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

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

2011 Tesla Roadster Sport 3.0 Review: The World’s Best Fourth Car?

31 Jan

The Tesla Roadster is a machine out of time, a gorgeous and maddening sports car with a boot in the future and a high heel in the past. If you were shopping for an exotic in 2006, this car had everything: a new manufacturer no one believed would stay in business, a questionable electric drivetrain stuffed into a stretched Lotus Elise, a $109,000 base price that would have bought you a fully-optioned Porsche 911, and exclusivity that would make Ferrari owners weep.

Elon Musk has said they were crazy to build it. I would have said you were crazy to buy one, but after driving one of the last, best versions ever made—a fully-upgraded, optioned-out 2011 Roadster Sport 3.0—I’m not so sure.

I take that back.

You had to be crazy to buy one. But not any crazier than someone who bought a Lotus, Morgan or TVR. These are cars you buy with absolutely no expectation they will be good, or even work. At least not all the time. That’s why Porsches makes sense, and even modern Ferraris, but those have become so reliable as to remove what was once required for anything foreign with two seats and a high horsepower-to-weight ratio:

Faith. 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

The Missouri Auto Dealers Association Hates You, Tesla & America

1 Jan

Tesla

America is under attack, but it’s not the Russians we need to be worried about. It’s car dealers. Not all car dealers are bad, but even the good ones are protected by bad laws, and all of them are protected by dealer associations, who are like ISIS, the IRS and cancer rolled into one.

All four horsemen of the American economic apocalypse — cronyism, cowardice, hypocrisy and protectionism — are represented by dealer associations. The worst of the lot, those of Texas, Michigan and Virginia, are now joined by Missouri’s MADA, whose legal victory over Tesla may deprive them of the right to sell cars in that state.

We need a new House on Un-American Activities Commission, this one focused on anti-competitive forces, who are the real Communists among us.

Competition is at the heart of American economic strength. The opposite of competition is Communism, central planning and failure. Competition is how the United States won the Cold War. It’s how and why species, technologies and business evolve and grow. It’s why homo sapiens are the dominant biped, the World Wide Web crushed the Minitel, and Google eclipsed AltaVista. It’s why everyone is scrambling to catch to Tesla by embracing the technologies they’ve pioneered.

Dealer associations like MADA are terrified of competition, and by attempting to stifle it are hurting you, and weakening our auto sector and the country itself.

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

Tesla Tops Consumer Reports Owners Satisfaction Survey

22 Dec

Tesla

In news that should drive Tesla short sellers nuts, Tesla has topped Consumer Reports’ Owner Satisfaction Survey, beating out Porsche, Audi and Subaru for 1st place, with 91% of owners stating they would buy another. This follows the Tesla Model S winning “Most Loved Model” in the United States earlier this year, and the Model X winning the Golden Steering Wheel award.

How is it possible Tesla can persist despite the combined might of the world’s car industry and a concerted and surreptitious public relations effort by the petroleum lobby?

Tesla owners really love their Teslas.

Tesla’s first place in the survey is additionally fascinating given CU’s 2015 claim that the Model S P85D was the best car they’d ever tested, followed a few months later by their rescinding their recommendation due to reliability issues. Tesla’s response? A waterfall of software updates and improvements to the assembly line, which led to 2016 being Tesla’s best sales year ever.

The market’s response? Tesla received 400,000 pre-orders for their upcoming Model 3.

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