Is Apple Making an iCar?

by A. R. Bunch

Andy_Apple Car

The idea that Apple would build a car is both obvious and counter-intuitive depending on when the thought first pops into your head. The idea of a personal electronics company, no matter how big and dominant they may be, making the jump into something as entrenched as the auto industry sounds silly. Typically it’s considered a good idea to stay relatively close to your core competencies when swallowing up new markets. Adding to the fogginess of the notion is the fact that Apple kept a neither confirm nor deny attitude about it. But that’s a lot like asking a politician if he/she has ever lied. SOP is demure and smile.Andy_Apple Car3

Still, as cars became more technological with each passing year the idea of a tech company getting on board became easier to swallow. And if a tech company were to make that leap surely it would be Apple. Then Tesla did what DeLorean couldn’t and with a successful foray into the car market proving you don’t have to be born before WWII began to start a car company.

Suddenly everyone was digging deeper, September 22, 2015, both CBS and AutoWeek broke online stories about it based on a Wall Street Journal story which was based on unnamed sources. Which these days would be proof enough, but back in high days of journalistic integrity of 2015 they researched for confirmation and found that Apple had in fact communicated with the California State DMV about their rules for autonomous driving vehicles, they’d explored an auto testing facility in California and they’d poached a number of serious auto and battery engineers from other companies.

Even the Onion got in on the act imagining what the features of an Apple Car would be, including of course a Cup Holder, and a windshield with 4 times the pixels of real life that broke easily but without affecting the cars ability to run. Of course, the “iCar” would be compatible with most major roads, prompt you to log into iCloud every time you shift gears and suggest the speed you travel based on speeds you’ve gone before.

Humor aside, this leads to a number of follow-up questions like, would Apple try to manufacture it themselves or outsource it to one of the manufacturers they already have a relationship with? Are they willing to develop a whole car or maybe just software they could license to other manufacturers who’re diving full force into autonomous vehicles?

It’s hard to say how long Apple CEO, Tim Cook, has been serious about cars but it’s likely that Apple tried to begin their journey into cars by acquiring Tesla from Elon Musk in 2013. When that didn’t work out, Apple bought a secret facility in SunnyVale, CA and put a thousand employees in it under a shell corp. called “SixtyEight Research” which would later become “Project Titan.” Then followed the months of secretive employees turning their name badges around so their names couldn’t be spotted through a long lens and other little signs that Apple was hiding something.

Andy_Apple Car1

Clearly not the actual design.

By the time the WSJ broke the story of a rumored 2019 release date, it seemed like legitimate news. But it was Motor Trend that really blew open the doors to show us concept sketches and questions even beyond autonomous driving. Questions like, would Apple forgo selling the cars and pioneer a car share program where you check the car out like a library book or maybe co-lease it. It’s certainly possible to have a digital license plate that changes with each new driver so that both car registration and driver identification is in one spot. Or imagine not having to pay much for your lease because sponsors underwrite the cost of your ride on windshield advertising. How’d you like to get into your car and have a Siri-like voice ask if you’re going out to eat? Then the car offers to reduce the price of your ride if you’re going to McTaco King.

Andy_Apple Car2In February of this year, Digital Trends exposed a December letter from Apple’s director of product integrity, Steve Kenner, to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). In it, Kenner offered comments on the NHTSA’s plans to regulate autonomous vehicles. The letter was weakly explained by spokesman Tom Neumayr as a defense of investments Apple’s made into “machine learning and autonomous systems” which could be used in other things…like you know, self-driving cars AND…you know, other stuff. Probably.

The Digital Trends article is thorough, if exhaustive, going blow by blow through each phase of rumor and supposition. It’s a good read and brings to light interesting points like, is Apple intending to have a nationwide chain of charging stations, not unlike old Standard Oil’s gas station chain?

Most of the talk around Project Titan from February until now has been on one side or the other of the big debate: is Apple making their own car or are they going to provide software and technological innovation to other manufacturers? The website MacRumors is a good example, coming down firmly in the camp of “not their own car.” They provided this concise summary of the 2017 news so far.

MAY 2017

May 22            Apple’s Self-Driving Car Spotted on Freeway in New Video

May 6  Apple Maps Vehicles Begin Surveying Connecticut, Imagery Could Aid Apple’s Autonomous Driving Efforts

APRIL 2017

Apr 28 Apple Asks California DMV to Make Changes to Autonomous Vehicle Testing Policies

Apr 27 Lexus SUV Being Used for Apple’s Self-Driving Software Test Spotted on the Road

Apr 21 Apple Autonomous Driving Training Program Confirms Self-Driving Software Platform

Apr 14 Apple Receives Permit From California DMV to Test Self-Driving Cars [Updated]

FEBRUARY 2017

Feb 27 Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao Says Trump Administration Will Be ‘Catalyst’ for Self-Driving Tech

JANUARY2017

Jan 12 Apple’s Lisa Jackson Joins Federal Committee Advising on Vehicle Automation

Jan 5   Audi and Nvidia Working on Fully Autonomous Car for 2020 Rollout

However, ComputerWorld makes an even more compelling case for the idea that Apple has always intended to make its own car going back to Steve Jobs in 2008 and will not easily give that idea up.

They support their reasoning with the following points:

  1. Apple reached $800 billion in market capitalization. The move to cars would leap from a half-trillion dollar electronics and cell phone markets to a potential $2.6 trillion auto market.
  2. Apple has invested an estimated $5 billion in automotive technology since 2013, including Didi Chuxing (think Chinese Uber). Even a company the size of Apple doesn’t throw away $5 billion.
  3. If Apple decided to only do software they’d be following a Microsoft business model, not an Apple model where they offer software, services, and hardware (which is manufactured by 3rd) Even amongst the shakeup in team titan, Apple is poaching German-speaking engineers and cozying up to Manga Steyr, a contract manufacturer for BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Aston Martin, Audi, Fiat, and Peugeot.
  4. With $256 billion in its war chest, Apple can buy up innovation if they need to. Meaning you’d have to see inside Tim Cooks mind to know if they are on their timeline or not. They believe their core competency is user experience and it doesn’t matter if they invent something after it’s been on the market for a year, an army of loyalists will line up to buy the latest “invention.” Just look at the iPhone, the Apple watch, they iPad, etc.
  5. The current auto industry has spent decades fighting for the top spot of “driving experience.” They lose their head start the moment cars start driving themselves. When your car becomes the ultimate mobile data device Apple’s recognized brand will be well positioned to compete. If software as a service is here to stay, then Apple can turn your commute into a service with an experience they control.

The only real question that remains is:

  • will your commute be sponsored by mega-corporations because Apple retains ownership of its vehicles, or
  • as the Onion jokes will the sticker price be $85,000 (or $199 with two-year Verizon agreement)?

Andy_Apple Car 4

WHY WE DRIVE WHAT WE DRIVE

By Pam Cowan
with Henry Chavez

Choosing a car is not just about finding one that will reliably get you from point A to point B. It’s also about finding an affordable vehicle that matches both your lifestyle and sense of style. I thought it would be fun to ask random drivers why they drive what they do. This month we’ll talk to Lori.

HC: Your daily driver is a full-sized 1996 Bronco. Would you share why you chose it?

Lori: Well, I sort of did and didn’t. My husband wanted a Bronco.

HC: Oh, so it’s his.

Lori: No. It’s mine. It’s just that he said he wanted one and when I saw Betty, that’s what I named her…when I saw her, sitting in a lot on my way to work, I thought she was just what he was looking for. It was Friday, so after work, I went in and asked to take her home for the weekend, so my husband could try her out. They said sure but they’d need his social security number. I called him and asked for it. I didn’t want to tell him why, since I wanted it to be a surprise, but he wouldn’t tell me over the phone. I was so mad.

HC: But you could understand his concerns?

Lori: [eyeroll] No. Not at that moment, I couldn’t. It was frustrating. I was trying to do him a favor and it was getting late, the place was closing. I’d already arranged to leave my car there for the weekend and had parked it on a back lot. I just felt like I wasn’t going to leave without that car.

HC: What did you do?

Lori: I bought it.

HC: You bought it?

Lori: Yes. I took it for a drive around the block and I loved it. I loved sitting up high and how solid it felt and yet how easy it was to park or turn because it was fairly short but wide-bodied and stable. I’ve always loved trucks but had been driving a car to save on gas. It felt right and I knew my husband would love it as much as I did. I decided to buy it then and there.

HC: So, you took it home that night.

Lori: I did. I even took the string of seashells that were hanging in my car and hung them from the rearview. I was going to tell my husband I’d bought it for me, get him good and jealous and then tell him it was actually his.

HC: I’m still confused. I thought you said it wasn’t his.

Lori: It’s not. You see, he did like it and he even drove it a couple days but one night he said that hanging those seashells in the Bronco was sort of like a dog marking its territory.

HC: Romantic.

Lori: [both laughing] You see what I have to put up with? But he was right, and when he asked if I’d rather keep it for myself I told him I did. I’ve been driving her for the past 12 years.

HC: Sounds like he really understood how much you liked Betty.

Lori: He did, and he still does. Just last week someone came to work on our furnace and told my husband that was a nice Bronco in the driveway. My husband told him it was his wife’s and he’d probably have to bury her in it.

HC: Sounds like a good way to end this interview. Thanks.

Pam_Why We Buy_Bronco

Photo similar to “Bronco Betty” thanks to Wikimedia commons.

The Ford Bronco is a Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV, predating the term SUV) manufactured and marketed by Ford from 1966 to 1996. Ford officially announced that the Bronco will be reintroduced in 2020.

Autonomous Car Trap

Our Opinion Editor found this little video hilarious. The AI in autonomous “self-driving” vehicles is an amazing feat of technology and programming, but standing next to a simple human brain we forget that it also comes with limitations.

Obviously, you should never drive over a straight line with a dashed line beyond. but you can drive over the reverse. See the video below for an example of how it might be used to trap an autonomous car.

Of course, these cars aren’t allowed to drive without a human behind the wheel, but it’s funny to think about.

Top Car Trends and Tech that will Leave Car Lovers in a Frenzy

by Ezekiel Gacee

Automated Fusion Hybrid Research Vehicle

Autonomous cars won’t last for long with such a developing world where new technologies are being introduced each day and as the world continues to be a globalized sphere. The Automakers are consistently trying to reimagine the future of their work. We have seen the Google self-driving vehicle and Ford also announced that the most updated iteration of a self-driving vehicle will be ready for the road by 2021.

While there is no shortage of semi-autonomous vehicles coming out continuously, you shouldn’t feel that behind the game. They haven’t really made a car that drives itself, yet. However, there is a litany of driver-assist technologies that could propel you a step toward a hands-free future. We have heard of the sensors that activate when you drive too close to the line, adaptive cruise technology that adjusts your speed automatically and even rear view cameras that are joined by both side-view and aerial view cameras. But the world is moving pretty fast and thanks to new adaptable technologies it’s getting harder every year to wreck your car.

New Innovative Designs – Crossovers on Steroids

It looks something closer to the SUV but drives like a car, well that is a crossover. This is a term referred to vehicles that are built on car frames with design features, versatility, and functionality similar to the sport-utility vehicles like the Honda CR-V.

Ezekial_Top Car_2018-volkswagen-atlasThe crossovers might have discovered how to provide fuel efficiency and performance with SUV style, but they’ve fallen short of providing SUV space, which is a value to the modern family. If you want something bigger, the forthcoming Volkswagen 7-seater Atlas would do, Subaru’s Viziv-7 concept and Ford is also coming up with new solutions every day. The goal of these cars is to retain fuel economy and performance of the smaller car frame while providing needed capacity.

What’s Beyond the Car Phone?

Ezekial_Top Car_Subaru_s Viziv-7Well, automobiles are now coming with their own internet connections. The line between cell phone and the automobile is blurring more each day. Built in GPS is a no brainer but imagine your car needing its own data package and sharing preferences with your smart home. Near field technology allows puts your garage door up and down when your car drives near.

Customers on the platform can also get an opportunity to integrate their car with other devices more easily. Ford announced that some of its unique and new cars will be able to use Amazon Echo that will allow you to command your car to do things just by using your voice. This wired car will also allow for more data collection on drivers so that automakers can generate new design elements you didn’t know you needed.

Once your own car knows who you are, systems in the vehicles like the Chrysler Portal concept car would automatically adjust your seat to ensure maximum comfort, select a driving mode, and even suggest a destination based on owner’s past behaviors.Ezekial_Top Car_honda-neuv

Honda’s NeuV, the concept car has a large customizable LCD dashboard and a cloud-connected, onboard computer that uses artificial intelligence to interact with the drivers. Awesome, right?

Car to Car Communication

In 2020 new cars might be automated to even to communicate with each other to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities but with this, the automakers have to be careful enough to effectively safeguard this innovation from car hacking. (Editor’s note: We’ve discussed this tech in depth in this article.)

Conclusion

This is where technology is taking us- to a place where everything will be so easy to do and life will be more exciting to embrace. More work can be done at minimum effort and this is where car technology is headed.

How the Tow Truck was Invented, Probably…

Sue_First Tow_zuiderzee-museum-315414_1280

The following story should be called fictional, although it does contain known facts. The May 2017 issue of Westways magazine had an article about tow trucks in its “On the Road” section. According to that article, the tow truck was 100 years old in 2016.

by Sue Chehrenegar

In the late spring of 1915, melting snows caused the creek levels to rise markedly in those areas of New York near branches of the Hudson River. As a result, an unsuspecting driver might assume that a former crossing had retained its decidedly shallow water. By making that faulty assumption, the same driver could end up having to haul a vehicle from a creek’s rising waters.

Indeed, one such man found himself in that predicament, as he drove his car to a mechanic’s shop to have his old tires replaced. He always used the same mechanic, a man named Ernest Holmes. He had faith in Holmes’ mechanical skills, so he did not hesitate to drive the good distance from his home to Ernest’s shop.

In those days bridges suitable for cars couldn’t be found just anywhere, and Ernest’s greatly satisfied customer lacked much patience, once he got behind the wheel. Consequently, he did not think to consider the depth of the creek’s waters, when attempting to ford across at the usual location. Too late, he realized that the once shallow bed had become much deeper. Before he could change direction, he found himself and his vehicle sinking.

Luckily, he didn’t sink all the way and the driver managed to get out of the partly-submerged vehicle. Of course, no one had cell phones, hence, Ernest’s steady and now very wet customer had to walk to the closest residence with a telephone.

The driver telephoned Holmes’ repair shop and explained what had happened. Ernst did not want to fail a good-paying customer, so he loaded his pickup truck with the usual tools and supplies, including a length of sturdy rope, and drove to the location of the water-logged vehicle.

That rope proved of great value, after Holmes arrived at the scene of the failed creek-crossing. He and the driver managed to get the rope tied to the swamped vehicle, but it was plan that the two of them lacked the muscle to pull it out. They tried running the rope around a tree for leverage and pushing with their feet against the trunk, but the car wouldn’t budge. Ernest now sought at the nearest residence with a phone and called his employees to come help. The owner of the home heard the dilemma and offered his and his sons help.

Returning to the half-submerged car, Ernest and his crew, now six men strong, began pulling on the rope. And they pulled. And they pulled more. Finally, as the sun began to set they replaced the tree with a block and tackle from a nearby farm and the mechanic realized he had transformed a simple rope into a tool. He badly needed. It also helped to replace the six men with his truck.

Finally, the car came free of the river, and an idea planted firmly in Ernest’s head. That experience pushed the mechanic to become an inventor. He worked hard at placing an improvised pulley system on a truck. Once he had succeeded, he experimented with using his pulley to lift various vehicles.Sue_First Tow Truck_Replica_of_Ernest_Holmes_Co_Wrecker

By the end of the year, Ernest Holmes felt confident about using his pulley to transport any four-wheeled vehicle that was not running properly. With full confidence acquired, he then launched the procedure for obtaining a patent. By 1916, he had that patent, and the world was ready to pay for the privilege of using Holmes’ patented invention.

 

So what parts of the story are true?

In the spring of 1915, Ernest Holmes had felt motivated to invent the tow truck after he and at least 5 other men spent 8 hours pulling on a rope, so that a car could be removed from a creek. There you have it—truth is actually about as strange as fiction.Sue_First Tow Truck_US1254804-0

 

Autonomous Driving Vehicles Update: Part 4

The Testimonial

Andy_Self driving car_4 interviewThe Kicker is hoping to make a regular feature out of interviewing owners of interesting, exotic, rare or vehicles so we thought it fitting to start off by talking to a Tesla owner. We want to thank Jeanine Jackson, business owner/manager, wife, mom and proud grandma for taking time to answer our questions.

What type of vehicle do you own?

~ I own a Tesla Model S

How long have you owned it?

~ I have owned it since December 2016

Do you use the self-driving capabilities of the car?

~ Yes, I use the self-driving capabilities

If so, how often? In what types of situations?

~ I use the capabilities daily on my commute to and from work. Right now on the surface streets, the self-driving is only available 35 MPH and under, so I take advantage of it as frequently as I can. It is especially awesome in bumper-to-bumper traffic as it will start and stop on its own. When I’m on the freeway I can use them up to 80 mph. The smart cruise control is always available and I use that nearly all the time on surface streets when I go over 35 mph – currently with some limitations, i.e. it can’t recognize a stop sign or light unless there is a car already stopped.

Do you feel safe using the self-driving features of your car?

~ The first few times I used the self-driving features were exhilarating! I lacked the confidence that the car would stop on its own and coming up behind another vehicle and not using the brake is unnerving. With experience, I’ve realized that the car is very reliable to stop. Currently, the software is in a beta test mode that Tesla is updating over the air frequently. A couple months ago I compared the self-driving capabilities to that of a toddler; now it’s a responsible adolescent! With improvements all the time.

Was the self-driving option part of your decision to choose this vehicle over other options?

~ The self-driving option was definitely part of my decision. I like my car to be smarter than me and see all around the vehicle at all times and communicate risks from blind spots. I look forward to learning new features like parking itself, summoning my vehicle, etc.

In the time you’ve been using it, do you feel like the technology has improved?

~ Since I got my Tesla in December, the technology increase is phenomenal! It has been incremental – which I appreciate the concern for safety as new upgrades are rolled out. I love that I don’t have to take my car anywhere to get the upgrades as they become available. It just sits in my garage, or in my parking spot at work, and receives new downloads – just like software updates for a smartphone.

What sort of problems have you noticed?

~ Problems – my car doesn’t recognize stop signs or stop lights. Which means if no one is in front of me, I have to stop the car – auto pilot won’t. If lanes aren’t well marked, sometimes it is hard for my car to know where its lane is. For a while when on the freeway, when the right lane exited, the car couldn’t figure out where it was supposed to be – it thought the exit lane and the right lane of the freeway was just one big lane. That was corrected in a recent firmware release.

What’s your favorite thing about the self-driving feature?

~ My favorite thing… hmmmm. I love so many things about the Tesla – the 17″ screen, never going to a gas station, the ease of charging at home or on the road, the unbeatable acceleration, the regenerative braking system… But I really like the feeling of security that comes from partnering with my Tesla via the autopilot features, the cameras all around, and the collision avoidance technology that makes being in this amazing vehicle safe for me, my family, and others in the road.

If you have a cool car, rare, classic, exotic, etc. and you’re willing to be interviewed (live or remotely) we’d love to hear from you on this site or at our FaceBook Page.

PS Note: Our Op-Ed guy has known Dr. and Mrs. Jackson since he was seven years old (now in his mid-forties) and he claims they do not appear to age. The Jacksons own a day spa among other things, so here’s a shameless plug, since she would never ask us to do it. If you live in the area of Portland, Oregon or Vancouver, Washington you should try out Ashbrook Aesthetics and maybe roll back a few years.

The Tech & The Head to Head Test: Autonomous Vehicles Update

Andy_Self Driving Car_Update 2

Autonomous Driving Vehicles Update: Part 2 & 3 

The best articles we found on the topic were this head to head comparison in Car and Driver, and this one on technology and the larger societal issues from Wired.com. First, take a second to let that sink in. Car and Drive makes sense but we’re already looking at a Tech focused media source when talking cars. Will the mechanics of the future have computer science degrees? (Special note: the Wired article is from 2012, but it’s just one of those seminal treatments of the issue that’s not been surpassed in 5 years.)

Both articles are great to read, but we’ll provide a brief, tech-focused, synopsis below.

Tech Being Explored for Use in Car Autonomy

1 Wheel Encoder

Most of us don’t think too hard about how a cruise control decides how fast you’re are going. We assume it looks at the speedometer the same as we do, but that’s sort of like a photocopy of a photocopy. In actuality, speed sensors either monitor the axles or the wheels. The best option for tracking velocity is wheel-mounted sensors.

2 Radar

Oldie but goodie, we’re all familiar with it and it’s already in use in High-end vehicles, accident-prevention systems like Mercedes’ Distronic Plus, which assists lane changes by covering the blind spot.

3 LIDAR

Light Detection and Ranging, uses lasers, spinning around a thousand rpm, to create a 360-degree awareness that has different weaknesses than radar. The idea is to use LIDAR and RADAR together to eliminate common things that would interfere with either of them separately.

4 Lane-keeping

Some autonomous vehicles use dedicated cameras to watch the contrast between the road surface and the boundary lines. When the lane paint isn’t faded, drivers often comment on how well the cars remain exactly in the center of the lane. On occasions when a large vehicle would make it uncomfortable to remain dead center, most of the systems are able to cheat slightly to one side of the lane.

5 Infrared Camera

Mercedes’ adapted early to using this technology, which has been used by the military for many years. Commonly confused with thermal cameras or twilight vision cameras, which use heat or light-gathering to create types of night-vision, Infrared requires infrared light to project forward and be picked up by infrared cameras. Obviously, that’s not difficult to add to headlamps, but it radically improves the ability to spot nonreflective objects at night. A dashboard display shows the view ahead with hazards illuminated.

6 Stereo Vision

The core of most systems is twin cameras for binocular vision. Much like your own eyes, two cameras are needed to assist with depth perception. It then needs to communicate with a central brain that recognizes and processes what is seen so that drivers or automated systems can respond. Don’t underestimate that brain function. According to IEEE Spectrum, “a premium-class automobile runs 100 million lines of computer code, more than Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner.”

7 GPS/Inertial Measurement

Obviously, any automated-driver needs a map to follow and it needs to know where it at on that map. Most of us take GPS for granted these days, but really knowing exactly where you are on the planet is a must for a system trying to navigate to a destination.

Tech. Comparison

The list of technology below goes by specific brand names and represents unique approaches to the needs of an autonomous driving system, which in turn creates some variance in capabilities. However, a certain uniformity of function can be observed which we’ll try to list first.

All four cars tested had some form of adaptive cruise control, which responds to objects in its path and allows for an auto-follow function in thick traffic. The technology has been out for a few years and it works like a charm on all four cars.

How the Tech. Differs

We also wanted to note what sets these cars apart from each other, aside from simple effectiveness.

mercedes-1422819_1920The Infiniti Q50 seems to hold the steering wheel straight when steering for you and allows several features to be active, like active lane control, even if the car isn’t in a self-driving mode.

The Mercedes S65 only drives for you for 12 seconds at a time. You can tug the wheel either direction and reset the clock.

The BMW 750i begins warning you to put your hands back on the wheel after 3 seconds and the controls to engage the functions are more easily accessible on the steering wheel than other systems.

We had reports that the Tesla Model S would allow you to drive completely hands-free (with a warning that the law requires you to have your hands on the wheel) but the Model S we test drove light up with warnings every time you took either hand off the wheel. The “stalk” between the steering wheel and the turn signal isn’t the easiest way to engage the functionality and it relies on the driver to learn a few different commands to engage different functions. Adjust cruise control up or down by moving it up or down, engage auto-steer with two quick pulls toward you, maintain interval to a car ahead by twisting the switch on the end of the stalk. Bottom line if you’re not going a distance, it’s not worth doing the hokie pokie to engage it.

Head to Head Comparison

The four production vehicles that currently claim a form of autonomous driving capability are:

Andy_Self driving Car_update_Tesla

Tesla Model S – 1 camera, 1 radar sensor, 12 ultrasonic sensors provide Autopilot, Autosteer, Auto Lane Change, Autopark, Traffic-Aware Cruise Control.

Andy_Self driving Car_Update_BMW

BMW 750i – Uses 1 stereo camera and 5 radar sources to provide what they call Active Driving Assistance Plus & Driver Assistance Plus.

Andy_Self driving Car_Update_infinit

Infiniti Q50S – 1 camera and 1 radar source to provide Intelligent Cruise Control, Predictive Forward Collision Warning, Forward Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning/Prevention, Active Lane Control.

Andy_Self driving Car_Update_Mercedes

Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG – 1 camera and 5 radar sources to provide Distronic Plus with Steering Assist, Adaptive Brake Technology, Active Lane-Keeping Assist.

Summary Chart
Tesla Model S 1 camera, 1 radar sensor,12 ultrasonic sensors Autopilot, Autosteer, Auto Lane Change, Autopark, Traffic-Aware Cruise Control
BMW 750i 1 stereo camera and 5 radar sources Active Driving Assistance Plus & Driver Assistance Plus
Infiniti Q50S 1 camera and 1 radar source Intelligent Cruise Control, Predictive Forward Collision Warning, Forward Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning/Prevention, Active Lane Control
Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG 1 camera and 5 radar sources Distronic Plus with Steering Assist, Adaptive Brake Technology, Active Lane-Keeping Assist

According to Car and Driver head to head testing over a 50-mile course with a variety of road and weather conditions the “winner” was Tesla Model S, with around half the lane violations of any of the other cars. In order from least to most lane violations Tesla had 29, BMW had 56, Mercedes had 58 and Infiniti had a whopping 96. Perhaps worth noting is the Tesla price tag at $136,000 compared to the Infiniti at a mere $54,000. The Beemer was comparably priced to the Tesla while the Mercedes cost as much as a three bedroom, two bathroom ranch style house. Literally!

Car Lane Violations Price of Car Tested
Tesla 29 $136,000
BMW 56 $129,000
Mercedes 59 $253,000
Infiniti 96 $54,000

Research:

http://www.caranddriver.com/features/semi-autonomous-cars-compared-tesla-vs-bmw-mercedes-and-infiniti-feature

https://www.wired.com/2012/01/ff_autonomouscars/

Three things we haven’t really mentioned yet:

When an autonomous car does make a mistake, say run a red light, who gets the ticket?
Will car manufacturers actually get these things to market given that they could be sued for mistakes?
The number of disabled people who could become drivers.

If you have any information on those three topics we’d love to hear from you on this site or on our FaceBook page.

For more on Elon Musk the brain behind the Tesla here’s a TED Talk from the man himself.

Self-Driving Cars: Update and Rebuttal (In 4 parts)

Andy_Self Driving Car_Update Tesla 1

Last month’s article about automated, self-driving cars brought quite a bit of comment, which is great. The staff here at The Kicker Blog is always excited to dive deeper into topics that our readers are passionate about. In response, we researched more into the technology and sent our curmudgeonly Op-Ed guy out to take a Tesla Model S for a test spin to try out the Tesla version of autonomous driving. Afterward, we interviewed him to see if his opinion had changed.

Skip to Part 2 & 3

Skip to Part 4

Autonomous Driving Vehicles Update: Part 1     The Test Drive

So what was your first impression?

It’s a beautiful automobile! It has all the bells and whistles you could ask for, and some you wouldn’t think to ask for. Sleek lines. You can’t see one up close without realizing you’re looking at something special. I mean the attention to detail is obvious. Despite it’s modern, spacecraft-like design, it reminds me of early car designs in a way. You can tell a lot of original thought went into it.

So no complaints about the car itself?

Well, I’d have to be a master yogi to get in it on a regular basis, but that’s pretty common these days. Once you’re inside it’s like a cockpit, it wraps around you and feels very comfortable. It left me wishing I had time to read the owner’s manual before attempting to drive it. But once you get passed the amount of data at your fingertips it drives like a normal car.

How was it to engage the self-driving features for the first time?

The first thing you have to get used to is the regenerative breaking, which has nothing to do with the actual automated driving. There’s no coasting in the car. If you take your foot off the gas it applies breaks. I was warned about them but it really affects you the first time you drive it. I didn’t expect that. It bugged me all the way through the test drive. I’m told that you do adjust to it, and I can see that I would. It’s certainly no worse than trying to learn to drive a manual when you’re used to an automatic.

But the self-driving kicks in just fine?

You have a separate stalk under the turn signal to engage it which I kept confusing with the turn signal, and you need special commands to turn on slightly different types of assistance. Again you’d probably get used to that, but it combines to make it a feature you just wouldn’t want to take on until you’d gotten used to all the other aspects of the car. That’s the good news, most people buying the car won’t feel like they need to try out all the things the car can do in one shot. They can easily put self-driving off until later. Which is good because I didn’t find that I got used to it just driving it around that day.

So specifically, what were the ups and downs for you?

Well below 35 you can use the follow feature, which is great in stop-and-go traffic. I really liked that. I can see that being a real plus and prevent the common, congestion-related, rear-end that creates even more accidents and congestion. I see great potential there, but of course, that’s not really a self-driving function because the car in front of you is driving both vehicles.

The downside, I took it on a rural road with faded or missing paint, which is pretty common out here. I’d estimate that it would have left the lane a couple times a mile, but it’s impossible to tell, really. The feature requires you to have both hands on the wheel, which is less comfortable to me so I kept removing one hand and it’d kick off. Then when I did have both hands on, and it started drifting, I’d automatically correct without thinking about it, which would kick it off. The focus I put into keeping it engaged probably counts as distracted driving. I’m sure most fans of the tech would say I was to blame for the fight for control, but none the less, my perception of it was that it got in the way.

So you’re overall impression?

It’s a shame to me, to have some gizmo drive that beautiful car for me because it’s a fun driver. The first straight stretch I came to happened to have a stop sign at the top of a hill. I floored it and did 60 mph in under 4 seconds. I’ve jumped out of planes before and I didn’t get that feeling of acceleration. I’m sure I’d have gone faster but I ran out of road. It glides to stop nicely too.

So still not a fan of autonomous driving?

Well, I didn’t say that. I recognize the appeal of removing accidents. Especially if we can do that while also increasing actual (road) capacity. And I do see the argument of those who say we’ve been automating cars for decades–it’s not really a new thing. The owner of the particular car I test-drove said she has noticed a big improvement with each of the frequent system updates. So Tesla is drawing data as fast as they can and making continuous improvements. That gives me hope that they can overcome some of the chunkiness I felt.

Have you revised your timeline to implementation then?

Absolutely not! I don’t see this becoming more than a fad for another five years, but I could be wrong. It’s happened once or twice. But I was more impressed than I anticipated.

 

Well, there you have it, folks. Even the traditionalists can be won over…at least a little. As before, please contact us with comments.

 

My First Car

By Greg Zschomler

Greg Z_plymouth

Every male my age remembers his first automobile. It might be the ugliest most unreliable vehicle known to man, but it will be fondly recollected nonetheless. Mine, however, was a gem. That is until…well, here’s the story.

My baby was a Plymouth Sport Fury II with a T-handle automatic transmission that I treated like a four-speed on the floor. The paint job was metal flake, root beer brown and the car had a brown custom vinyl top with matching interior upholstery. Baby moons graced the wheels. It was a beaut!

I bought it from a friend when I was eighteen-years-old with the help of my father. Man, I loved that car! No one had another like it and I drove it proudly.

It took its first real beating when my sister Jan, Bill (now Will), Tom and I were on our way to pick up Bill D. one Halloween. I knew not how to get to Bill Ds, so Jan (who did) was instructing me as to the route. Traveling down St. Johns Blvd., at speeds exceeding the limit, Jan suddenly shouted out, “Turn here!” I tried. Having taken the turn too late and at too great a speed I careened over a sidewalk and into a gully. Fortunately, no one but the car was injured. The tires blew out, the baby moons shot off in all kinds of spinny directions and we came to a lurching stop just short of a grove of trees. There was much screaming.

Now I mentioned that this was Halloween. After we were to pick up Bill D. we were to drive to David Douglas Park to set up a Haunted Forest. In our car we had an elaborate make-up kit (for making up monsters) that involved copious quantities of stage blood. Personally, I am want to exaggerate the story and say that this blood flew all over the car, but it, in fact, it did not. I just wanted you to imagine what it would have looked like if it did.

After our nerves settled and the baby moons stopped spinning and were collected, we managed to get to a phone booth (this was, if you can imagine, before cell phones) and soon we had a tow truck in route. The tow yard was near a gas station that had a small convenience store. There we waited for my dad to come get us. While we did Bill (Will) bought me a Rocky Road candy bar (hardee har-har) and recited an impromptu limerick (which I still remember) that went like this:

“There was a young man named Greg, who drives like he’s stoned on a keg, he drives really fast as your life flashes past, but he only breaks your left or right leg.”

Well, I put the remainder of my life’s savings into repairing the car (new tires and an alignment) and, a short while later, having four-speeded the transmission to death, the drive system gave out while traversing ‘the gut’ (Highway 99 in Hazel Dell) and I and whoever I was with at the time (I think it was my friend Steve) pushed it into the parking lot of Hazel Dell Lanes. I was nearly broke so I called my dad to pick us up. (Did I mention that my dad was a patient man with a great lecturing capability?) We intended to pick the car up in the morning and tow it home.

The next day, when we returned for my baby, she was gone. The stinkin’ manager/owner of Hazel Dell Lanes had had it towed! I didn’t have the money to get it out of impound and by the time I did the towing company had added on storage charges! Meanwhile, I’d looked into the cost of a transmission repair and I knew I wouldn’t have that sort of cash until I was ninety years old. I had to let the car—my baby—go and someone got a beautiful set of wheels at the auto auction.

BTW Will: I have never liked Rocky Road candy bars; they look like something you should leave in a toilet.

 

Mandatory by 2023: New Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) Tech

Andy_V2V_1

For those just being introduced to the concept, Vehicle to Vehicle Communication is the latest advancement in what has been dubbed “The Internet of Things.” When Edison invented the first generator he went about inventing as many things as he could that plugged in. Well, the next revolution is here. By creating a formal way (peer to peer network of sorts) for light vehicles to speak to each other they can share all sorts of data, starting with their location relative to each other.

The eventual benefit, as car autonomy technology continues to improve, is that cars will automatically avoid each other. Even before that technology is truly in place, however, warning lights and sounds can radically reduce vehicle to vehicle collisions. Up to 80% of accidents according to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), who originally called for V2V to become standard on new cars, back in 2014.

But the coming V2V network will also include other information such as road conditions, traffic changes, and safety information. Imagine that you’re driving on a rural road at night and you round a corner only to narrowly miss a family of deer that stumble out in front of you. You slam on your brakes and swerve, disaster avoided. But what about that senior citizen that you just passed a few minutes ago? Isn’t there a way they might be warned? Well, soon it could be automatically done for you when your car detects your evasive maneuver and notifies cars in both directions of a need for caution.

The rule proposal was issued by the US Department of Transportation in December of 2016. According to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, “This long promised V2V rule is the next step…Once deployed, V2V will provide 360-degree situational awareness on the road…”

A couple challenges lay ahead for manufacturers. First, a standard must exist so that all cars talk to each other regardless of make. The US DOT is already working with automakers to accomplish this. Guidelines for V2I technology (or Vehicle to Infrastructure) will come from the Federal Highway Administration. This addition will add work zones, traffic lights, and crosswalks to the items your car will detect.

Obviously, safety is the major push behind this technology, but an added advantage could be increasing the number of cars on the road at any one time. Think about the impact this increased communication between cars could have on things like lane changes. If you put your blinker on and the car in your blind spot alerts its driver to back off temporarily road capacity increases.

Andy_V2V_2

The plan is to use dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) transmitting up to ten times a second to nearby vehicles. We’ve been covering the topic of automated cars, and plan to publish our update this Friday. It will go a bit more in-depth on the sensor based adaptive cruise control but the difference here is that DSRC can provide information from a dozen yards beyond the reach of any sensor, and it won’t be impacted by weather and light conditions. That’s why its heavily endorsed by organizations such as The Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets. With 35,000 vehicle-related fatalities in 2016, an 80% reduction represents the population of a small town saved every twelve months.

Cynics point out the potential downsides of relying on such technology. For one thing, if you’ve ever dropped a phone call you know the potential to have a signal loss. Imagine if the computer on board your computer misinterpreted that signal loss. Eventually, that could be accounted for, but in the short run, drivers would need to remain vigilant.

Another potential of this technology, which few experts are talking about, is the potential to use it as a speed governor or automatic ticket writing machine. Imagine if you’re going 55 mph in a 50 mph deserted stretch of road at 11 pm taking your pregnant wife to the hospital because she just went into labor. The city government has decided they will begin construction in a particular block soon and dropped the official speed limit to 35 mph. There’s not a road cone or barricade in sight but your car knows, and it slows you down to 35. You curse and disengage the safety feature so you can return to speed. You futuristic car sends a notice to the authorities and they mail you a large ticket.

It’s a pretty convoluted scene from a very hypothetical future, but it’s an example of the sort of personal autonomy that goes away when we don’t plan well during the development of new technologies. Several consumer advocacy groups have asked the FCC to forbid using DSRC in the 5.9GHz Spectrum because of the risk vehicles could be hacked and manufacturers could collect and use data without permission.

The potential cost per vehicle isn’t inhibitive at under $300, but manufacturers have their own reservations, noting that they would have to work closely with the DOT to make certain DSRC could be rolled out effectively at scale. The current schedule, if it stays on track would put the rule in place in 2021, with the all new vehicles required to have it by 2023.

Of course, we’re always looking for your feedback here or on our Facebook page.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
SearchAutoParts.com
US Department of Transportation

FHWA Announces Vehicle-to-Infrastructure Guidance

U.S. Department of Transportation Issues Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to

Begin Implementation of Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications Technology

DSRC: The Future of Safer Driving