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

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

How George Hotz’s $999 Comma One Actually Works

19 Sep

George Hotz

Last week George Hotz—iPhone and Playstation hacker, self-driving car wunderkind and the man who called Mobileye “a failing company”—finally unveiled the Comma One, his $999 aftermarket semi-autonomous driving (AD) system.

Hotz revealed some details at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, and was kind enough to share with me additional exclusive details that I—along with virtually everyone in the automotive world—have been dying to know since last week.

There’s a lot of ingenuity and a lot of surprises, that’s for sure.

Read the rest over at The Drive

First Look: How Tesla’s Autopilot Camera Captures Accident Video

13 Sep

What’s the difference between a dashcam and the Mobileye camera in your semi-autonomous car? Not much.

Infamous Telsa hacker and P85D owner Jason Hughes was able to pull eight frames of video from a salvaged Model S, depicting the final seconds before it collided with an Acura:

Autopilot Crash

Read the rest over at The Drive…

Tesla’s Autopilot 8 Update Could Have Saved Joshua Brown’s Life

12 Sep

Autopilot 8

Autopilot 8—the second generation of Tesla’s semi-Autonomous Driving suite—is two weeks away, and Elon Musk claims the latest round of improvements might have saved Joshua Brown’s life.

“Perfect safety is an impossible goal,” Musk said in a conference call on Sunday, “there won’t ever be zero fatalities. The world is a very big place. It’s about minimizing the probability of death.”

Critics have suggested Autopilot—whose capabilities fall somewhere between what NHTSA calls Level 2 & 3 automation—doesn’t live up to its name, but Musk was confident in both the data underlying Autopilot’s safety record and the promise of version 8’s myriad functional improvements.

“The Model S and the X are by far the safest cars on the road,” said Musk, “by several orders of magnitude. These improvements aren’t about going from bad to good . . . but from good to great.”

The two big changes?

Read the rest over at The Drive

7 Predictions For Tesla’s Autopilot 8

7 Sep

Autopilot 8

Any minute now, Elon Musk will reveal details of the biggest update to Tesla’s Autopilot suite since its release in October of 2015. He was supposed to do this last Wednesday, then, when that didn’t come to pass, over the weekend. I’m sure he had bigger fish to fry, which gave me more time to digest the lessons of my most recent Tesla cross-country drive, and contemplate what we can expect to see in Autopilot 8.

Without further ado…read the rest over at The Drive.

Is Tesla Autopilot Actually an Autopilot?

31 Aug

Tesla Autopilot

Tesla presumably named its semi-autonomous driving suite “Autopilot” for a reason. After all, it’s not a made-up bit of marketing jargon—it’s the commonly-used term for the self-piloting technology found in aircraft.

In fact, let’s take a look at one definition of an autopilot system, from Wikipedia:

“…[A] system used to control the trajectory of a vehicle without constant ‘hands-on’ control by a human operator being required. Autopilots do not replace a human operator, but assist them in controlling the vehicle, allowing them to focus on broader aspects of operation…”

Now, let’s look at Tesla’s own description of Autopilot:

“[The system] allows [the] Model S to steer within a lane, change lanes with the simple tap of a turn signal, and manage speed…[and] while truly driverless cars are still a few years away, Tesla Autopilot functions like the systems that airplane pilots use when conditions are clear. The driver is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car. What’s more, you always have intuitive access to the information your car is using to inform its actions.”

So, is Tesla Autopilot actually an Autopilot?

Read the rest over at The Drive