By on September 19, 2017

Fictional Autonomous Ford in Super Bowl Commercial

There’s nothing that will convince me that the first wave of autonomous taxis will be anything other than mobile biohazards, providing a slightly less convenient solution to paying a man to let you ride in the back of his Toyota Camry for a few miles. However, I will give them a shot once they arrive — mainly out of curiosity, which puts me in the minority.

Gartner Inc., an American research and advisory firm that works specifically within the realm of advanced technologies, recently completed a survey where over half of its respondents said there was no way in hell they’d get into the back of a fully autonomous vehicle. Its findings echo an American-based MIT study from earlier this year, as well as a global survey from Deloitte. The consensus: most of the population doesn’t feel particularly good about self-driving cars.

Not to be a defender of unproven technology, but there’s also nothing stopping a human cab driver from driving you to the wrong destination before trying to murder you with an axe. It doesn’t happen often, but it is a possibility. Likewise, autonomous cabs pose some element of risk no matter how good a job manufacturers do with those early models. But you’re not likely to be the occupant of the one that does goes haywire. It’s a problem of perception more than anything else.  (Read More…)

By on September 13, 2017

vision 2.0 NHTSA Autonomous vehicles

On Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao outlined the Trump administration’s “Vision for Safety 2.0” at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor. The document is a collection of non-binding requests to manufacturers and a promise that they can go hog-wild with their autonomous vehicle testing, at least as far as the feds are concerned.

In a deluge of policy updates, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tweaked its vision for safety, claiming it was responding to the recent increase in the number of road accidents.

While Obama-era guidelines weren’t particularly robust, the Trump administration has essentially built a technical-sounding framework aimed at destroying regulatory red tape. Ironically, the government seems to have gone out of its way to ensure it stays out of the way. In some respects, it has to. The speed of development is beginning to happen at a rate where any outside bureaucracy would have difficulty keeping pace. Chao said the guidance would remain flexible, ready to adapt to the changes as they come. But it is also without teeth, promoting development and the future promise for safety at the expense of any meaningful oversight.

Did the Department of Transportation and NHTSA sell themselves out to industry or do they actually think giving automakers carte blanche on autonomous testing was the best thing for public safety? (Read More…)

By on September 6, 2017

autonomous hardware

On Wednesday, the U.S. House unanimously approved a sweeping proposal to expedite the deployment of self-driving cars and prohibit states from blocking autonomous vehicle testing.

“With this legislation, innovation can flourish without the heavy hand of government,” Ohio Republican Bob Latta said on the House floor leading up to Wednesday’s vote. Latta is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that developed the legislation with support from tech companies and the automotive industry.

One thing missing from the House measure is large trucks, which the Senate hopes to address in its own bipartisan legislation. Congress announced a September 13th hearing to examine the role of autonomous commercial vehicles and how they may fit into the Senate’s pending self-driving legislation. Meanwhile, the House’s bill moves up the board to be put to a vote within the Senate at a later date.  (Read More…)

By on September 5, 2017

semi trailer (raymondclarkeimages/Flickr)

A bit more than six years ago, I wrote “The Blockers” for this site as a work of fiction, suggesting that there may be a bit of a popular revolt against self-driving vehicles and that it might be led by those who felt personally dehumanized as a consequence of “progress.”

Now, the nice people at MIT Technology Review have caught up to your humble author’s dystopian point of view.

(Read More…)

By on August 29, 2017

ford_dominos_avresearch_06

Ford and Domino’s Pizza are joining forces to test self-driving pizza delivery vehicles in Michigan. The venture is an attempt to better understand how customers respond to and interact with autonomous vehicles and assess the future relevancy of the technology. But the cars in question aren’t actually self-driving, they’re simulated autonomous vehicles doing market research.

Essentially, Domino’s customers in Ann Arbor, Michigan will have the option to accept pizza deliveries from a standard Ford Fusion Hybrid with loads of visual accoutrements to denote a cutting-edge test vehicle and a human operator obscured by a partition and some tinted glass. The customer is the test platform, not the car.

While it’s understandable that removing the driver from the equation might someday save pizza chains tons of dough, there are a few things neither Ford, nor Domino’s, seem to have considered. (Read More…)

By on August 24, 2017

us-capitol, public domain

When the automobile came into its own, there wasn’t really a place for it. Roads had been reserved for foot traffic and horses for hundreds of years before the invention of the internal combustion engines. Pedestrian injuries were high until they were partitioned onto the sidewalk. Likewise, it was some time before the millions of horses were be rounded up, placed into a giant pit, and shot to death by 20th-century motorists.

However, the industry didn’t really take safety into account until Ralph Nader wrote Unsafe at Any Speed and holding automakers accountable for safety suddenly became fashionable — helping America pass the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 1966 and subsequent legislation. Granted, vehicular fatality rates still fell dramatically between 1925 and 1965, but the regulatory influence didn’t skyrocket until after Nader’s analysis of the industry.

With autonomous vehicles positioned to change the way we “drive,” the long-established and ever-growing rulebook may need revisions. In July, a collective of automakers, suppliers, engineers, and consumer groups, calling themselves the Coalition for Future Mobility issued a statement urging Congress to consider legislation it deemed “critical to the United States continuing to be a place of innovation and development for the life-saving technologies.” Fast forward to August, and there is already a bill on the table.  (Read More…)

By on August 22, 2017

ford-autonomous-car-technology

The United Nations recently voted to begin formal discussions on autonomous weapon systems, with 116 of the world’s leading robotics and artificial intelligence experts responding by calling on governments to simply ban them.

The coalition, fronted by Tesla’s Elon Musk and Alphabet’s Mustafa Suleyman, claims this is a dark road the world doesn’t want to go down. Aimed at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, a letter from the group warned the U.N. not to usher in the “third revolution in warfare” (following gunpowder and nuclear arms).

While I’m not about to suggest there aren’t serious risks involved with weaponizing thinking machines, it does seem lightly hypocritical for Musk to condemn them over a lack of trust while continuing to champion self-driving cars. Apparently, technology experts feel a Terminator scenario is thoroughly unacceptable but a potential Maximum Overdrive situation is just fine.  (Read More…)

By on August 21, 2017

money (401(k) 2012/Flickr)

There’s few things people living in the U.S. can agree on, but one of those things is the state of American road infrastructure. For the most part, it sucks. Eisenhower’s long gone, but his network of interstate highways, plus the spiderweb of two-lane roadways cross-crossing every corner of America haven’t grown better with age.

Meanwhile, the U.S. federal gas tax remains unchanged since its last hike in 1993. Still locked at 18.4 cents per gallon, the infrastructure funding shortfall created by the static federal tax is spurring states to pass their own gas tax increases. Michigan, California, and — controversially — New Jersey are among the most recent examples.

Still, boosting prices at the pumps only works if drivers still visit those pumps. What of the coming self-driving car wave, the vanguard of which are high-tech electric vehicles piloted by mere humans? Enter the taxman and his slim book of ideas. (Read More…)

By on August 17, 2017

EcoBoost Mustang Burnout, Ford Motor Co.

If you believe certain segments of the media, we’ll soon be able to avoid the drudgery of turning a steering wheel, pressing and releasing pedals, and — gasp! — shifting gears.

The inevitable onset of self-driving vehicles, tech aficionados and urbanists tell us, will bring traffic fatalities down to zero, somehow remove all congestion from the road, and turn our lives into a never-ending sojourn of blissful tranquility. Never again will you take that aimless and unprogrammed late-night drive, just for the hell of it. Never again will you bother with buying and owning a car. Automakers will simply turn their driverless cars loose, emptying driveways while filling streets with hands-off ride-sharing pods.

Not so fast, says Ford’s newly minted CEO. (Read More…)

By on August 10, 2017

autonomous testing tesla

Autonomous vehicles are about as polarizing a subject as you could possibly bring up around a group of car enthusiasts. Plenty of gearheads get hot under the collar at the mere concept of a self-driving car. Meanwhile, automotive tech fetishists cannot wait to plant their — I’m assuming — khaki Chinos into the seat of an autonomous vehicle and enjoy a coffee without the hindrance of having to actually drive the thing to their destination.

I’ve previously discussed how autonomous cabs will become unparalleled filth-boxes, destined for salacious behavior. Because without driver oversight, why not sneeze into your hand and wipe it on the seat back? Now, surveys are beginning to indicate privately owned computer-controlled cars will be subject to similar activities — with some drivers suggesting they’ll have no qualms about having sex, drinking booze, or binge eating behind the wheel.

That’s the future we’re being promised, but a lot of autonomous features have already made it into modern production cars. Word is, they’re starting to make us terrible drivers. It’s enough to worry automakers to a point where they’re considering implementing an array of systems to more actively encourage driver involvement on a platform that’s designed to do the opposite.

Get ready to drive your self-driving car.  (Read More…)

By on August 3, 2017

Volvo-self-driving-car

Suppliers have begun putting automotive companies on blast for overly ambitious mobility claims. While self-driving cars are definitely en route, manufacturers have ramped up their arrival time and omitted the necessary pit stops to win favor with investors or the general public. Meanwhile, parts suppliers have been frank on the matter — explaining they know when autonomous cars are really coming because they’ll be the ones providing the tidbits that make them work.

Don Walker, CEO of Magna International, one of the world’s largest OEM parts suppliers, suggests automakers may even be misleading their customers. “A full autonomous vehicle is a long way off for lots of reasons, because of legislation, class-action lawsuits, all the complexities and the costs associated with it,” the executive said.

Speaking Wednesday at the 2017 Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars, Walker also took umbrage with the popular claim that electric vehicles could comprise around 25 percent of the new market by 2025. Instead, he claims EVs will only account for 3 to 6 percent of the global market within that timeframe — a figure predominantly dependent on how swiftly the highly regulated Chinese market grows. (Read More…)

By on July 16, 2017

elon musk

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has been a longtime proponent of artificial intelligence, saying it has applications that far exceed his autonomous car projects. But he’s also issued numerous warnings, stating that it must be handled safely and responsibly. Now he’s heralding it as a humankind’s great destructor.

Speaking Saturday at the National Governors Association in Rhode Island, Musk told the crowd A.I. is a “fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.” Urging the gathering to implement effective governmental regulation to ensure public safety. “Right now the government doesn’t even have insight,” Musk said. “Once there is awareness people will be extremely afraid, as they should be.”  (Read More…)

By on July 14, 2017

V2V Intersection

Despite the Federal Communications Commission making a mess of net neutrality right now, it remains capable of serving corporate interests and the general public simultaneously. On Thursday, the FCC quintupled the allocation of the radio spectrum used for motor vehicle and aircraft radar systems to help avoid crashes.

While the majority of autonomous cars also use laser guidance and a complex network of cameras to navigate, radar remains an integral component. Presently, the 1 GHz of spectrum set aside in 1995 has been sufficient for self-driving vehicles using adaptive cruise control or automatic emergency braking. But we’re about to enter an era of connected cars that will be required to “speak” to one another, and those vehicles will need plenty of space to talk — 5 GHz of bandwidth, to be precise.  (Read More…)

By on July 13, 2017

junk car

With the entire automotive industry looking toward a future of driverless mobility, commercially owned self-driving taxis seem poised to be on the frontline of tomorrow. However, nobody seemed to realize that these vehicles will eventually become little more than mobile toilets.

Animals are universally disgusting and humans are no exception. While we’ve mastered land, air, and sea, consider the spaces we occupy while we traverse those expanses. Rental cars are returned filled with candy wrappers, spilt soda, and human hair. Uber vehicles are routinely vomited in. The subway is a haven for disease. Airplane interiors experience havoc within the first hour of a flight as the worst of us begin defecating into the seats, too lazy and weak to control ourselves.

Autonomous taxis aren’t likely to endure better treatment. Without a driver present, the urge to have drunken sex will be far too strong — and those odds only increase when you add a second occupant to the equation. With nobody watching, we’ll leave half-consumed hamburgers and cans of sweetened tea on their floors that will roll around and turn the carpet into a sticky magnet for larger pieces of garbage.  (Read More…)

By on July 10, 2017

Uber Volvo Autonomous

Alphabet Inc.’s autonomous car division Waymo, formerly Google, abandoned three of four patent-infringement claims in its lawsuit against Uber Technologies Inc. in a surprise move on Friday.

Earlier, U.S. District Judge William Alsup specifically asked Waymo to narrow its more than 100 trade secrets claims to fewer than 10 if they ever wanted to place them in front of a jury. During a June 7th hearing, he also said, “I want to reiterate to the plaintiff here that you should think a lot about just dropping the patent part of this case.”

Waymo listened and dumped the majority of its patent claims to focus more heavily on the trade secret issues surrounding the 14,000 files stolen by ex-employee Anthony Levandowski — which is, perhaps, the only thing the two companies can agree upon. Uber is glad to see the focus shift back onto Levandowski, who has been at the core of the case since day one. Now it only has to prove it didn’t pay for access to the data instead of spending time differentiating its own designs from Waymo’s.  (Read More…)

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