Car breakdowns reach record high despite boost in auto technology

Car breakdowns reach record high despite boost in auto technology

In spite of the progress of car tech overall, the number of vehicles breaking down is actually spiking. According to Fortune, the American Automotive Association (AAA) tended to a record-high 32 million drivers with vehicle breakdowns last year. The main causes? A lot of flat tires, but also electronic keyless ignitions that sapped batteries and more.

AAA also found that relatively recent advancements like maintenance reminders and engine alerts haven’t lowered the amount of drivers stuck roadside. I asked AAA how drivers might avoid breakdowns, either through their own actions, or failing that, and what car OEMs can do to fix the mess.

When asked about possible tweaks with electronic key ignitions, an AAA spokesperson suggested that “consumers should keep their ‘smart’ key or fob at least 10 feet away from the car when it is not in use so inadvertent battery drains will be prevented.” Triple-A also advises that you “don’t leave the ‘smart’ key or fob in the car unnecessarily, or hang it on a hook in the garage next to the car overnight.”

AAA believes that automakers should go back to providing spare tires as standard equipment to prevent more calls related to flats. But the organization’s last piece of advice should be the most obvious.

“Overall, the best way to prevent roadside breakdowns is with proper vehicle maintenance,” AAA added. “While today’s vehicle technology incorporates maintenance reminders and dashboard alerts designed to prevent roadside trouble, drivers still must take action.”

Featured Image: frankieleon
Source: TechCrunch

‘Graham’ shows how an evolved human body could survive a car accident

‘Graham’ shows how an evolved human body could survive a car accident

Human bodies aren’t evolving quickly enough to withstand the force of a major car accident using today’s auto technology.

To help illustrate this, Australia’s Transport Accident Commission has built Graham — a lifelike, interactive model made to show the bodily features that humans might be equipped with if we evolve to endure blunt force in crashes. Essentially, Graham is the only one out here that can survive a major collision on the road. Unless you can evolve to his level.

The auto safety project concentrates on Graham’s eight crucial body zones, including the brain, skull, face, neck, rib cage, skin, knees, and legs/feet. The study then goes zone-by-zone, describing how each body part would need to evolve to withstand such force during a crash.

For example, the TAC made Graham’s skull bigger, filling it with more cerebrospinal fluid and ligaments to prepare the brain for when a collision occurs, offering him greater safety.

Graham’s rib-cage protection was bolstered with a barrel-like chest with sacks between each of his ribs that would act like airbags during a crash.

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And TAC gave Graham hoof-like legs with added joints that would allow him to spring up and out of the way during a crash to avoid enduring major force.

Hoof-like legs to minimize leg and foot injuries during an accident? Probably not evolutionary traits in our near futures. But that’s the point that TAC is trying to drive home — rather than leaving solutions to evolution, improved roads could help in the meantime.

“Cars have evolved a lot faster than humans and Graham helps us understand why we need to improve every aspect of our roads system to protect ourselves from our own mistakes,” TAC chief executive officer Joe Calafiore said in the organization’s press release.

TAC worked with an auto accident expert, trauma surgeon, and Melbourne artist to bring Graham to his lifelike state.

Featured Image: Meet Graham
Source: TechCrunch

Samsung invests $450M in Chinese electric car firm BYD

Samsung invests 0M in Chinese electric car firm BYD

On Thursday, Reuters reported that Samsung invested $450 million in BYD Company Ltd., a Chinese automaker and rechargeable batteries firm. The Korean smartphone giant clearly isn’t about to let Google, Apple and Tesla have all the automotive fun.

Samsung said just last week that it was in negotiations with BYD to help improve the company’s automotive chips. But in a press release, BYD said it will initially pour Samsung’s investment into the growth of its battery production and research and development of new-energy vehicles.

Samsung is in good company with the investment, too. BYD is backed by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which owns just over nine percent of the Chinese company. The Chinese company makes everything from gas-powered cars to hybrids, electric vehicles and even solar paneling.

After purchasing this stake into BYD, let’s see if Samsung makes additional moves to secure footing in the automotive industry. Google is leading the way for self-driving testing, and Apple is reportedly working on its own autonomous car. Both companies also have infotainment software that have become default features for a wide range of auto manufacturers with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Samsung needs to play catchup.

Featured Image: Fauzan Alfi
Source: TechCrunch

Elon Musk addresses concerns around Autopilot and its ‘beta’ label

Elon Musk addresses concerns around Autopilot and its ‘beta’ label

Elon Musk’s Tesla’s ‘Master Plan, Part Deux’ contains his strongest response yet to concerns around Autopilot, the subject of an ongoing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation. Unsurprisingly, Musk is standing by the merits Autopilot and its impact on driver safety.

“According to the recently released 2015 NHTSA report, automotive fatalities increased by 8 percent to one death every 89 million miles. Autopilot miles will soon exceed twice that number and the system gets better every day,” the Tesla CEO wrote in a section of his Part 2 plan labeled ‘Autonomy’. “It would no more make sense to disable Tesla’s Autopilot, as some have called for, than it would to disable autopilot in aircraft, after which our system is named.”

He then proceeded to explain why the term “beta” being attached to Autopilot is little more than a formality based on internal naming standards at this point.

“It is also important to explain why we refer to Autopilot as ‘beta,’” Musk continued. “This is not beta software in any normal sense of the word. Every release goes through extensive internal validation before it reaches any customers. It is called beta in order to decrease complacency and indicate that it will continue to improve (Autopilot is always off by default). Once we get to the point where Autopilot is approximately 10 times safer than the US vehicle average, the beta label will be removed.”

Autopilot has been under intense scrutiny since a fatal Model S crash involving the feature occurred this past May. That led the NHTSA to launch an investigation into Autopilot late last month. Consumer Reports followed last week by calling on Tesla to disable Autopilot until it can be proved much safer, but NHTSA head Mark Rosekind also said at a San Francisco conference this week that “no one incident” will stop the organization from promoting the development of highly  automated driving.

From what Musk laid out Wednesday night, Tesla has no plans to discontinue its efforts towards developing automated driving systems, either. In fact, Musk described a desired future state in which self-driving Tesla’s form a shared fleet of vehicles available to people needing a ride on demand.

Featured Image: Tesla
Source: TechCrunch

China pumping brakes on highway testing of autonomous cars

China pumping brakes on highway testing of autonomous cars

Pump those brakes. China has issued a temporary ban on the highway testing of autonomous cars.

According to Bloomberg, the country’s auto regulators have warned automakers to keep their autonomous vehicle testing off highways until official rules are in place. China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is working with law enforcement to create uniform regulations for self-driving testing. The time frame of when those regulations will be finalized is currently unknown, though.

This temporary ban could affect Volvo, which wanted regular citizens behind the wheel of autonomous vehicles on public Chinese roads. In addition, the ban could stifle the growth of China’s own Chongqing Changan Automobile Co. The company’s self-driving car, outfitted with radar and cameras, made a 1,200-mile trek in the country this past April.

There has been increased scrutiny on autonomous car technology worldwide since federal regulators launched an investigation last month into a fatal Tesla Model S crash involving Autopilot from this past May.

Source: TechCrunch

Volkswagen aims for more electric cars by 2020 amid ongoing emissions scandal

Volkswagen aims for more electric cars by 2020 amid ongoing emissions scandal

Volkswagen is trying to mash the dash into the future, but its ongoing emissions scandal remains its biggest roadblock. And it doesn’t look like the trudge from the crisis will be sliding into the rearview mirror anytime soon.

On Tuesday, the embattled automaker confirmed with the Wall Street Journal that it plans to build electric vehicles in North America by 2020 in an attempt to change its soiled reputation. Hours later on the same day, Reuters reported that three states filed separate lawsuits against VW. New York, Maryland and Massachusetts are alleging that the company violated their environmental laws and covered up its diesel-cheating scheme.

Before its emissions scandal even made international headlines last September, VW announced a plan to roll out with 20 electric cars and plug-in hybrids by 2020. They boldly predicted that their new cars will be smartphones on wheels. Tuesday’s confirmation for EVs was relegated to North America, but it didn’t reveal much more. When we asked Volkswagen about the plan in greater detail, our email wasn’t immediately returned.

Last month, VW struck a $14.7 billion settlement to remedy its emissions scandal. The company already has its e-Golf hatchback on the road, but ramping up its electric fleet by 2020 would seemingly make strides towards becoming a cleaner brand.

“We believe that this country, especially in urban mobility, will have a very strong shift from petrol engines into hybridization and electric cars,” Hinrich Woebcken, the new head of Volkswagen AG’s U.S. division, told the Wall Street Journal. “We are heavily investing in this one — including production in this North American region.”

If VW does deliver on its plan for electric vehicles in four years, Tesla could have more competition. That’s sort of ironic, considering Tesla CEO Elon Musk signed an open letter to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) last year, asking that VW accelerate its EV development instead of fixing compromised diesel models. This could get pretty interesting.

In the meantime, VW has a lot of work to do.

Featured Image: Volkswagen
Source: TechCrunch

Twitter will exclusively stream two original NBA shows

Twitter will exclusively stream two original NBA shows

Two weeks ago, Twitter was reportedly in talks with the NBA to acquire digital rights to stream hoops action.

Well, those discussions materialized quicker than a LeBron James-led fast break. Recode is reporting that Twitter will exclusively stream two live and original NBA programs weekly, beginning next season. The social media network will also double the amount of NBA game highlights it tweets out to the masses and posts on Vine. Our email to Twitter to learn more about the programming content wasn’t immediately returned.

The bad news is Twitter is stopping short of streaming actual games the way it will be doing with 10 NFL Thursday Night Football games this fall. Just imagine being able to tweet in real-time, while watching Stephen Curry break a defender’s ankles or pull up from way beyond the three-point line.

The report from a couple of weeks back also suggested that Twitter is speaking with Major League Soccer and cable television giant Turner about acquiring digital streaming rights. So, it remains to be seen what will come of those negotiations as well. Stay tuned.

Featured Image: Erik Drost/Flickr
Source: TechCrunch

Rally crowdfunding mobility platform expands sports reach

Rally crowdfunding mobility platform expands sports reach

You’re a diehard New York Yankees’ fan stuck deep in Connecticut without access to a car or reliable public transportation, but the launch of startup Rally means you no longer have to give up hope of making the trip to Fenway Park for the Yankees-Boston Red Sox series August 9.

Numaan Akram, CEO of Rally, invited me to a screen-sharing session Monday to demonstrate how quick and easy booking the road trip would be with his company’s community ride-booking program. After finding the game with Rally’s search tool and designating the pickup location, or Rally Point, you just book it. Done deal. The crowd-funded, pop-up mass transit system will have you on a luxury bus with like-minded fans. And the bus allows beer onboard.

“Why are you going to the game to begin with?” Akram said. “You could be watching on TV. But it’s about being with other fans. You want to have an experience. We enable that game-day experience to start through the travel.”

Akram says that Rally booked fans’ trips to 66 NFL games last season in addition to all the trips to baseball games this year, thanks to the company’s partnership with Major League Baseball. On Tuesday, the platform expanded its reach, announcing a partnership with the North American Soccer League champion, New York Cosmos. So, now soccer fans can catch a ride together to Shuart Stadium in Hempstead, NY to see the Cosmos play.

And Rally isn’t relegated to only sporting events, either. You could just as easily book a trip from your area to a bar, restaurant, concert or even the beach.

To date, Rally has transported hundreds of thousands of people in over 1,300 cities to events and destinations across North America. A common misconception about the business is that Rally owns the luxury buses it uses. Not true.  Instead, Rally has relationships with several bus operators. Once they get a group of fans interested in attending a game or destination, the bus is booked.

“There’s no single company that can do all these routes,” Akram boasts. “We’re our own marketplace. When we create a demand — 25 Yankees’ fans together — well, we put it out to bid to the local companies and then we select the best company to work with. And you’re off.”

Rally’s focus on a two-sided marketplace could help it win big — provided it can find growth in a market that ride-sharing giants like Uber and Lyft might look to as future opportunities for new services.

Featured Image: Rally
Source: TechCrunch

Ford partners with Jose Cuervo to make car parts out of agave plants

Ford partners with Jose Cuervo to make car parts out of agave plants

A tequila brand and car company joining forces isn’t exactly a marriage made in marketing heaven. So what brought Ford and Jose Cuervo together?

On Tuesday, the two companies announced a partnership to explore how the tequila distributor’s leftover agave plant fibers can be used to produce more sustainable bioplastic parts in the automaker’s vehicles. Currently, Ford and Jose Cuervo are testing the agave-derived bioplastics for parts including wiring harnesses, HVAC units and storage bins.

Initial feedback from this pilot stage shows that agave has strong durability and aesthetic qualities for the aforementioned interior and exterior parts. If the plant winds up being used on Ford’s cars permanently, it could further reduce vehicles’ weight and lower energy consumption across its lineup.

And there won’t be a shortage, as Jose Cuervo harvests between 200 and 300 tons of agave daily.


“They’re shredding, mashing and extracting the juice and what’s left over that nobody knows what to do with? The fibers,” Debbie Mielewski, Ford’s senior technical leader of the sustainability research department, told me. “They sent us some treated fibers and we were able to chop it and compound it into plastic.”

Agave use continues Ford’s evolution of the greening of its plastics through use of “environmental, plant-based materials” wherever possible, Mielewski said. Back in 2008, Ford used soy foam as a replacement for petroleum oil in the seat cushions and headrests of its iconic Mustang. Today, Ford has soy foam in seat cushions and headrests in every single vehicle across its lineup in North America. Mielewski says Ford utilizes over five million pounds of soy oil annually.

That served as a lesson to keep looking for even ‘greener’ plant-based materials. Ford pinpointed wheat straw to fortify plastic bins of its Flex SUV, which is built in the city of Oakville in Canada.

If this pilot stage with agave is fruitful, the plant fibers could join soy foam, wheat straw, castor oil, kenaf fiber, cellulose, wood, coconut fiber and rice hulls; the eight sustainable-based materials used for car parts by the automaker today.

And Mielewski says the company is “looking at plants that grow very quickly,” citing algae and bamboo to be used for greener plastic parts as well. Ford is even working with carbon dioxide itself.

“Instead of releasing it into the atmosphere and greenhouse gas, you can build polymer molecules out of it,”  she says. “We have made good foam — not in production yet — but 50 percent carbon dioxide. So, wouldn’t it be beautiful if one day, instead of releasing CO2, we could use it to make various plastics on the car?”

Ford says there’s 400 pounds of plastic on a typical vehicle, so there are plenty of parts remaining that can incorporate materials from sustainable sources like agave.

Featured Image: Ford
Source: TechCrunch

Meet the new wave of tech companies taking out the trash

Meet the new wave of tech companies taking out the trash

You’d be hard-pressed to meet someone who loves garbage more than Jason Gates, co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based startup Compology.

But Gates isn’t concerned with the residential trash that you put out in front of your home on collection day. Instead, he basks in the massive commercial and industrial waste heaped into dumpsters behind restaurants, offices and construction sites. The pure stench of that refuse is money to Gates’s nose.

Compology has figured out a smarter way to track, route and take out the trash. And from startups like Compology, to Tesla founder Ian Wright developing electric garbage trucks and Volvo working on a refuse-collecting robot, tech advancements in the garbage business have never been hotter. That’s because the space is an antiquated one that could use a tech boost. And since everyone has garbage, there’s money to be made.

Compology’s WasteOS system retrofits a physical sensor into the refuse bins, allowing garbage collectors to monitor the volume of waste inside their commercial and industrial containers. The company has software designed for someone in a dispatch position in charge of managing a fleet of collection trucks. It also has software for garbage truck drivers that guides them to which containers they need to tend to.


“We dynamically route the collection trucks,” Gates told me. “Instead of using a set collection schedule and picking up from the same 100 containers every Thursday, whether the containers are full or not, we’re able to build new routes for each driver in a fleet of trucks each morning based on which containers actually need to be serviced.”

Gates says taking the waste information in each bin and using it to distribute work for drivers is part of Compology’s “secret sauce.” Dispatchers from waste management companies can see the work distributed to each driver and track their progress along their routes. WasteOS can reduce the number of trucks required for service by between 40 and 50 percent, slashing companies’ operational costs.

Louie Pellegrini, owner of the Stanford-based Peninsula Sanitary Service and a third-generation garbageman, is a happy customer.

“With the large debris boxes, it has always been difficult to keep track of inventory and location because they seem to move around and disappear and each is a $3,000 – $6,000 asset,” says Pellegrini, whose company provides service for Stanford University and has 200 trucks on the road daily in the San Francisco/Bay Area. “So the ability to anticipate, in advance of the customer calling, when they’re full brings efficiency to routing and work to be done in the future.”

As aforementioned, there’s a groundswell of companies also looking for smarter ways to deal with trash. Ian Wright’s electric garbage trucks could cut fuel consumption by a whopping 70 percent. This past February, Volvo showed off its prototype for a residential trash-collecting  robot, which works in conjunction with a human refuse driver and garbage truck. That’s part of Volvo’s Robot-based Autonomous Refuse (ROAR) project — a collaboration between the automaker, Penn State, Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology and Mälardalen University, and a Swedish waste management company named Renova.

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Andreas Gruson, executive chairman of Compology and waste management veteran, says the wave of technology infused in the garbage business is in the “Wild West” stage right now and is likely to keep growing from here.

“What will emerge is companies that offer waste companies the complete package,” he said, “with information you need to know, not just information for information sake.”

In other words, the opportunity for tech companies now is to put all the pieces together, in order to come up with the total garbage package that’s impossible to resist.

Featured Image: Compology
Source: TechCrunch