New eHorizon system warns of road hazards just around the corner

New eHorizon system warns of road hazards just around the corner

Continental’s new dynamic mapping system, eHorizon, promises to alert drivers to hazards beyond their line of sight. It will build on information gleaned from cars ahead that is sent via smartphone to the cloud, then passed on to nearby vehicles. It may also help drivers save fuel. Continental says eHorizon will come to market in 2018 or 2019.

eHorizon, in its current state at least, doesn’t enable vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications. That requires Wi-Fi-like transponders in cars, something that is years away. But today, just about everyone has a smartphone, something eHorizon could leverage quickly.

Continental e-Horizon city view

Cars ahead become the eyes for cars behind

Continental describes eHorizon as a dynamic map system — as in freshly updated, not just a moving map. Car navigation today can show slow-moving traffic and accidents as map overlays with estimated delay times. Continental says eHorizon provides more detail that’s closer to real time. When a car ahead reacts to something unusual about the driving situation, that information is sent via the cellular network to the cloud, where it’s combined with other reports, if any, on that specific traffic situation. It also includes data from traffic flow generally and mid-term traffic issues such as a lane closure or construction.

Continental has demonstrated eHorizon recently on a specially outfitted Cadillac CT6. It receives a signal indicating a road hazard, at which point a warning light illuminates on the dash, and the car’s navigation map and/or multi-information display in the instrument cluster counts down the distance.

eHorizon stems from a 2013 partnership among Continental, Cisco, and IBM, later joined by Here, the Chicago mapping firm formerly called Navteq and now held by Audi (VW Group), BMW, and Daimler.

Continental e-Horizon 48V car

What else eHorizon can do

Continental says eHorizon can provide dynamic data, specific by lane, encompassing posted and actual speeds, traffic lights, construction areas, and obstacles in the road or at the side of the road (such as an emergency vehicle, which in many states now requires drivers to move one lane over). It’s possible eHorizon could take cues from a preceding vehicle’s equipment status. If several cars ahead have their wipers on, it might be a cloudburst; if several cars engage stability control, there might be ice on the road or bridge; if there’s sudden braking, there could be a car stalled in a travel lane.

For fuel savings, Continental says in a test with static maps (no real time overlays), and knowledge of the terrain and of a specific vehicle’s capabilities lets eHorizon suggest the proper gear to be in. On commercial vehicles, this yielded a 3% savings.

Continental also has a 48-volt Eco Drive hybrid-electric drive system that splits the difference (in performance and cost) between 12 volt stop-start systems and conventional hybrids with 200-plus-volt drive systems. eHorizon would engage, disengage, or more lightly / heavily stress the electric drivetrain if, say, the car knew a long downhill was coming up and so could drain the battery just before regenerating battery power going downhill.

This will not amuse Google

If some of this sounds like what Waze does, for free, you’re right. Continental is banking on providing more and better information. Continental is a huge technology company with $43 billion in revenues last year, but the owner of Waze since 2013 is Alphabet (Google), the world’s third biggest company with its own plans for navigation.

For real-time traffic information, mapping, and hazard avoidance to work, there has to be common ground among vendors. There certainly can’t be multiple V2V systems that are incompatible, and it seems unlikely a single vendor could grow so big it can have its private, unshared cache of traffic information be more accurate than everyone else combined. It will help if governments create smart traffic lights and other signals whose status is freely broadcast online, but in the meantime, that could be captured by in-car cameras. That kind of information is necessary for self-driving cars. eHorizon is a waypoint toward V2V and V2I (vehicle to infrastructure) systems needed for autonomous driving and so-called smart cities.

Source: ExtremeTech

The Jeep Cherokee hack gets worse — at least if hackers can get physical access to the car first

The Jeep Cherokee hack gets worse — at least if hackers can get physical access to the car first

The duo that hacked a Jeep Cherokee a year ago is back. The hacks can now take over more of the car, but only via physical access, such as via a laptop connected physically to the car’s OBD-II (on-board diagnostics) port. This time around, the hackers were able to mess with the ECU (engine control unit), work the steering wheel at speed, increase cruise control settings, or activate an electronic parking brake. The hacks of 2015 were less dangerous, but they were accomplished remotely. Still, there’s cause for concern here, which we’ll explain shortly.

A year ago, online-security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek attached themselves remotely to a Jeep Cherokee. They were able to disable the transmission and brakes and — only with the car in reverse, at low speed — take over the Jeep’s steering. The hack worked because the car’s steering can be controlled when the car thought it was automatically parallel parking. Scary, but fortunately there’s not a lot of damage you can do at 5 mph. Jeep has since patched that vulnerability.

But the hackers weren’t done. The same researchers, now working at Uber’s Advanced Technology Center, switched to attacking the car via the OBD-II connector and access to the car’s CAN bus (controller area network), with provides links many of the car’s microcontrollers. Depending on what’s considered a microcontroller (a seat adjuster has one, so does the electric window lift), a car might have 100 of them.

Part of the ECU’s job is to look for spurious or conflicting signals and tell the car to ignore them. But with access to the CAN bus, it’s possible to update the ECU firmware in a way that it doesn’t reject oddball signals, such as making a sharp turn at high speed. Among the things that became possible, now going forward as well as reverse, and also at higher speeds:

  • Change the cruise control setting;
  • Take control of the steering (cars with electrical not mechanical power steering) as in the video above;
  • Set the parking brake.

Miller, in an interview with Wired cautioned, “It’s not like I can take control of the car and drive you to my house and you can’t stop me. But if you’re not paying attention, it’s definitely dangerous.”

Chrysler’s response

Told of the 2016 hacks, Chrysler issued a statement that read, “While we admire their creativity, it appears that the researchers have not identified any new remote way to compromise a 2014 Jeep Cherokee or other FCA US vehicles.” Chrysler also said the software on the hacked car was not Chrysler’s most recent.

There is a possible way to do this wirelessly, though. While the new hacks required physical access to OBD-II, it’s believed possible that OBD-II driving monitors such as from Progressive Insurance, the Automatic phone app with adapter, or the Verizon Hum, all with wireless interfaces, could be compromised. Then hackers would or could be back in business.

Source: ExtremeTech

2017 Nissan Armada mega-SUV makes good use of its cameras

2017 Nissan Armada mega-SUV makes good use of its cameras

There’s a lot of tech on the brand new Nissan Armada full-size SUV that wasn’t around when the first-generation Armada launched back in 2003. Back then, no car or SUV of that era had USB, and the iPhone was four years in the future. Stability control wasn’t yet common on top-heavy SUVs. Fast forward over a decade and the second generation, 2017 Nissan Armada remains a honking big eight-passenger SUV with a 390-hp V8 engine weighing just under three tons. But even so, it’s more refined, gets high teens mpg in highway driving, and makes Nissan again competitive in the part of the big-SUV market that accounts for more than a half-million sales a year.

One of the most useful technologies on the Armada is the four-camera Around View monitor that provides a birds eye view of uneven terrain when you’re off-roading, the top of a steep driveway, or the parking lot markings when you’re trying to squeeze 7.5 feet of SUV into the middle of a 9-foot wide space. The new Armada also has the most common driver assists: adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, and lane departure warning / intervention.

If it climbs rocks, it’ll go up snowy hills

Nissan makes much of the Armada’s off-road capabilities. The level of capability is almost unique among the biggest SUVs, those measuring 200 inches (16 feet, 8 inches) or more. The Land Rovers, Toyota Land Cruisers, and Jeeps capable of this are all shorter and/or cost twice as much. On a recent test drive, Nissan showed off the Armada’s ability to climb a steep dirt hill, drive around banked curves, and then crawl across hugely rutted roads where one of the wheels were up to a foot off the ground. This is where the Around View (surround view) monitor makes so much sense. Otherwise, on hilly terrain, you’d need a spotter walking in front.

The point is, if the Armada can do this, it’ll handle everything else, too: driving in snow, trailering a boat (9,000 pounds) and pulling it up a slippery launching ramp, or dealing with the mile-long run up a gravel road to the winter ski home.

Like the Infiniti QX80, only cheaper

Just as the Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XL are close to the Cadillac Escalade in design, but not in price, so is the Nissan Armada close to the Infiniti QX80 luxury SUV, but not in price. (That linkage couldn’t be claimed for the previous, rough-around-the-edges Armada.) The construction is quite similar, as is the Endurance V8 engine (390 hp for Nissan, 400 for Infiniti).

Both SUVs are built around the chassis of the Nissan Patrol, a big body-on-frame SUV sold for half a century in the rest of the world. The first-generation Armada was based on the Nissan Titan pickup truck. While the new Armada is about the same size outside as the first Armada, and especially roomy in front, the third row is more compact — even cramped.

Otherwise, the fit and finish of the cockpit comes close to the QX80, with the biggest difference being that the entry level Nissan Armada SV starts at $44,000 (rear drive), while the least-expensive QX80 is $64,000. All Armadas get LED headlamps, an 8-inch color display, navigation, 13-speaker Bose audio (no ultra-premium audio offered), satellite radio, two USB jacks, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, and an oil-pan skidplate.

The mid-level Armada SL adds the Around View monitor with moving object detection, leather seats, power folding 60/40 third-row seat, power lift gate, and 20-inch wheels. The top-level Armada Platinum gets cooled front seats, rear entertainment with dual LCDs, heated second-row seats, and a technology package of full-range adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and emergency braking, blind spot detection and intervention (which pulls the car back from the lane marker), and backup collision intervention. The tech package and moonroof package are offered on the SL and not available on the SV. Captain’s chairs can be had in the second row, reducing capacity to seven passengers, including three snug ones in the third row.

With the 390 hp V8 and seven-speed automatic, Nissan rates its biggest passenger vehicle at 14 mpg city, 19 mph highway, 16 mpg combined for rear drive, 13/18/15 for four-wheel drive. Weights range from 5,576 pounds for the rear drive Armada SV to 5,963 pounds for the four-wheel-drive Armada Platinum.

SalesBigSUVs2015-revB

No place to go but up for Armada sales

One of every 30 vehicles sold in the US last year was a big SUV at least 200 inches long. That’s 543,000 sales, plus another 250,000 sales if you count the Ford Explorer that at 198 inches is the biggest (and brawniest looking) of the midsize three-row SUVs. As long as gasoline stays below $2.50 a gallon — it’s currently $2.15 a gallon for regular, says AAA — there’s less incentive to downsize for better mpg unless you feel the tug of the environment and climate change. The historical average price for gasoline since 1929 is about $2.50 a gallon in today’s dollars, and the highest prices ever (inflation adjusted) were in 2008-2013, says the Department of Energy, so today’s prices seem wondrously low.

The table above shows the market for big SUVs splits at 40,000 sales a year. All the vehicles over 40,000 sales are relatively affordable, with list prices no higher than the mid-forties. Every SUV under 40,000 unit sales in 2015 starts in the sixties or higher, except the first-generation Armada that dated to the 2004 model year, and the also-aging Toyota Sequoia that dates to the 2008 model year. With a newer design that is at once quieter, more upscale, and with better technology, Nissan is poised to move up in sales. As long as gas prices stay down.

The only knocks on the new Armada are the paucity of USB jacks — two, max three with rear entertainment — in a vehicle where there could be eight passengers, and driver warnings that beep when most American and European cars vibrate the steering wheel or seatpan. There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto offered; Nissan says these are complex technologies and wants to perfect the interface before turning them loose on buyers. But it’s frustrating to see other automakers (such as GM and Ford) implementing CarPlay and Android Auto with no apparent issues so far.

As broad as the Armada’s driver assists are, there’s a bit less assisted-driving capability than the industry leaders. On long trips, in a vehicle that excels at hauling lots of people long distances, the lane departure system will brake the opposite-side front wheel and pull the Armada back from the lane edge if the driver drifts over it (“lane departure prevention”). But it lacks the self-centering capability (“lane centering assist”) of an increasing number of vehicles. LCA plus adaptive cruise control (the Armada has ACC) benefits drivers whose attention might wander briefly on long trips. That would likely require a switch from mechanical to electrical power steering for the Armada.

The closest competitor to the Nissan Armada may well be the Toyota Land Cruiser, which is more than a foot shorter (195 inches) and priced as a premium vehicle, starting at $83,000; or the Land Rover Range Rover, priced similarly. In other words, not much of a direct competitor.

With the Armada shipping to customers this month, Nissan has one of the industry’s widest range of SUV offerings, including small (Juke, Rogue), midsize (Murano, Pathfinder), and full-size (Armada). Most are new or redone in the past three years. Rogue (at 182 inches in length), Pathfinder, and Armada are all three-row. Among all SUVs and crossovers (all sizes), Rogue is No. 4 overall behind only Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape. But Nissan only has two others in the top 50 based on 2015 sales: the Nissan Pathfinder at No. 25 (it was new in 2013 and gets a midlife refresh this summer to make it look beefier and more truck-like, meaning: more Explorer-like) and the Nissan Murano at No. 32 (up 33% last year), according to goodcarbadcar.net. The only Infiniti in the top 50 is the Infiniti QX60, which is the equivalent of the Pathfinder. So at a time when the majority of vehicles sold in the US are crossovers, SUVs or pickups, not passenger cars, Nissan needs to keep improving its game. The big Armada is a small step in that direction.

Source: ExtremeTech

Crashed the Benz? Rescue Assist App helps get you out, safely

Crashed the Benz? Rescue Assist App helps get you out, safely

Mercedes-Benz’s Rescue Assist App provides immediate access to information about a vehicle in the event of an accident. When a car crashes and there are personal injuries, rescuers want to extricate the occupants quickly. They don’t want to, in their haste, accidentally set off any unexploded airbags, or snip through the high-voltage line of a hybrid or EV.

Using the app on a smartphone or tablet, the rescuer scans a QR code on the car’s B-pillars or fuel filler flap, and brings up a rotatable 3D image of the vehicle showing safety critical components. It helps them determine where to cut and what areas to avoid. The QR code patches are being installed on current Mercedes-Benz cars and trucks. Older Mercedes vehicles dating as far back as 1990 can have the QR codes affixed by the dealership.

Mercedes-Benz S 400 HYBRID (W 222) 2013, Lack: AMG alubeam silber, Ausstattung: Leder Exklusiv porzellan/schwarz

Scalable, rotatable 3D views

Mercedes says the digital rescue data sheets can help “emergency services to free passengers quickly and safety from vehicles that have been involved in accidents. The rescue cards show an overview of safety-critical components such as airbags, batteries, and fuel lines. In the case of electric and hybrid vehicles, they also show all high-voltage components,” and that, “With the help of the three-dimensional views, rescue teams are able to work out even more quickly the best and safest place to apply cutters. The 3D-models can be freely rotated and scaled up or down within the app.”

Mercedes adds (perhaps tongue in cheek?) that the “photorealistic detail in images that, to a wide extent, reflect what can be seen of the actual damaged vehicle.” Meaning: Even if the car is crumpled, there ought to be a view that resembles the car.

How it used to be

Rescuers have always wanted to be able to disconnect 12-volt batteries after an accident, even more so when dealing with hybrid batteries producing hundreds of volts of current. Shortly after the introduction of the Toyota Prius, the company produced a card showing a 3D cutaway of the Prius, including the main power line running the tunnel in the middle of the car along the floor. But the static side view image was oriented (tipped) in such a way that the bright orange cable appeared to be routed through the driver-side door, and thus appeared to be a big-time safety hazard.

Never mind that this defied belief: A power cable routed through the driver’s door wouldn’t work very well as soon as the door opened. It would be disconnected.

As a practical matter, in a serious crash, many — not all — cars will forcibly disconnect (sometimes sever) the battery cables. Car telematics units have embedded power supplies in case the main battery power is lost.

Still, Mercedes is providing a useful solution here. It will be even more useful when the same app, or some kind of universal app, covers all the world’s brands of hybrids, plug-ins, and EVs — and eventually every car, since they all have airbags, air curtains, knee air bags, and 12-volt batteries that may be under the hood, in the trunk, or occasionally under the back seat.

What Rescue Assist App covers

According to Mercedes-Benz, the app details all Mercedes cars built since 1990, MB vans since 1996, and Smart car models built since 1998. On the commercial vehicle side, Fuso Canter 467 models starting in 2005, and Canter 468 models starting in 2013, are also covered.

The online connection helps, Mercedes says, but apparently isn’t necessary: “As soon as the QR code is scanned with the camera of the smartphone or tablet, the relevant rescue card will open up in the Rescue Assist App.”

Source: ExtremeTech

Ford goes 100-percent Sync 3 in 2017 cars, trucks, SUVs

Ford goes 100-percent Sync 3 in 2017 cars, trucks, SUVs

Ford will expand Sync 3, its finally useful infotainment software, across the entire line of 2017 cars, SUVs, crossovers, pickups and EVs. They’ll all be compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. That gives Ford a consistent message to buyers: If you buy any new Ford starting this fall, you’ll have the newest version of Sync.

No more worrying that if you walked into the dealership thinking about a 2016 Ford Escape, the compact crossover that was the first Ford with Sync 3, you’d have to double-check with the sales rep if you looked to a roomier Ford Edge crossover (it has Sync 3) or bigger-still Ford Explorer (not in 2016). Sync may not be offered on the lowest trim line of a model, but that’s usually a low-volume variant dealers may not even stock. It may mean a rental Ford won’t have Sync 3.

A decade in coming

Ford was the first US automaker with a system for integrating your mobile phone or music player into the dashboard, teaming up with Microsoft back in 2007. The idea was great, but the execution so-so, with slow response times and occasional crashes (of the head unit). An update five years ago helped some. Only now is Sync 3 a useful contender, with Microsoft only on the back end (cloud services) and QNX software in the head unit. Ford has jettisoned the MyFord Touch term, which applied to Fords with Sync and a touchscreen. Now it’s just “Sync 3.”

Where CarPlay and Android Auto allow just a half-dozen apps to be used on your center stack display and controlled by the car, AppLink has dozens. That includes streaming audio apps, but also third-party navigation offerings.

By offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support along with Sync 3, users who like the iPhone or Android phone’s features will get essentially a large-type version on the center stack. Google and Apple navigation are arguably as simple as navigation can be by paring down the visible features (sometimes streets, too) for less complexity.

It will be interesting to see how many 2017 Ford trim lines offer buyers a real choice on navigation — meaning a reasonably sized center stack LCD of at least 6 inches diagonal, but not forcing on the user an options pack containing things you might want (premium audio) along with things you don’t (embedded navigation) in exchange for getting that larger display.

A shining example for the industry is the Editors’ Choice Honda Civic. It makes standard a 7-inch Display Audio LCD on all but the entry trim line, CarPlay and Android Auto throughout the lines, and Honda navigation only on the most costly Civic Touring. That seems a reasonable approach, especially on cars selling in the low twenties.

Sync3-applink-emulator-1469100517528

AppLink Emulator: new tool for Sync developers

Just before the Sync 3 all-cars announcement, Ford rolled out the Sync 3 AppLink Emulator to ease the cost of developing applications for the Sync platform. No longer does the developer have to buy, rent, or borrow a car with Sync 3. Now, all the developer needs is a smartphone and a PC or laptop with the emulator software.

The emulator lets the developer set real-world parameters for testing, such as vehicle speed, location, outside temperature, and mileage. Ford says it has more than 15,000 registered AppLink developers and more than 90 AppLink apps worldwide. All of them run on the phone and are controllable by the driver through touch, dashboard controls, and voice.

Source: ExtremeTech

Does more tech in cars mean more breakdowns?

Does more tech in cars mean more breakdowns?

Cars have more technology these days. It turns out some of it comes back to bite you and can even leave you stranded. AAA says electronic keyless ignitions are a special challenge that can lead to dead (car) batteries — especially for people with secure garages who leave the remotes in the car at night so they aren’t misplaced.

A summer report from AAA said they rescued a record 32 million drivers in 2015, a 10% increase over 2014’s 29 million calls for help. Vehicle miles traveled in the US increased only 3% from 2014 (2.98 trillion miles) to 2015 (3.06 trillion miles).

AAA new car breakdowns graphic

What ails newer cars

According to the auto club, newer cars — cars less than five years old — have a disproportionately high number of tire, key, and “fuel-related” issues (meaning the tank goes empty). Cars six to 10 years old are more likely to have battery problems, since batteries typically last three to five years. With these newer cars, a fifth of service calls ends with a tow to the shop.

Overall, the top three roadside service requests remain dead batteries, flat tires, and vehicle lockouts. This last one despite some (not all) remote keys that won’t let you lock the car and walk away unless the key is outside the car.

The problem with remote key fobs

AAA-2008_CES_Bi-Directional Key FobWhen a remote key is left in the car, it may communicate with the vehicle. The car may keep more electronic modules from going to sleep or suspend mode. This is especially the case when the key is left in the car overnight, accidentally or by design so it doesn’t get lost.

AAA recommends changing the key fob battery on the suggested cycle, rather than trying to stretch your luck.

Telematics systems can also be a battery drain. They may need to stay semi-active in order to respond to a find-my-car command.

The problem with forgetful drivers

According to Cliff Ruud, managing director of automotive solutions for AAA, “Despite advanced warning systems [low-fuel lights and miles-to-empty displays], more than half a million drivers ran out of gas last year.”

Low-profile tires are more susceptible to damage, including wheel breakage and/or tire blow-outs where the tire is destroyed. Even a run-flat tire won’t run if a pothole or road debris destroys the sidewall, usually a result of the short sidewall, meaning a tire aspect ratio of 50 or less. AAA recommends drivers with run-flats or inflator kits should consider buying a spare tire. (But first, check to make sure there’s room set aside in the trunk for for a full-size spare. It may have appropriated for other uses.)

High-tech driver assists don’t appear to have an impact on AAA’s service calls. Even if there’s a failure of adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, or lane departure warning, the car still runs. You can still get home if the head-up display fails.

As for the main question raised by AAA’s survey, the answer to whether tech makes cars more susceptible to failure is that most forms of new car tech don’t leave you stranded. If they fail, you keep driving and go see the dealer in a week or two. Or you give up and leave navigation or lane departure warning disabled.

Possibly useful trivia

According to AAA, the peak season for roadside assistance calls is summer with 8.3 million calls, followed by winter with 8.1 million calls, fall with 7.8 million calls, and spring with 7.7 million calls.

Monday is the most common day to call for roadside assistance, while Sunday is the least busy. Among other things, the car may have sat for 1-2 days in the driveway and a just-marginal battery on Friday evening is a dead battery Monday morning.

Drivers in the West made the most roadside assistance calls, followed by the South, Northeast, and Midwest.

Source: ExtremeTech

Tesla’s new master plan: electric trucks, buses, and ride-sharing

Tesla’s new master plan: electric trucks, buses, and ride-sharing

Think Tesla was audacious in its first decade? CEO Elon Musk’s “Master Plan, Part Dieux” calls for Tesla to build electric crossovers, sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, buses, and long-haul trucks. Electric vehicles, all of them. The plan also calls for Tesla to forge ahead on autonomous driving — no surprise there — and develop a car-sharing program for self-driving Teslas so owners can get some of their money back.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see Musk is pushing a bold plan that requires lots of capital and more breakthroughs in battery cost and efficiency at a time when Tesla is already stretching to meet its goals of jumping from 50,000 to 500,000 vehicle sales by 2018 and Musk is trying to push through a merger of Tesla and SolarCity.

World Premiere Freightliner Inspiration Truck

Autonomous big trucks, smaller on-demand buses

World Premiere Freightliner Inspiration TruckIn the “Part Deux” master plan (its real name) on the Tesla blog, Musk writes that today “Tesla addresses two relatively small segments of premium sedans and SUVs.” Tesla expands with the $35,000 Tesla Model 3 in late 2017, a crossover sized and prized like a Model 3, and then “a new kind of pickup truck.”

Musk says there are “two other types of electric vehicle needed: heavy-duty trucks and high passenger-density urban transport.” He said both are in development and should be unveiled next year. Musk sees them as autonomous vehicles. Others are working on autonomous combustion engine trucks, including Daimler’s Freightliner division (photos above, right). Musk says the Tesla Semi “will deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate.” Fun to operate? Tesla is an upbeat company.

It’s unclear if Tesla would pack in batteries equivalent to the 200-300 gallons of diesel in an over-the-road truck, make them quick-change, or develop huge improvements in battery efficiency.

The Tesla bus would also be autonomous. If so, Musk writes, “It  will probably make sense to shrink the size of buses and transition the role of bus driver to that of fleet manager. … [with the buses] matching acceleration and braking to other vehicles, thus avoiding the inertial impedance to smooth traffic flow of traditional heavy buses. It would also take people all the way to their destination. Fixed summon buttons at existing bus stops would serve those who don’t have a phone.”

Ford Dynamic Shuttle vanTesla’s not-insignificant contribution here is the electrification and automation of the downsized bus, something perhaps sized on the order of a Mercedes Sprinter or Ford Transit. Ford’s Dynamic Shuttle Service concept (photo right) is built around ride optimization software and offers semi-custom destinations, meaning the rider might walk a block or two at each end of the ride, putting it between a city bus and taxi on convenience and price.

The new Tesla plan backs off from a smaller (and cheaper) Tesla EV than the Model 3. “A lower cost vehicle than the Model 3 is unlikely to be necessary,” Musk says. If people want a less expensive Tesla, they can rent it out when they’re not using it.

TeslaX_interior_layouts

The Tesla factory: “machine that makes the machine”

To move to a sustainable future, Musk says, Tesla needs to scale up production volume quickly and focus on the “the machine that makes the machine,” otherwise known as the factory. He adds:

A first principles physics analysis of automotive production suggests that somewhere between a 5 to 10 fold improvement is achievable by version 3 on a roughly 2 year iteration cycle. The first Model 3 factory machine should be thought of as version 0.5, with version 1.0 probably in 2018.

Autonomous driving yields safety

Parts of the Tesla plan touch on current controversies, but reshaping today’s problems as waypoints to the longer-term future. For instance, Musk sees the futures of SolarCity and Tesla merging, so the companies should, too. (That’s making some investors nervous.)

Musk defended Tesla’s partial self-driving Teslas now as a useful learning tool helping move Tesla to full autonomy and — when used appropriately, meaning not the stuff you see in stupid YouTube videos — makes today’s Teslas with Autopilot safer than cars without. Autopilot, Musk says, “is already significantly safer than a person driving by themselves and it would therefore be morally reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability.”

Musk cautions that the “software validation” for self-driving will take “much longer than putting in place the cameras, radar, sonar, and computing hardware.” He estimates world regulatory approval will take “on the order of 6 billion miles (10 billion km). Current fleet learning is happening at just over 3 million miles (5 million km) per day.” Musk again defended the term “beta” being applied to Autopilot software as “not beta software in any normal sense of the word. … It is called beta in order to decrease complacency and indicate that it will continue to improve.” When Autopilot becomes 10 times as safe as the average US car, the beta label comes. Right now Tesla says Autopilot cars are approaching 2x the safety of the average car. The overall death rate in auto accidents now is about 1.1 per 100 million miles driven.

Master plan in short

Musk opened and closed his 1,500 word plan by comparing it with the first plan, like this:

First Master Plan (2006)

Create a low volume car (the Tesla Roadster), which would necessarily be expensive;

Use that money to develop a medium volume car (Model S) at a lower price;

Use that money to create an affordable, high volume car (Model 3);

Provide solar power. No kidding, this has literally been on our website for 10 years.

Part Dieux Master Plan

Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage;

Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments;

Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning;

Enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it.

Can Musk make the second decade magical, too?

Analysts were quick to provide feedback. Several noted that it was an ambitious plan at a time when Tesla has challenges engineering new cars and getting quality control improved. Consumer Reports dinged Tesla for quality issues with the Model S even as it continued to say it was the best car they ever tested.

To Tesla and SolarCity, it makes sense to merge the two companies so customers can do one-shopping for a car, solar panels, and battery storage. Whether buyers see it that way is less certain. Not everyone wants solar panels on their roof and apartment dwellers may not have a place to put them.

As happened at the Steve Jobs-run Apple, investors may wonder what happens to Tesla Motors if Elon Musk gets hit by a bus, electric or otherwise. Tesla says it has a deep bench of executives beyond Musk, but it’s always a concern for the markets when a single person represents so much of the company’s image. On the other hand, for most of Tesla’s existence, the investors who were rewarded best were those who bet with Tesla.

Source: ExtremeTech

Elon Musk: Software-only enhancements coming to Tesla Autopilot

Elon Musk: Software-only enhancements coming to Tesla Autopilot

Tesla will tweak the software of its Autopilot radar system to improve its performance in the wake of a fatal accident. Both the driver and the Model S in autonomous mode failed to pick up on a tractor trailer turning left in front of them, which led to the May 7 death of Joshua Brown in Florida.

In a series of Tweets, CEO Elon Musk said Tesla is considering decoupling the car’s camera system from its radar and using “temporal smoothing to create a coarse point cloud, like lidar” to improve recognition of hazards. The enhancements would be software-only, likely sent as an over-the-air update, Musk said. He didn’t set a date for the upgrade.

Criticize us, not Bosch or Mobileye

In a series of Tweets and some interviews over the past week and a half, Musk thanked Tesla’s suppliers of the forward-looking radar, Bosch, and the camera system, Mobileye, “for their help and support,” adding, “Please direct all criticism at Tesla.” It appears Tesla does not envision replacing radar or camera sensors, which might raise the question of the same or similar radar units on other automakers’ cars.

Tesla apparently wants radar to be a more dominant part of the equation — perhaps emulating lidar 3D shape scanners that are still too costly ($5,000 plus, with at least two required) to deploy on most cars sold now. Some of the software tweaking might be to give more priority to shapes moving sideways across the radar’s field of view.

Currently, radar is optimized to track objects moving in the same direction as the car, not cars that are stopped, or large physical objects such as bridges or building walls. What’s obvious to humans is acquired knowledge for radar. (Although cameras could help, for instance by more quickly recognizing a stopped car.) For instance, if the road curves left, but there’s a garage-size boulder at the curve in the road straight ahead, the car’s self-driving software needs rules to decide if it can be ignored.

In the May 7 fatal crash in Florida, a tractor-trailer made a left turn on a divided-highway intersection, but the trailer was white and the sky behind was brightly lit. With today’s semi-self-driving technology (as Autopilot is), radar typically ignores vehicles in the oncoming lane or crossing in front. In the case of this crash, the camera system may not have been able to make out the truck against the bright sky. Radar also is optimized for objects just a few feet off the ground, to avoid detecting overpasses that are at least 12-15 feet off the roadway.

Tesla fans rally around Musk

Over recent weeks, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has begun an investigation, and Consumer Reports called on Tesla to disable Autopilot, and while they’re at it, find a new name that doesn’t over-promise.

Musk has been especially active on Twitter, noting and thanking Tesla owners who rallied to Tesla’s defense, including a poster on the Tesla Motors Club, and writers in the media who said Autopilot works fine and shouldn’t be restricted.

Musk Tweeted, “Tesla customers are v smart & don’t want media speaking on their behalf abt Autopilot. [Read: the media that doesn’t like Autopilot.] Recent poll: 0.0% want it disabled — not 0.1%, 0.0%.”

Musk also slapped back at critics wondering why Tesla was shipping Autopilot when Tesla called it beta software. Musk’s reply Tweet: “Misunderstanding of what ‘beta’ means to Tesla for Autopilot: any system w less than 1B miles of real world driving.” So there.

Source: ExtremeTech

5 things automakers must do to keep self-driving safe (and available)

5 things automakers must do to keep self-driving safe (and available)

One man dies with Tesla Autopilot turned on and there’s talk of scaling back autonomous driving. Google is said to have jumped straight to work on Level 4 self-driving, the highest level (where cars wouldn’t even need a steering wheel), because drivers at lower levels of autonomous have shown their inability to stay attentive. It’s possible safety zealots and regulators seek to reign in self-driving cars. That’s unnecessary.

Here are five things automakers, regulators, car dealers, and drivers can do to make self-driving safer. Otherwise, we risk losing the very real advantages of partial self-driving, such as adaptive cruise control (ACC) and lane centering assist (LCA) that can be soothing on big city highway commutes and brain amplifiers on long, tiring vacation trips.

1. Make the time-out 10-15 seconds, not 2-3 minutes

Cars today with adaptive cruise control and lane centering assist, possibly with blind spot detection and forward emergency braking, are effectively self-driving on interstates, until they encounter a situation they can’t handle. They require the driver to have his or her hands lightly on the wheel. Take them off, the car senses it, sounds a warning beep after 10-15 seconds, and disables lane centering assist about 5 seconds later. Some automakers set the timeout to a minute or more, enough time to crawl in the back seat and make a YouTube video, or for the average driver to really lose attention and possibly nod off.

If the timeout is 15 seconds, that’s enough. It’s enough to plug in your smartphone, turn around, and grab a bag from the back seat (not that you should) or type a quick text (not that you should).

2. Educate owners on what self-drive cars can’t do

“Tesla Autopilot” is a great marketing phrase, but it promises more that it delivers (for now), even if Tesla appends the word “beta.” What’s needed is not an owner lawsuit charging false promises, but a serious automaker / auto dealer training program for buyers, and their families, that explains all technology features of their new cars: the cockpit controllers (BMW iDrive, Audi MMI, Mercedes-Benz Comand), the LCDs and navigation systems, and the alphabet soup that makes up assisted driving: ACC, AEB, BSD, and LDA/LKA/LCA.

Here’s the problem: Auto dealer sales forces have no clue, generally speaking, what they’re selling when it comes to technology. If they understood technology, they’d be employed somewhere else that didn’t require working 60-hour weeks to earn $50,000. Some automakers have created regional geek squads to educate the sales forces who educate the consumers; some dealers designate one or two smart guys to explain tech (until they get hired away elsewhere). Give the buyer a $50 accessories department gift card for sitting through the training (carrot, not stick). Back that up with online videos and embedded videos that play in the car (when it’s stopped) for continuing education. It’s a start.

General Motors

Blend camera and radar to track cut-in cars

When the driver in an adjacent lane cuts into your lane, it takes adaptive cruise control about a second to lock in on the intruder and slow your car. This can be a scary moment for driver and passengers, and it’s hard to drive 50 miles on the highway without it happening.

The camera in the windshield that handles lane keep assist as well as (some cars) auto high beams and forward collision warning could track cars ahead of you in adjacent lanes. It could work with a centralized controller and ACC to get the car braking a couple fractions of a second earlier. This would raise a car from Level 1 autonomous driving, meaning one or more driver assists working on their own, to Level 2, which calls for multiple driver assists — especially ACC and LCA — that work together. For the next couple years, that’s what drivers really want and will find useful for highway commuting (handling stop and go traffic while staying in lane) and the occasional all-day trips where it’s hard to pay attention.

Add drowsy driver warnings

It’s normal for your attention to wander if the car helps with driving. But until cars get to the next level, where you get enough time to resume controlling the car (say 10 seconds to a minute), you have to stay more-or-less alert. Drowsy driver monitors can help. Originally conceived as a complex system with cameras and eye motion tracking, sometimes also measuring breathing and heartbeat, automakers have found they can track driver attention by tracking micro-adjustments people make when driving, as long as their hands are on the wheel. The car also tracks events such as drifting out of lane, which lane centering assist will catch.

With one technology or the other, the car should be able to catch a driver on the verge of drifting off. Then the car sounds an alert and suggests a coffee break. Researchers have also experimented with Let’s Play a Game, where the car voice module asks the driver questions and listens for response via speech-to-text conversion. That can keep the driver going for another hour or so. It’s a possible antidote to inattention.

Inattentive drivers is one reason Google back in 2013 went straight to working on driver-free cars: Drivers don’t remain vigilant and lack the “situational awareness” to quickly return to full attention.

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Fix the infrastructure

In the 1990s plan, self-driving cars and trucks would follow embedded transponders in a limited access roadway. Now the car orients itself on any roadway based on visual recognition of nearby cars, traffic signs, and most of all, roadway markings. They all need to be kept in good condition, especially the lane markings. What’s marginal on a clear day can’t be read in the rain at night by the car’s lane centering assist camera (or by most drivers, for that matter). Some cars get speed limit cues from road signs, but only if they’re readable. Potholes force drivers to swerve, and that endangers a self-driving car nearby. Potholes also cost individual drivers more in tire, wheel, and suspension damage than it costs the state to fix the potholes for everyone.

The money is there, in the form of auto registration fees and state and federal gasoline taxes. Problem is, much of it has been siphoned off to other parts of government budgets, and now needs to be recaptured.

Source: ExtremeTech

Tesla: We’re not going to disable Autopilot (obviously)

Tesla: We’re not going to disable Autopilot (obviously)

It was all obvious. In the wake of the fatal crash of a Tesla running in Autopilot mode, the media asked an obvious question: Would Tesla disable Autopilot? The answer from CEO Elon Musk was equally obvious: Autopilot stays active. But Tesla says it will be more aggressive in telling drivers about the limits of Autopilot.

The Feds, meanwhile, have gotten involved and have asked Tesla for an avalanche of paperwork and information about Autopilot usage, close calls, and driver involvement. That alone may be punishment enough for Tesla getting out front of self-driving.

Tesla X dashboard

A system that “would save lives”

This week, Elon Musk told the Wall Street Journal, “A lot of people don’t understand what it [Autopilot] is and how you turn it on,” adding Tesla brought Autopilot to market, and plans to keep it available, because “we knew we had a system that on balance would save lives.”

Tesla plans a blog post — one of the company’s ways of keeping in touch with owners — further explaining the nuances of Autopilot and what it can and cannot do.

Tesla-Model-S-blue front

Insights on Tesla blog

Meanwhile, on the Tesla blog, Tesla provided some more insight into Autopilot. The Tesla post was a swipe at a July 5 Fortune article noting that Tesla (the company and its CEO, Musk) sold $2 billion of Tesla stock after the May 7 fatal crash that killed Joshua Brown while Autopilot was switched on in his Model X, but weeks before publicly announcing the fatal accident. Tesla says:

Here’s what we did know at the time of the accident and subsequent [stock] filing:

1. That Tesla Autopilot had been safely used in over 100 million miles of driving by tens of thousands of customers worldwide, with zero confirmed fatalities and a wealth of internal data demonstrating safer, more predictable vehicle control performance when the system is properly used.

2. That contrasted against worldwide accident data, customers using Autopilot are statistically safer than those not using it at all.

3. That given its nature as a driver assistance system, a collision on Autopilot was a statistical inevitability, though by this point, not one that would alter the conclusion already borne out over millions of miles that the system provided a net safety benefit to society.

Tesla goes on to say that Fortune made “false assumptions,” including:

[assuming] that this accident was caused by an Autopilot failure. To be clear, this accident was the result of a semi-tractor trailer crossing both lanes of a divided highway in front of an oncoming car. Whether driven under manual or assisted mode, this presented a challenging and unexpected emergency braking scenario for the driver to respond to. In the moments leading up to the collision, there is no evidence to suggest that Autopilot was not operating as designed and as described to users: specifically, as a driver assistance system that maintains a vehicle’s position in lane and adjusts the vehicle’s speed to match surrounding traffic.

All this is in the context of Tesla saying the first Autopilot-on fatal crash (in 130 million driving miles) was not material to investors planning to buy Tesla stock, and Fortune suggesting it probably was. Fortune also dinged NHTSA, which “sat on the news — of possible interest to the driving public, wouldn’t you say? — until announcing it June 30 … almost eight weeks after the accident.”

NHTSA’s demand for information

The National Highway Traffic Safety Information last week sent Tesla a nine-page request for documents and data about 2015 Tesla Model S vehicles to learn more about the cars’ automatic emergency braking, Autosteer, and crash avoidance systems. It’s the kind of request that may make the public feel better that someone is checking up, and it may make businessmen weep over the extreme level of detail NHTSA is seeking.

NHTSA wants to know about design changes and updates made to Autopilot since it was first made available (as an over-the-air update) in 2015. It also wants to know about automatic emergency braking events with adaptive cruise control activated but not Autosteer, then with Autosteer activated, and then with neither cruise control nor Autosteer enabled — in other words, the total number of put-your-hands-on-the-wheel Autosteer warnings and the warnings “that escalated to a reduction in power.” It also wants reports of crashes, lawsuits filed, and results of any arbitration proceedings, along with the results of Tesla crash reconstructions and Tesla’s assessment of systems that did not activate in crashes.

NHTSA calls this a request for information, although the letter ends with a warning of civil penalties if it doesn’t provide the information.

Source: ExtremeTech