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Autonomous driving in a “simple environment” is fairly easy but becomes hard to keep safe when other factors are in play, according to the CEO of self-driving start-up Pony.ai.

Echoing some of the comments he made earlier in the week, James Peng highlighted the challenges faced.

“The reason autonomous driving is so hard is because all of us, right, we are sharing the same road with AI (artificial intelligence) and we are irrational at a lot of times,” Peng, who was speaking on a panel discussion on Tuesday at the East Tech West conference in China, explained.

“So, this is the task: where autonomous driving in a simple environment is fairly easy, it can be easily done, but if you’re adding the irrationality of all the other vehicles, pedestrians, then it becomes very hard to keep it safe,” he added.

Around the world, the last few years have seen a range of tests and developments take place in the autonomous vehicle sector.

At the end of October, for example, the Volkswagen Group announced the creation of a subsidiary called Volkswagen Autonomy (VWAT), with the German car giant saying it planned to “make autonomous driving market-ready.”

With offices in Munich and Wolfsburg, Volkswagen said that VWAT would aim to “bring a self-driving system… to market maturity.” As well as its sites in Germany, Volkswagen said it also planned to establish companies in Silicon Valley and China in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

For its part, Pony.ai, which has offices in the U.S. and China, and Hyundai recently launched BotRide. Pony.ai has described BotRide as “a shared, on-demand, autonomous vehicle service operating on public roads in California.”

On the mass adoption of autonomous vehicles, Pony.ai’s Peng sought to add some perspective to the discussion, emphasizing that tests were already underway.

“I think people tend to be super optimistic at the beginning and suddenly become very pessimistic, but I think that shouldn’t be the case either,” he argued, explaining that his firm had almost 30 vehicles that were being tested in the Nansha area of Guangzhou, even during rush hour.

“You will see the vehicles actually being able to handle complex driving situations, very, very complex driving scenarios.”

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HSBC hikes overdraft charge to 40% for UK customers

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Global bank HSBC is setting a single annual overdraft rate of 39.9% for its U.K. customers, as it scraps daily charges for people who go into unarranged borrowing on their account.

The new interest rate on both arranged and unarranged overdrafts comes into place on March 14, 2020, and will be charged on the amount borrowed.

HSBC currently charges between 9.9% and 19.9% of interest on arranged overdrafts.

The bank is removing the £5 ($6.57) daily usage fee for unarranged overdrafts and reducing the monthly maximum cost for using an unarranged overdraft to £20 from £80.

HSBC is also introducing a £25 buffer on the amount people can borrow interest free, where they won’t be charged on their arranged overdraft below this limit. This applies to HSBC Advance, Bank Account and Current Account.

This buffer goes up to £500 for its Premier account customers and £1,000 for its Jade account customers.

HSBC said the changes mean using an overdraft will be cheaper or cost the same for seven out of 10 of its U.K. customers.

The bank has close to 9 million current account customers in the U.K., known as checking accounts in the U.S., though the changes will not apply to those with student accounts which have an interest-free overdraft or the Basic Bank account which doesn’t offer an overdraft.

Madhu Kejriwal, HSBC U.K.’s head of lending and payments, said the bank was aiming to make its overdraft charging structure “easier to understand” and “more transparent.”

The changes come as U.K. regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), introduces new rules on overdrafts.

Earlier this year, the FCA announced that it would be clamping down on the “dysfunctional” overdraft market and from April 6, 2020, it would be banning banks from charging higher prices for unarranged overdrafts compared to arranged borrowing.

Instead it is requiring banks to price overdrafts with a single annual interest rate.

The regulator found that banks made more than £2.4 billion from overdrafts alone in 2017, 30% of which came from unarranged borrowings. Unarranged overdraft fees can be more than 10 times as high as charges on payday loans in some cases, it said.

U.K. bank Nationwide Building Society also moved to a single annual overdraft interest rate of 39.9% in November, again scrapping its £5 daily fee on unarranged borrowing.

Last week, Brazil’s monetary policy committee capped interest rates on overdrafts. Central bankers said banks would not be able to charge interest rates over 150%, or 8%, as of January 6, 2020, according to a Reuters report. The average rate on borrowing is currently 306%, it was reported.

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Building a wall to resist Russia if peace talks fail

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Ukrainian servicemen take part in brigade tactical exercises with combat shooting near Goncharivske willage, Chernihiv region, not far from the border with Russia on December 3, 2018. Tensions between Ukraine and Russia rose on November 25, 2018 when Russian forces seized three Ukranian navy vessels and their crew. Ukraine imposed martial law for 30 days in 10 regions that border Russia, the Black Sea and the Azov Sea on November 28.

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LONDON — If peace talks between Ukraine and Russia go nowhere and the conditions of a cease-fire are not implemented, Kiev will consider building a wall along its borders with Russia, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday.

“Ukraine will do everything in order to stop this war and achieve peace in a non-military, peaceful way. But certainly we do have a plan B,” Andriy Yermak, an aide to the president, told an audience at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

“If we don’t see readiness from Russia to implement the Minsk Agreement or to move towards a peaceful solution with a clear cut time-frame, well in this case we’ll be building a wall,” he said.

The leaders of Russia and Ukraine are to meet in Paris on Monday in an attempt to find a peaceful resolution to the long-running conflict in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.

The meeting will also be attended by France’s President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel who have previously tried to broker a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine.

Yermak said that Ukraine will attend the so-called “Normandy” format summit in Paris on Monday with goodwill, but that it would not wait “years” for Russia to implement the ‘”Minsk Agreements,” the name given to a cease-fire brokered in 2015 that had strict conditions attached.

Yermak added that he didn’t want to give any further details on Ukraine’s ‘”plan B” as the government would go to Paris “with the desire and willingness to negotiate.”

“But we won’t be wasting too much time if we see that Moscow is not willing to implement the Minsk Agreements. We are not going to wait for years and if so, we’ll go for plan B,” he said.

The aide, who like his boss Zelensky has a background in TV and film production, said that Ukraine would be looking to other countries who have built walls with their neighbors.

“We do have friends and we’ll be borrowing from their experience, first of all Israel, and in this scenario I’m afraid we’ll be living in a frozen conflict,” Yermak said.

Crimea annexation

The lifting of sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and role in a pro-Russian uprising are tied to the country fulfilling the Minsk deal.

Both sides have accused the other of breaking the agreement and a cease-fire has been fragile at best, with skirmishes continuing in the Donbass between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian troops.

Yermak said that the existing agreements created in 2015 needed to be updated. He said Ukraine was still willing to stick to the Minsk deal, but added his country will “do everything we can to implement the agreements in the way they exist right now.”

The conflict is now in its fifth year and has been largely characterized by clashes between separatists and the Ukrainian army. Nonetheless, 13,000 people (including civilians and combatants from both sides) have died in the conflict since 2014, according to the United Nations, and hostilities have affected 3.9 million civilians living in the region.

“The summit will be held following major progress since the summer in negotiations for a settlement in the east Ukraine conflict, progress which in particular allowed the removal of troops from several areas on the frontline,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement in November, reported by Reuters.

The summit comes amid a tentative rapprochement between Russia and Ukraine that has taken place since Zelensky came to power in May. He had made achieving a peace deal with Russia, and ending what he’s called “this horrible war,” a key part of his election manifesto. He is an inexperienced leader, however, having no background in politics.

Relations have shown signs of thawing in recent months with regular phone calls between Putin and Zelensky and prisoner swaps between the countries, plus the return of Ukrainian vessels seized by Russia in the Kerch Strait last year.

Experts say the meeting might be a last opportunity for the countries to normalize relations, however.

Christopher Granville, managing director of EMEA and Global Political Research at TS Lombard, told CNBC on Wednesday that the meeting was a “now or never” opportunity.

“There seems a reasonable chance of some progress (at the meeting), but that’s the boring answer, the more interesting answer is that I do think it’s now or never. In politics there’s always a window, there’s a moment of political capital, a honeymoon when something can be done, and Zelensky’s honeymoon is probably past its zenith, so either something is done now or the window will close.”

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Pound hits fresh seven-month high against dollar on UK election polls

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Evening view of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London.

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Sterling reached a fresh seven-month high against the dollar Thursday, apparently propelled upward by a belief that the upcoming U.K. general election will result in a majority for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party.

The pound has risen 1.5% against the greenback over the past three trading days and on Thursday morning reached a high of $1.3146 — the strongest level since early May. Sterling is now above its 200-week moving average against its U.S. counterpart.

Against the euro, the pound firmed to 84.31 pence, the most since May 2017.

Global Fixed Income Strategist at Societe Generale, Kit Juckes, said sterling was going up “to the sound of shorts capitulating” in a reference to the growing number of traders who were removing bets against the currency.

Commodity Futures Trading Commission data, released each Friday, reveals that net shorts against the pound have been steadily falling since early August.

Currency traders appear to believe that a Conservative Party government, with a commitment to enact Brexit, will prove less damaging to the U.K. economy than a Labour-led government with a pledge to tax and spend.

With just one week until the election, poll-tracking data suggests that the Conservative Party is maintaining a 10-percentage point advantage over Labour. At least one political analyst has estimated that any number above 6% should translate to a Conservative majority in the U.K. Parliament.

U.K Finance Minister Sajid Javid told BBC radio on Thursday that there was not “a single doubt in my mind” that an “ambitious, deep, comprehensive, free-trade agreement” could be agreed with the EU after Brexit within a matter of months.

On Wednesday, the former House of Commons Speaker John Bercow argued that it was “utter nonsense” that any new government could complete Brexit quickly.

In a note emailed to clients Thursday, Swiss bank UBS said that if the Conservatives win and a Brexit deal is completed in early 2020, then the pound should rise to $1.35 against the U.S. dollar.

It warned that gains beyond this level would likely be capped by potential “pitfalls” in subsequent negotiations between London and Brussels.

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