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

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

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 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

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

Faraday’s Biggest Problem Isn’t The Money

10 Jan

Faraday

Faraday has a big problem, but it’s not their questionable finances.

It’s the car.

The FF-91 reveal was a make-or-break moment for Faraday, and as SNL’s Stefon would say: This place had everything. A billionaire Chinese investor who might be going broke. An automotive startup trying to survive a media witch-hunt. Employees who wanted to talk, but wouldn’t give their names. A shortage of hors d’oeuvres. A Ferrari. A Bentley. A Tesla. A meaningless drag race. An unflappable Englishman who should be CEO but inexplicably isn’t. An engineer in a bad shirt two sizes too small. A sea of foreign media who sat through it all with rictus grins. A car that failed in its moment of truth.

My God. The missing money. The opaque company structure. The over-long reveal. The vague plan. This is what happens when no one is in charge. It wouldn’t matter if Faraday had $10B in the bank. Remove words like mobility and connectivity and what’s left?

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

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