Will Humans Still Drive?

4 Mar

I was recently asked by the excellent autonomous tech site 2025AD to join a debate entitled “Will Humans Still Drive?” Autoline’s John McElroy argued that we would. I’m not so sure. Here’s my take:

I’m of two minds on whether people will still drive.

The answer, of course, depends on one’s timeline. According to Fight Club, on a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero. Apply this to driving. Once technological barriers to self-driving cars fall, the end of human driving would seem inevitable. On a moral level, people shouldn’t be driving at all, if only for the inevitable likelihood of a fatal or injurious accident. On a societal level, for the shared cost of emergency services dedicated to such events. On an economic level, for the inefficiencies of entire industries and government organs required to service even the minor accidents that plague our roadways.

As a result, I am absolutely convinced that human driving as we know it will be outlawed, beginning in major urban centers in the first world, then spidering out across major arteries to form regional and national autonomous transportation networks linked with multi-modal nodes.

The tipping points won’t be for global, national or even regional ubiquity, but local, with interlocking threads slowly strengthening between nodes, intermixed with human driven and semi-autonomous vehicles.

Whether I like this future is another story. Continue reading

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

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

The 2036 Porsche 911E First Drive

14 Sep

2036 Porsche 911E

“It’s the end of the 911!” my dad said. This was way back in 1999. “911’s are supposed to be air-cooled!”

He was wrong, like all the skeptics were wrong again in 2016, when Porsche added turbocharging to the entire range. They were wrong again in 2019, with the arrival of the first 911 hybrid, and 2022, with the once-controversial electric 911E. How many remember the last 911 with an internal combustion engine that wasn’t a hybrid? I sure do: the year was 2030, and I was screaming louder than anyone else.

The end of the 911? Not even close. The 911 will never die.

The 2036 Porsche 911, or Projekt 999, is a breakthrough in every way a car can be—not only as a 911, or even as a Porsche, but as a sports car for everyone who believes in driving. The 999 is the first car to use technology not only to push human driving to its theoretical limit, but to transport drivers into the past.

In other words, the 999 has saved the idea of the sports car.

Read the rest over at The Drive…

Why I Plan to Reassess the Mercedes-Benz DrivePilot System

10 Aug

DrivePilot

I’ll give Mercedes-Benz credit: I didn’t expect to hear from them after my recent story comparing their DrivePilot to Tesla’s Autopilot. I took a flamethrower to Stuttgart’s latest semi-autonomous driving technology, calling it a disaster—and, worse, potentially unsafe. In a world where manufacturers regularly attempt to sidestep bad press, Mercedes could easily have stayed silent.

Then, six days after Musk gloatingly retweeted the story, my phone rang.

I should note that it’s rare for a blatantly negative review to appear in the mainstream media for any consumer product, let alone about a juggernaut brand whose tagline is “The Best or Nothing.” When one does show up, it’s generally centered around criteria with little real-world impact—things like design, or zero-to-sixty times. Criticizing a major manufacturer for a perceived issue at the heart of their latest safety technology is basically unheard of.

Read the rest over at The Drive

It’s Not Just Tesla Autopilot—Everything Is in Beta

3 Aug

Everything Is In Beta

I remember my first real girlfriend. We were eleven; promises were made. My first car? I was going to keep it forever. My parents were together, until they weren’t. I remember the girl I wanted to marry—the first girl and the third. I remember my father’s voice from the next room. Then on an answering machine, which stopped working, then on a voicemail, which I lost when I switched to T-Mobile. Then, only in my memory.

Nothing is static. The world, with all of us in it, is in a constant state of change. Everything is in beta, and anyone who says otherwise is selling you something.

Love or hate Elon Musk, his greatest societal contribution isn’t “Premium Electric Vehicles” or reusable rockets. It might just be his use of language—specifically that phrase, “in beta.” Did you think that term means “not ready,” “incomplete,” or “needs testing”? It can, and it does, but now, it also means something else: In the world of automotive technology, especially autonomy, “in beta” now means: We have to move faster.

Read the rest over at The Drive

The War For Autonomous Driving: 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class VS. 2017 Tesla Model S

27 Jul

Drive Pilot

Looking for a comparison of the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the 2016 Tesla Model S? This is not that. Both are brilliant, gorgeous cars—best-of-breed luxury sedans in the war between internal combustion and electricity—but who cares?

The future belongs to Autonomous Driving.

The 2017 E-Class is the first Mercedes-Benz available with Drive Pilot—the brand name for their latest semi-Autonomous Driving (AD) suite—and is the first direct assault on Tesla’s Autopilot, which has captured the public’s imagination, for better or worse, since its release in 2015.

What is AD? It’s what happens when you combine Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Automatic Steering, and then a car begins to drive itself. How long, how well and how safely it does this is the difference between today and tomorrow, between semi-Autonomous and truly Self-Driving Cars.

Does Mercedes’ Drive Pilot deliver what it calls The Best or Nothing? Or is Autopilot—despite recent controversy—still the state-of-the-semi-Autonomous-art?

That depends on your expectations.

Read the rest over at The/Drive

Tesla Is Right. Consumer Reports Is Wrong. And Trying To Kill You.

16 Jul

Tesla Is Right. Consumer Reports Is Wrong. And Trying To Kill You.

Consumer Reports is trying to kill you. It’s true: The non-profit my parents trusted for advice on washing machines, coffee makers and sunscreen has crossed the line. CR, an organization claiming to serve consumers through unbiased product testing has chosen to enter the debate over Tesla’s Autopilot in the most ill-informed and irresponsible way possible. In doing so, the brand is putting additional lives at risk.

No company has done more to bring autonomous driving (AD) to market than Tesla, and yet they are now the target of a misinformation campaign rapidly coalescing around a single message: Tesla Autopilot is dangerous.

This is nonsense.

Read the rest of over at The/Drive.com

In Defense of Tesla’s Autopilot, Part 1

8 Jul

Tesla Autopilot Accident

Before Joshua Brown was killed in his Tesla Model S while watching a movie on Autopilot, I had a conversation with my friend, Comms. “The first person to kill someone in a Tesla on Autopilot,” Comms said, “is going to be responsible for 340,000 deaths.”

Comms is an old friend working in communications for a major automotive manufacturer. He’d just spent an hour failing to convince me Elon Musk was the modern Preston Tucker, but I couldn’t argue with his newest line of reasoning.

“Nonsense,” I said. “It’s great. I know its limitations.” Continue reading

Can George Hotz “Win” Self-Driving Cars?

2 Jun

George Hotz

“Hotz wants two,” said The Spaniard, my new spy friend. I knew he was a spy. He knew I knew. I knew he knew I knew. But I knew he knew I knew first, so he respected me, and now I had a friend with more technical knowledge of Autonomous Driving than I, which made us the perfect duo to walk and talk our way through the broiling pits at SelfRacingCars—the World’s First Autonomous Track Day—at Thunderhill in Willows, California.

“Two hundred million?” I said.

“No,” he shook his head. “Two billion.”

“You know something, Spaniard? If some kid from New Jersey can get a fucking Acura to drive itself around Thunderhill without crashing, he deserves the money.”

In fifteen minutes we’d find out if the kid is worth the money, because George Hotz, a 26-year-old from New Jersey with matted hair and the comic timing of the Upright Citizens Brigade, was here to “win” Self-Driving Cars.

Read the rest over at TheDrive.com