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

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

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

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

Autonomous Cars Don’t Have a ‘Trolley Problem’ Problem

19 Oct

Trolley Problem

There is an old thought experiment called the Trolley Problem that’s become central to the development of autonomous cars. In the context of self-driving cars, it sets up a scenario where an autonomously-operated vehicle approaches, say, a nun herding a group of orphans from a burning hospital. There is no time to stop or room to maneuver around the group. The car must therefore choose whether to run over the nuns and orphans, likely killing them, or swerve into the burning building, likely killing the passengers.

What should the car do?

On October 7th, Christoph von Hugo, manager of driver assistance safety systems at Mercedes-Benz, inadvertently became the first significant player at a car manufacturer to take a position on the Trolley Problem. According to von Hugo, the Self-Driving Car should run over the nun and the children.

Here’s his statement from the Paris Auto Show, as quoted in Car and Driver:

“If you know you can save at least one person, at least save that one. Save the one in the car. If all you know for sure is that one death can be prevented, then that’s your first priority.”

To be clear, this is not Mercedes’s official position on the Trolley Problem.

Read the rest over at The Drive

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…

Alex Roy + Volvo S90 = Midnight Sun Record Run

27 Sep

Cannonball Run

Is there a Swedish Cannonball Run-style endurance driving record? I don’t know. But now there’s this. A 17 hour, 9 minute run from the top of Sweden to the bottom, using the new Volvo S90 and Pilot Assist.

I don’t always use internal combustion vehicles to set records.
But when I do—

Drive safely, my friends.

And read the full story over at The Drive