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Cars ‘Talking’ to Each Other Could Say a Lot About Drivers

Eyes on the Road? Vehicle-to-vehicle communication is coming to a roadway near you in a few years. While the federal government says the technology promises to prevent hundreds of thousands of collisions yearly once enough vehicles are properly equipped, some see a darker side.

Beth Givens, executive director of San Diego’s Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, predicted that vehicle data will become a hot topic in the next few years. Automobiles will be generating data about their locations — and by extension, their owners’ locations — which other people could collect. She made her comments at the Data Privacy Day breakfast presentation Jan. 27 at the local Morrison and Foerster law office.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, part of the Transportation Department, issued a proposed vehicle-to-vehicle wireless rule in mid-December and is taking public comments on the issue through March. In a fact sheet that accompanied the announcement, the office said that its leaders realize there are privacy concerns with the technology, adding that “V2V-enabled vehicles exchange only generic safety information. The system is designed to operate without using any personal information about specific vehicles or drivers.”

Also at the breakfast, Givens named one more up-and-coming issue that concerns her: facial recognition technology. People know when their fingerprints are collected, but a camera can unobtrusively collect facial images at a demonstration or a rally. How, Givens asked, do you disclose that to people?

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Security software maker ESET and the Securing Our eCity Foundation also sponsored the Data Privacy Day breakfast.

OK, for all you engineers and would-be engineers, I’ll back up and offer a few technical details about V2V communications. The technology could be in new automobiles as soon as 2020. Transmissions will use airwaves in 5.9 gigahertz band, which reportedly has few users. The short-range radio technology can send messages roughly 300 meters — about the length of three football fields. Among the companies working with V2V is chipmaker Qualcomm Inc.

Thanks to Cubic Co. technology, commuters can use their bank cards to pay for rides on London’s big red bus fleet. Photos copyright Transport for London

More Acclaim for Mass-Transit Tech

Cubic Corp. and its partner Transport for London won yet another award for its system that lets London commuters use their contactless bank cards to buy rides on the Tube, the big red London buses and other public transportation options. Contactless cards have a computer chip inside. People wave them in front of special radio readers to make a transaction.

The London First Award for Innovation was the ninth major award for the technology since 2015, according to Cubic (NYSE: CUB). The partners installed the system in 2012. Since then, commuters have paid for their rides using the contactless system more than 800 million times. In 2016, Cubic Transportation Systems and Transport for London reached a licensing deal that will let Cubic install London’s contactless ticketing system in big cities around the world.

NXP Semiconductors’ ‘small package’ microchips are smaller than a common ladybug. Photos courtesy of NXP Semiconductors N.V.

NXP Acquisition Makes Progress

Qualcomm Inc. still plans to close its acquisition of Netherlands-based NXP Semiconductors N.V. by the end of 2017, according to a statement issued by NXP (Nasdaq: NXPI).

The Dutch semiconductor maker announced that its shareholders had approved all proposals related to Qualcomm’s tender offer for NXP shares. Some 95 percent of votes were cast in favor of the proposals.

Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) said on Nov. 18 that it wanted to acquire all outstanding shares of NXP for $110 per share. Qualcomm plans to use its accumulated cash to diversify its product line — NXP has an appealing automotive semiconductor line — and return Qualcomm to the growth it once enjoyed.

Qualcomm shares recently took a tumble with news that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Apple Inc. were suing the company, alleging anticompetitive practices. The company also paid an $868 million fine to South Korean regulators who alleged anticompetitive behavior. Qualcomm said it plans to fight all of the actions.

At least one analyst predicted all of the antitrust woes will delay approval from regulators in the United States, the European Union and governments in Asia. Qualcomm originally said it planned to close by the end of the calendar year, and the new statement reiterates that prediction.

At least 80 percent of NXP shares must be tendered and not withdrawn prior to the expiration of Qualcomm’s tender offer. The tender offer expires Feb. 6 but it could be extended.

Whoosh, there he goes! Video stills from San Diego-based Spira4U show the company’s prototype four-wheel auto in motion in China. The boxy white body is temporary. Photos courtesy Spira4U LLC

Entrepreneur Mulls Four-Wheeled Future

Lon Ballard, the San Diego engineer and entrepreneur behind Spira4U LLC, recently shared video of his prototype four-wheel automobile operating in China. Ballard’s company uses space in a Chinese motorcycle factory, where a team assembles his three-wheel Spira cars. The unique cars have a lightweight plastic frame with lightweight plastic foam exterior panels.

Like his three-wheelers, the four-wheel prototype is small and fuel-efficient. By producing vehicles that ride on four wheels, Ballard hopes to open his business to U.S. and state government rebate programs for low-emission vehicles and electric-powered vehicles.

Lon Ballard

The prototype’s boxy body does not resemble the finished product. Ballard said he is thinking about making it a foundation for a small flatbed delivery vehicle or a four-seater auto. Ballard bills his three-wheel Spira car as a two-seater — though it is very cozy. He said his four-wheel chassis is 8 inches wider, making it a little more spacious.

There are high barriers to entry in the four-wheel vehicle space. Ballard has been able to avoid many of them by marketing a three-wheel vehicle.

Other Ride Motors in San Diego’s Sports Arena neighborhood sells Ballard’s three-wheel Spira.

Ballard might find a good opportunity by not leaving China, where air quality can be terrible. I can’t think of a better market for low-emission vehicles.

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