The Truth About Cars » Google http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:00:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Google http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Google’s Autonomous Car Drives Sans Passenger, Hides Behind Security http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/googles-autonomous-car-drives-sans-passenger-hides-behind-security/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/googles-autonomous-car-drives-sans-passenger-hides-behind-security/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 13:00:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=927994 Remember when Google wanted to keep its autonomous-car crash interventions under wraps? The tech giant is now keeping some of its testing private, as well, as its cars are driving around with no human aboard. According to Forbes, onlookers at a park near Google’s Mountain View, Calif. caught sight of the company’s car sans passengers, […]

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Remember when Google wanted to keep its autonomous-car crash interventions under wraps? The tech giant is now keeping some of its testing private, as well, as its cars are driving around with no human aboard.

According to Forbes, onlookers at a park near Google’s Mountain View, Calif. caught sight of the company’s car sans passengers, but were ushered aside by security so as no hard evidence of testing could be posted online.

As for why the commuter pod was tooling around with no soul to keep tabs on its progress, a likely idea, according to writer Mark Rogowsky, is an autonomous taxi being used by transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft whenever the car’s owner isn’t using it. A report by Morgan Stanley cited by Rogowsky states that a car is used for only 52 minutes per day, sitting idle the rest of the time. Were a vehicle to be put into service by a TNC, it would see more road time, providing more transportation options in so doing.

Though Google isn’t in a rush to bring a product online tomorrow, automakers like General Motors, Mercedes and Tesla will press ahead with partial-autonomy tech, which could arrive as soon as 2016. Meanwhile, the main piece in the puzzle — a 360-degree laser — continues to fall in price, recently dropping from $85,000 to $7,999. Rogowsky believes another 80 percent to 90 percent price cut will come in the near-future, helping to reduce the overall cost of autonomy.

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A Sober Second Look At Self-Driving Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/sober-second-look-self-driving-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/sober-second-look-self-driving-cars/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 15:45:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=903346 While TTAC‘s Mike Smitka published an essay urging readers to reign in their expectations regarding autonomous cars, a new report by MIT’s Technology Review pours even more cold water on the utopian fantasies of those waiting for the day when humans are no longer in control of the automobile. While the full text is available at MIT, the […]

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While TTAC‘s Mike Smitka published an essay urging readers to reign in their expectations regarding autonomous cars, a new report by MIT’s Technology Review pours even more cold water on the utopian fantasies of those waiting for the day when humans are no longer in control of the automobile.

While the full text is available at MIT, the American Enterprise Institute summarized the obstacles faced by autonomous cars in a series of handy bullet points

  • The self-driving car can’t drive itself in 99% of the country.
  • It knows almost nothing about parking, and can’t be taken out in snow or heavy rain.
  • If a new stoplight appeared overnight, the car wouldn’t know to obey it.
  • Google’s cars can detect and respond to stop signs that aren’t on its map, but at an unmapped intersection stop sign the car wouldn’t know what to do after it had stopped, and would probably remain stationary until a human driver intervened.
  • The car hasn’t yet tackled big, open parking lots or multilevel garages.
  • The car’s video cameras detect the color of a traffic light, and they’re still working to prevent them from being blinded when the sun is directly behind a light.
  • Pedestrians are detected just as moving, column-shaped blurs of pixels—meaning that the car wouldn’t be able to spot a police officer at the side of the road frantically waving for traffic to stop.
  • The car’s sensors can’t tell if a road obstacle is a rock or a crumpled piece of paper, so the car will try to drive around either. The car also can’t detect potholes or spot an uncovered manhole if it isn’t coned off.

Given all of the breathless hype regarding the technology, and Google’s introduction of their own prototype, sans pedals and steering wheel, it helps to have a contrarian viewpoint to dampen some of the exuberant enthusiasm professed by many who are better versed in the tech side of things, without understanding the unique subtleties of the auto world.

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Google Wanted Autonomous Vehicle Driver Interventions Kept Quiet http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/google-wanted-autonomous-vehicle-driver-interventions-kept-quiet/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/google-wanted-autonomous-vehicle-driver-interventions-kept-quiet/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 12:00:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=899122 In the entire time Google has been working on delivering an autonomous future upon the driving populace, only one accident was reported, and was caused by human error. That said, the tech giant would prefer you not to know that or of any similar future incidents. Through a FOIA request, Quartz reports Google lobbied California’s […]

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In the entire time Google has been working on delivering an autonomous future upon the driving populace, only one accident was reported, and was caused by human error. That said, the tech giant would prefer you not to know that or of any similar future incidents.

Through a FOIA request, Quartz reports Google lobbied California’s state government for amendments to traffic safety legislation that would, in the words of the company’s director of safety Ron Medford, “limit required reporting to accidents involving vehicles operated in autonomous mode.” The company also wanted language removed that obligated it to report “disengagements” — when the car returns control to the driver — to the government, citing lack of relevance regarding vehicle safety.

Though the state’s DMV wants this data for future driver testing when the day of the autonomous vehicle comes, Medford claimed the reporting would create “a significant burden on manufacturers” and the DMV, especially since the agency did not have “the engineering expertise to interpret the data.”

Other concerns Google wanted the state legislature to address included the fear of trade secrets going public — and to its rivals — as well as the possibility for test drivers to simply leave all of the driving to the car than to disengage even once. The company found support from General Motors, Chrysler, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz, all wondering what the fuss was about regarding autonomous vehicle testing and reporting obligations.

The California DMV did excuse manufacturers from reporting every disengagement — only those linked to safety reasons will now be reported to the agency — but did want everything else related to autonomous driving. Google, for its part, was disappointed “that the vast majority” of its comments were ignored.

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Former Ford CEO Mulally Joins Google’s Board Of Directors http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/former-ford-ceo-mulally-joins-googles-board-of-directors/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/former-ford-ceo-mulally-joins-googles-board-of-directors/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 11:00:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=867202 Once thought to be the possible next CEO of Microsoft after his time as CEO of Ford drew to a close, Alan Mulally has instead turned up in Mountain View, Calif. as Google’s newest board member. Autoblog reports Mulally was appointed to the tech company’s board of directors July 9, and began serving on its […]

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Alan Mullaly

Once thought to be the possible next CEO of Microsoft after his time as CEO of Ford drew to a close, Alan Mulally has instead turned up in Mountain View, Calif. as Google’s newest board member.

Autoblog reports Mulally was appointed to the tech company’s board of directors July 9, and began serving on its audit committee Tuesday. CEO Larry Page was thrilled to have the former Ford CEO on board, citing Mulally’s “wealth of proven business and technology leadership experience.” Mulally himself had this to say:

I am honored to serve on the board of a global iconic company that is dedicated to enhancing our lives. I look forward to working together with the Google board and management team to continue to deliver their compelling vision.

Mulally’s presence will likely lend more street cred as far as Google’s foray into autonomous vehicles is concerned; it’s rumored Google hired Roush — known mostly for NASCAR and tuned Mustangs — to build 100 of Google’s autonomous prototypes for testing.

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Don’t Drink the Google Kool-aid: Autonomy’s Limits in Three Sips http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/dont-drink-the-google-kool-aid-autonomys-limits-in-three-sips/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/dont-drink-the-google-kool-aid-autonomys-limits-in-three-sips/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 12:30:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=865633 Please welcome TTAC’s newest contributor, Professor Mike Smitka. Mr. Smitka teaches a course on the Economics of the Auto Industry at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and is regarded as an authority on the automotive world. He also makes time to read and comment on TTAC. Google’s senior executives are busily touting the wonders […]

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Please welcome TTAC’s newest contributor, Professor Mike Smitka. Mr. Smitka teaches a course on the Economics of the Auto Industry at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and is regarded as an authority on the automotive world. He also makes time to read and comment on TTAC.

Google’s senior executives are busily touting the wonders of autonomous vehicles. There’s the technological marvel, at least in the eyes of Silicon Valley. There are the economic benefits – no more congestion, no more accidents. Wonder of wonders! – and great for the Google empire, and for its stock price.

The Google PR machine is a marvel to behold, and the gullibility of the audience – well, it’s Google! They have the wherewithal to launch a concept car, or rather 100 copies of one, with footage [er, a few megabytes?] of a blind man and a child in what would normally be the driver’s seat. But is their technical contribution really that big? Will economic benefits be as great as they claim? Indeed, will Google even be a player in future vehicle technologies? Their PR machine is not paid to probe such issues, much less point out that alternative technologies may bring the core benefits more quickly and at a modest cost. Oh, and without generating a penny of revenue for Google…

First, the core innovations necessary for an autonomous vehicle are already on the road, the result of decades-long engineering efforts alongside which Google’s investment and expertise pale in comparison. Go back 20-odd years and Delphi (then still a part of GM) was already mapping the creation of a “cocoon” that would protect the driver. Blindspot detection, lane departure warnings, backup “assist” (shh, don’t call it a safety feature, there might be lawyers around) and adaptive cruise control were all part of their vision. They’d acquired Hughes Aircraft [which eventually morphed into DirectTV] to get the engineers needed to start migrating military radar and control technology into cars. Over time the electromechanical enablers went from dreams to practical (if not always affordable) devices. First came electrically-activated brakes (and eventually electronic stability systems), then E-steer, and all sorts of engine and transmission controls, radar systems on a single circuit board, vision systems. Delphi’s dream is now a reality.

Again, these have been on the road for years, though some in numbers too small to affect overall safety or congestion. All these systems are falling in price. So we don’t have to await an entirely new generation of vehicles to begin reaping the benefits. Crucial to Google’s vision is that these are all partial solutions. But once adaptive cruise control is pervasive, will what Google offers will be more than a marginal improvement, with (Google hopes!) a non-marginal jump in the price tag?

So it is not obvious to me that Google will have any role in vehicles short of full autonomy – after all, their presence has not been needed for these existing tools! Nor will car companies be eager to jump into bed with Google. Quite the opposite – the industry has a long history of breaking up systems into smaller pieces and mandating licensing so as to avoid dependence on any single supplier. It’s not that Google’s role won’t be appreciated; their roadmap has already got regulators thinking in a more integrated way about this panoply of new vehicle technologies. That’s not a trivial contribution, but it’s not going to boost their stock multiple.

Second, Google’s is not the only approach. In particular, connected vehicle technologies promise most of the benefits at a far lower price point and with a faster rollout. Such systems are inexpensive because they can use the copious computing power already in car, while the hardware consists of inexpensive RFID transponders. The pieces of such systems are now being tested on the road, with a large test facility, the Michigan Mobility Transformation Center – an artificial cityscape – under construction in Ann Arbor, adjacent to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Such systems don’t require the manifold sensors of an autonomous vehicle. Indeed the core components could be sold as an aftermarket item, albeit with lower functionality. Such connectivity could be rolled out in the course of years.

In contrast autonomy will require decades. Yes, Nissan is talking about having their first autonomous vehicle on the road as early as 2018, regulators permitting; more realistically, we’ll start seeing “real” vehicles from 2020, given the lead time for vehicle development when new systems are involved. (It’s not just that the hardware and software have to be integrated into existing vehicles, it’s also that test procedures need to be developed for both the hardware and the software.) By 2025 the industry will have enough vehicle-years of experience to address regulatory fears and start the path to consumer acceptance. (In the background, the industry will need to coalesce around how to implement such systems; SAE standard-setting committees will be very busy!) Then production capacity has to be ramped up – global vehicle production by that point will be over 100 million units a years. So that’s another 10 years, bringing us to 2035. And then the fleet must turn over; with the average age of vehicles now over 11 years and rising, that will mean another decade for half of all vehicles to be autonomous. We’re thus looking at 2045 and beyond. In contrast, a combination of aftermarket and designed-in RFID systems could be on every vehicle by 2025, offering varying levels of collision avoidance and traffic flow smoothing.

Third and finally, what will be the benefits? Google likes to trumpet the elimination of accidents and the end of congestion. Perhaps. The trucking industry stands to benefit, though again this will be incremental to what is already on the road (truck trains are already running in Europe). However, if you’re in LA or Beijing, well, the restructuring of where people on average live versus where they work will take decades. Furthermore, to the extent adaptive cruise control speeds traffic, the initial impact will be to make longer commutes along major arteries more attractive, so that these roads will have to carry every more cars. Folks, congestion is here to stay.

In the meantime, a household will still need a vehicle (or two!) for commuting, so we won’t be able to get rid of all those cars. Nor will autonomous vehicles be so inexpensive that suburbanites will have one for the daily drive and another for kids and yardwork, else battery electric vehicles would already be the dominant vehicle on the Beltway around DC.

Yes, accidents will fall. Perhaps in some distant utopia we’ll no longer need airbags or crumple zones. Will connected vehicles deliver all these benefits? No. In particular, aftermarket devices could only offer warnings, not take over steering and braking. But they’ll come close, and at a price point and with a time horizon quite different from the drink Google wants us to imbibe.

Mike Smitka is an economist at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. He’s been a judge of the Automotive News PACE supplier innovation awards since they began in 1994. His household’s vehicles are a 2014 Chevy Cruze, a 2013 Honda CR-V and a 1988 Chevy pickup. Find his auto industry course at Econ 244; he also blogs at Autos and Economics

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Today’s Must Read: Google Doesn’t Get Us http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/todays-must-read-google-doesnt-get-us/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/todays-must-read-google-doesnt-get-us/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 14:02:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=862369 In the absence of While You Were Sleeping, I’d like to open up the floor to discussion on this spectacular piece from Jalopnik‘s Damon Lavrinc, titled Google Co-Founder ​Sergey Brin Doesn’t Understand Us And Never Will. Lavrinc lays out the case that Brin and his ilk see not just cars, but car ownership is inefficient, wasteful, and dangerous. […]

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In the absence of While You Were Sleeping, I’d like to open up the floor to discussion on this spectacular piece from Jalopnik‘s Damon Lavrinc, titled Google Co-Founder ​Sergey Brin Doesn’t Understand Us And Never Will.

Lavrinc lays out the case that Brin and his ilk see

not just cars, but car ownership is inefficient, wasteful, and dangerous. They take up too much space, use too many resources, and, listening to Brin, are an unconscionable blight on society…Brin looks at the world through an engineer’s lens. It’s binary: good versus bad, progress versus stagnation. The idea that someone would derive any amount of pleasure from the act of driving is completely antithetical to the society Brin envisions. Add in the fact that he’s also the protagonist in a world of his own creation, worth $30 billion, and nestled safely inside the Silicon Valley hive mind, and – with the right (Google) glasses – you can see where he’s coming from. Until you can’t.

 

Lavrinc describes this vision as “divorced from reality”, and rightfully so. I personally abhor this mindset for a whole host of reasons, whether it’s because I don’t want an engineer in Silicon Valley deciding to reshape my access to mobility in their pseudo-utopian image, or that Brin stands to profit handsomely from a plan that would engender the obsolescence of one of my favorite hobbys.

Most of all, I resent the mindset that every facet of life must be optimized, engineered or worse “disrupted”. A world like this leaves no room for spontaneity or idiosyncrasy, two of the imperfections that add so much joy to life. But I understand that this is the way the world is going – and if I faced a long, arduous commute, I’d probably have a different opinion.

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Android Auto vs. Apple CarPlay vs. Your Precious Bodily Fluids http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/android-auto-vs-apple-carplay-vs-your-precious-bodily-fluids/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/android-auto-vs-apple-carplay-vs-your-precious-bodily-fluids/#comments Fri, 27 Jun 2014 11:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=853505 At yesterday’s Google I/O keynote speech, Google laid out its vision for Android Auto (reported here yesterday), which is quite similar to Apple’s CarPlay. I’ve ranted here before about Apple’s CarPlay when it was first announced and after more details came out last March. Both have the idea that your phone can hijack the screen in […]

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tumblr_m9hum9gnmd1rsen2io1_500At yesterday’s Google I/O keynote speech, Google laid out its vision for Android Auto (reported here yesterday), which is quite similar to Apple’s CarPlay. I’ve ranted here before about Apple’s CarPlay when it was first announced and after more details came out last March. Both have the idea that your phone can hijack the screen in your car. What’s newsworthy from Google is that we have an enlarged list of vendors who are playing along. (Wired has the full list. Suffice to say that you’ll have plenty of choices if you want a car that goes both ways, if you know what I mean. Most interesting factoid: Tesla isn’t playing with either Apple or Google. Hear that? It’s the sounds of thousands of alpha-nerd Tesla owners crying out in terror.)

Today, I want to address why you should stop worrying and learn to love having your phone in charge of your car’s telematics display.

Using most computer crap in cars will kill you. I’ve had enough of people arguing about BMW i-Drive vs. Audi MMI vs. giant Tesla touchscreens vs. your smartphone. You all don’t get it. They’re all part of a Communist plot to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. Or at least distract us and get us into horrific driving accidents. When you’re driving, you should have your hands on the wheel, or your passenger’s thigh. No, no, definitely on the wheel.

But some computer crap in cars is exceptionally valuable. When you’re driving somewhere new, nav systems are great. Even if you’re driving somewhere you go all the time, modern nav systems like Waze give you real-time user-reported intel on the traffic and even where the speed traps are. But how do Waze drivers report speed traps? They press tiny buttons on the phone and promptly create new accidents for other Waze drivers to report.

So how can you use a computer in your car safely? What we’ve seen so far from the automakers is largely a massive failure on this front. BMW’s iDrive, no matter how much they simplify it, is still an abomination upon humanity. Tesla’s giant and beautiful touchscreen, much like the Chevy Volt and other new cars that don’t have real buttons any more, require you to look for the button you’re trying to press. Prior attempts at voice recognition are laughably inaccurate, particularly once the car is moving at freeway speed and you’ve got wind noise and tire noise, never mind a blaring stereo. What’s left? The thing that Google seems to get, and you know Apple will copy it a year later and claim they invented first, is that they have all this knowledge about you. Your calendar has your destination address right next to your appointment. And they know where you live and where you drive every day on your commute. Why is this a good thing? Because Google will (hopefully) be very good at guessing what you’re up to and will just do it with little or no user intervention at all. When you do need to use your voice to tell your nav system what to do, or what music you want to play, you’ll get the benefit of Google’s backend data center megabrain which can do a way better job of figuring out what you’re talking about than the puny computer in your car or phone. Why? Because it’s got context. If you’re trying to navigate to a some business, it’s going to compare your vocal garble to the names of local destinations, especially if you did a Google search on your computer beforehand or your buddy emailed you the address. If you’re trying to play some hipster indie band, it’s going to look at the names in your library and in its “people who like X tend to like Y” megabrain graph. Smaller search space = higher recognition accuracy.

But I don’t trust the Google megabrain with my precious privacy fluids. We are rapidly approaching a moment of truth, both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing, but the fact is that you’re already telling Google, Apple, the NSA, OkCupid, and the fiendish fluoridators far too much about yourself. It’s a huge pain to keep apps from profiling you, but you can do it if you insist. (I use the totally not user-friendly XPrivacy. My proposed solution for the real world: government regulation. But I digress.) For the rest of us, there’s a tradeoff. You give up some privacy. In return you get something. Maybe that something is a free version of some game. You could pay $1 and get the advertising-free version. But do you pay that dollar? No? That’s how little you truly value your own privacy.

When you use Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, or Microsoft Win9 Cartopia Enterprise Edition, you’re indeed giving up some privacy, but look at what you’re getting back. You’re getting good stuff. For a great price.

How will we ultimately trade our privacy for all these great features? Will Google crack down on apps’ ability to learn totally unnecessarily personal things about you? (There is a new feature in Android “L” that’s supposed to help with this.) Will government regulators ultimately crack down on Google? We’ll see. Now let’s get this thing on the hump — we got some flyin’ to do.

Dr._Strangelove_-_Riding_the_Bomb

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Google Debuts Android Auto During I/O Keynote http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/google-debuts-android-auto-during-io-keynote/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/google-debuts-android-auto-during-io-keynote/#comments Thu, 26 Jun 2014 10:00:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=852889 Google’s entry into the connected-car game stepped up to the next level this week when Android Auto was unveiled before the developers in attendance at the 2014 Google I/O Keynote Address. Automotive News reports Android Auto — formerly known as Google Auto Link — will not be an embedded system, but “projected” from Android-powered smartphones […]

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Android Auto + Honda Civic

Google’s entry into the connected-car game stepped up to the next level this week when Android Auto was unveiled before the developers in attendance at the 2014 Google I/O Keynote Address.

Automotive News reports Android Auto — formerly known as Google Auto Link — will not be an embedded system, but “projected” from Android-powered smartphones through USB into the head unit. Its main feature is its voice-enabled operation, allowing the driver to receive and respond to texts, get directions to the nearest restaurant or fuel station, and dictate to-do lists for later reference, all without having to take their eyes off the road.

Android Auto was also designed for app developers in mind, simplifying the process of creating, distributing and updating their work without worrying if the embedded system will play nice with them by centralizing everything around the smartphone or tablet.

Though players such as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Volkswagen Group and Honda are among those on-board with Android Auto, Google did not say which of the members of the Open Automotive Alliance would be the first to bring the technology to the showroom. However, Hyundai product planning manager John Shon says his employer will be the first out of the gate when newer models of the 2015 Sonata arrive with both Android Auto and competitor Apple’s own CarPlay by the end of 2014; current 2015 models will receive both systems upon release.

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GM China Introduces Plate-Scanning App For Driver-To-Driver Texting http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/gm-china-introduces-plate-scanning-app-for-driver-to-driver-texting/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/gm-china-introduces-plate-scanning-app-for-driver-to-driver-texting/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 13:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=845849 Ever been cut-off by a driver and wanted to let them know exactly how you feel without the need for a PIT bumper? Did you happen to see someone attractive pass you by, but didn’t want to be as obvious as Clark Griswold about it? If you’re in China, General Motors is about to make […]

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Chinese-English Stop Sign

Ever been cut-off by a driver and wanted to let them know exactly how you feel without the need for a PIT bumper? Did you happen to see someone attractive pass you by, but didn’t want to be as obvious as Clark Griswold about it? If you’re in China, General Motors is about to make that dream come true in the creepiest way possible.

ComputerWorld reports GM China R&D director John Du introduced an Android app called DiDi Plate before attendees at this year’s Telematics Detroit 2014. The app uses an Android smartphone’s camera to snap a photo of a license plate, which then uploads the info gathered into the cloud so that the driver can then connect with the other driver via cell.

The creeper part? Du explains it best:

Even if the other driver didn’t register this app, you can still give them greetings and comments.

Du added that the app can also be used with Google Glass, allowing the driver to simply look at a license plate to find the other’s personal online profile prior to arranging a date, telling them to move their car so the driver can get out, or telling them off as far as their driving skills are concerned.

However, GM would like DiDi Plate to be embedded in a connected-vehicle environment rather than reside on the driver’s smartphone of choice; thus, the app may not make it out of the prototype phase in time to warn the car ahead that they missed the stop sign, among other, more personal actions.

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Google To Unveil Connected-Car System At Annual Developer Conference http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/google-to-unveil-connected-car-system-at-annual-developer-conference/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/google-to-unveil-connected-car-system-at-annual-developer-conference/#comments Tue, 17 Jun 2014 11:00:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=845465 Google’s entry into the world of connected vehicles is in the final phases of development, but those who can’t wait to see its interface will have their chance when the system debuts at the tech company’s annual Google I/O Conference next week. Automotive News reports the system — dubbed internally as Google Auto Link — […]

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Google’s entry into the world of connected vehicles is in the final phases of development, but those who can’t wait to see its interface will have their chance when the system debuts at the tech company’s annual Google I/O Conference next week.

Automotive News reports the system — dubbed internally as Google Auto Link — will be the first fruit to be harvested from the Open Automotive Alliance’s connected-car efforts. GAL will also be a projected system, whereupon Android smartphone users will be able to connect with their phones through the controls and displays of vehicles so equipped.

As for who will be the first to offer GAL and when, Google will not announce the former during the annual conference, while the OAA said to expect the system to arrive in vehicles “starting in 2014.” At the moment, members Audi and Hyundai use some of Google’s services within their own embedded infotainment systems, including Google Earth and Google Search.

In addition to GAL, Google will announce upcoming features for Android “that will enable the car itself to become a connected Android device,” further bringing smartphones and vehicles together as one entity as far as the company’s ambitions are concerned. The two programs will likely face challenges from rival Apple, who unveiled its own CarPlay at the 2014 Geneva Auto Show; the system is already available to Ferrari FF purchasers, and will be offered to the consumer bases of Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Jaguar, Honda and Volvo later this year.

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QOTD: A Robot Car That Kills You? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/qotd-a-robot-car-that-kills-you/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/qotd-a-robot-car-that-kills-you/#comments Fri, 30 May 2014 17:22:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=834481 Writing in the National Post, Matt Gurney discusses a darker side of autonomous cars, one that many people (especially this writer, who is not exactly familiar with the rational, linear type of operation that is involved with coding) In a recent interview with PopSci, Patrick Lin, an associate philosophy professor and director of the Ethics + Emerging […]

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Writing in the National Post, Matt Gurney discusses a darker side of autonomous cars, one that many people (especially this writer, who is not exactly familiar with the rational, linear type of operation that is involved with coding)

In a recent interview with PopSci, Patrick Lin, an associate philosophy professor and director of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University, proposed a hypothetical scenario that sums up the problem. You’re driving along in your robo-car, and your tire blows out. The computer in control rapidly concludes that your car is moving too quickly and has too much momentum to come to a safe stop, and there is traffic ahead. Since an accident is inevitable, the computer shifts from collision avoidance to collision mitigation, and concludes that the least destructive outcome is to steer your car to a catastrophic outcome — over a cliff, into a tree — and thus avoid a collision with another vehicle.

The raw numbers favour such an outcome. Loss of life and property is minimized — an objectively desirable outcome. But the downside is this: Your car just wrote you off and killed you to save someone else.

This situation, as Gurney writes, involves being a passenger in a device that is “…may be programmed, in certain circumstances, to write us off in order to save someone else?”

I’m not an expert on autonomous cars, or computer science, or robotics, or ethics, or government regulation. I am not going to go down the path of “people will never accept autonomous cars because driving is freedom”, because I just don’t think it’s true anymore.

But I do feel that autonomous cars represent something else: another techno-utopian initiative dreamed up by rational, linear thinking engineers that are incapable (sometimes biologically) of understanding the human and cultural intangibles that are an integral part of our existence. The idea of a coldly utilitarian device that would sacrifice human life based on a set of calculations is not something that will be well received. And the people behind self-driving cars may not understand this.

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Google Unveils Autonomous Vehicle Prototype, Roush Rumoured To Be Involved http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/google-unveils-autonomous-vehicle-prototype-roush-rumoured-to-be-involved/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/google-unveils-autonomous-vehicle-prototype-roush-rumoured-to-be-involved/#comments Thu, 29 May 2014 11:00:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=833985 The autonomous vehicle has taken a step closer to traversing the streets and highways of the world with Google’s new prototype, which may have racing — and Skynet — in its cybernetic blood. Autoblog reports the toy-esque prototype has room for two, push-button start and no manual controls of any sort. Speed is limited to […]

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The autonomous vehicle has taken a step closer to traversing the streets and highways of the world with Google’s new prototype, which may have racing — and Skynet — in its cybernetic blood.

Autoblog reports the toy-esque prototype has room for two, push-button start and no manual controls of any sort. Speed is limited to 25 mph — no source of power has been mentioned — with a visible integrated roll cage providing structural integrity. Project director Chris Urmson adds:

On the inside, we’ve designed for learning, not luxury, so we’re light on creature comforts, but we’ll have two seats (with seat belts), a space for passengers’ belongings, buttons to start and stop and a screen that shows the route-and that’s about it.

As for the racing link, Roush has been rumoured to be the ones building the proposed 100 prototypes set to undergo testing this summer according to an anonymous source. The source also says assembly will take place in Michigan, and the company — who also improves Ford Mustangs on occasion, as well as deliver the goods for transportation and military applications — is hiring engineers for the project.

Public use of the Google commuter pods is expected to come online in a California-based pilot within a couple of years per the search engine giant.

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GM Ready To Introduce Seat-Belt Interlock System In Select 2015 Models http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/gm-ready-to-introduce-seat-belt-interlock-system-in-select-2015-models/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/gm-ready-to-introduce-seat-belt-interlock-system-in-select-2015-models/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 10:00:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=827522 Automotive News reports General Motors is preparing to launch a belt assurance system in a number of MY 2015 vehicles later this year, including the GMC Sierra, Chevrolet Cruze, Colorado and Silverado. The system prevents the vehicle from shifting out of park until both driver and front passenger are buckled, using weight information gathered from […]

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GM and OnStar Aim to Help Buckle Up America

Automotive News reports General Motors is preparing to launch a belt assurance system in a number of MY 2015 vehicles later this year, including the GMC Sierra, Chevrolet Cruze, Colorado and Silverado. The system prevents the vehicle from shifting out of park until both driver and front passenger are buckled, using weight information gathered from the sensing and diagnostic module to lock the brakes and transmission until compliance is achieved. The system is currently optional, and will be provided free of charge for those who are willing to become beta testers for GM’s latest technological offering.

The Detroit News reports the company is facing down 79 lawsuits linked to the February 2014 ignition switch recall, with plaintiffs asking for as much as $10 billion in lost resale value. Some of the lawsuits are aimed at tying “New GM” to “Old GM” by dissolving the liability protections established in July 2009 when the automaker exited bankruptcy, leaving behind responsibility for accidents linked to the out-of-spec switch that occurred before “New GM” emerged. Supplier Delphi is also named as defendant in a number of the suits for their part in manufacturing the switch. All of the lawsuits are currently on hold by federal judges in California and Texas pending ruling on which of the claims will be allowable.

Meanwhile, the fallout from the February recall may upend the U.S. automotive industry as a whole, especially in its relationship with the federal government. GM’s credibility, already perceived as lacking among the public, isn’t being helped with the hiring of “Old GM” executives, the retirement of engineers with ties to the switch, or the status quo maintained in the automaker’s legal department. As the spotlight shines brighter on GM’s problems, it will likely face the same sledgehammer used by the U.S. Justice Department when the latter levied a $1.2 billion settlement upon Toyota for its own recall issues. In turn, more recalls, cautious product development and reduced profits will be experienced by all automakers, while consumers may see satisfaction from the heightened scrutiny.

Finally, Edmunds says GM and Google are partnering for ride-share pilot program at the latter’s Mountain View, Calif. campus, featuring the 2015 Chevrolet Spark EV as the vehicle of choice. The EV was chosen thanks to its “small footprint” along with its ability to seat four while cornering past the ARCO and connecting with the Google mothership. GM says the program will combine “commuting data, analytics, telematics, navigation and smartphones to run a smart, real-time system that mixes and matches drivers, riders and cars during morning and evening commutes,” with convenient door-to-door service and flex-scheduling the main goals expected.

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Google’s Autonmous Vehicle Project Readies For Next Step http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/googles-autonmous-vehicle-project-readies-for-next-step/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/googles-autonmous-vehicle-project-readies-for-next-step/#comments Tue, 20 May 2014 13:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=826690 Google’s autonomous vehicle research has come far over the five years since the Silicon Valley giant started down the road. Though more is yet be accomplished before the future comes, Google is ready to move forward with the next phase of its research work: jumping from test units into the real world. Automotive News reports […]

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Google’s autonomous vehicle research has come far over the five years since the Silicon Valley giant started down the road. Though more is yet be accomplished before the future comes, Google is ready to move forward with the next phase of its research work: jumping from test units into the real world.

Automotive News reports in a rare media presentation held last week, Google’s autonomous vehicle boss Christopher Urmson stated his company talks to automakers often about how best to bring what Google has to offer to the public:

It has to be at a price point where the value to the customer exceeds the cost to the customer. We’re working on that.

Urmson added that such technology would not come to market until it was ready with all safety issues have been worked out to the best of Google’s ability, proclaiming the driver needs to be able to trust the technology before letting the vehicle take the wheel.

Said autonomous technology has been developed through the use of GPS and 3D mapping systems linked to a roof-mounted laser that scans the environment around the vehicle. So far, 2,000 miles of road — within reach of Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. — have been mapped out and traversed, but with over 4 million miles of road in the United States, the search engine giant has more work to go before the autonomous Nexus Auto is ready for primetime, which Urmson expects will come by the time his son turns 16 in 2020.

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Nokia Enters Connected Vehicle Fight With $100M Investment Fund http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/nokia-enters-connected-vehicle-fight-with-100m-investment-fund/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/nokia-enters-connected-vehicle-fight-with-100m-investment-fund/#comments Mon, 12 May 2014 12:00:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=819377 Having moved its smartphone business to Microsoft, Nokia’s next project is a $100 million investment fund for companies specializing in smart cars. BBC News reports the fund will be administered by Nokia Growth Partners, while Nokia itself aims to bring its navigation offerings — one of three key points the Finnish company will pursue alongside […]

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Having moved its smartphone business to Microsoft, Nokia’s next project is a $100 million investment fund for companies specializing in smart cars.

BBC News reports the fund will be administered by Nokia Growth Partners, while Nokia itself aims to bring its navigation offerings — one of three key points the Finnish company will pursue alongside networks and new technologies — into the connected car market.

Nokia is only the latest to enter into the fray, with Google, BlackBerry, Apple and Intel — who has its own $100 million fund for the rapid development of Internet-connected vehicles — seeking to make their mark on the potentially disruptive market. While Google’s Android will soon find its way into offerings by Hyundai and Audi, Apple’s iOS-based CarPlay has found partners in Ferrari and BMW.

As for what’s at stake for all who enter, the connected car market promises to not only bring the smartphone experience into the vehicle, but to connect vehicles with each other, altering driving behaviors while increasing safety as NGP partner Paul Asel explains:

For the last few years there has been a surge in innovation that has brought technological advances leading to safer, cleaner, increasingly connected, intelligent and more affordable vehicles. Vehicles are becoming a new platform for technology adoption very similar to phones or tablet.

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BlackBerry Fights Google, Apple To Maintain Connected-Car Lead http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/blackberry-fights-google-apple-to-maintain-connected-car-lead/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/blackberry-fights-google-apple-to-maintain-connected-car-lead/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 12:44:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=782913 Though BlackBerry owns a sliver of the smartphone market they once dominated, its QNX-based connected-car systems may be the best weapon they have in maintaining its lead over the companies that drove the Canadian company nearly out of the smartphone business. Bloomberg reports QNX — the choice for connected-car systems by Ford, Porsche and BMW […]

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Though BlackBerry owns a sliver of the smartphone market they once dominated, its QNX-based connected-car systems may be the best weapon they have in maintaining its lead over the companies that drove the Canadian company nearly out of the smartphone business.

Bloomberg reports QNX — the choice for connected-car systems by Ford, Porsche and BMW among others — is now facing competition from both Apple and Google for market and mind share of an industry expected to be worth $53 billion in 2018.

According to IHS Automotive analyst Mark Boyadjis, the bigger challenge will come from Google, whose Android operating system helped finish the job Apple’s iPhone began in 2007 in pushing out BlackBerry from the global smartphone market. Google — who also collaborates with the QNX division on occasion — has already put its mark on the Kia Soul and Mercedes-AMG SLS, and established the Open Automotive Alliance with Audi, General Motors, Honda and Hyundai.

Meanwhile, BlackBerry and Apple are on more equal footing with the latter’s CarPlay platform, bringing the connect-car/iPhone experience to Ferrari at the 2014 Geneva Auto Show this month.

As for QNX itself, the BlackBerry-owned division continues to expand further into the connected-car market, with Ford dropping Microsoft for the micro-kernel OS in its maligned Sync/MyFord Touch system last month. The Blue Oval’s action would place the automaker in good company, as QNX also powers systems used by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Hyundai, and Jaguar.

The biggest advantage QNX has over Google and Apple is its proven track record in running safety systems, where a software issue could mean the difference between life and death, which Boyadjis believes will carry BlackBerry and QNX into the future against the two technology titans from California.

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Ur-Turn: Autonomous Cars Are Already Here http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/ur-turn-autonomous-cars-are-already-here/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/ur-turn-autonomous-cars-are-already-here/#comments Tue, 18 Mar 2014 14:19:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=775033 TTAC reader and former auto journalist Michael Banovsky writes about the inexorable move towards autonomous cars Autonomous cars are already here. It doesn’t matter if you’re testing an actual Google Car or cruising the Keys in a Pagoda-roof 230 SL, CUVing the kids to Hot Yoga or signing “11” on a deserted road. Autonomous cars […]

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TTAC reader and former auto journalist Michael Banovsky writes about the inexorable move towards autonomous cars

Autonomous cars are already here.

It doesn’t matter if you’re testing an actual Google Car or cruising the Keys in a Pagoda-roof 230 SL, CUVing the kids to Hot Yoga or signing “11” on a deserted road. Autonomous cars are here, the debate is done, so enjoy driving while you still can.

Let’s start with a story.

I was driving to work and glanced in my rearview and noticed a lady talking on a cell phone. Is that a chil…yes, that’s a child-in-child-seat, too.

We were at a moderate speed, we stopped, we got going again…and she didn’t hit me. I even watched, two minutes later, as she put the phone down and resumed the school run.

What was I supposed to do, publicly shame her? Call the cops, telling them someone was making a call—a possibly important one—and they should speed over, tout de suite?

This happens all the time, of course, all over the world. Are we to vilify everyone who safely makes a call or text while behind the wheel? Drives drunk? Drives high? Drinks coffee without spilling it? Changes the radio station without crashing?

Speeds?

I don’t think so. That would be—caution, nasty word – surveillance, and we’re probably going to give up driving before it’s monitored or taken away, anyway.

Here’s why: Any anti-social and anti-public safety behaviours* are drivers showing they’ve chosen something else over operating a vehicle. Taking a call while driving is proof, proven thousands of times a second, that we feel talking on a phone is as important to us as driving.

For a driverless future to happen, two things need to happen. First, non-compliance with road laws and rising costs will make driving much more expensive—to say nothing of fuel prices. Second, technology will make it possible.

Now tell me either is unlikely.

The key to adopting driverless cars without outcry is to make drivers feel like they have a choice. The lady I saw talking on her phone? If you could have given her a big green “Autonomous” button, I bet she’d have pushed it before taking that call.

Fines for not complying will keep increasing, making a driverless car system—either built-in or aftermarket— seem cheap in comparison. The aftermarket devices will become so small as to be unnoticeable. What will stop companies from offering ad-supported ones? “Saving $20 on groceries this week will only take 9 minutes, Ms. Greer. Would you like me to set a route?”

Autonomous vehicles could allow us to:

  • – Safely accept phone calls
  • – Safely interact with passengers
  • – Safely navigate through stressful or dangerous driving conditions
  • – Appoint an adult bus monitor instead of driver, making the now-autonomous school bus safer
  • – Drive your drunk ass home
  • – Travel more quickly on highways (what government would argue against higher speeds if they were sure crashing wasn’t possible. Yes, your car will drive faster than you.)
  • – Substantially reduce insurance premiums
  • – Substantially improve pedestrian and cyclist safety
  • – Substantially improve fleet-wide fuel economy
  • – Revolutionize semi-public transit, like airport shuttles and taxis
  • – Send our vehicles for service while we’re at work
  • – Offer incentives to shop in certain stores, or drive in certain places
  • …and many, many other things.

Roads were humanity’s last great analog system, until of course we started mapping things digitally. GPS and Google Streetview for our system of roads. Radar, specialized cameras, sensors for vehicles themselves. The vehicles are irrelevant—at the point machines move for themselves, does it matter if it’s a cement truck or smart fortwo? Does it matter if the data required to move a machine comes from a satellite or the car in front?

Once machines can read the road surface, signs, and conditions accurately (and reliably), these systems will flourish, and the vast majority of motorists will benefit.

Don’t like it? Don’t speed. Don’t use your cell phone. Drive more smoothly. Don’t crash. And tell millions of others the same. Then keep it up for the foreseeable future.

A future where driver-less cars outnumber driver-with cars isn’t crazy. It’s certainty, certainly if drivers keep breaking the rules. Statistics proving how bad we are at driving will allow the technology a foothold, and a few machine generations will work out most problems.

Advertising will take care of the rest.

What, did you think for a moment that companies would allow one of our last, great freedoms—driving—to remain free from monetization forever? “Driving” will become “moving people around.”

If you’re in doubt, take a few minutes and read US Patent #8630897. Search for “Autonomous.”

*As defined by our road laws—if you don’t like them, change them! (Ha.)

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Exclusive: Google Cars Is Dead http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/exclusive-google-cars-is-dead/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/exclusive-google-cars-is-dead/#comments Mon, 27 Jan 2014 23:00:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=725754 TTAC has learned that Google is shutting down its car shopping service, which existed only in beta form for San Francisco Bay Area shoppers. Visitors to the site have received a message stating “The Google San Francisco Bay Area car search beta program has been discontinued as we focus on building the next version of […]

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TTAC has learned that Google is shutting down its car shopping service, which existed only in beta form for San Francisco Bay Area shoppers. Visitors to the site have received a message stating

“The Google San Francisco Bay Area car search beta program has been discontinued as we focus on building the next version of our experience for car-related searches. Stay tuned for more news!”

Google previously tweaked their new car search in late 2013, allowing users to see results on the main search page. TTAC had previously touted Google Cars as a potentially disruptive car shopping tool, though dealers apparently had some reservations about the way their inventory and pricing was displayed (namely a lack of differentiation among different stores), as well as the higher cost of leads.

One can only wonder what’s next for Google.

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GPS Tracking: Catch This Fly With Honey http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/gps-tracking-win-this-fly-with-honey/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/gps-tracking-win-this-fly-with-honey/#comments Tue, 14 Jan 2014 21:22:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=697681 Last week, Ford’s Global VP of Marketing and Sales, Jim Farley, told a panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that Ford has access to data on its customers’ driving habits via the GPS system installed in their cars. “We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. […]

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Photo courtesy of media.ford.com

Photo courtesy of media.ford.com

Last week, Ford’s Global VP of Marketing and Sales, Jim Farley, told a panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that Ford has access to data on its customers’ driving habits via the GPS system installed in their cars. “We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone,” he said. The next day Mr. Farley adjusted his statement to avoid giving the wrong impression saying that the statement was hypothetical and that Ford does not routinely collect information on, or otherwise track, drivers through their GPS systems without those drivers’ consent and approval. That approval comes from turning on and opting into specific services like 911 Assist and something called Sync Services Directions, a system that links the GPS system to users’ cellular phones. So that’s that, right?

I’m going to say right here that I believe Ford when they say they aren’t collecting information on individual drivers because, if you think about it, they really don’t need the level of detail that sort of tracking can provide. It matters little to Ford whether or not you like to run 5 MPH over the speed limit on your morning commute or just how often you go to the gym so it seems unlikely that they would seek to collect that kind of data. No, I think that, just as Mr. Farley speculated in the comments that followed his initial revelation, they really are interested in the big picture issues, the kind of data that urban planners may want or even the sale of bulk data to other marketers, say a retailer trying to determine the best place to open a new store.

Of course, what’s true about the Ford Motor Company may not be true of others. The Federal government, for example, may want to track the movements of certain people and state and local governments may want to link into that data stream to determine whether or not people are obeying traffic regulations. Right or wrong, necessary or not, the government using your cars’ onboard computers to keep tabs on you is something that will continue to evolve in the years to come, but it the actual topic I wanted to discuss today wasn’t government intrusion into our lives, it was where I think this is really headed – a new form of advertising.

Years ago I read a factoid that said when most Americans have the opportunity to opt out of junk mail, things like advertising brochures and store catalogs, we actually sign up for more. I think that’s as true today as it was back then. We don’t like intrusive forms of advertising like phone calls during the dinner hour and pop-up ads in our browsers, but generally speaking the average American doesn’t mind things like targeted ads that appear off to the side or above a website’s banner. These things are, we know, a necessary evil, the price we pay for free content. After all, someone has to pay the bills in order to keep a website running and targeted ads based on my browsing history are an effective way of getting me to see a product I might actually buy. I’m OK with that. If I read an article about a mini-van and, as a result, get links to companies that sell mini-vans, that’s actually helpful.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior, Infotainment, Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

So why aren’t these things happening with our GPS units? If I frequent hamburger joints, then sponsored content might actually get me to try some place new, right? If I search for an auto parts store, why not do what Google Maps already does on my home computer and put sponsored links on top and then others down below? It’s the way the yellow pages used to work and so long as I get all the information I need then I’m willing to look at your sponsored content. Of course, I want something in return, maybe a free GPS head unit or a free satellite radio subscription, but if you make it worth my while and it could be a win-win situation.

I’m serious! It’s how the free market works and I, along with a great many others I am sure, don’t mind the intrusion as long as you make it worth my while. All that other “big brother” stuff is going to get sorted out eventually and I am firmly in the camp that believes that, since I’m not doing anything wrong, someone looking over my shoulder doesn’t hurt me at all. Give me something for free while avoiding pop-ups and you can track me all you want. In fact, I’ll be the first in line to subscribe and I’m sure that tens of millions of Americans will be right behind me. Bring on that better, brighter future.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Scrambling the Politics of Mass Transit in San Francisco http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/scrambling-the-politics-of-mass-transit-in-san-francisco/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/scrambling-the-politics-of-mass-transit-in-san-francisco/#comments Mon, 23 Dec 2013 11:00:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=686034 Image from Twitter @craigsfrost Positively or negatively, mass transit is often viewed as a social leveler. Rich and poor alike ride the subway in New York, London and Berlin. Atlantans of all economic and social backgrounds make use of MARTA’s facilities, as they do in many other American cities where public transit is the most […]

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Image from Twitter @craigsfrost

Positively or negatively, mass transit is often viewed as a social leveler. Rich and poor alike ride the subway in New York, London and Berlin. Atlantans of all economic and social backgrounds make use of MARTA’s facilities, as they do in many other American cities where public transit is the most efficient way of navigating the inner cities. Of course, these are public systems, funded by fares and taxpayer money.

 

They fulfill the transportation needs of a wide segment of the population, and they generally give the same level of service regardless of income or status. In areas that aren’t as densely urbanized as the aforementioned examples and where car ownership for city dwellers is a more practical proposition, mass transit usage tends to skew towards a less affluent demographic. As a political football, mass transit can thus be kicked in many directions depending on ideological necessity. However, the underlying assumption for either end of the political spectrum remains the same: mass transit is an equalizer. But what happens when this typical political equation is turned on its head? Could riding the bus be considered a show of affluence instead of equality or penury? Protestors in the San Francisco bay area seem to think so.

On December 20th, demonstrators blocked the paths of two private buses (operated by tech firms Google and Apple) in a protest action. In Oakland and in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, protestors held up the buses when they stopped to collect employees. This was the second such action in two weeks. Previous protests were peaceful, but in Oakland things got ugly. The Google bus had a window broken and tires slashed; protestors dispersed after police were called, with no arrests or citations issued. Before they left, protestors harangued bus riders and handed out copies of this supremely classy flyer. Many of the largest tech firms with headquarters in the area run private bus lines that ferry workers from the city to the suburbs. This sort of anti-Levittown arrangement has led to simmering tensions between employees of the tech giants and other city residents.

So what’s driving these protests? In a word, gentrification. The expansion of tech firms on the city’s outskirts and general economic recovery since the Great Recession has driven up rents enormously within the city. The median rental rate for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is now almost $2800 a month, a 27% increase since 2011. Protestors blame new arrivals to the city for skyrocketing rents, a new wave of evictions, and overall social unrest. They claim that Google, Apple, and other tech companies are turning older neighborhoods into bedroom communities for their employees. This is done, they say, with little regard for the impact on long-term residents, many of whom live in rent-controlled apartments. The bus services are the most obvious manifestation of this trend, and have thus become a target for protestors.

Tech companies offer shuttle service between the city and their suburban campuses as an employment perk. These unregulated private buses often use public stops to pick up and drop off employees, without paying anything to city. This has generated complaints about congestion and obstruction of public buses. Some metro San Francisco buses have been forced to stop short or to let passengers off in the middle of the street, undoubtedly an irritating circumstance. The city is currently in negotiations with Google and other tech companies to institute a fee system for use of public stops, and to prevent congestion. But it’s clear that frustration with the situation has already transcended bureaucratic dialogue.

One can sympathize with the concerns of protestors about the upheaval in established neighborhoods and the misuse of public facilities. Forking over the better part of three grand a month for a one-bedroom apartment seems insane anywhere outside of Manhattan or Tokyo. But attacking the workers responsible for a city’s economic renaissance is surely a self-defeating strategy. New construction may help alleviate housing pressures, as thousands of city apartments are scheduled to become available within the next several years. Until then, the city’s longtime residents and the architects of the new tech boom will have to learn to live with each other. In this case, riding the bus divides citizens rather than uniting them.

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Google’s New Car Search Makes Shopping Easier http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/googles-new-car-search-makes-shopping-easier/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/googles-new-car-search-makes-shopping-easier/#comments Thu, 05 Dec 2013 12:57:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=671610 Whether you’re in the market for an F-150 or an F-Type, you may have at some point used Google to learn all you could about your next car purchase. The Mountain View, Calif. company decided to make your quest for knowledge easier by unveiling their New Car Search feature as seen above. At the same […]

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jaguar f-type - Google Search

Whether you’re in the market for an F-150 or an F-Type, you may have at some point used Google to learn all you could about your next car purchase. The Mountain View, Calif. company decided to make your quest for knowledge easier by unveiling their New Car Search feature as seen above.

At the same time, Google looks to have abandoned their previous new car shopping tool, which had a separate landing page, and allowed shoppers to search for available inventory, while generating leads for dealers.

The current iteration appears to be a lot more simple, at least for now. By entering the car of interest into Google’s search bar, the results page will bring up a box with info on pricing, trim levels, MPG, and similar cars others have sought out.

That said, the current selection with this new widget is limited, focusing upon newer cars within the past three model years or so (i.e., the Chevrolet Impala). Thus, if you were hoping to go back in time to see how much a Ford Mustang II was worth when it debuted, you might have better luck going through an old issue of National Geographic for the time being.

 

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Google Glass Wearer to Fight Citation For Wearing Google Glass http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/google-glass-wearer-to-fight-citation-for-wearing-google-glass/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/google-glass-wearer-to-fight-citation-for-wearing-google-glass/#comments Fri, 01 Nov 2013 16:15:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=639873 Texting. Cellphones. Entertainment systems. All of these have been regulated in order to diminish distracted driving as much as possible. Google Glass may now be added to that list, courtesy of the California Highway Patrol via a speeding ticket that became more upon closer inspection. Tuesday evening, one Cecilia Abadie was pulled over by the […]

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Texting. Cellphones. Entertainment systems. All of these have been regulated in order to diminish distracted driving as much as possible. Google Glass may now be added to that list, courtesy of the California Highway Patrol via a speeding ticket that became more upon closer inspection.

Tuesday evening, one Cecilia Abadie was pulled over by the CHP for doing 80 in a 65 on her way back to her home in Temecula. At that moment in time, she also was wearing her pair of Google Glass. The high-tech eyewear goes for $1,500, is currently limited to beta testers willing to go through the appropriate hoops and pay the fee, and can be used in the same manner as a Nexus 5 or iPhone 5S — without having to pick up the phone.

The officer saw the silly looking fashion statement, and issued her a citation for committing a misdemeanor against style. No. Actually, the citation was for distracted driving, though Abadie claims the Google Glass was not active at time of the additional citation due to concerns over remaining battery power.

As such, Abadie has decided to fight the tacked-on citation, with plenty of attorneys ready to help thanks to the publicity generated from the first reports cluttering the scrolling news feeds of CNN, FOX News et al.

“The law is not clear, the laws are very outdated,” she said, believing that the minimalist tech could prove to be a solution to the cellphone conundrum instead of being a problem unto itself. That said, there are a few detractors for Abadie, including CHP officer Marc Hale and University of Utah Center for the Prevention of Distracted Driving director David Strayer, both of whom state that Google Glass and other technologies like it can still “divert attention from the roadway,” making driving more dangerous.

Legislatures in Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia have introduced bills that would ban the use of Google Glass while driving; Google, for its part, instructs its testers to heed the law:

Read up and follow the law. Above all, even when you’re following the law, don’t hurt yourself or others by failing to pay attention to the road.

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Japan’s Aging Population Boosting Demand For Autonomous Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/japans-aging-population-boosting-demand-for-autonomous-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/japans-aging-population-boosting-demand-for-autonomous-cars/#comments Tue, 22 Oct 2013 16:08:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=631642   Propelled by the fastest-aging nation in the world, there may soon come a day when senior motorists will find themselves behind the wheel (or lack thereof) of a fully autonomous car. According to Bloomberg, Japan’s aging population is spurring innovations in autonomous car technology based on a sobering statistic: 51 percent of traffic fatalities […]

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Nissan Autnomous Drive Leaf

 

Propelled by the fastest-aging nation in the world, there may soon come a day when senior motorists will find themselves behind the wheel (or lack thereof) of a fully autonomous car.

According to Bloomberg, Japan’s aging population is spurring innovations in autonomous car technology based on a sobering statistic: 51 percent of traffic fatalities in the graying country come from drivers aged 65 and over, with no signs of slowing at the present as more motorists enter their golden and twilight years each passing day; by 2060, 40 percent of Japan’s population will be 65 and over.

Thus, a number of automakers — including Toyota, Nissan and General Motors — are doing all they can to introduce technologies that could, by 2020 at the earliest, lead to the first autonomous cars ready for sale.

What could this bring to senior motorists in Japan, the United States, and other graying nations down the road? Freedom, if Google’s Anthony Levandowski, one of the project leaders for the company’s own autonomous car project, has anything to say about it:

This technology restores the freedom that people can’t see. This system will drive old people to see their grandkids and see doctors.

While Levandowski and other autonomous evangelists spread their gospel throughout the industry, detractors such as BMW’s Klaus Kompass caution against having too much optimism about this brave new world, which he expects won’t appear before 2025:

We are always talking about, ’80 percent or 90 percent of accidents are caused by human error.’ Nobody is talking, surprisingly, about all the accidents that human drivers have avoided.

Back in Japan, however, at least one researcher hopes for the best, at least when it comes to his country’s graying road warriors:

“Zero fatalities is definitely a feasible target,” according to Kazunoba Nagaoka of the Institute for Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis. “I would expect we can realize that by 2035.”

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Countdown 2014: National Rollout Of Google Cars Has Dealers Lining Up http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/countdown-2014-national-rollout-of-google-cars-has-dealers-lining-up/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/countdown-2014-national-rollout-of-google-cars-has-dealers-lining-up/#comments Mon, 18 Mar 2013 14:14:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=481588 Google is planning a national roll out of their new car shopping service sometime in early 2014, and dealers are preparing themselves – with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Automotive News quotes one internet manager for a mid-western dealer lamenting the loss of site traffic for his stores. As much as 66 percent of dealer website […]

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Google is planning a national roll out of their new car shopping service sometime in early 2014, and dealers are preparing themselves – with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Automotive News quotes one internet manager for a mid-western dealer lamenting the loss of site traffic for his stores. As much as 66 percent of dealer website traffic comes from Google itself, but that number could plummet once Google Cars is online across America.

On the other hand, dealers such as the Fladeboe Automotive Group, which operates 4 stores in Orange County, are being proactive in approaching Google, even though Google’s auction process for leads will likely be more expensive than other lead generation services. Google’s advantages, such as an immensely strong brand, a simple and easy-to-use shopping tool and the ability to place itself as the first result on any given search page will help ensure a solid footing for the service. And while Google Cars has a similar mission to TrueCar, Google’s enormous resources could prevent it from facing the same kind of meltdown and reinvention that forced TrueCar’s hand in their war against the OEMs.

Ironically, the big losers in any Google Cars victory could likely be automotive journalists themselves. Many “content sites” that make up the bulk of online automotive journalism are simply arms of car sales sites like Kelly Blue Book and Edmunds. If revenues fall dramatically, editorial budgets are often the first to go. Google Cars will notably stay out of the content game, since Google’s primary strength is aggregating everyone else’s content. Forget the new car sales race amongst brands – this will be the competition to watch over the next 18 months. Especially if NADA gets involved.

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Analysis: Google Cars Gets Ready To Retail Rumble http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/google-cars-retail-sales-rumble/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/google-cars-retail-sales-rumble/#comments Wed, 06 Mar 2013 07:25:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=480094 Google’s autonomous car program tends to get the lion’s share of attention when discussing the tech giant’s auto initiatives. But lurking in the background is a more immediate project that has the potential to finally “disrupt” (as Silicon Valley types are so fond of saying) online automotive sales. The last party to attempt such a […]

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Google’s autonomous car program tends to get the lion’s share of attention when discussing the tech giant’s auto initiatives. But lurking in the background is a more immediate project that has the potential to finally “disrupt” (as Silicon Valley types are so fond of saying) online automotive sales.

The last party to attempt such a feat was TrueCar, an innovative and well-intentioned company that ultimately ran afoul of dealers, regulators and the OEMs. TrueCar was forced to pull itself back from the brink and re-invent itself as a more dealer-friendly company, a process painstakingly documented by Ed and Bertel before I ever appeared on the masthead.

What TrueCar did was distort the information asymmetry that car dealers rely on to make money. TrueCar was able to provide data on everything from dealer invoice to transaction prices and allowed dealers to compete with one another for a sale – a major taboo in the world of car sales.

Now, Google is rolling out a service, the imaginatively named Google Cars, beyond its initial Bay Area test market. Consumers will be able to log onto Google Cars and use the handy one-stop filter box (rather than clicking through various menus and sub-menus to boost a given site’s pageview count) and get inventory, pricing and retailer information for the exact car they’re looking for, down to the color. With 66 percent of dealer website visits arriving from Google, it only makes sense for the tech giant to try and capture some of that value. Under the Google program, users can shop for their cars via the first page of any given Google search. Google will get a minimum of $10 per lead, which is determined by a bidding system. One California Toyota dealer told Automotive News that he was paying $22 per car and $26 per truck or crossover, slightly more than the $20 paid to competing services.

Reviews have been mixed, according to AN. Some dealers like the flexibility of bidding for leads, while others expressed frustration that potential customers can contact dealers anonymously (via disposable phone numbers or email accounts, which expire after a set number of unanswered calls or emails), which they say diminishes the effectiveness of the leads.

Regardless of the potential issues, Google Cars cannot be ignored. Google’s massive size and resources will allow it to be far more aggressive than TrueCar ever was when interacting with dealers and OEMs. Regulators may be a thorn in Google’s side (never underestimate the lobbying power of NADA and other dealer bodies), but again, it has the resources to put up a proper fight against the usually dominant entities.

On a smaller scale, Google Cars is likely to cause a lot of headaches for the established players in the online auto retail spaces. Current juggernauts like Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, Cars.com and even TrueCar are all threatened by Google Cars, thanks to the strength of the Google brand and most of all, the superior user experience. Once consumers know that they can access a high-quality car shopping tool without ever leaving Google and have the benefit of Craigslist-style anonymity it will be a tough sell for the other sites to get their customers back. About the only criticism levied at Google Cars in this area is the lack of content, like car reviews and automotive news. But Google has never been a content company and they are wise in avoiding this space. Better to aggregate the near-infinite amount of automotive content (aggregation is one of Google’s strengths, after all) that will likely be consumed by dedicated auto enthusiasts rather than consumers. A successful Google Cars could also cause indigestion further down the on-line food chain, at sites that live mostly off selling leads, and who dress-up the lead generation with content, which all too often is not their own.

Aside from the millions it should generate for Google, the car shopping tool is yet another way for them to collect data on consumer purchases. In this case, Google will amass significant personal information relating to what is likely the second largest purchase of one’s life, data that goes beyond whether you like a tan interior or a manual transmission. Google already can sense purchase intent from your browsing data, actively perusing a shopping service would confirm this intent. Yes, it’s ironic considering that Google subscribes to the idea that “information wants to be free“, but there’s a reason behind the internet adage “if you’re not paying for it, you are the product”.

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