May 10, 2019

Axios Navigate

By Joann Muller
Joann Muller

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1 big thing: What your car will know about you

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Cars will soon be able to recognize you by your eyes, skin, gait and even your heartbeat, enabling a host of personalized experiences but raising troubling privacy questions, too.

Why it matters: New biometric technologies being developed by automakers will authenticate your identity and help keep you safe by also monitoring your health and wellbeing. But unless carefully guarded, that personal data can also be easily exploited by cybercriminals.

What's happening: Automakers and their suppliers are working on a variety of driver-identification technologies such as facial and iris scans, as well as voice and fingerprint tracking.

  • They would enable a driver to start the engine without a key and the car would automatically adjust the seats, mirrors, climate and audio settings.
  • The car could then also communicate with home automation systems, turning on lights or opening the garage, for example, and automatically pay for tolls, parking or gas.
  • For AVs and car-sharing apps, ID verification is important to ensure passengers get into the right vehicle and are who they say they are.

What's next: Such ID features are coming in the next year or so, followed by a second wave of more advanced biometric technologies. Goode Intelligence projects the market for automotive-related biometric content may reach nearly $1 billion by 2023.

  • An alcohol detection system that could be available as early as next year would know whether a motorist is drunk by gathering a whiff of their ambient breath. The system is being developed by a public-private partnership.
  • B-Secur is marketing its Heartkey technology that can identify a driver by the unique rhythm of their heartbeat, and measure their level of stress or fatigue or even detect early signs of a stroke or heart attack, CEO Alan Foreman tells Axios.
  • Aerendir Mobile's sensors capture micro-vibrations — tiny muscle twitches from cells in the human nervous system — to identify individuals and monitor their well-being by creating a neurological signature that's akin to a million-character-long password, founder Martin Zizi tells Axios.
"My body is my life password."
Martin Zizi, Aerendir

Yes, but: Just as facial recognition systems are sounding alarms about privacy and human rights, biometric technologies in vehicles raise privacy concerns, experts say.

  • Biometric information can be particularly revealing and immutable, Lauren Smith, senior counsel for the Future of Privacy Forum, tells Axios. Unlike a password or account number, you can't change your biological makeup.
  • Without federal laws on bioprivacy, carmakers need to abide by state data-protection laws, many of which require notice before biometric data is collected, and the ability to opt out.
  • Carmakers that signed the Automotive Privacy Principles created a higher, opt-in threshold for biometric information, requiring consent before data can be used for marketing or shared with others.

The big picture: As cars evolve into smartphones on wheels, the industry focus is on personalization — delivering convenient, tailored experiences such as enabling in-car payments, easing daily stress or communicating with city infrastructure.

  • As Goode Intelligence CEO Alan Goode notes, that all starts by identifying who is in the vehicle.
2. Uber stock begins trading today

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

All eyes are on Uber, which started trading this morning on the New York Stock Exchange after pricing shares on Thursday at $45 apiece, at the low end of its expected range. NYSE folks expect first Uber trades at around noon ET.

By the numbers: The ride-hailing giant itself raised $8.6 billion, including a concurrent $500 million investment from PayPal. Insiders are expected to sell another 27 million shares, generating $1.2 billion. This puts its initial market cap at around $75.5 billion, and its fully diluted value just north of $82 billion.

  • Just ahead of its IPO, Uber said in a regulatory filing it had reached settlements with the majority of the 60,000 drivers who filed arbitration complaints over their employment status. The settlements should cost between $146 million and $170 million.
  • Also Thursday, The Information reported that Uber has been in talks with Nuro, the developer of self-driving delivery vehicles, about using Nuro vehicles to help automate Uber’s hot food delivery service Uber Eats.

Our thought bubble on the IPO, from tech writer Ina Fried: Investors are likely trying to weigh the tough economics of today's ride-hailing business with the prospect that the game changes once autonomous vehicles arrive en masse.

That said, it will be quite a while before autonomous vehicles are able to replace human drivers on a large-scale basis. And even then, it's not clear that Uber's network advantage will be as important as having the best and most efficient vehicle technology, which could advantage Waymo or even traditional car makers.

Check out Ina's interview with CNBC's Jon Fortt.

3. GM's AV boss on Wall Street

GM is seeking government approval for a car with no steering wheel. Photo: GM

Mandi Damman, chief engineer of autonomous vehicles at GM, fought off comparisons to Tesla while sharing an update on the company's AV progress with investors Thursday at Citi's 2019 Car of the Future Symposium.

Why it matters: Damman was peppered with investor questions trying to gauge GM's progress against Tesla, which last month claimed a huge technological advantage from its newly introduced AV computer chip and data collected from 425,000 AutoPilot-equipped vehicles already on the road.

  • Damman stuck to GM's mantra: Cruise Automation, its self-driving affiliate, won't deploy driverless taxis until it is sure they are safe. (The company has been targeting the end of this year and has yet to stray from that timetable.)

Here's what else she had to say:

On regulation: GM aims to help shape government policy on AVs.

  • GM is first to seek government approval to put a driverless car — without a steering wheel or pedals — on public roads. The public comment period on that request is winding down this month.
  • "Out of this process I believe we will see future regulations on AVs."

On potential backlash from high-profile accidents involving AV prototypes:

  • "It's certainly real. That's why we're extra cautious. That's why we have our AV trainers active in the cars. ... It shows how seriously we take safety until we're 100% sure we can take them out."

On Tesla drivers spotted sleeping at 80 miles per hour:

  • "We focus heavily on our technology, which is much different."
  • GM will not test its technology on customers or pull its AV trainers, "because frankly, it's not there yet."

On when Cruise will be ready: "Nobody's ever done this before. It's difficult to predict when we will have every edge case solved and are 100% sure we can pull the driver."

4. Driving the conversation

Ambulance chasers: Crash scene investigations, with automakers on the case (Tom Voelk — The New York Times)

  • The big picture: There were 8.41 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 1947, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. By 2017, the latest figures available, the rate had plummeted to 1.16 deaths. Still, nearly 40,000 Americans die every year in motor vehicle accidents.

Social cost: Driverless cars: researchers have made a wrong turn (Ashley Nunes — Nature)

  • Why it matters: Nunes, a researcher at MIT who has challenged the economics of driverless taxis in other publications, puts a finer point on it here.
  • "If you live in the United States and have at least a university degree, your odds of dying on the nation’s roads have declined. But if you haven't graduated from university, those odds have risen."
  • Poor people stand to benefit the most from AVs, but can't afford them, he writes.

Autopilot crash: "Tesla saved my life", says owner after walking away from high-speed crash on Autopilot (Fred Lambert — Electrek)

  • Details: The motorist in Norway said he was spared because of Tesla's huge crumple zone (without an engine upfront, the structure absorbed most of the energy from the impact rather than pushing the engine into the passenger compartment.)
  • Why it matters: The article, from a Tesla-friendly publication, ends on a sobering note: "(W)e have now seen many examples of Autopilot not recognizing a stopped vehicle on the highway, especially after a lead vehicle exits the lane. ... It's something that Tesla really needs to work on."
  • Related: Electrek is also reporting that Tesla is restructuring its Autopilot software team, with CEO Elon Musk taking the reins. We've reached out to Tesla on both stories.
5. What I'm driving

Infiniti QX50. Photo: Infiniti

This week's ride is the 2019 Infiniti Qx50, a premium mid-sized crossover that comes with an innovative, efficiency-minded engine and a ton of advanced driver-assist features.

What I love: The QX50 is gorgeous inside and out, with lots of room for people and cargo.

What disappoints: The dual-screen infotainment system is confusing and difficult to use. And it doesn't come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is available in most competitors.

Driver assistance: Standard ADAS features on the QX50 include rear- and surround-view cameras, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, and forward emergency braking.

It's the first Infiniti to come with ProPilot Assist, which provides highway-driving assistance and can take full control in stop-and-go traffic.

  • Other available technologies include lane departure prevention, intelligent cruise control, adaptive steering and backup collision intervention.

The bottom line: The QX5o is good, not great. The front-wheel-drive model I'm driving starts at $43,350, but with ProPilot Assist and a $7,500 "sensory package" of premium features, the price jumps to $55,285.

Joann Muller