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.

What Automotive Must Learn From Aviation: What is an Autopilot?

7 Oct

Autopilot

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Guess what? Words can hurt us, when life or death decisions are made on false assumptions. I’m talking, of course, about the language of Self-Driving Cars, that seemingly inevitable panacea into which Silicon Valley and the car industry are pouring billions to save us from ourselves. If technology is only as good as our understanding of it, then the automotive industry has a long way go.

The problem isn’t limited to Tesla’s branding of the word “autopilot”, but it certainly starts there, especially now that the California DMV has threatened to stop Tesla from using Autopilot as a brand name. Add the recurring debate over whether Tesla Autopilot was defective in the Joshua Brown crash, and obvious questions emerged:

What is an autopilot? Is Tesla Autopilot actually an autopilot? What does “autopilot” imply? Where does Tesla’s system fall short of real or perceived autopilots? Is the problem the “auto” prefix? The “pilot” suffix? For those who object to Tesla’s choice of branding, I bring you Audi’s Piloted Driving, the yin of implication to Autopilot’s yang. What does “Piloted Driving” imply? What about Volvo’s Pilot Assist?

In the spirit of unpacking this mess, I signed up for flying lessons and began a deep dive into the history of autopilots and automation. I also decided to reach out to a wide variety of pilots — from private owners of single-engined turboprops to professionals flying Boeing 757’s and Airbus A380’s — and take them out in a variety of cars, starting with Teslas.

This is Part 1 of what I learned. Read the rest over at The Drive…

Watch This Time-Lapse Footage of the Tesla Cannonball Run Finish in Manhattan

26 Sep

Cannonball Run

Only two kinds of dashcam videos are any fun: 1) an expert lap of the Nurburgring and 2) the end of a Cannonball Run-type drive cross country. The biggest difference between them? The best Nurburgring videos are all under eight minutes, but the last eight minutes of any record run always depict two breathless men stopped at a series of red lights, looking for a bathroom.

Those days are over.

In a world where people claim such records without video, I present to you the final leg of our latest (ahem) achievement: the new Electric & Autonomous Cannonball Run records, as depicted in a gorgeous high resolution time lapse, compressed into less than 60 seconds.
This clip depicts the end of our journey, from Eastern Pennsylvania across New Jersey, through the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan, then our battle through downtown traffic to reach the Red Ball Garage.

Watch the video over at The Drive

How We Broke The Electric & Semi-Autonomous Cannonball Run Records

23 Sep

Cannonball Run

Two days ago, Franz Aliquo, Warren “Mr. X” Ahner, and I announced that we broke both the electric and autonomous vehicle Cannonball Run records, covering 2,877 miles from Redondo Beach, California to the Red Ball Garage in 55 hours—97.7 percent of that time with Tesla’s Autopilot in operation. A lot of people asked about how we did it.

This is the first part of that story.

Why do this?

Who doesn’t want to? California is the finish line of the Western world. It’s part of the American mythos, going back to the settlers. “Go west” is both exhortation and rallying cry, and I’ve done it dozens of times. After breaking the old Cannonball record in 2006 in 31 hours and 4 minutes, I thought “Cannonballing” was over; I was wrong. Regular gas cars don’t have a lot of room for improvement, but with electric and self-driving cars, the sky’s the limit. The next 20 years are going to see a lot more of this—done more safely—than ever before.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Alex Roy Tests Tesla’s Autopilot 8, Part 1

22 Sep

Autopilot 8

Tesla Autopilot 8 is finally here. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the world’s most famous Beta software and test it around New York City, and my first impressions suggest my earlier predictions were fairly spot-on. Autopilot 8 is a modest step forward in user interface and functionality, but a major step forward in safety and effectiveness.

The obvious changes are cosmetic, but the biggest change—improved radar signal processing—won’t become apparent for weeks or months, after which the breadth of improvements should be incontrovertible.

Fleet Learning Is Everything

The release of Autopilot 8 within 48 hours of the DOT’s new guidelineshighlights the growing chasm between Tesla’s Level 2 semi-Autonomous suite and rivals’ deliberate pause at Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, or ADAS.

While legacy OEMs hope to reach, via localized testing, Level 4 autonomy within 3 to 5 years, Tesla’s combination of Fleet Learning and OTA updates has yielded more (and more significant) software improvements in the 11 months since Autopilot’s initial release than most manufacturers achieve in a traditional 3-5 year model cycle.

Read the rest over at The Drive