Will Sully Save Human Driving?

21 Mar

Lost in the putrid cloud of self-driving car clickbait, the Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation held its first meeting on January 16th, 2017. One look at its members is all it takes to know whose lobbying dollars hold sway in Washington. The largest constituency? A bloc including Apple, Amazon, Lyft, Uber, Waymo and Zoox, all of whom profit from you losing your steering wheel as soon as possible. They may cite safety, but there is only one objective voice on the panel, a man with true life and death experience at the intersection of human skill and automation:

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.

In a world where political hacks and “experts” are increasingly replacing those with real-world experience, Sully’s inclusion on the panel is a revelation. Best known for The Miracle on the Hudson, Sully’s entire career has been devoted to safety. Look past the mythology, and his is the story of the opportunity, danger and cost inherent to sacrificing skilled humans on the altar of automation. Sully has written and spoken extensively on the criticality of training and compensation for airline pilots, and his insights have clear applications to the future of the trucking industry.

In a recent interview, Sully made clear three simple messages: 1) we need real standards for self-driving cars, 2) the industry needs to reboot its approach to semi-autonomous cars, and 3) drivers education “is a national disgrace.”

Sully also ends his interview with a singularly authoritative message about human driving. TL:DR? If you love driving, read this to the end.

Continue reading

Will Humans Still Drive?

4 Mar

I was recently asked by the excellent autonomous tech site 2025AD to join a debate entitled “Will Humans Still Drive?” Autoline’s John McElroy argued that we would. I’m not so sure. Here’s my take:

I’m of two minds on whether people will still drive.

The answer, of course, depends on one’s timeline. According to Fight Club, on a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero. Apply this to driving. Once technological barriers to self-driving cars fall, the end of human driving would seem inevitable. On a moral level, people shouldn’t be driving at all, if only for the inevitable likelihood of a fatal or injurious accident. On a societal level, for the shared cost of emergency services dedicated to such events. On an economic level, for the inefficiencies of entire industries and government organs required to service even the minor accidents that plague our roadways.

As a result, I am absolutely convinced that human driving as we know it will be outlawed, beginning in major urban centers in the first world, then spidering out across major arteries to form regional and national autonomous transportation networks linked with multi-modal nodes.

The tipping points won’t be for global, national or even regional ubiquity, but local, with interlocking threads slowly strengthening between nodes, intermixed with human driven and semi-autonomous vehicles.

Whether I like this future is another story. Continue reading

Starsky Robotics Unveils a Self-Driving Truck That Could Kill Uber Subsidiary Otto

28 Feb

Starsky Robotics

How many trucking jobs will self-driving trucks eliminate? All of them, if Uber subsidiary Otto has its way. What about Embark, last week’s alleged “Otto-killer”? Hard to tell from the vague press release regurgitations. But one company has just emerged from stealth mode with a genuinely fresh take on self-driving trucks—the first one to make truckers allies instead of enemies. It’s called Starsky Robotics.

And how is it doing that, exactly? By inverting the traditional “disruptor” role Silicon Valley loves to crow about. Starsky hopes to use AI to augment and positively transform the truck driver’s traditional role—and to do so with the cooperation of the trucking companies and regulators their competitors have so far taunted or ignored.

If Starsky succeeds, they will provide an example of how evolution can sometimes be better than revolution. Theirs is a genuine effort to adapt technology to political and cultural realities, a strategy others would do well to emulate, as Uber is finding out in country after country. Continue reading

Is Cadillac The Trojan Horse of Mobility?

13 Feb

If you want to raise money, lose money, buy a company, sell a company, or hide the fact that you don’t have a viable business plan in the transportation sector, add the word mobility. Mobility is the dumbest word in Silicon Valley, Detroit, and anywhere cars are built or software is written. What is mobility? While everyone hemorrhages cash trying to figure it out, one old-school automaker has unexpectedly put a stake in the ground which shows genuine courage: Cadillac.

The product is called Cadillac Book. It’s a $1,500-per-month subscription service that gives users access to almost any Cadillac—including halo models like the excellent CTS-V—via the Book app. Throw in white-glove delivery service, insurance, registration, taxes, maintenance, unlimited mileage, no long-term commitment, and up to eight vehicle swaps per year, and you have what appears to be an overpriced, long-term car rental.

But it’s much more than that. To understand why Book is so brave and potentially revolutionary, we must define what mobility is, and will be. Continue reading

The 2017 BMW M760i xDrive Is a $154,795 Car With A $50 Flaw

7 Feb

The 2017 BMW M7 is an amazing car with an Achilles heel. Its decklid badge doesn’t say M7. What else would you call a $154,795, 2.5 ton, 6.6-liter, twin-turbocharged, 601 horsepower, 12-cylinder ultra-luxury sedan from Munich that will do 0-60 in 3.6 seconds and 193 mph? I call it an M7. My French dad? M sept. A child living in Bavaria? M sieben.

But what does BMW call it?

A 2017 BMW M760i xDrive with M Performance.

That’s a big cactus to swallow, and an even bigger clusterf**k of decklid badging. Literally everyone who buys, leases, finances or rents this state-of-the-German-art sedan — and I promise you anyone who understands depreciation and long-term V12 reliability will lease it — would prefer it to say M7 on the trunk. No one dreams of a BMW M760i xDrive M Performance. If you’re a BMW person, you dream of M. “M” stands for something, like AMG, S, RS, GT and Turbo. Continue reading

2011 Tesla Roadster Sport 3.0 Review: The World’s Best Fourth Car?

31 Jan

The Tesla Roadster is a machine out of time, a gorgeous and maddening sports car with a boot in the future and a high heel in the past. If you were shopping for an exotic in 2006, this car had everything: a new manufacturer no one believed would stay in business, a questionable electric drivetrain stuffed into a stretched Lotus Elise, a $109,000 base price that would have bought you a fully-optioned Porsche 911, and exclusivity that would make Ferrari owners weep.

Elon Musk has said they were crazy to build it. I would have said you were crazy to buy one, but after driving one of the last, best versions ever made—a fully-upgraded, optioned-out 2011 Roadster Sport 3.0—I’m not so sure.

I take that back.

You had to be crazy to buy one. But not any crazier than someone who bought a Lotus, Morgan or TVR. These are cars you buy with absolutely no expectation they will be good, or even work. At least not all the time. That’s why Porsches makes sense, and even modern Ferraris, but those have become so reliable as to remove what was once required for anything foreign with two seats and a high horsepower-to-weight ratio:

Faith. Continue reading

The NHTSA Report Exonerating Tesla Should Terrify the Auto Sector

24 Jan

NHTSA Report

Last week’s National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) report on Joshua Brown’s fatal Autopilot accident does a lot more than exonerate Tesla. It’s a stamp of approval for Tesla’s entire ecosystem and rollout strategy, from Autopilot to data gathering to wireless updates.

Legacy auto makers should be terrified.

As futurist Brad Templeton points out, NHTSA’s report is so favorable to Tesla, it’s hard to believe it was written by the same government agency whose letter to George Hotz compelled him to cancel the Comma One, the only other semi-autonomous driving technology to approach Tesla’s as of 2016.

NHTSA investigator Kareem Habib dismantles every argument critics and competitors have been firing at Tesla since Autopilot was released in October of 2015. The report is explicit: the Tesla crash rate declined 40% after Autopilot’s release. Tesla’s safety technologies are not defective. Tesla is clear about driver responsibility. Tesla provides clear engagement and disengagement alerts.

Tesla should hire Habib. So should Faraday. This guy knows his way around defending autonomy.

Any hopes the legacy automakers might have had that regulators would throttle or halt Tesla’s progress are now shattered. What appeared to be Tesla’s headlong rush toward autonomy is now a three year head start. Why? Because the old guard were so skeptical of self-driving cars—and so terrified of being the first one to have a fatality with a car even temporarily in control—that they ceded the first round of the autonomy wars to Tesla without a fight. Continue reading

I Was Wrong About Faraday Future’s Pricing. Or Was I?

18 Jan

In world of clickbait and fake news, it’s essential that any writer who aspires to credibility admit a mistake. I made a mistake. I based my recent op-ed “Faraday Future’s Killer $290,000 Feature Revealed” on a quote from Faraday backer Jia Yueting to a Chinese news outlet. In analyzing the $290k figure, I used US market pricing for competing models, thereby comparing apples with oranges.

Faraday deserves a fair shake. Let’s compare apples with apples.

Jia claimed the FF-91 would cost “less than ¥2,000,000”, which as of this writing is approximately $293,000. Faraday has confirmed that this figure includes Chinese market taxes and import duties. They also said the FF-91 “will be priced competitively in the premium electric vehicle segment.”

Chinese market taxes and import duties vary, but generously assuming a high end of 40% for a luxury vehicle like the FF-91, the U.S. market price would be around $175,800. Let’s place the Faraday among theoretical competitors one more time: Continue reading

Faraday Future’s Killer $290,000 Feature Revealed

16 Jan

Faraday Future

The saga of Faraday Future could fill a book, but every story needs an ending. Here’s one: Jia Yueting, CEO of LeEco and Faraday’s primary investor, just leaked the price of the FF-91, their first production vehicle.

It is $290,000.

I’ve said all along that Faraday’s problem isn’t their financing, it’s the car. I was wrong. It’s not just the car. It’s the management that demanded this Chinese Homer, a cost-no-object vehicle incorporating a laundry list of every conceivable feature except common sense. That decision could only have come from one man: Jia Yueting himself. In no universe would any of the auto industry veterans he hired approve of this monstrosity. Continue reading

rPlate Is The License Plate Of The Future, Unfortunately

13 Jan

rPlate

Have you heard of the Internet-of-Things? People selling things you don’t need call it the IoT. The IoT is the idea that anything that can be “connected” should be. My dad didn’t live long enough to see the IoT, but he had a saying that sums up the IoT perfectly.

Anything is possible, but not everything is necessary.

Welcome to the rPlate, “the world’s first digital license plate & cloud app store”, a claim that is both fearsome and half true. Half-true because a cursory web search unearthed a company called Compliance Innovations, who have been trying to sell a connected license plate since 2013. Fearsome because where Compliance Innovations appears to have stalled, rPlate is forging ahead by adding features everyone will love, except drivers.

Drivers, of course, aren’t the customer.

Based on rPlate manufacturer Reviver’s site, their primary targets are DMVs and fleets. The actual product isn’t the plate itself, but a “connected car innovation platform” that automates vehicle registrations and turns your plates into billboards. Add telematics, location tracking and app development, and what little privacy we have left is annihilated.

Like it or not, the business model has promise. The registration component makes sense. Why didn’t this seem to work for Compliance Innovations? Possibly because of their focus on compliance for individual drivers. Would you really want your plate to change from this:

Read the rest over at The Drive