Category: Technology

By on June 18, 2017

2017 Ram 3500 Heavy Duty, Image: FCA

It’s hard to hear the name Cummins and not immediately think of a Ram pickup struggling valiantly to pull a gnarled tree stump out of the unyielding earth. Certainly, the company’s diesel inline-six and V8 engines are to the truck world what Nike is to professional sports.

While Cummins’ fossil fuel-powered engines and power systems show no signs of becoming passé, a company ignores the future at its own peril. The green revolution is afoot, we’re told, and internal combustion power will one day occupy the niche currently inhabited by electric propulsion. With this in mind, Cummins has a plan. Read More >

By on June 15, 2017

Drone, Public Domain

Now that automakers have more or less mastered the ability to assemble competent transportation for the masses, the quest to build a better car has branched out into strange places. Connectivity is one of the burgeoning frontiers of automotive achievement and its threshold for greatness continues to be raised. With navigation and phone integration handled, manufacturers have begun seeking other ways to interconnect vehicles with all manner of devices. Occupants can now benefit from onboard GPS, Wi-Fi, and — more recently — smart home devices like Amazon’s Echo.

Drones could be next.

While it sounds almost comically implausible, several automakers and suppliers have begun toying with the idea of equipping specific models with drones. Last September, Mercedes-Benz introduced the idea that its delivery vans should have the option of being equipped with package-toting quadcopters as part of a five-year-plan to terrify suburbia. FCA designed a concept Wrangler for the Easter Jeep Safari that included a roof-mounted landing pad for a recreational drone. Mitsubishi Electric is showcasing its new FLEXConnect.AI infotainment platform with drone functionality.  Read More >

By on June 14, 2017

Toyota Camry NYIAS 2017, Image: Toyota

Despite being Japan’s biggest automaker, Toyota has lagged behind many of its rivals in terms of cutting-edge technology. Most major car manufacturers have already begun developing self-driving vehicles, with some going so far as to make strategic partnerships with companies specializing in the applicable technologies. By contrast, Toyota has a strong R&D program but never saw fit to pursue autonomous development or battery-electric vehicles quite so aggressively as General Motors or Renault-Nissan, for example.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda has now admitted that may have been a mistake. At the company’s annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday, he promised the automaker would become more committed to achieving technical developments. Toyoda didn’t bring forward a concrete strategy but conceded the spending of additional capital would likely play a role — and an alliance or two isn’t out of the question. Read More >

By on June 5, 2017

Cartivator sky drive, image: Cartivator

We need to have a candid discussion about flying cars. Automobiles and airplanes entered into the mainstream around the same time, and we’ve talked about combining them into a singular platform ever since. While nobody has successfully pulled it off, we keep acting like the technology is right around the corner. The closest we’ve gotten are the Terrafugia Transition and Pal-V One. However, both of those products make major on-road sacrifices, undergo a pre-flight metamorphosis, and require regular access to a runway. They’re still not representative of anything we’d consider a real car.

Lack of success hasn’t stopped automakers from dabbling in the field of aviation. Toyota has purchased Cartivator Resource Management in the hopes that its “flying car” expertise will yield a vehicle capable of lighting the torch at the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo. Still, based on the firm’s progress to date, we can only imagine the attempt ending in a globally broadcast fiery disaster.  Read More >

By on June 4, 2017

oil change, Image: Yonkers Honda

Robots may be able to assemble your car, but they aren’t going to be servicing it anytime soon. Automation has made many industrial occupations irrelevant over the last few decades. Machines have even begun entering the fast-food industry and proven themselves adept line cooks. So then why aren’t they changing your oil?

The technology is available but implementing it is too damned expensive and slow. No machine yet qualifies as a “full-service” device, so centers would have to purchase multiple rigs and keep someone on staff to operate them — not exactly cost-effective. However, as those machines come down in price and gain in number, we’ll begin seeing them put into use more and more. Eventually, you’ll be returning to the servicing department to complain about a robot ruining your car instead of an inexperienced mechanic. But when? Read More >

By on June 2, 2017

Waymo Autonomous Test Pacifica, Image: Waymo

Waymo has announced it has begun working on self-driving trucks, possibly to further annoy its chief industry rival, Uber Technologies. On Thursday, the Alphabet-owned development team said it was venturing into autonomous trucking, only two weeks after UberFreight’s official launch.

While the ride-hailing giant has been working on self-driving trucks since its acquisition of Otto last year, the timing of the two more recent announcements are suspiciously close.
Read More >

By on June 1, 2017

Toyota Camry NYIAS 2017, Image: Toyota

A modestly priced new vehicle costs roughly the same as a bathtub full of smartphones. However, if you want to check your email or get an update on the weather, you’ll find the car at a clear disadvantage. Automakers are beginning to bill themselves as tech companies, but the majority have yet to master the art of integrating a pleasurable electronic interface. While manufacturers certainly don’t need cutting-edge displays to construct a competent mode of transportation, consumers expect more from their automobiles. Now, the industry’s competitive spirit is driving things forward.

One way of delivering on those growing expectations is to switch to an open-source platform that allows software developers to get new applications onto devices lickety-split. It’s the path Toyota has decided to take by running a Linux-based platform on the revamped Camry. With those advantages comes some potential risks, but it hasn’t stopped automakers from pushing for a standardized platform more representative of mobile devices.  Read More >

By on June 1, 2017

Audi A8 2017, Image: Audi

There’s a bit of an automotive renaissance occurring just below the radar. While pure electrics and plug-in hybrids garner endless headlines, several luxury brands are sneaking more mild hybrid arrangements under their vehicles’ hoods via a 48-volt electrical system.

Audi is a firm believer in the technology and is making moves to implement the system in numerous vehicles in its lineup, starting with the fourth-generation A8 arriving later this year. Combining regenerative braking with a small lithium battery and belt-driven alternator, the system harnesses wasted energy and is a more affordable way to tap into the benefits of hybridization. So affordable, automakers are using the KERS-like system on models as standard equipment, not a optional extra.

In this regard, Audi’s A8 is no different. The next generations of the A6 and A7 will also use the technology. Read More >

By on May 31, 2017

2015-Ford-Focus

Ford’s dual-clutch PowerShift transmission has made the Blue Oval a number of enemies over the past several years. Now, nearly 7,000 U.S. Ford owners are looking for a pound of flesh.

A lawsuit filed against the automaker is seeking compensation for individual damages claimed by the plaintiffs, all of whom own a 2012-2016 Ford Focus or 2011-2016 Ford Fiesta. The suit, which is just the latest of many, contains a familiar complaint about Ford’s small-car tranny. Basically, that it’s awful, and not even an exorcist can free it from its demons. Read More >

By on May 26, 2017

2016-Toyota-Avalon

Lyft, the ride-hailing company with nowhere near the amount of bad press as Uber, has launched a luxury black car service in five American cities as a challenge to its rival.

Luxury models in “excellent” condition from model years 2011 and newer are qualified to shuttle around Lyft Lux passengers, assuming the seats are either leather or “leather-like.” However, while Lincoln Town Cars owners will be dismayed to hear their vehicles don’t make the cut, newer flagships from other brands remain suspiciously absent from the accepted vehicle roster. Read More >

By on May 20, 2017

[Image: Ford]

It looks like Ford’s offer to update 2016 vehicles equipped with its SYNC 3 infotainment system with free Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity has a lot to do with some recent hires.

The automaker has announced it will allow owners of one-year-old vehicles to install the feature, which comes standard on all 2017 models, at no cost. The offer positions Ford near the cutting edge in automotive technology. For a company seeking a starring role in the tech-heavy mobility realm, this is exactly where it wants to be. Read More >

By on May 18, 2017

Android Auto in Volvo

Over spring break, my family went skiing in Breckenridge. We flew into Denver and drove the rest of the way to get there, saving a bunch of money and giving me the exciting chance to pilot a top-of-the-line Cadillac Escalade. The first thing I did after getting into the car was connect my phone so I could hijack the big touchscreen and have my own Google Maps for navigation.

Switching back and forth from Android Auto to the native Cadillac Cue experience could best be described as jarring. Two different worldviews of design, coexisting poorly. Different icons. Different visual styles. Different everything. You may enjoy my Strangelovian rant from 2014 when Google first introduced Android Auto.

With that in mind, Google I/O, Google’s annual developer conference at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, is in full swing.

So what’s new with respect to Android Auto? Customization.

Read More >

By on May 15, 2017

waymo

Waymo, the autonomous automotive firm owned by Google parent Alphabet, and Uber’s chief ride-hailing rival Lyft have entered into a self-driving partnership — seemingly to do little more than stick it to Big U.

Lyft is already in a partnership with General Motors to produce computer-controlled Chevrolet test vehicles in 2018, while Waymo has a deal with Fiat Chrysler to use the Pacifica as its primary R&D platform. It’s difficult to parse out what the two can offer each other beyond a mutual hatred for Uber. Business partnerships can rarely be distilled down to a disdain of a third party but, in this instance, that certainly makes the most sense.

Despite being involved in litigations with Waymo that could result in a total shutdown of its autonomous development efforts, Uber has the largest ride-sharing fleet of any company and is positioned near the front of the self-driving race. Meanwhile, Lyft has only just entered the self-driving arena.  Read More >

By on May 12, 2017

self-driving uber advanced tech center autonomous car

Waymo’s lawsuit against Uber Technologies’ alleged theft and usage of autonomous trade secrets is going to trial.

Judge William Alsup ruled Uber could not force the case into private arbitration and is referring the matter to the United States Attorney for a very public investigation.

This is everything the ride-hailing company didn’t want.

Read More >

By on May 11, 2017

ford logo

As anticipated, Ford CEO Mark Fields was grilled today over his plans to improve the company’s waning fortunes by board members who had scheduled extra time to question him.

Hot topics at the annual meeting centered on why profits are falling, what is Ford doing about the market shift toward SUVs, and how the company’s colossal investments into technology are affecting its present-day financial situation. Ford has poured billions into self-driving vehicles and ride-sharing platforms as its traditional car business loses some ground to General Motors in a slowing U.S. market. Fields spearheaded Ford’s rebranding as a mobility company, but many have suggested this future-focus isn’t healthy for the brand.

Fields stuck to his guns, emphasizing that Ford was heading “aggressively but also prudently” into “the biggest strategic shift in the history of our company.”  Read More >

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