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

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

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

Why The Tesla/Mobileye Fight Defines An Industry-Wide Schism

16 Sep

Tesla

Mobileye and Tesla have begun trading barbs illuminating the real reason behind their split. These attacks mask an as-yet undiscussed schism in the sector that transcends their public statements.

“[Tesla’s Autopilot] is not designed to cover all possible crash situations in a safe manner,” said Amnon Shashua, Chairman and CTO of Mobileye, the Israel-based maker of collision detection and driver assistance systems. “[Tesla] was pushing the envelope in terms of safety.”

Tesla’s response? “When Tesla refused to cancel its own vision development activities and plans for deployment, Mobileye discontinued hardware support for future platforms and released public statements implying that this discontinuance was motivated by safety concerns.”

These statements highlight a distinct but unspoken truth in the burgeoning self-driving car sector. Mobileye—the company whose technology underlies the majority of ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) and semi-autonomous driving suites on the market, may not be at the cutting edge of the technology on which they’ve built their reputation.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Why The Forbes Article About Tesla & Chargepoint is Nonsense

15 Sep

Chargepoint

This is a free country, which means everyone’s entitled to an opinion. I have mine. You have yours. I hold journalists — or at least certain publications — to a higher standard than I do the swill overflowing Facebook. There are even journalists with whom I disagree that I still hold in high regard, for it is their interpretation of data that differs from mine, not the skillful gathering of information, which is the lifeblood of honest intellectual pursuit.

And then you have the utter nonsense published in Forbes, an outlet I’ve long associated with intellectual honesty.

Those days are over.

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…