The Model 3 Is Further Proof of Tesla’s Asymmetric War Against the Auto Industry

31 Jul

Tesla Asymmetric War

I didn’t attend the Tesla Model 3 launch. Did I have to? Everyone knows my position: If you actually want to #MAGA, Tesla is your company, and Elon Musk is your man. Even if you hate the whole enterprise, even if the Big One destroyed Fremont tomorrow, the world is a different and better place because of what Musk has built at Tesla.

What the Model 3 launch proves is that Tesla’s not going away. Not ever.

Don’t believe me? Let’s study the history of warfare, which is that of business plus death. One would think that with stakes as high as they are, lessons learned from the study of war would guide business more than it does, at least in the auto industry.

The French have always been celebrated for their Champagnes, but their greatest gift to the world is actually a better understanding of war. The Maginot Line — built in the 1930s to repel the German infantry & artillery assaults of 1914-18 — was overrun in 1940 by the German Blitzkrieg, or “lightning war.” It wouldn’t have mattered if the French fortifications had extended to the English Channel, or if they had been fully manned; if it were pierced, armored columns could flow through. Continue reading

Why This $4,000 Renault Is as Disruptive as the Tesla Model 3

18 Jul

Kwid Disruption Tesla

Want to see the future of transportation? Spend 96 hours in India.

What is disruption? Ask the clickbait mills and the sheep who retweet them, and thy name is Tesla. Everyone knows the Tesla story. AutonomyElectrificationSuperchargersMusk! If it weren’t for Tesla, we’d still be waiting for our electric and autonomous future to dawn. The Model 3 will disrupt, just as Tesla has disrupted the entire automotive sector, and now you can own one for only $35,000, plus options. It’s all true, but it’s only half right.

Go to India and Renault will sell the other half of disruption for just under $4,000.

This French-Indian disruptor is called the Kwid, and it’s the opposite of the Tesla Model 3 in almost every way. It lacks any of the technology or performance that earn cars placement on magazine covers. It’s a front-wheel-drive, 3-cylinder, 800-cc, four-door compact crossover (CUV) with plastic cladding. Boxes ticked? None. And yet it is the most important car in the largest segment in what will soon be the third largest car market in the world. Continue reading

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

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

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