By on September 28, 2019

Tesla Model 3, Image: Tesla

As you read here yesterday, Tesla’s biggest over-the-air software update to date has brought Model S, X, and 3 owners a host of new features, with an especially ominous (or exciting, depending on your level of trust) feature reserved for the true believers.

That Software Version 10.0 feature is Smart Summon — a way of getting your vehicle to drive to you upon exiting a building. Open the mobile app on your phone, press the necessary buttons, and your Tesla will pilot itself like the Mary Celeste to your arranged rendezvous point. Presumably, you’ll have your hands full of children and shopping, though Tesla says you’ll have to keep tabs on your vehicle — keeping it in in your field of vision — lest you find yourself liable for a fender-bender or worse.

It kind of defeats the purpose of the feature. If your attention is distracted by whiny kids or something else, how is it more convenient (or even possible) to stand there and watch your car make its way towards you, alert and ready to release that button and stop the Tesla in the event of a wayward shopper, vehicle, or rogue action on the part of your own car? How hard is it to walk over and get into your own car and drive off, especially considering the feature’s beta nature and Tesla’s long list of Autopilot fails?

Naturally, owners began testing Smart Summon the second it arrived. (Read More…)

By on September 25, 2019

Automakers have begun leveling with us about vehicular autonomy. After years of promises that self-driving cars were just around the corner, the vision rollback has begun. Testing has taken longer than anticipated and nobody is as close to unleashing a commercial product as they hoped to be. Waymo’s self-driving taxis are arguably the closest, but they’re still dependent upon human safety drivers. They also don’t stray far from areas of operation that have been repeatedly mapped and deemed safe.

While nobody has given up on the technology, claims are becoming less lofty. Realism is creeping into press releases and interviews, resulting in a more complicated pathway to autonomy. Hyundai Motor Group’s heir apparent, Vice Chairman Chung Eui-sun, recently announced the creation of a $4 billion self-driving joint venture with Aptiv, but the plan is more modest than what we’ve become accustomed to. (Read More…)

By on August 30, 2019

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been pretty good about letting companies test autonomous vehicles on public roads. And yet pretty much every automotive manufacturer, ride sharing firm and tech giant still wants laxer rules. To a degree, it’s understandable. Take General Motors, for example. Back in 2017, GM sought exemptions from NHTSA to deploy fully automated vehicles without steering wheels or pedals, but that would have placed the car in clear violation of preexisting safety standards — as they were not in line with the General’s vision of what a self-driving car should be.

GM’s autonomous division recently said the self-driving Cruise AV it had been prepping for the end of this year will likely have to be delayed. While development issues assuredly played a role in stalling the car’s commercial deployment, it could never have launched as initially designed anyway.

Earlier this year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and NHTSA asked for input regarding the testing of automated vehicles to help decide if the “removal of unnecessary regulatory barriers” would be a prudent move. You can probably guess the feedback received from the automotive and tech industries.  (Read More…)

By on August 22, 2019

With BMW and Daimler already getting cosy via their autonomous vehicle partnership, the duo plans on bringing self-driving (SAE Level 4) tech to the masses by 2024. While other automakers have promised more advanced autonomy on a shorter timeline, the reality of the situation is that true self-driving capabilities are proving difficult and expensive to produce. By partnering up, the Germans believe they can continue their quest while sharing the financial burden of development.

The more the merrier, apparently. According to Germany’s Wirtschaftswoche, Audi will be the next guest to arrive at the party. Daimler and BMW’s previous release stipulated that the pair would focus on the joint development of next-generation technologies for driver assistance systems, automated driving on highways, and automated parking — with the goal of seeing those technologies adapted for passenger vehicles by 2024.  (Read More…)

By on August 19, 2019

vision 2.0 NHTSA Autonomous vehicles

Over the past year the automotive industry has carefully walked back the expectations surrounding autonomous cars. Yet pretty much any change in rhetoric constitutes retracted goals. With numerous companies predicting self-driving fleets of commercial vehicles before 2021, the bar couldn’t have been set much higher.

A lack of progress is partly to blame. However, a bundle of high-profile accidents have also shaken public trust — especially after it was found that Uber whistleblower Robbie Miller was trying to alert the company to issues with its self-driving program just days before one of the company’s autonomous Volvos was involved in a fatal accident with a pedestrian.

That’s not the half of it. In April, Miller released a study claiming self-driving vehicles were actually recording incident rates higher than that of your typical motorist. Contrasting data from the Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP) and the California DMV, he concluded that autonomous test vehicles created more injuries per mile than the average human motorist with a few years of practice.  (Read More…)

By on July 31, 2019

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While mobility has placed the automotive industry in a state of minor limbo, manufacturers achieving a major breakthrough may yet ascend to heaven — financially speaking. Ford has promised to deliver robot-driven taxis within a couple of years and expended quite a bit of cash to get there since acquiring Argo AI in 2017. However its autonomous arm, Ford Smart Mobility, has only encountered mixed success. Progress in terms of self-driving has been incremental, with the company shuttering some of the side businesses that explored alternative revenue streams (e.g. Chariot) and losing millions though its software investments.

Disinterested with failure, Ford partnered with Volkswagen Group earlier this year. As part of the deal, VW agreed to dump another 2.6 billion into Argo in hopes that it would accelerate development. Ford said it would be taking things a step further on Tuesday and announced the acquisition of two more tech companies.  (Read More…)

By on June 20, 2019

Many consumers continue to misunderstand the driver-assistance technologies being placed in modern vehicles, according to the latest survey released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. But we don’t need the IIHS to tell us that. We’ve been documenting the avoidable accidents created whenever motorists overestimate what their high-tech cars are capable of for years now.

However, the insurance institute and numerous consumer advocacy groups have suggested that big part of the problem stems from the names manufacturers are using to describe their semi-autonomous hardware. Titles like “Autopilot” or “Driving Assistant Plus” can be confusing to somebody who didn’t bother to read the manual, especially when the associated marketing materials are often helping to steer them further in the wrong direction.  (Read More…)

By on June 13, 2019

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed CS/HB 311: Autonomous Vehicles into law on Thursday, claiming the state has effectively removed “unnecessary obstacles that hinder the development of autonomous vehicle technology,” including human safety operators.

Provided that a vehicle meets all insurance requirements, Florida will no longer require AVs to operate with a flesh-and-blood person behind the wheel. However, those that do remain in the driver’s seat, will also be exempt from the state’s distracted driving laws. (Read More…)

By on June 12, 2019

Uber Advanced Technologies unveiled the next generation of its self-driving SUV on Wednesday. Sticking with the Volvo XC90 as a platform, Uber stated that the latest prototypes should be capable of operating autonomously, adding that previous versions were not necessarily built with full autonomy in mind and required the presence of a safety driver behind the wheel.

While past versions of Uber’s test platform essentially retrofitted vehicles purchased from Volvo Cars, this new batch was co-developed with the automaker. Volvo said the project represents the “next step in the strategic collaboration between both companies.”

Volvo previously claimed that the cyclist killed by one of Uber’s autonomous test vehicles in 2018 might still be alive had the firm not tampered with the automatic emergency braking system all XC90s come equipped with. Uber’s latest SUVs utilize all of Volvo’s existing safety features, building on top of them with its own systems and creating as much redundancy as possible.  (Read More…)

By on June 11, 2019

2017 Ram ProMaster City Tradesman SLT - Image: FCA

For some time, Fiat Chrysler has partnered with Waymo, providing Chrysler Pacificas for its partner’s fledgling autonomous ride-hailing business. Now, FCA has another partner.

Announced Monday, FCA has signed a memorandum of understanding with Aurora, maker of Aurora Driver — a package of hardware and software capable of Level 4 driving that the company hopes to sell to other companies. (Read More…)

By on June 7, 2019

This time last year, we were under the impression that General Motors’ first attempt at an autonomous vehicle would come without pedals, a steering wheel, or any other controls traditionally associated with driving. Cruise Automation, the GM subsidiary tasked with developing the vehicle, seemed confident it could deliver something that didn’t need to rely on human intervention to be truly safe. This promise was reiterated by GM in January of 2018 via a request to produce the car sans controls though federal exemption.

U.S. laws governing what constitutes a safe automobile were written before autonomous vehicles entered development, creating problems. It wasn’t evident to anyone that GM could legally manufacture a vehicle that lacked traditional controls, as existing laws stipulated that all automobiles had to have them. While the Department of Transportation has proven rather lenient on policing AVs in terms of testing, rewriting the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards or providing exemptions was a bridge too far — especially when self-driving tech is new, frequently misunderstood, and backed heavily by corporate interests. The existing guidelines remain unchanged and new legislation pertaining to self-driving vehicles has stalled in Congress.

Apparently sick of waiting, General Motors now appears satisfied to just build AVs with manual controls. (Read More…)

By on May 16, 2019

Self-driving shuttle company May Mobility expanded its operations to include Rhode Island this week. The state agreed to pay the firm $800,000 for the first year of operations, allowing it to get its six-passenger micro shuttles running between an Amtrak station and downtown Providence as part of an ongoing pilot program.

However, one of the shuttles was pulled over just hours after entering service for a rather baffling reason. (Read More…)

By on May 7, 2019

General Motors’ self-driving vehicle unit, Cruise, has attracted new investors and an equity infusion of $1.15 billion as it continues work on its commercial fleet of autonomous taxis. The new investment, which effectively brings the operation’s valuation to $19 billion, is primarily fronted by Baltimore-based asset management company T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. and existing partners like SoftBank’s Vision Fund and Honda Motor Co.

“Developing and deploying self-driving vehicles at massive scale is the engineering challenge of our generation,” said Cruise CEO Dan Ammann. “Having deep resources to draw on as we pursue our mission is a critical competitive advantage.”  (Read More…)

By on April 29, 2019

As we continue reporting on how costly mobility projects, connectivity, and autonomous development are weighing on automakers’ bottom line, readers want to know exactly when these endeavors will become profitable. While the path for data acquisition and in-car marketing is fairly clear, self-driving cars are new territory. But it’s all speculative. Logistical, ethical and regulatory issues abound — and legislators seem rather poorly informed on the technology in general.

For now, companies have a pass to test autonomous vehicles in limited quantities across the United States. The next move, which some firms (like Waymo) have already undertaken, involves adapting test-bed AVs for use in commercial fleets. Profitability is another matter, and concerns are mounting that the technology isn’t ready and might not be for some time.  (Read More…)

By on April 23, 2019

tesla model x, Image: Tesla Motors

Did you miss Autonomy Day yesterday? If you’re unaware, that’s the name given to Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s promise-filled, self-driving-focused speech to investors yesterday in the cradle of dreams (also known as Silicon Valley). There, Musk promised cars a driver can sleep in; cars that will make its owner money. Cars that, despite their self-driving nature, might be allowed to bash other vehicles around a bit.

Also stemming from that announcement? Musk’s assertion that any new car that isn’t a Tesla will be as antiquated and useless as a horse in three years. That’s right, even that affordable Kia Rio hatch that can be serviced anywhere. It’s “financially insane” to buy that, you know. (Read More…)

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