Events: Silicon Valley Reinvents the Wheel


Early last week, the Cartrast team attended Silicon Valley Reinvents the Wheel, the annual automotive technology conference put on by the Western Automotive Journalists association in partnership with the Autotech Council. At the event, held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, we learned about the new technologies coming to tomorrow’s vehicles as well as more details about the proliferation of mobility services. Organized by Charlie Vogelheim, host of the “The Flying Car Show” on the Bay Area radio station KGO 810, and emceed by Brian Cooley at CNET Roadshow, Silicon Valley Reinvents the Wheel caters to educators, journalists, vehicle manufacturers, mobility startups, local and state governments, automotive labs, as well as vehicle components manufacturers interested in an in-depth look of the future of the automobile.


A notable presentation in the morning was one by Kristin Kolodge at J.D. Power about their Mobility Confidence Index. She noted that more than two-thirds of consumers have no experience with battery-electric vehicles and that perceived disadvantages of electric vehicles were more pronounced from people who never owned an electric vehicle. Furthermore, she presented a slide showing that tax credits and subsidies were a major factor in buying or leasing an EV. In addition, Kolodge went into detail about consumers’ perceptions of self-driving vehicles, observing that people are more comfortable with goods being transported in autonomous vehicles rather than themselves riding in one. At the moment, the survey showed that currently there is a low likelihood of people buying or leasing autonomous cars if they were offered today, but the data showed that a lot of consumers were on the fence.

Out in front of the Computer History Museum, autonomous vehicle companies were displaying their test beds. Drako Motors showed their limited-production electric supercar, the GTE, which has four electric motors (one at each wheel) to eliminate the need for heavy differentials and to enhance performance on both the track and the road. Local Motors brought their Olli autonomous vehicle, designed to be part of a new public mobility solution. Velodyne Lidar and Eyeris brought Tesla Model S demonstration vehicles, while Nvidia and Ridecell brought Ford Fusions decked out in sensors.


In conjunction with the conference, the Autotech Council hosted a science fair where automotive suppliers and mobility services providers were showcasing their wares. Notable products being demonstrating included digital mapping of Southeast Asian countries by Increment P, the automotive glass products offered by Japan’s AGC Group, and the 3D-imaging radars manufactured by General Radar. There were also numerous autonomous driving-related companies displaying their services, such as Zenuity, StradVision, IVEX, and dSpace, which allows engineers to develop and test autonomous systems with realistic sensor simulation.

Furthermore, Miguel Acosta, the Chief of the Autonomous Vehicles Branch of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, gave a presentation on how the state was regulating the testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads. Notable in current regulations was that autonomous vehicles testing with a driver needed $5 million in insurance and the driver couldn’t have more than 1 point on his or her license. Types of autonomous vehicles excluded from testing on public roads were commercial vehicles and motorcycles. Vehicles testing without a driver had to have the same $5 million insurance policy, a communication link with a remote operator, and no charging of a fee or receiving other compensation for providing a ride to members of the public. At the moment, only 840 autonomous vehicles are permitted on California public roads with 2,725 test drivers. 69 testing permits have been issued to companies and only 1 driverless permit has been issued (to Waymo). Acosta’s talk also noted the circumstances in which autonomous vehicles have needed to have their drivers take over. Reasons included planning or mapping faults, sensor perception problems, prediction failures regarding other road users, hardware control faults, software faults, and situation outside the vehicle’s operational conditions with weather such as rain or snow being a cause.


Overall, Silicon Valley Reinvents the Wheel gave a great deal of insight into the vehicles of tomorrow. It ensured that attendees would get an understanding of features that were coming and have a better idea when they would be ready for primetime. Furthermore, the vehicle testbeds on display showed the high amount of data being generated and processed from autonomous vehicle testing, evidenced by the racks of servers in the cargo areas, multiple sensors mounted throughout the exteriors, and numerous camera angles being displayed in presentations of the cars. In the end, the conference showed the amount of time the general public has to wait before autonomous and electric vehicles become ubiquitous throughout the country.

Satish KondapavulurComment