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Auto tech wrap-up: Dogs, deadlines and driverless buses

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer
Johannesburg, 20 May 2024
Robot dog spOTTO monitors manufacturing equipment at BMW’s plant in Birmingham, UK.
Robot dog spOTTO monitors manufacturing equipment at BMW’s plant in Birmingham, UK.

From dogs on the factory floor to driverless buses, we round up some of the more interesting recent e-mobility news.

Driverless Renault

Some four hundred major cities in Europe are gradually becoming low emissions zones, setting the standard for the rest of the densely populated urban zones worldwide. This shift, however, poses mobility challenges

French automotive giant Renault is betting on sustainable and autonomous mobility in the years to come. It has teamed up with WeRide to develop “an electric, robotised, and pre-equipped minibus platform” with a real-world trial run already on the cards.

Renault will demonstrate its L4 level of autonomy (where level L0 is a vehicle without any driving assistance, and the ultimate level L5 would be a vehicle that operates fully autonomously in all situations) the following week, with a public transport solution ready for the upcoming Roland-Garros 2024 tennis tournament.

Renault's autonomous mini-bus is  ready for the upcoming Roland-Garros 2024 tennis tournament in Paris.
Renault's autonomous mini-bus is ready for the upcoming Roland-Garros 2024 tennis tournament in Paris.

Here, doggy, doggy…

Say ‘Who’s a good boy!’ to the latest team member at BMW’s engine plant in Birmingham – a four legged autonomous robotic dog named SpOTTO, whose job it is to roll over and drool on the cylinder heads. Actually, SpOTTO is there to oversee maintenance of production facilities and ensure the smooth running of production processes, and he does all this with visual, thermal, and acoustic sensors that collect valuable data for the plant's digital twin.

Developed by Boston Dynamics, SpOTTO takes on the menial tasks so that the factory’s maintenance team can focus solely on maintenance. BMW is currently trialling further potential uses in its various plants including “complex sequences of movements for accessing hard-to-reach areas of production”.

Japan relents

Most of the European and American manufacturers have for years been committed to a pledge of full electrification of all the cars they make by 2030, and now that the deadline is creeping up some of them are going back on their word. While the rate of global EV sales growth slows, Mercedes-Benz has already officially delayed electrification, as has Lamborghini, with Ford expected to follow with similar delays.

Japan’s giant Toyota meanwhile has been somewhat hesitant in making any official commitments to total electrification, preferring to spread its focus across multiple solutions instead of hedging all bets on EVs.

But not Honda. Japan’s second largest manufacturer has just chosen a peculiar moment to invest more than $60 billion towards electrification and software development by 2030, despite CEO Toshihiro Mibe being known in automotive circles as an old-school engine guy. The plan includes in-house ultra-thin battery production and a total abandonment of fossil-fuelled cars by 2040.

Developed by Boston Dynamics, SpOTTO takes on the menial tasks on the factory floor.
Developed by Boston Dynamics, SpOTTO takes on the menial tasks on the factory floor.

Chicken tax V2.0

US president Joe Biden has increased tariffs on Chinese electric cars to 100% in a desperate attempt to boost the US manufacturing industry, ignoring the fact that more and more European and American manufacturers are producing their vehicles in China for global export.

The EU is watching but it’s unlikely to make such drastic moves, seeing as a third of China’s EV production already ends up in Europe.