By on March 17, 2017

autonomous hardware

President Donald Trump received a tour of the American Center for Mobility this week. He did not, however, discuss the federal funding of the Michigan-based autonomous testing and development facility. Instead, the site was used as a location for the president to discuss regulatory policies and meet with automotive executives. Little was said on the subject of self-driving cars.

Still, automakers routinely remind us that autonomous vehicles are right around the corner. Ford says it can have autonomous cars rolling out by 2021, Audi and Nissan have said 2020, and Volkswagen has claimed it’ll be ready for self-driving models in 2019. Tesla — which has been pioneering the technology longer than most — has stated it has the hardware necessary in its current production vehicles and would have a bulletproof system installed in 2018, anticipating regulatory approval in 2021. However, suppliers are predicting much less optimistic timelines for self-driving cars — and the dates given vary wildly.  (Read More…)

By on March 9, 2017

hacking

Automakers are hurriedly trying to implement connected vehicle technology and autonomous solutions to entice consumers, though there remains an underlying phobia among the general public that isn’t without a basis in reality. Cyber security is considered essential to the evolution of self-driving cars and plays an equally important role in the vehicles of today that offer enhanced connectivity.

Since modern automobiles rely so heavily on computers, there’s a plethora of elements that hackers could target. However, these hackers don’t necessarily need to operate outside of the law.

Embedded in a WikiLeaks analysis of documents allegedly acquired from the Central Intelligence Agency is an apparent interest in hacking automobiles. The most terrifying takeaway from those files? The claim that the CIA could theoretically use the systems in modern passenger vehicles to conduct “nearly undetectable assassinations.” (Read More…)

By on March 8, 2017

autonomous testing tesla

There is something uncanny about a car that can drive itself. If you transplanted the world’s first motorists into a modern autonomous vehicle and let it lose on a track, they’d probably surmise witchcraft as the only plausible explanation and jump out in terror. Humans are innately distrustful of anything unfamiliar — it’s an important part of our survival strategy as a species. With that in mind, it isn’t surprising to hear that many Americans are a little wary of self-driving cars.

However, a recent study from the American Automobile Association suggests it might be more serious than that. The vast majority of surveyed Americans admitted to being “afraid” of riding in an autonomous vehicle while over half said they felt less safe at the prospect of sharing the road with driverless technology. This isn’t likely to be welcome news for automakers, considering that every major manufacturer is currently investing heavily into the computer and industrial sciences required to make autonomous tech possible. (Read More…)

By on March 3, 2017

Fictional Autonomous Ford in Super Bowl Commercial

They roll in weekly. We watch them. We rub our hands together with schadenfroh glee.

I’m speaking of Tesla Autopilot crash videos.

Like a train wreck, we seem unable to avert our eyes from videos depicting the Silicon Valley darling’s sheetmetal kissing concrete dividers and other animate and inanimate objects. Time and time again, owners of Tesla’s Autopilot-equipped Model S and Model X vehicles throw caution to the wind and let the computer issue orders in situations when it’s imperative there be human intervention.

And it’s not going to change — not tomorrow, not ever — until we alter course. That’s because we’re trying to answer the wrong question when it comes to autonomous mobility.

(Read More…)

By on February 17, 2017

Autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid Fr

Apparently, it’s not just Uber drivers who enjoy extended naps behind the wheel.

Ford engineers, tapped to put the company’s self-driving technology on the fast track to production, are taking the off-ramp to Slumberville so often that the company has had to get other engineers to devise ways of keeping them awake.

It turns out that riding in the driver’s seat of a self-driving car is as conducive to glassy-eyed lethargy as reading about “mobility solutions.” (Read More…)

By on February 14, 2017

Money (Frankleleon/Flickr)

Take the money and run, Steve Miller once said, and boy, did employees at Google’s self-driving car project take that advice to heart.

According to a Bloomberg report, the financial incentive to leave the project and hit the bricks was so great, many realized they couldn’t afford not to quit. And, in the grand tradition of pulling up employment stakes, many enjoyed the fact that their departure cost the company big, big bucks.

In many cases, those employees used the money to become Google competitors. (Read More…)

By on January 19, 2017

Tesla AutoPilot cruise control

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has closed the book on a six-month investigation into the death of a Tesla owner — and enthusiast — who died in a car piloted by the company’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system. What did the federal investigation uncover? Not enough to warrant a recall or further probing into the technology.

In fact, the NHTSA’s report clears Tesla’s Autopilot system of any responsibility in the incident. (Read More…)

By on January 17, 2017

FF 91 Reveal, Image: Seth Parks

After much anticipation, Faraday Future finally revealed its production car, the FF 91. The presentation introduced the FF 91 as “the smartest car you’ll ever drive” and described capabilities of advanced sensors, machine learning, and autonomous driving — all great buzzwords. We saw a live demonstration of the FF 91’s ability to drive itself with the “driverless valet” feature. The car successfully parked itself in a parking lot outside the reveal and we were told to “never worry about parking again.”

Except, I watched the rest of the reveal and I’m pretty worried.

(Read More…)

By on January 16, 2017

traffic gridlock

A great philosopher once said that you can’t start a fire without a spark, followed by something about rhythmic movements in unlit spaces.

Well, if there’s a war brewing against autonomous technology and self-driving vehicles, the flashpoint might have occurred in New York — City and State — last week. A large trade group and labor union joined forces in denouncing the driverless scourge headed their way, with one of the groups angling for a 50-year-ban on the automotive heathens. (Read More…)

By on December 15, 2016

Volvo Cars and Uber join forces to develop autonomous driving cars

It’s neither on-message for this site nor terribly interesting to my readers, which is why I rarely mention it, but I have been almost feverishly interested in matters of artificial intelligence, machine consciousness, and advanced language parsing for a very long time.

Thirty-five years ago, I tried to write a very simple sentence parser and response generator for the Atari 800 for my school science fair. The effort failed miserably, in large part because AtariBASIC didn’t really have any usable tools for text handling — and because I was nine years old and had the attention span of a fruit fly.

The night before the science fair, I admitted defeat and decided to do something else: I wrote a quick program that would give pre-programmed responses to certain questions.

The next morning, I demonstrated my program to a couple of nuns. I asked them a couple of leading questions to get them to pick the discussion topic I wanted, then I had them type the questions in. The amazingly intelligent Atari responded in full sentences! Not even the utter pathos of my quickly sketched cardboard sign behind it could keep me from getting an A+. What amuses me, in retrospect, was that the nuns weren’t really all that shocked at the idea that an 8-bit computer could parse language and give reasonable answers. Had I demoed this program to anybody who understood technology, they’d have labeled me a genius or a fraud. But to the nuns, passing the Turing test was about as tough as making an artificial volcano. Blame the movies, I guess.

The problem with every “autonomous” car that has appeared so far is simple: they are all equal to my childhood Atari program. Real autonomous operation is a hugely difficult problem. I’d like to illustrate this for you by listing five rather astounding technical feats that will be easier to accomplish than true vehicular autonomy.

(Read More…)

By on November 18, 2016

blind spot driver

Mercedes-Benz CEO Dietmar Exler thinks that the biggest problem autonomous vehicles will have to face is human drivers being dicks to them. We anticipate other unforeseen problems, but Exler’s prediction of automotive bullying seems like a safe bet.

There’s a number of ways to kick sand in a self-driving car’s face.

(Read More…)

By on November 4, 2016

chevy in the hole postcard

The former General Motors site along the Flint River was officially known as Chevrolet Flint Manufacturing, but many of the folks who worked there and Flint locals called it “Chevy in the Hole” — likely a reference to its location in the river valley. It was once GM’s most profitable operation, producing millions of Chevys, engines, AC spark plugs and other components that went into those Chevrolets and other GM vehicles. It’s also where the United Auto Workers made history with its massive sit-down strike in 1936-37.

Starting with an engine plant in 1913, GM grew and so did the complex, adding an assembly plant and then a Fisher Body factory in the early years. Eventually the complex’s scores of buildings took up 130 acres. As the American auto industry started its decline in the 1980s, though, and over the next two decades, the massive complex was shut down and taken apart in piecemeal fashion, just as it had been assembled. (Read More…)

By on October 31, 2016

Comma One Rear

George Hotz announced he was cancelling the Comma One project last week in response to an information request from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. At first glance, this might appear to be a bit of government overreach. However, once you start digging into the letter, it’s apparent the questions are reasonable and easy to answer.

The main goal of the questionnaire is to assess the safety of the Comma One device. NHTSA set a deadline of November 10th to receive the response or Hotz would risk a $21,000 a day fine. Hotz claims that the letter was threatening.

Lets look at the questions in detail and see how they break down.

(Read More…)

By on October 28, 2016

Hotz

George Hotz announced in a series of tweets that he’s cancelling the Comma One device that he promised to deliver before the end of the year.

The reason for the cancellation, as Hotz states, stems from an information request he received from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Attached to one of Hotz’s tweets, the NHTSA document has a set of fifteen standard questions. Hotz responded to the questions by stating he would rather spend his life “building amazing tech than dealing with regulators and lawyers. It isn’t worth it.”

(Read More…)

By on October 27, 2016

car behind fence (Kevin Cortopassi/Flickr)

Almost three years ago, I wrote a little piece of fiction for this site (back when we used to do that sort of thing) called “The Controller.” The premise was that, one day, the government would decide what was best for all of us by taking away our right to own and operate cars. A little “Red Barchetta,” a little Richard Fosterand a little Affordable Care Act, all wrapped up in one. To this day, it ranks among my favorite pieces that I’ve written.

However, the change in the socio-political climate in those three years has led me to believe that the government won’t have to resort to totalitarian tactics to take our cars. No, the majority of people will hand over the keys willingly and easily, and they’ll do it thanks to one of the most brilliant political tactics ever developed.

They’ll be shamed into doing it.

(Read More…)

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