What The Honda/Waymo Partnership Really Means

22 Dec

Waymo

Honda and Waymo, the self-driving car company from Alphabet Inc. (parent company of Google), have announced a partnership—specifically, according to the press release, a “technical collaboration of fully self-driving automobile technology”. But what does that mean, exactly?

This: The self-driving car dam is breaking, if it hasn’t broken already. If you’re a car company without a self-driving car program, or if after billions of dollars of R&D yours doesn’t do what Google’s does … Waymo is the answer.

You don’t need to be Nostradamus to know that while Tesla and Uber have been grabbing all the headlines, Google/Alphabet has long had the world’s most advanced self-driving car program. Since its 2009 inception, speculation about their intentions has been rampant.

Now, we can get a sense of what they’re up to.

We know that Waymo, Alphabet’s recently announced self-driving spinoff, has gathered 2M+ miles of high-resolution driving data, the majority of it in Northern California. Tesla has orders of magnitude more, but they don’t use LIDAR, which skeptics believe is essential for full self-driving capabilities. We know Waymo’s parent possesses virtually unlimited resources and data on individual search, shopping habits, and location. We know that Wayno is hiring experts in licensing. We know that, prior to its spinoff, Waymo had approached multiple manufacturers about partnerships, presumably to license their software platform in return for user data, perhaps even to control the in-car content ecosystem (think: self-driving car “drivers” watching the newest Hollywood blockbuster via Google Play).

There’s incredible value on both ends of that continuum. Every Honda mile driven with Waymo’s platform gathers priceless data, improving the platform. On the other end, control the content ecosystem, control the data, own the user, print money.

There’s a reason your phone almost certainly runs Android or iOS. Remember Nokia? Blackberry?

Read the rest over at The Drive

Lucid Motors Reveals Their Tesla-Killer—But Is it, Really?

15 Dec

Lucid Air

The stench of “mobility” was pierced today, as California-based Lucid Motors revealed the Air, a stunning $100,000+ electric sedan hailed as a “Tesla-killer.”

But is it?

The answer is no, because the Lucid Air is deliberately in a class of its own.

First, the Lucid Motors Air is gorgeous. For the first time since the release of the Tesla Model S, we have a clean-sheet design for an electric sedan that doesn’t include stupid neon green or blue accents to indicate environmental cred. The Air isn’t some Wall-E inspired, emasculatory blob on wheels penned by the guy from The Kooples. Primed by last year’s stillborn Faraday reveal, I walked into the Lucid event ready for disappointment, but when the spotlights fell upon the Air I joined the crowd of reporters quietly mouthing “Yeeeeeeees.”

Lucid’s “luxury mobility” messaging may resemble Tesla’s, but that’s only because Musk was first to recognize the hinges upon which a startup car company must swing: 1.) you must launch with a premium product; 2.) electrification, connectivity, and autonomy will be ubiquitous.

With the Air, Lucid wisely chose to one-up Tesla, not by trying to build a better Model S, but by moving “luxury mobility” even further upmarket. The top-of-the-line Air is targeted at the Model S customer who wants more interior space and luxury, doesn’t want an SUV, and is willing to spend $160,000—or approximately 10 percent more than a loaded Model X.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Who Is The Theranos of Mobility?

13 Dec

Theranos

Theranos is a classic tale of hubris and schadenfreude, a blood-testing tech company that generated massive press, with a female CEO straight out of Gattaca who attracted hundreds of millions of dollars from investors, that is now imploding because its technology never worked.

Every sector gets its Theranos—so, who is the Theranos of the mobility space?

The answer starts with “mobility,” a word that bores me to tears. What does mobility mean? I’m already mobile; Americans are among the most mobile in the world, but in transportation, mobility ≠ “Mobility”, the new buzzword for companies that don’t have clear strategies in a world of increasing connectivity, autonomy, and electrification. (Case in point: BMW has for the last few years been beating the drum that they are no longer a car manufacturer, but a “mobility provider”—whatever that means.)

Mobility is used so broadly that it has become meaningless, and yet billions of dollars are flowing into disparate companies converging on what they hope will be a pot of gold, but will more likely be an expensive grave.

Bubble, thy name is Mobility. The criteria? Big fundraising, big name investors, beaucoup press, and the high expectations that come with big promises.

Let’s take a look at our candidates, courtesy of a flood of suggestions that came in when I posed the question online. Let’s start with the ride-hailing business, dominated by what are called TNCs, or Transportation Network Companies.

Read the rest over at The Drive

What Happens When Software Based Car Companies Die?

12 Dec

Software

The death of Pebble, one of the better known smartwatch brands, highlights a looming problem not just for early adopters of the latest technology, but for any adopters. What happens when a software based car company dies?

The same thing that happens when any software based company goes under.

You’re screwed. Or are you?

The degree of screwing depends on you. A Pebble watch that retails for $50-$150? Charge it and it will still tell the time. Those extra fitness features you paid for? Watch wearers lived without them for 99% of the history of watchmaking. I know lots of healthy people who’ve never heard of a Pebble, or a Fitbit, or any of the technologies supposed to “help” you get and stay fit. You know what else works? When your Pebble dies, go get a $10 Timex, a pencil and some paper.

Let’s apply this logic to software-based cars.

Every car on the road today has tons of software. Mountains. Exponentially more than the Space Shuttle and the Apollo moon missions. Most of that software is irrelevant to the basic purpose of cars. We’ve been building cars that get from A to B for 100 years, 75 of which required little to no software. Some software is useful, like the software behind Anti-Lock Brakes. Some of it is really useful, like that behind distance-sensing cruise control, but guess what? You don’t need any of it to get from A to B. Sure, it might get you from A to B more safely—and in some cases more conveniently—but none of it is essential.

Read the rest over at The Drive

What if the Autonomous Car Industry Is Wrong?

7 Dec

Autonomous

Do you spend time in Silicon Valley or Detroit? If you don’t, know that most conversations involve these talking points: Autonomous cars are inevitable. Almost here. Will be ubiquitous. Save lives. Reduce traffic. Cut pollution. Also, mobility. And sharing. And no one will own cars. FYI, Don’t buy Tesla. Tesla sucks. Wait for our stuff.

“Never assume,” my father always said, so let’s follow his advice, deconstruct the clickbait underlying much of the autonomous driving narrative, and ask the question:

What if the autonomous car industry is wrong?

First we have to answer this: What is the autonomous car industry? On one side, we have the universe of Silicon Valley companies trying to figure out how to monetize an immature technology. On the other, we have the universe of legacy car companies terrified the upstarts are going to leave them behind. Since no one knows when or how it will be possible to monetize autonomous cars, they’re investing billions in anything with the words Autonomy or Mobility, catchphrases of a seemingly inevitable future they don’t understand.

Are autonomous cars inevitable? Of course. A self-driving car that works on the streets of Mountain View in decent weather? Google has them now. A self-driving car that is 100% guaranteed never to make a mistake, anywhere, in any condition? Not in my lifetime, and I’m not that old.

The billion-dollar question is—

Read the rest over at The Drive

Traffic Neutrality Is The New Net Neutrality

5 Dec

Traffic Neutrality

Have you heard of Traffic Neutrality? Of course not, because I made it up to describe a looming problem no one is talking about, a problem that will annihilate car culture in the same way the end of Net Neutrality will gut access to all but the largest media entities.

If you equate driving with freedom, then you need to wake up, because the assault on that freedom is already underway.

It isn’t coming from self-driving cars. It’s coming from that as-yet undefined thing called Mobility, and it won’t stop until you are forced to pay for freedoms you currently enjoy for free.

To understand the fight, we need to define terms. Let’s start with Mobility—the true enemy of car culture.

Read the rest over at The Drive

First Look: What George Hotz Will Probably Announce Tomorrow

29 Nov

George Hotz

Don’t believe everything you read in the media.” – George Hotz, 11/29/2016

George Hotz — the infamous hacker known for unlocking the iPhone, reverse engineering the Playstation 3, turning down a job offer from Elon Musk, and almost launchingthe world’s fanciest cruise control”, A.K.A. the Comma One, an aftermarket Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) he claimed would replicate Tesla Autopilot for $1000 — is back.

Is he BACK back? He’s certainly up to something, because at 1358hr EST today he tweeted the following, along with a video we’re going to analyze:

Read the rest over at The Drive

We Need An NRA-Type Lobby for Human Driving

15 Nov

NRA For Human Driving

I love cars, and I love driving. I’m lucky enough to spend my life around amazing cars and drivers as passionate about them as I am. Most, I assume, are good people. The others? They’re killing it for the rest of us. Being passionate about cars isn’t the same thing as being passionate about driving. If it was, insurance rates for Evos and STIs would be cheap. For Ferraris? Free, except for theft coverage.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for autonomy for those who need it, but human driving—and enthusiast culture with it—is doomed unless those who would claim to love it do more than lease high-end cars and buy aftermarket wheels and exhausts. If enthusiasts want to retain the freedom to drive anything, anywhere, at any time, driving has to become as sacred as the cars on the posters on our childhood bedroom walls.

We face two possible futures, with but a single bitter dose of medicine separating one from the other. There’s still hope—if we take action before it’s too late.

Read the rest over at The Drive

The Cancelled Comma One Would Have Embarrassed The Car Industry

31 Oct

Comma One

George Hotz—the infamous hacker known for unlocking the iPhone and reverse engineering the Playstation 3—has cancelled his first product, the Comma One, an aftermarket Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) he claimed would replicate Tesla Autopilot for $1000.

Hotz’s initial tweets suggested his move was in response to an inquiry from NHTSA, stating that he “would much rather spend life building amazing tech than dealing with regulators and lawyers,” and that Comma.ai would be “exploring other products and markets.” Twenty-four hours after the cancellation, Hotz called me from China. Asked if he was genuinely intimidated by NHTSA’s letter, he said, “I’ve got two words for you: stealth mode.”

“Stealth mode” sure doesn’t sound like he’s backing down.

Does anyone really believe Hotz would give up with $3M+ in the bank and VC firm Andreessen Horowitz behind him? Hotz could have responded to NHTSA. He just didn’t want to. With a lean operation, a growing pool of crowdsourced data and seemingly unlimited swagger, Hotz just bought himself press, time and additional mythos. Three things every founder prays for in bed at night — courtesy of the NHTSA.

Most importantly, Hotz has a working prototype — which I recently witnessed in action — that was functionally superior and theoretically safer than the ten legacy manufacturer systems I tested just last week.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Autonocast: The First Podcast Dedicated To Self-Driving Cars

26 Oct

 

autonocast

Autonocast, the first ever podcast solely dedicated to Self-Driving Cars, has launched. Four episodes in, host Damon Lavrinc has so far tempered the heated opinions of Ed Neidermeyer and myself as we debate all things autonomous.

I suggest tuning in weekly to hear what Damon and his guests have to say.

Episode #1: Alex, Damon, and Ed sit down to discuss the fed’s new guidance on automated vehicles

Episode #2: Alex, Ed, and Damon are back to discuss the realities of AV adoption, how horrid drivers ed got us here, and where the hell we’re going to charge all the EVs coming out the Paris Motor Show. Also, Ed explains his latest Tesla reporting despite a dim audience and Alex continues to be annoyed at how often he agrees with Mr. N.

Episode #3: Alex, Ed, and Damon discuss the Tesla Autopilot situation in Germany and at home, Apple’s reported decision to scale back Project Titan, and why Silicon Valley is so obsessed with AVs.

Episode #4: Tesla’s big Autopilot announcement leaves more questions than answers, but it’s the picture of clarity compared to LeEco’s U.S. launch this week. And are journalists complicit in killing people when they report on the problems with autonomous technology?

Enjoy.