Tag: Technology

By on January 19, 2017

Texting and Driving

Apple is facing a legal battle in California for neglecting to implement technology that would prevent iPhone owners from texting behind the wheel.

Filed on Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the class-action suit alleges that Apple has possessed the ability to disable texting since 2008, and was granted a patent on it by U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2014. The lawsuit wants the company to stop all iPhone sales until it installs safety-oriented software on all devices — new and old — via an update.  (Read More…)

By on January 16, 2017

mazda skyactiv

While it wasn’t the only car company to make use of a rotary engine, it was certainly the only one to be competitive with them when pistons and pushrods would easily have sufficed. However, those days are gone. Mazda’s SkyActiv technology is well suited for squeezing out an engine’s true potential, but it doesn’t feel particularly quirky or unique.

That could change with the company’s second generation of SkyActiv engines. Mazda is one of only two automakers planning to introduce a motor with homogenous charge compression ignition (HCCI) sometime next year. If you’re unfamiliar, that’s a direct-injection gasoline-powered motor that uses compression, not spark, to ignite fuel — something typically reserved for diesel powerplants. (Read More…)

By on January 5, 2017

Toyota badge

The Toyota Motor Corporation is a little skeptical of the imminency of self-driving vehicles. It plans on continuing production of designs where human operators are saddled with the bulk of the driving responsibilities for years to come.

The automaker is openly dubious that tech-focused companies like Waymo and Tesla are sufficiently far enough along to hint at delivering self-driving cars. However, Toyota’s problem with handing the keys to a computer has as much to do with leaving companies open to litigation and criticism as it does with the technology simply not yet being ready.

North America expects millions of traffic accidents every year, but is much less willing to accept computer-controlled chaos at even a fraction of that scale.  (Read More…)

By on December 30, 2016

Volvo 90 center display

A few years after Alexander Graham Bell beat Elisha Gray in patenting the telephone, someone conceptualized the telephonoscope and the world became bedeviled by the notion of seeing someone while you conversed remotely. Video phones appeared in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), Jay Roach’s timeless classic Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), and just about everywhere in between. They even cropped up in real life. AT&T tested the waters in the 1920s by pairing mechanical television receivers to telephones before blowing half a billion dollars on the Picturephone a few decades later.

Things are different today. You can easily bring up any number of applications on your hand-held device and video chat with people from practically anywhere on the planet. However, we never really got a dedicated video phone in our cars, creating a compellingly retro-futuristic need for such a thing.

Then Volvo announced that it was adding Skype for Business to its 90 Series cars and I began imagining a universe where I would notify besuited men — face-to-face — that I did not have anymore time to talk because I was much too busy driving. It was a perfect fantasy where I told nervous industrialists which robots should build the smaller robots and who to fire all from the comfort of my mobile office — and while looking them right in their terrified eyes. (Read More…)

By on December 28, 2016

alternator

Car manufacturers have achieved significant fuel economy gains in recent years, but the improvements largely come down to upgraded drivetrain efficiency. Vehicles still weigh substantially more today than they did in the early 1980s, when the previous decade’s demand for fuel economy improvements forced the issue.

Since then, automobiles have gradually packed on the pounds — negatively offsetting the technology encouraging fuel frugality. Modern safety concerns, improved build quality, sound dampening, and consumer demand for bigness have all helped to keep the typical family transport oinking around a two-ton curb weight.

If companies could effectively slim down those autos, without sacrificing structural rigidity, safety, or consumer comfort, the efficiency gains would become all the more significant. However, with few consumers ready to dive back into noisy, frail hatchbacks, weight savings will likely need to be done on the molecular level. In a new study, the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor investigated the materials going into 44 separate 2015 model year cars and asked automakers what would they use if they suddenly needed to reduce weight from essential items.  (Read More…)

By on December 21, 2016

2016 Ford Mustang GT

Prepare to kiss a famous displacement goodbye.

Ford’s 5.0-liter “Coyote” V8 has dutifully powered variants of the automaker’s Mustang and F-150 since 2011, instilling the brand’s pony car with the kind of heritage that can only be squeezed from 302 cubic inches.

Well, time (and technology) marches on, and Ford’s lower-shelf V8 is due for a replacement. According to a recent report, the Blue Oval folks aren’t choosing sides when it comes to the best way to squirt gas into the new mill. (Read More…)

By on December 19, 2016

FCA waymo pacifica

Google’s recently rebranded autonomous vehicle project, Waymo, and Fiat Chyrlser Automobiles have been working together on developing self-driving minivans since the summer. Half a year in, the two companies have announced the production of 100 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids with complete self-driving capabilities.

As you read this, the modified vans are being outfitted with Google-designed sensors and software, almost ready for the road.  (Read More…)

By on December 15, 2016

uber volvo autonomous

Uber proudly released a fleet of eleven driverless Volvos onto the streets of San Francisco Wednesday morning and one or two immediately started running amok. One person tweeted about seeing a self-driving vehicle nearly hitting another car, while another posted a video showing an autonomous tech-equipped XC90 breezing through a red light and active pedestrian cross-walk.

Before the end of the program’s first day, people were clamoring for Uber to explain the incidents and the California Department of Motor Vehicles had sent the ride-hailing company a cease and desist letter for operating without a permit.

(Read More…)

By on December 15, 2016

Carvana dealership

Online used-car dealer Carvana opened its second coin-operated car “vending machine” in Houston, Texas. The four-bay location allows customers either to pick up cars they’ve purchased through the company’s website, or to buy one of the 30 vehicles in stock at the location.

While customers can have their purchase delivered directly, Carvana must think there are enough interested rubes willing to make a pitstop in Houston on their pilgrimage to the world’s biggest ball of twine to make this gargantuan novelty worthwhile. Considering that Las Vegas has remained on the map, there might be something to that way of thinking.  (Read More…)

By on December 15, 2016

Volvo Cars and Uber join forces to develop autonomous driving cars

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

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

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

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

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

(Read More…)

By on December 13, 2016

State Farm car accident

The United States Department of Transportation has proposed a rule that would require vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology in all new cars.

Vehicle-to-vehicle systems allow cars to communicate information to each other that could be used to update drivers about potential accidents, possibly reducing the number of crashes on U.S. roadways. The basic technology uses short-range radios to send and receive vehicle data on location, speed, direction, and braking status. While extremely useful in the application of autonomous driving technology, a lot of the potential safety applications resulting from V2V has not yet been conceived.  (Read More…)

By on December 10, 2016

Toyota Dynamic Force engine

(Update: Specifications for the 2.5-liter engine have been added.)

Dynamic Force. It sounds like the name of a military offensive from the early 2000s, but it’s also the name of Toyota’s next-generation gasoline powerplants.

The automaker has revealed the first of a slew of new engines that should power 60 percent of its vehicles within five years. Oh, and there’s new transmissions and hybrid components to go with them. (Read More…)

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