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Carmakers and Suppliers Differ Widely on introduction of self-driving vehicles

The widely different timelines provided by Carmakers for the introduction of self-driving vehicles shows the uncertainties surrounding the technology

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Berlin, March 19, 2017: Carmakers and suppliers gave widely differing timelines Thursday for the introduction of self-driving vehicles, showing the uncertainties surrounding the technology as well as a split between cautious established players and bullish new entrants.

Chipmaker Nvidia, facing direct competition with the world’s top chipmaker after Intel’s $15 billion deal to buy Mobileye, an autonomous driving technology firm, this week, gave the most optimistic predictions.

Chief Executive Jens-Hsun Huang said carmakers may speed up their plans in the light of technological advances and that fully self-driving cars could be on the road by 2025.

“Because of deep learning, because of AI [artificial intelligence] computing, we’ve really supercharged our roadmap to autonomous vehicles,” he said in a keynote speech to the Bosch Connected World conference in Berlin.

Germany’s Bosch, however, the world’s biggest automotive supplier, gave a timetable as much as six years longer to get to the final stage before fully autonomous vehicles, and declined even to forecast when a totally self-driving car might take to the streets.

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Technology, liability among hurdles

Progress is fraught by issues including who is liable when a self-driving car has an accident, bringing down the costs of sensor technology and guarding against hacking.

“Of course, we still have to prove that an autonomous car does better in driving and has less accidents than a human being,” Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner told a news conference.

Nvidia has applied its market-leading expertise in high-end computer graphics to the intense visualization and simulation needs of autonomous cars, and has been working on artificial intelligence — teaching computers to learn to write their own software code — for a decade.

“No human could write enough code to capture the vast diversity and complexity that we do so easily, called driving,” Huang said.

Together with Bosch executives, Huang presented a prototype AI on-board computer that is expected to go into production by the beginning of the next decade. The computer will use Nvidia’s processing power to interpret data gathered by Bosch sensors.

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Degrees of autonomy

On the way to fully self-driving cars, levels of autonomy have been defined, with most cars on the road today at level two, and Tesla ready to switch from level four to five — full autonomy — as soon as it is permitted.

Level three means drivers can turn away in well-understood environments, such as highway driving, but must be ready to take back control, while level four means the automated system can control the vehicle in most environments.

Independent technology analyst Richard Windsor wrote this week that he doubted automakers would have autonomous vehicles leaving factories by a typical self-imposed deadline of 2020, mainly because the liability issue was unresolved.

“This is good news for the automotive industry, which is notoriously slow to adapt to and implement new technology as it will have more time to defend its position against the new entrants,” he wrote.

But Nvidia’s Huang said he expected to have chips available for level three automated driving by the end of this year and in customers’ cars on the road by the end of 2018, with level four chips following the same pattern a year later.

That is at least a year ahead of the plans of most carmakers that have an autonomous-driving strategy.

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BMW says market will decide

The head of autonomous driving at BMW told the conference the luxury carmaker was on its way to deliver a level three autonomous car in 2021, but could produce level four or five autonomous cars in the same year.

“We believe we have the chance to make level three, level four and level five doable,” he said. He told Reuters the decision on which levels to release would depend in part on the market, and that cars with more autonomy might first be produced in small batches for single fleets.

Bosch said it saw level three vehicles being released with its on-board computer at the end of the decade, and level four driving not before 2025.

Uber, Baidu and Google spin-off Waymo are testing self-driving taxis, while carmakers including Volvo, Audi and Ford expect to have level four cars on the road by 2020 or 2021.

Nvidia’s Huang predicted those plans would speed up: “In the near future, you’re going to see these schedules pull in.” (VOA)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)