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

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

Why Mobility Will Turn Transportation Into Healthcare…

12 Jan

Mobility

TO: Tim Cook, CEO
Apple Computer
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
1/2/2023

Re: Apple iMobility Customer Service

Dear Mr. Cook:

I’m writing to you about a problem with my monthly Apple iMobility “MultiPass” subscription service.

The problem is: It sucks.

Let’s start with what Apple promised in its Press Release:

“SAN FRANCISCO — September 8, 2022 — Apple today unveiled Apple iMobility, a single, intuitive app that combines the best ways to get from A to B, all in one place. Apple iMobility is a revolutionary platform aggregating all modes of transportation wherever you live—whether you ride, hail, pool, share or drive—via a convenient flat-rate subscription service, redefining Mobility-as-a-Service…”

One price to get me anywhere in NYC? Everything plus self-driving cabs? Loved the idea. I had lots of choices—DidiMo, Uber, Tesla, Toyota’s CommUt, WayMo, GoNow—but I’d been holding out for Apple. You were late to the game, which meant you were doing it right … right? I was willing to pay a little more for upgraded cars and solo rides, so I happily lined up, in the rain, outside the Soho Apple store for Milla Jovovich to sign my Apple iMobility MultiPass.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Does FCA Have A Secret Self-Driving Car Project?

29 Dec

FCA secret

Fiat Chrysler has a secret self-driving car project, according to The Information, who make the claim in an extraordinarily vague op-ed entitled “Fiat’s Secret Self-Driving Car Shows How The Industry May Evolve.”

So, does FCA actually have a secret self-driving car project?

I’m a big fan of The Information, but there’s so little information in their article that it’s almost impossible to know what FCA has, if anything. Let’s deconstruct the article paragraph by paragraph and try to separate fact from conjecture.

“Fiat Chrysler has garnered outsized headlines for becoming the first traditional carmaker to make electric minivans with self-driving technology designed by Alphabet’s Waymo.”

Fact. Not a surprise as much as an insurance policy against total irrelevance in an autonomous future. FCA had never previously admitted to the existence of any self-driving research program, so any deal with Waymo opens the door for them to become Waymo’s automotive Foxconn, a role Daimler famously rejected but FCA would seem to need.

“Behind the scenes, however, Fiat Chrysler is developing its own autonomous vehicles so that it won’t be just a metal bender for tech companies like Waymo, The Information has learned.”

Really? This suggests FCA has a real program, as in a team capable building a self-driving car, which means they now join the other thirteen major manufacturers with a similar program with varying degrees of progress.

Or does it?

Read the rest over at The Drive

Why “Tesla Killers” Were the Biggest Disappointment of 2016

27 Dec

Tesla Killers

Without a doubt, “Tesla Killers” are the biggest disappointment of 2016.

It’s been more than fifty years since self-driving cars first appeared in science fiction films, 26 years since Johnny Cab’s cameo in Total Recall, 20+ years since manufacturers began developing prototypes, 12 years since the first DARPA Challenge, and 16 months since Tesla released their semi-autonomous Autopilot.

Self-driving cars? No one can claim they were a surprise.

But wait, there’s more.

It’s almost 150 years since the first electric car, 120 years since the first swappable battery service, 115 years since the first electric taxis in London, 50+ years of increasingly toxic dependency on Middle Eastern “allies”, 40 years since the OPEC crisis, 37 years since the Iranian Revolution, 25 years since Desert Storm, 16 years since 9/11, and 13 years since the invasion of Iraq.

Internal combustion won for a variety of reasons, but the big one—reliable flow of cheap oil—has been evaporating for decades. No one claim the rising appeal of electrification is a surprise.

But wait, there’s more.

It’s been 118 years since the first car dealership opened in the Unites States, and it’s been downhill ever since. Have you ever met anyone who loved their car dealer? People hate them. Nearly 75% of buyers would prefer to do their shopping online, and yet manufacturers have negotiated themselves into a corner, trapping end-users in a debilitating relationship with dealers who serve no one well.

But wait, there’s more.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Tesla Tops Consumer Reports Owners Satisfaction Survey

22 Dec

Tesla

In news that should drive Tesla short sellers nuts, Tesla has topped Consumer Reports’ Owner Satisfaction Survey, beating out Porsche, Audi and Subaru for 1st place, with 91% of owners stating they would buy another. This follows the Tesla Model S winning “Most Loved Model” in the United States earlier this year, and the Model X winning the Golden Steering Wheel award.

How is it possible Tesla can persist despite the combined might of the world’s car industry and a concerted and surreptitious public relations effort by the petroleum lobby?

Tesla owners really love their Teslas.

Tesla’s first place in the survey is additionally fascinating given CU’s 2015 claim that the Model S P85D was the best car they’d ever tested, followed a few months later by their rescinding their recommendation due to reliability issues. Tesla’s response? A waterfall of software updates and improvements to the assembly line, which led to 2016 being Tesla’s best sales year ever.

The market’s response? Tesla received 400,000 pre-orders for their upcoming Model 3.

Read the rest over at The Drive