By on June 26, 2019

A survey released by Consumer Reports this week indicated that a majority of motorists (57 percent) believed that the advanced driving aids their vehicles had actively helped them avoid a crash. The survey, which incorporated data on roughly 72,000 vehicles from the 2015-19 model years, asked drivers to weigh in on a multitude of safety systems — including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind spot alerts, and more. While not all of these features had majority support, tabulating them as a whole showed at least half of the people using advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) saw some value in them.

Our opinions on these systems have been thoroughly mixed. While we’ve found most advanced driving aids to be inconsistent in their operation, sometimes befuddled by fog or a vehicle encrusted with roadway grime, we’ll happily admit that adaptive cruise control offers more utility than the standard on/off inclusions of yesteryear. But we’ve also seen disheartening reports that semi-autonomous features dull a good driver’s senses to a point that effectively makes them a worse motorist and would be lying if we said we trusted any of these systems implicitly.  (Read More…)

By on August 30, 2018

It seems like we get a new update about Mazda’s plan for the rotary engine every few months. The automaker kept tinkering with the technology after the RX-8’s demise, but efficiency mandates left the high-revving Wankel on the sidelines, prohibiting the introduction of a true successor to the rotary coupe. Yet the motor hung around as the company’s likely solution for hybrid cars, recharging the battery while electric propulsion takes care of forward momentum.

While that makes the probability of an RX-9 sound rather bleak, the company doesn’t want anyone to give up hope. Mazda still desires such a vehicle and the company’s European vice president of communications, Wojciech Halarewicz, has basically said it will be a done deal if they can find enough money in the budget for a flagship sports car. (Read More…)

By on July 31, 2018

Uber Otto

Uber is shutting down its self-driving trucks unit due to a lack of progress and the controversy surrounding its multi-million dollar acquisition of Otto in 2016. The firm was purchased with the intent of developing self-driving cargo haulers, potentially saving the trucking company a fortune by outsourcing driving jobs to robots. But it was slow to reach that goal and ran head-on with a serious distraction almost immediately.

Initially, things looked promising. Otto was famous for engineering a truck that hauled a trailer full of beer across 120 miles of Colorado highway without human intervention. But it found a different sort of fame after its founder, Anthony Levandowski, took over as head of Uber’s self-driving car research and Waymo faulted him with handing over trade secrets.

As a former engineer for Google’s autonomous vehicle project (which would later evolve into Waymo), Levandowski was privy to sensitive information he was later accused of selling as part of the Otto buyout.  (Read More…)

By on April 11, 2018

Driving aids are touted as next-level safety tech, but they’re also a bit of a double-edged sword. While accident avoidance technology can apply the brakes before you’ve even thought of it, mitigate your following distance, and keep your car in the appropriate lane, it also lulls you into a false sense of security.

Numerous members of the our staff have experienced this first hand, including yours truly. The incident usually plays out a few minutes after testing adaptive cruise control or lane assist. Things are progressing smoothly, then someone moves into your lane and the car goes into crisis mode — causing you to ruin your undergarments. You don’t even have to be caught off guard for it to be a jarring experience, and it’s not difficult to imagine an inexperienced, inattentive, or easily panicked driver making the situation much worse.

Lane keeping also has its foibles. Confusing road markings or snowy road conditions can really throw it for a loop. But the problem is its entire existence serves to allow motorists to take a more passive role while driving. So what happens when it fails to function properly? In ideal circumstances, you endure a moderate scare before taking more direct command of your vehicle. But, in a worst case scenario, you just went off road or collided with an object at highway speeds.  (Read More…)

By on December 12, 2017

Volvo Drive Me Autonomous Testing Program

Back in 2015, Volvo Cars reiterated that it would test hundreds of autonomous vehicles in the United Kingdom, Sweden, and China by 2018 as part of its Drive Me project. Using cars equipped with advanced autonomous technology, the initiative hoped to help Volvo understand how customers interact with self-driving cars.

However, the automaker appears to have tweaked that plan in a recent press release. Instead of families helping Volvo test new autonomous vehicles, they’ll help develop them by cruising around in well-equipped XC90s. While we can’t cry foul too loudly, Volvo has used highly suggestive language for the last few years. It previously claimed it would have “death-proof” cars on the road by 2020 and alluded to Drive Me using fully autonomous test vehicles — not commercially available models.  (Read More…)

By on August 10, 2017

autonomous testing tesla

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

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

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

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

By on July 28, 2017

autonomous hardware

Thanks to rhetoric beaten into us by the automotive industry, we know autonomous vehicles are “right around the corner.” Some manufacturers predict self-driving vehicles will be on the commercial market by an ambitiously early target date of 2021. However, those trick new rides are going to come at a premium that’ll keep them out of the hands of most normal people for a while.

LIDAR, the imaging system that allows an autonomous vehicle’s software to make sense of the road, is prohibitively expensive. High-end systems can approach the six-figure threshold while lower quality units rarely fall below 10 grand. Burgeoning technology is never affordable and automakers have traditionally found a way to produce advancements in cost-

effective ways. But the timeline for autonomous cars is too short, meaning any manufacturer wanting to sell one is going to have to have to accept the costs or defer production.  (Read More…)

By on July 16, 2017

elon musk

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

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

By on June 28, 2017

BMW 2 Series, Image: BMW

BMW plans to streamline its manufacturing process by providing fewer model variants and eliminating less popular engine or equipment options. The goal here is to free up capital for research and development spending in the coming years, according to a Wednesday announcement from the brand’s chief finance officer, Nicolas Peter.

With most German automakers already pushing heavily into the realm of electric vehicles, BMW’s strong presence in China is forcing it to further bolster its efforts in EV development. The country’s particularly aggressive emission regulations and mandates on electric vehicle sales means any manufacturer hoping to persist within its borders will have to ensure 12 percent of its fleet is electric by 2020 — and BMW isn’t ready.

As a result, the automaker is trimming fat wherever it can find it. Unfortunately, that means eliminating the manual gearbox for the 2 Series in the United States and abandoning certain engine options for models across the globe. While BMW wasn’t explicit as to which motors won’t be returning, odds are good it will be the fun ones that don’t sell as well, plus the diesels.  (Read More…)

By on June 15, 2017

Drone, Public Domain

Now that automakers have more or less mastered the ability to assemble competent transportation for the masses, the quest to build a better car has branched out into strange places. Connectivity is one of the burgeoning frontiers of automotive achievement and its threshold for greatness continues to be raised. With navigation and phone integration handled, manufacturers have begun seeking other ways to interconnect vehicles with all manner of devices. Occupants can now benefit from onboard GPS, Wi-Fi, and — more recently — smart home devices like Amazon’s Echo.

Drones could be next.

While it sounds almost comically implausible, several automakers and suppliers have begun toying with the idea of equipping specific models with drones. Last September, Mercedes-Benz introduced the idea that its delivery vans should have the option of being equipped with package-toting quadcopters as part of a five-year-plan to terrify suburbia. FCA designed a concept Wrangler for the Easter Jeep Safari that included a roof-mounted landing pad for a recreational drone. Mitsubishi Electric is showcasing its new FLEXConnect.AI infotainment platform with drone functionality.  (Read More…)

By on June 14, 2017

Toyota Camry NYIAS 2017, Image: Toyota

Despite being Japan’s biggest automaker, Toyota has lagged behind many of its rivals in terms of cutting-edge technology. Most major car manufacturers have already begun developing self-driving vehicles, with some going so far as to make strategic partnerships with companies specializing in the applicable technologies. By contrast, Toyota has a strong R&D program but never saw fit to pursue autonomous development or battery-electric vehicles quite so aggressively as General Motors or Renault-Nissan, for example.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda has now admitted that may have been a mistake. At the company’s annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday, he promised the automaker would become more committed to achieving technical developments. Toyoda didn’t bring forward a concrete strategy but conceded the spending of additional capital would likely play a role — and an alliance or two isn’t out of the question. (Read More…)

By on June 8, 2017

Honda Targeting Introduction of Level 4 Automated Driving, Image: Honda

Honda Motor Company finally expressed an interest in developing autonomous cars on Thursday, while also stating its intention to bring two new electric vehicles to market by 2018.

The Japanese automaker has been cautious in making tech-related promises, especially those that relate to self-driving models, even as many of its rivals wear their autonomous development efforts like a badge of honor.

We knew Honda was working on the technology, but any semblance of a goal-oriented timeline was absent prior to this week. As part of its “Vision 2030” strategy, the car manufacturer claims it will coordinate R&D, procurement, and manufacturing to minimize development costs as it branches out into the realm of self-driving and electric vehicles.  (Read More…)

By on May 15, 2017

waymo

Waymo, the autonomous automotive firm owned by Google parent Alphabet, and Uber’s chief ride-hailing rival Lyft have entered into a self-driving partnership — seemingly to do little more than stick it to Big U.

Lyft is already in a partnership with General Motors to produce computer-controlled Chevrolet test vehicles in 2018, while Waymo has a deal with Fiat Chrysler to use the Pacifica as its primary R&D platform. It’s difficult to parse out what the two can offer each other beyond a mutual hatred for Uber. Business partnerships can rarely be distilled down to a disdain of a third party but, in this instance, that certainly makes the most sense.

Despite being involved in litigations with Waymo that could result in a total shutdown of its autonomous development efforts, Uber has the largest ride-sharing fleet of any company and is positioned near the front of the self-driving race. Meanwhile, Lyft has only just entered the self-driving arena.  (Read More…)

By on February 28, 2017

Honda ASIMO

Honda wants to up its software game and encourage creative uses for ones and zeros at its new research and development center. With ASIMO — the company’s adorable robot mascot — almost old enough to smoke, Honda hasn’t developed a super-high-profile gizmo in nearly 17 years.

Recently, the company took a distinctive back-to-basics approach to address slipping quality, though CEO Takahiro Hachigo confessed that rekindling the R&D “spirit” would be the other half of building a better Honda Motor Co.

With those goals in mind, Tokyo’s Honda Innovation Lab opened its doors to the press on Tuesday as the company announced it will be forming a specific unit to focus on the development of software-laden technology for its next generation of vehicles. (Read More…)

By on December 6, 2016

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Toyota has announced it will expand the development of hybrid technology over the next five years to get ahead of strict global emissions standards.

The  automaker plans to increase staff on its hybrid technology development team 30 percent by 2021, setting the goal of 19 emissions-friendly drivetrain components. The fuel-sipping technology could soon find its way into the majority of Toyota vehicles. (Read More…)

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