By on April 15, 2019

Audi’s pitching more than just new models at Auto Shanghai this month; it’s promoting a new way to drive. The AI:ME Concept is a summonable, self-driving urban electric, aimed at reshaping the company’s business model — or at least examining that possibility. While Audi refers to the vehicle as a highly specialized premium automobile that can be ordered as needed and offers “extensive possibilities for individualization as part of an on-demand offer,” the company also noted the AI:ME “need not pass into permanent personal ownership.”

The automaker was careful not to use the phrase, but these vehicles would operate under a loosely defined subscription or rental model where customers book a car via their smartphone or computer, stipulating how they need it to be configured for their journey. From there, the vehicle makes its way to the designated pickup point and applies the final adjustments based on previously established seating, climate, lighting, entertainment, and control preferences. (Read More…)

By on March 18, 2019

Donald Trump apparently belongs to the 71 percent of Americans who remain averse to the thought of riding in self-driving cars. It’s a position that appears to be incongruous with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s deregulation strategy. But there’s always a little room for someone’s personal preference to exist in tandem with public policy. At least, there used to be.

Considering the president’s involvement in American industrial matters routinely make him the central focus of auto-related topics, we’ll keep this one relatively brief. But the accompanying details of this story are too interesting to simply ignore.  (Read More…)

By on March 14, 2019

Every few months, the American Automobile Association gives us an update on the public’s feelings toward autonomous vehicles. Its surveys continue to place the number of individuals made uncomfortable by the idea of riding in a self-driving car at around 3 in 4.

While the ratio did come down slightly in 2017, high-profile fatalities involving autonomous (or Autopilot-enabled) vehicles in Florida, California, and Arizona ultimately took the number of fearful motorists back up to 78 percent by the start of 2018. For 2019, AAA said 71 percent of survey respondents still had serious trepidation, with only 19 percent claiming they’d even consider putting a loved one into a self-driving vehicle. (Read More…)

By on February 26, 2019


It appears that a presumed rough patch in Ford and Volkswagen’s relationship is over, now that The Wall Street Journal is reporting on VW preparing a nearly $2-billion investment into the Blue Oval’s autonomous development unit, Argo AI.

Earlier this month, claims arose that negotiations had reached an uncomfortable crossroad, with Volkswagen balking at Ford’s proposed admittance fee. Under the new deal, VW would set aside $600 million as an equity investment into Argo — acquiring half of the business in the process — followed by subsequent investments totaling $1.1 billion for the subsidiary’s research and development efforts.  (Read More…)

By on February 14, 2019

Back in 2015, it was rumored that Apple was sinking significant resources and manpower into an electric vehicle program that also incorporated autonomous driving. But updates on “Project Titan” have been infrequent. Apple takes pains to keep its self-driving program under wraps.

There are, however, ways to track its progress. Since Apple tests its vehicles in California, it must submit an annual report to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles outlining how many times human safety drivers retake control or interfere with the vehicle’s self-driving systems, as well as a tally of total miles driven.

Based on this metric alone, Waymo appears to be the industry leader, with “disengagements” occuring every 11,000 miles. General Motors’ Cruise came in second with roughly 5,200 miles between periods of human intervention. But what about Apple? Apparently, the firm is facing some rather strong headwinds. The company claims a human had to retake control every 1.1 miles.  (Read More…)

By on February 7, 2019

Sorry for another winter-themed post, but real life has a way of pointing out weaknesses in man’s systems. If you’re enjoying life down in Del Boca Vista, Phase III, this should provide some amusement.

Here goes: It’s a mess up north. Mother Nature’s not asking consent, and the roadways around Casa Steph are dirtier than a roadhouse brothel floor at 3 a.m. The last couple of weeks has brought snow, rain, freezing rain, more snow, and a type of precipitation that can only be described at #4 birdshot fashioned out of ice, hurled straight into your eyes via a bitter wind.

As me about my test vehicles’ driver assistance features, and how these bits of technological wizardry worked in such adverse conditions. News flash: they’re often as good as useless. You know what they say about mammaries on a bull… (Read More…)

By on January 30, 2019

Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based firm Ford pumped $1 billion into and handed responsibility for educating its self-driving vehicles, just received a go-ahead for testing in the State of California. The company gained a testing permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles on Tuesday, making its autonomous trials perfectly legal on public roads.

Ford’s current trajectory has its autonomous vehicles entering the commercial market by 2021. That’s two years after General Motors promised to do the same. However, recent events cast doubt over whether GM will be able to meet its self-imposed deadlines (some of which dictate future investments from its partners) and start mass production of computer-controlled cars by the end of this year. It’s not just GM that’s having trouble, either. A critical look into autonomous development shows many companies are struggling with advancing the technology to a point that would make it commercially viable.

The Blue Oval might be better positioned in the autonomous race than initially presumed.

(Read More…)

By on January 22, 2019

waymo-michigan

Alphabet’s self-driving arm, Waymo, announced plans for a Michigan expansion on Tuesday. The company is currently seeking a location in the southeast section of the state and intends to hire up to 400 employees over the next five years.

According to a corporate blog post, the new new hires will be tasked with installing autonomous driving systems on vehicles built by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Jaguar Land Rover ahead of those vehicles entering the firm’s growing fleet.

“We’ll be looking for engineers, operations experts, and fleet coordinators to join our team and help assemble and deploy our self-driving cars,” the blog explains. “This will be the world’s first factory [100-percent] dedicated to the mass production of [Level 4] autonomous vehicles.”  (Read More…)

By on December 13, 2018

Waymo began testing its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans in the Phoenix-area city of Chandler, Arizona two years ago, and the local populace hasn’t left them alone since.

A report in the Arizona Republic describes a multitude of incidents where citizens, apparently enraged by the sight of the Waymo vans, decided to threaten and attack their autonomous invaders. Unbeknownst to many of them, the vans were recording their every move. (Read More…)

By on December 7, 2018

The self-driving Chrysler Pacifica vans operated by Alphabet-owned Waymo didn’t know they were under surveillance, but indeed they were. Reporters from the Arizona Republic were on their tail, watching as the autonomous vans — safety driver behind the wheel — tooled around the streets of the Phoenix, Arizona metro area for a period in October. In total, the rolling stakeout covered 170 miles of sun-drenched roadway.

Earlier this week, Waymo announced it had become the first company to offer a commercial ride-hailing service (“Waymo One”) using autonomous vehicles, even though there’s still a live human being behind the wheel. That employee’s job is to monitor the vehicle and take over if needed, as self-driving tech is still in its early days. There’s bugs to be worked out.

What the newspaper’s surveillance showed was that vehicles operating “by the book” — ie, with a strict adherence to the rules of the road and an abundance of caution — sometimes don’t mix well with humans. Go figure. (Read More…)

By on December 5, 2018

We’ve arrived. It’s officially #TheFuture.

After years of talk within the auto industry, Waymo says it will become the first company to offer a commercial taxi service using autonomous vehicles when the program launches in Arizona today. Called Waymo One, the Google subsidiary plans to offer the first batch of rides to the 400 individuals who participated in the firm’s pilot program. Afterwards, the service will be expanded to more riders in a broader area.

As with the company’s early rider program, Waymo wants to keep the launch small to assess demand while continuing the company’s testing in an environment it feels comfortable with. Based on the growing assumption that autonomous vehicles can’t handle inclement weather, Arizona seems like the perfect place to keep working out the bugs.

Similarly, public complaints have indicated Waymo’s fleet of Chrysler Pacificas may not yet be perfected(Read More…)

By on November 30, 2018

Successfully operating self-driving cars on crowded, complex roadways in sunny, dry locales like Phoenix, Arizona is already enough of a challenge, but researchers in the cold, tempestuous climes of Michigan have revealed what the latest and greatest autonomous technology is really up against.

Rain, sometimes hard rain. But also light rain. Also: cold temperatures, and trees with leaves that fall off in the winter. Given that so few places in the world boast such extreme weather and vegetation anomalies as Michigan, this won’t pose a problem for the widespread proliferation of driverless cars, will it? (Read More…)

By on November 19, 2018

autonomous hardware

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak may no longer work for the company in any official capacity, but he has stayed on as a tech advisor and sounding board. When the Woz says something it usually isn’t without merit, which is why it was interesting to learn he thinks self-driving vehicles aren’t going to happen.

Previously, Apple was said to have hundreds of employees working on an electrified, autonomous vehicle as part of Project Titan. Despite having the necessary testing permits, the company shifted toward developing software for self-driving applications in 2016. CEO Tim Cook confirmed that was the firm’s new focus in 2017 but analysts and industry insiders have continued to claim the Apple Car is still quietly in development. Maybe someone should tell that to Wozniak because he seems to think the entire idea is bogus.  (Read More…)

By on November 15, 2018

Ford badge emblem logo

These days, every automaker is in the midst of a metamorphosis, eager to emerge from their chrysalis as a “mobility company.” Even brands that don’t seem bent on completely revolutionizing their business model now use the term in reference to themselves.

Ford, which has positioned itself as a mobility company ever since Mark Fields was steering the ship, is among those pushing the narrative the strongest. Fields may have been fired for having a lofty, tech-focused vision that couldn’t charm investors, but much of it carried over to Jim Hackett’s tenure as CEO. Ford desperately wants to be seen as a cutting-edge nameplate.

However, the assumption among industry experts is that it’s lagging behind General Motors in terms of autonomous driving, electrification, and the ability to tap into alternative revenue streams. We sometimes wonder how accurate those assumptions are.  (Read More…)

By on November 15, 2018

Image: GM

General Motors’ vice president of global strategy, Mike Abelson, recently confessed to the Detroit Free Press that the automaker has spoken with “air taxi” companies about using the carmaker’s autonomous and electric vehicle technology to produce flying cars.

“There will be some sort of air transport that will get integrated with this AV/EV technology,” Abelson said during Financial Times’ Future of the Car Summit in Detroit.

Not being ones for the fantastical, we were immediately dismissive of any air taxi service occurring any time soon. However, the real takeaway from the interview wasn’t that GM wanted to build flying cars — it was that the brand doesn’t seem to have much faith in widespread EV adoption. From the sound of things, General Motors thinks flying cars have more market potential than an electric pickup truck.  (Read More…)

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