When Stanford Roboticists Review Tesla Autopilot, They Don’t Send Their Best

3 Jun

Stanford

The usual storm of clickbait was pierced by a lightning bolt of ignorance this week, when a Stanford roboticist demonstrated a shocking level of misunderstanding of both Tesla Autopilot and the nomenclature around autonomous cars.

Heather Knight, who works at Stanford’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, claims her research is “half social robots, half autonomous driving.” Based on her May 27th post in Medium, “Tesla Autopilot Review: Bikers will die”, she’s contributing to the very problem one would hope she’s trying to solve.

Degrees don’t bestow wisdom, nor an understanding of the tragically power of titles in a world of TL:DR.

Dear Stanford: if Journalism 101 isn’t a PhD requirement, make it one. Also, please discourage clickbait.

You don’t need to be a Stanford brainiac to know that a headline like “Bikers will die” will become the story. Incredibly, Knight actually claimed to like Tesla Autopilot in a comment posted 48 hours after initial publication, but the damage had been done. Whatever analysis of human-machine interfacing (HMI) she hoped to share was buried as the story was widely reposted.

Beyond the title, Knight’s amateurish post has so many errors and omissions it has to be deconstructed line-by-line to comprehend its naïveté. Let’s begin:

“My colleague and I got to take a TESLA Autopilot test drive on highways, curvy California roads, and by the ocean.”

Knight would seem to be off to a good start. California’s highways are the ideal place to use Tesla Autopilot. Curvy roads? Not so much. Does Knight read the news? My 74-year-old mother knows not to “test” Autopilot anywhere but on a highway or in traffic.

Then Knight commits credibility suicide.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Dear Elon Musk: You Need Me For the Self-Driving Tesla Cannonball Run

22 May

Tesla

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Dear Elon:

Just over 100 years ago, Erwin “Cannonball” Baker drove a Stutz Bearcat from Los Angeles to New York City in 271 hours, ushering in the era of coast-to-coast endurance driving records that still bear his nickname. Although “Cannonballing” is often conflated with reckless driving, Baker’s feat—and his 142 records that followed—was intended to demonstrate the safety and reliability of the internal combustion technology that would transform the 20th century.

With your claim that a Tesla will make the first “full self-driving” cross-country run before the end of 2017, a new era is about to dawn, and with it a new series of records showcasing the electric and autonomous technologies that will transform the 21st.

Among all the potential benefits of self-driving cars, the moral imperative to reduce injuries and deaths caused by human driving towers above all others. Tesla already commands 40% of global press in the automotive sector; combined with the hope, fear and anticipation over the arrival of self-driving cars, the first Level 4 Cannonball Run record will be one of the most important events in the history of transportation, if not human history.

The public spectacle of a Tesla’s safe journey across the United States will likely become the hinge upon which public faith in autonomous driving will swing.

But only if the public believes it.

An edited video isn’t going to cut it. Continue reading

Why Semi-Autonomous Driving Will Never Be As Safe As Augmentation

22 Apr

Augmented Driving

The self-driving car industry is blowin’ it.

The definitions of self-driving—from ADAS to SAE automation levels to the inconsistent nomenclature used by the media—are a semantic disaster concealing a vast opportunity. There is no doubt increasing automation will make driving safer, but the safest possible implementation is one that maximizes human capabilities rather than treating them like a cancer.

Automakers are missing the biggest opportunity to profit from saving lives on what is likely to be a long, gentle ascent to Level 4. It requires tossing the insufficient logic behind L2/L3 semi-autonomy and probably even Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), and deploying the same hardware and software being developed for L4 as a way to augment human driving.

Though augmented driving represents a clear break from the current crop of semi-autonomous systems, it’s not without precedent. Aircraft are being transformed by automation just as profoundly as cars, but because there is no impetus to move toward pilotless airliners, flight automation systems have been developed to enhance rather than replace human pilots. By following the example set by the commercial aviation sector, automakers can replace the risks inherent to semi-autonomy with the comprehensive assistance of augmented driving. Continue reading

Why Radar Detectors Matter More Than Ever

12 Apr

Radar detectors matter more than ever, but you wouldn’t know it from the poorly researched clickbait that was Doug Demuro’s recent article, “Radar Detectors Are Useless Now.”

I like DeMuro. We’ve met. I’ve been reading him since he started at Jalopnik. At his best, Demuro is the Dave Barry of automotive. I laughed out loud at DeMuro’s Plays With Cars. He’s a great entertainer. I also know he’s not an idiot, so I can only assume he was too lazy to Google some basic facts, and willing to sacrifice his readers’ wallets on the altar of alternative facts. Sad!

Why should you trust my opinion? Because I led the team that broke the Cannonball Run record in 2007, driving from New York to Los Angeles in 31 hours and 4 minutes. I also led the teams that set the electric and semi-autonomous records in 2016 (55 hours), the 3-wheeled record (41 hours), the Key West to Seattle record (45 hours, 24 minutes), and similar records across Sweden, Spain and Portugal.

How many tickets did I get? Zero.

If you like speeding tickets, higher insurance premiums, giving your money to the government and trusting people you’ve never met, DeMuro’s your guy. If you don’t, let’s learn why detectors still matter by deconstructing DeMuro’s article line-by-line, starting with the headline:

“Radar Detectors Are Useless Now”

Did DeMuro consult with anyone before his making this sweeping generalization? RDforum.com and RadarDetector.net have tens of thousands of posts from avid detector users. If he needed a second or third opinion on the efficacy of detectors, not only does he have my phone number, he’s friends with Ed Bolian, who broke our Cannonball Run record in 2013 using the same detector I use.

I’ve recently come to a conclusion about radar detectors—an item that many car enthusiasts have considered crucial to avoiding speeding tickets for the last few decades. And my conclusion is: these days, in these modern times, they’re useless. It’s over. There’s simply no point in having a radar detector anymore.

I get emails on a daily basis from car enthusiasts asking what detector to buy. Does DeMuro? Maybe this was his way on cutting down on e-mails and comments he didn’t want to (and couldn’t) answer. That opening paragraph is perfectly constructed to maximize SEO. That last sentence? A beautiful slug complementing the title in Google search results.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Who Is Really #1 In Self-Driving Cars?

7 Apr

Who is really #1 in self-driving cars? You wouldn’t know it from this week’s unintentionally entertaining Navigant Research Leaderboard Report on Automated Driving, which placed Ford first, GM second and Renault-Nissan third. Waymo? Seventh. Tesla? Twelfth. The media—most of whom appear not to have paid $3,800 to read the raw report—lapped it up. Wired’s summary ran with the mother-of-all-clickbait heds, “Detroit Is Stomping Silicon Valley In The Self-Driving Car Race.”

The Navigant report is well researched—it’s Navigant, after all—but it has one major flaw: It doesn’t really make sense.

No less than Elon Musk biographer Ashlee Vance launched a Twitter waragainst Navigant’s Senior Analyst Sam Abuelsamid, suggesting the report was skewed by the company’s client list, which includes Ford and other companies that ranked higher than conventional wisdom would suggest. I disagree with Vance. Navigant has a long history of transparency and authoritative research. The authors’ credibility—especially that of the widely respected Abuelsamid—is unimpeachable.

The problem isn’t with Navigant’s research, it’s with the report’s scope and methodology.

The overall thesis—that self-driving technology is nothing without the might of a traditional manufacturer behind it—is as myopic as Silicon Valley’s belief that technology investments alone can “disrupt” the car industry.

This type of disruption mythology makes me sick. Disruption isn’t magic. Disruption isn’t the art of executing an idea competitors can’t or won’t. Disruption is the science of executing an idea better than competitors can or will. Disruption mythology harms both sides of an industry under attack, because it masks the nature of realities everyone must face if they want to survive and prosper.

Navigant’s report is a perfect example of counter-disruption mythology, a document that satisfies a calcified industry who want to believe buying is as good as building, money can solve for time, and being a Foxconn in a new transportation paradigm is for losers.

Read the rest over at The Drive

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