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.

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…

Tesla, Michigan, and How To Save The American Car Industry

3 Oct

Keith Crain

I shall now explain how to save the American car industry.

We begin with Keith Crain — Editor-In-Chief of Automotive News and Autoweek — who is simply wrong.

So wrong that I’ve written 2000+ words in response to his 419.

I don’t normally read The Onion for political commentary, nor do I read anything published by Crain’s for comedy, but it’s an election year. Traditional roles, expectations, acceptable language and even the definitions of words have been wildly subverted, and all of this is on display in the latest op-ed by Crain, whose latest “column” highlights everything that is contemptible about journalism and politics in this country, and why “wisdom” such as his spells doom for the American car industry.

Crain’s latest piece “Elon Musk is Simply Wrong” is so hilariously transparent and inept in its shilling for friends and neighbors who own car dealerships and sit in state government, it is actually unworthy of The Onion. Crain is writing at a Mad Magazine level here. Lower, in fact, for his ultra-protectionist, fill-in-the-blanks “column” more closely resembles Mad Libs: The Car Dealer Association Party Edition.

Crain’s bias is so obvious, and his arguments so lazy, that the FTC should probably check whether it should be labeled “sponsored content.” That’s just my opinion, of course. Don‘t take my word for it. I’m going to let him speak for himself, with line-by-line commentary.

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

Electric and Autonomous Cannonball Run Records Shattered. In a Tesla. Again.

21 Sep

Tesla Cannonball

August 24th, 2016, at 0126hr PST, a 2016 Tesla Model S 90D departed the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, California. The team of Alex RoyWarren “Mr. X” Ahner & Franz Aliquo transited 2,877 miles to the Red Ball Garage in New York City in precisely 55 hours, shattering the Electric Vehicle (EV) Cannonball record by 2 hours & 48 minutes.

The trio also set a new Autonomous Driving (AD) Cannonball record, using Tesla’s semi-AD Autopilot 7 97.7% of the journey from coast to coast, bettering the prior record of 96.1%.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Teslas Can Use Chargepoint, But Non-Teslas Can’t Use Superchargers, Ergo…

20 Sep

Chargepoint

Last week Forbes published one of the shoddiest articles I’ve ever read in that once-vaunted publication. Noted Tesla foe Bertell Schmitt — former VW insider whose whose coverage of Dieselgate got my attention — showed an outrageous lack of intellectual honesty in his story “Who Has The World’s Biggest Charging Network? Trigger Warning: It’s Ain’t Tesla.”

His claim? That Tesla’s 4,359 Superchargers are outnumbered by Chargepoint’s 30,200 charging locations.

That’s still like calling water fountains and waterfalls equivalent as water sources. Tesla Superchargers charge at up to 120kW, or up to 170 miles of range within 30 minutes. Chargepoint “Fast Chargers” charge at up to 50kW, or less than half that of Tesla’s. Once Tesla’s “Destination Chargers” were factored in, the Tesla network comes to 9,659, of which slightly less than half are Superchargers, but the story doesn’t end there.

Read the rest over at The Drive