that adjusts the amount of permitted wheel slip depending on the terrain the 4Runner is traveling over.

The best part about the 4Runner is that it’s a Toyota. The Japanese automaker earned a well-deserved reputation for building dependable cars that won’t let you down mile after mile. No one wants to be stranded in the woods, after all.

Although the Toyota 4Runner is rather old compared to other SUVs, it recently received a new instrument panel designed to accommodate an 8-inch touchscreen, and it was one of the first Toyota models to get both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It’s compatible with Amazon Alexa as well. That means drivers now have the choice of asking Siri, Google, or Alexa for directions to the best campsite. For 2020, it also received additional USB ports in the back.

The best family off-road vehicle: Nissan Armada

best off-road vehicles 2019 Nissan Armada

Why should you buy this: It lets you take the whole family along on an adventure.

Who’s it for: People who have outgrown the Wrangler or the 4Runner.

How much will it cost: $47,100+

Why we picked the Nissan Armada:

Although the current-generation Nissan Armada is relatively new in the United States, it’s a bona fide off-roading legend in other parts of the world. This generation of the Armada arrived for the 2017 model year, but it’s been on sale elsewhere for much longer as the Nissan Patrol. It’s a model with decades of history and a pedigree equal to that of the Toyota Land Cruiser or Land Rover Range Rover. Thousands of explorers depend on the Patrol every day.

Regardless of what you call it, the Armada is an old school, body-on-frame SUV. It’s not as refined as modern crossovers, like the popular Rogue, but it can also go places that they can only dream of driving to. It’s equipped with four-wheel drive, a low range gear, and a 5.6-liter V8 engine rated at 390 horsepower and 394 pound-feet of torque. Nissan claims this hulking SUV can tow up to 8,500 pounds when it’s properly equipped.

The Armada isn’t just a big brute. Thanks to its enormous footprint, it has seating for up to eight passengers across three rows. Nissan also equipped the Armada with some handy but straightforward tech features. You’ll find a video rearview mirror and an alert system that reminds the driver if you leave anything (like kids or pets) in the rear seats. General Motors was admittedly the first to offer both features, but they make a lot of sense in a big three-seat SUV like the Armada. For parents of young children especially, this tech offers peace of mind whether you’re on road or off.

The Nissan Armada is also available with an 8-inch touchscreen and 13-speaker Bose audio system. An optional rear-seat DVD entertainment system with dual 8-inch monitors, USB, HDMI, and VTR ports, plus wireless headphones, can pacify both young children and teens on longer trips. Nissan also offers an array of driver-assist features and a 360-degree camera system. It’s basically everything you’d want from a full-size family SUV, but with added off-road capability.

Read out Nissan Armada review

How we test

Digital Trends employs an expert automotive team who conduct rigorous tests of each vehicle we review. Our testing process involves test drives, hands-on examination of features, controlled safety tests, and more. With each assessment, we compare details of each vehicle across categories and price ranges.

For test drives, our drivers spend as much time as needed to get a natural feel for each vehicle. This test includes driving in typical road environments and off-roading and race tracks, when applicable. We test in every kind of driving environment for off-road vehicles until we’re confident in our assessment of each feature.

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Tech News

SpaceX wants to put Starlink satellite dishes on large vehicles

SpaceX’s somewhat controversial Starlink satellite constellation aims to bring high-speed Internet to places that traditional cables and radio waves don’t always reach. It seems that it doesn’t just apply to remote areas but also to moving vehicles that don’t always get the best Internet connectivity. In line with that grand goal, SpaceX is asking the FCC for permission to deploy Starlink even on trucks, aircraft, and trucks.

SpaceX notes that Internet users don’t just stay at home and, despite movement restrictions these days, people need a reliable connection even while on the go. Those needs can range from your usual business uses cases during flights to truckers driving across the country and everything in between. SpaceX wants to serve these customers as well by installing a Starlink dish on such vehicles.

These “Earth Stations in Motion” or ESIMs are noted to be electronically identical to the home terminals that Starlink testers have installed in their homes. While the latter could be set up by almost anyone with some technical know-how, ESIMs will require qualified installers. SpaceX doesn’t expect these ESIMs to add to the 1 million terminals it was granted permission to install but it requested for an expansion to 5 million anyway in a separate filing.

Despite the application’s wording, Elon Musk later clarified that on Twitter that ESIMs are not intended for passenger cars, particularly Tesla EVs. The terminals are just too big and, as such, are intended for larger vehicles, like an RV as the smallest example.

While the application will open up new business opportunities for SpaceX, not to mention new classes of customers, Starlink continues to face opposition, doubt, and even complaints from all sides. In addition to concerns about the satellites littering the skies especially at night, other network operators are worried that Starlink could also interfere with other services that may use the same bands in the future.

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EU report warns that AI makes autonomous vehicles ‘highly vulnerable’ to attack

The dream of autonomous vehicles is that they can avoid human error and save lives, but a new European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) report has found that autonomous vehicles are “highly vulnerable to a wide range of attacks” that could be dangerous for passengers, pedestrians, and people in other vehicles. Attacks considered in the report include sensor attacks with beams of light, overwhelming object detection systems, back-end malicious activity, and adversarial machine learning attacks presented in training data or the physical world.

“The attack might be used to make the AI ‘blind’ for pedestrians by manipulating for instance the image recognition component in order to misclassify pedestrians. This could lead to havoc on the streets, as autonomous cars may hit pedestrians on the road or crosswalks,” the report reads. “The absence of sufficient security knowledge and expertise among developers and system designers on AI cybersecurity is a major barrier that hampers the integration of security in the automotive sector.”

The range of AI systems and sensors needed to power autonomous vehicles increases the attack surface area, according to the report. To address vulnerabilities, its authors say policymakers and businesses will need to develop a security culture across the automotive supply chain, including for third-party providers. The report urges car manufacturers to take steps to mitigate security risks by thinking of the creation of machine learning systems as part of the automotive industry supply chain.

The report focuses on cybersecurity attacks with adversarial machine learning that carries the risk of malicious attacks undetectable to humans. The report also finds that the use of machine learning in cars will require a continuous review of systems to ensure they haven’t been altered in a malicious way.

“AI cybersecurity cannot just be an afterthought where security controls are implemented as add-ons and defense strategies are of reactive nature,” the paper reads. “This is especially true for AI systems that are usually designed by computer scientists and further implemented and integrated by engineers. AI systems should be designed, implemented, and deployed by teams where the automotive domain expert, the ML expert, and the cybersecurity expert collaborate.”

Scenarios presented in the report include the possibility of attacks on motion planning and decision-making algorithms and spoofing, like the kind that can fool an autonomous vehicle into “recognizing” cars, people, or walls that don’t exist.

In the past few years, a number of studies have shown that physical perturbations can fool autonomous vehicle systems with little effort. In 2017, researchers used spray paint or stickers on a stop sign to fool an autonomous vehicle into misidentifying the sign as a speed limit sign. In 2019, Tencent security researchers used stickers to make Tesla’s Autopilot swerve into the wrong lane. And researchers demonstrated last year that they could lead an autonomous vehicle system to quickly accelerate from 35 mph to 85 mph by strategically placing a few pieces of tape on the road.


The report was coauthored by the Joint Research Centre, a science and tech advisor to the European Commission. Weeks ago, ENISA released a separate report detailing cybersecurity challenges created by artificial intelligence.

In other autonomous vehicle news, last week Waymo began testing robo-taxis in San Francisco. But an MIT task force concluded last year that autonomous vehicles could be at least another decade away.


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The Fusion Project aims to optimize data collection from vehicles

The Fusion Project, which promises to provide a more efficient way to collect the data required to train AI models for autonomous vehicles, is being launched today by Airbiquity, Cloudera, NXP Semiconductors, Teraki, and Wind River.

The goal is to compress the data collected from autonomous vehicles to the point where it becomes possible to update the AI models employed in an autonomous vehicle faster. Today, autonomous vehicles rely on inference engines based on AI models trained in the cloud. The automotive industry is a long way from being able to train AI models in real time on the vehicle itself. In the meantime, the members of the Fusion Project are committing to making it easier to collect data by compressing data on the vehicles before it is transferred back to AI models residing in the cloud.

Those data compression techniques will eventually be applied to other forms of transportation such as trains and planes, said David LeGrand, senior industry and solutions marketing manager for manufacturing and retail at Cloudera.

The members of the Fusion Project are pledging to develop an integrated embedded system for collecting compressed data from vehicles that can be fed back to a cloud platform. That capability will substantially reduce the cost of collecting data from what one day might be millions of vehicles, noted LeGrand.

In addition to compressing the data collected using software developed by Cloudera, the members of the Fusion Project will enable over-the-air updates to the inference engines installed in a vehicle using software management software from Airbiquity.

NXP, meanwhile, will provide the vehicle processing platforms, while Teraki provides the AI software that will be deployed at the edge. Finally, Wind River will provide the embedded system software.

Initially, the Fusion Project will specifically focus its efforts on advancing the ability of autonomous vehicles to recognize when to optimally change lanes based on the data gathered via vision AI engines installed in the vehicle, said LeGrand. The first tests of vehicles embedded with Project Fusion technologies will take place in Europe, added LeGrand.

The immediate goal is to not eliminate the need for drivers, but rather to take the current alert systems that most vehicles have today to the next level by training AI models based on the data about the actual driving experience being collected by vehicles, noted LeGrand. “It’s not going to be fully autonomous,” said LeGrand. “It’s more like a driver-assist system.”

There are, of course, fully autonomous vehicles that can follow a highly prescribed set of programming instructions to get from one point to another. The challenge is that the level of responsiveness required for an autonomous vehicle to navigate traffic flows that include vehicles driven by humans that are likely to make random decisions remains elusive.

There may eventually come a day when AI models embedded within a vehicle could be trained and updated in real time. Today, achieving that goal would require the equivalent of a server based on a graphics processing unit (GPU) to be installed in the trunk of every vehicle. Naturally, that would make autonomous vehicles prohibitively expensive.

In the meantime, the process of transferring data between inference engines and the AI models on which they are based will continue to become more efficient. The AI model might not make it all the way out to the vehicle itself, but it will become more feasible to deploy AI models at the network edge. The challenge, of course, is finding a way to achieve that goal in a way that is economically viable for automotive manufacturers.


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Tech News

U.S. to Replace All Federal Vehicles With Electric Fleet

America’s entire federal vehicle fleet will be replaced by U.S.-made electric models, President Joe Biden announced on Monday.

The move is part of a broader “Made in America” initiative designed to boost U.S. manufacturing by increasing federal spending on American firms, the newly minted president said in a speech on Monday, January 25.

“The federal government owns an enormous fleet of vehicles, which we’re going to replace with clean electric vehicles made right here in America by American workers, creating millions of jobs, a million auto worker jobs, and clean energy, and vehicles that are net zero emissions,” Biden said as he outlined the planned government action.

Reports suggest the the U.S. government currently operates around 650,000 vehicles, comprising a mix of cars, SUVs, and trucks for a range of purposes. President Biden offered no details on when the process will begin or how long it will take to fully swap out the fleet, so it could be many years before the change is completed.

Auto industry expert Kristin Dziczek described current all-electric offerings in the U.S. as “pretty slim.” In comments made to CNBC in response to the government’s announcement, the Center for Automotive Research executive added, “But the industry’s about to unleash an avalanche of new products, and a lot of it built in North America.” With that in mind, American automakers that move swiftly could be in for some rather lucrative government contracts.

Responding to Monday’s announcement, Detroit-headquartered General Motors said it’s “encouraged by President Biden’s commitment to supporting American manufacturing,” while Dearborn-based Ford described Biden’s early focus on investing in American manufacturing as being “critical to the continued success of the U.S. auto industry.”

The federal fleet of course includes the heavily armored presidential Cadillac known as “the Beast” that currently runs on gasoline, though how long it’ll be before we see that particular vehicle humming quietly along the road is anyone’s guess.

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