Are AV’s on hold? Should they be?

OP-ED by A. Bunch

There’s so much we could say on the topic. Actually, there’s a lot we have said on the topic. The opinion above is interesting and worth viewing.

I notice these city tests always take place in a special zone of a city that’s pretty straightforward. More than that, they’re also specially mapped. That means that they don’t just download the same navigation you or I do, they specifically vet the maps in that zone. This means even if AVs start taking over certain city zones, the outlying areas will still require human assistance.

Why is that? Because things happen that haven’t been specifically foreseen and accounted for by programmers. Will these zones be the challenging downtown areas with heavy pedestrian use that TNC (rideshare) drivers already hate to navigate? NO! Not at all. GPS is notorious for dropping when the signal is blocked by skyscrapers.

The goal of all automation should be to replace the types of routine work that people don’t like to do and therefore grow bored and unproductive at. But if humans will still be needed for rural areas and inner-city areas, what’s the point of automation?

Crash avoidance systems, automated braking, and automatic transmissions reduce driver fatigue but it seems like the challenge of replacing drivers entirely may not be worth the billions some folks are willing to spend to do it. Will automakers be able to train their machines to recognize a human in a crosswalk? I’m sure they will. Will it justify the money they’re spending? Only the future will tell.

New Car Smell

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It’s one of life’s great mysteries, why the new car smell is so appealing. But what exactly is it?

Maybe the smell is just newness in general? If a car hasn’t been used it doesn’t have that “lived in” feel? It’s an unfamiliar situation which might be reacting with our noses? Okay, that’s not very scientific talk. So then – let’s get scientific.

You’d think it would be a simple question to answer, like “the leather” or “the paintwork” but the answer is a great deal more complex than that. Any salesperson will tell you that consumers are rational but not logical, which means we care about the features of the car like gas mileage, safety, and reliability but our decision is ultimately an emotional one.

Our five senses heavily influence our answers to questions like:
How does it run?
How does it look?
How does it feel?

We may not consciously be aware that we’re asking, “how does it smell?”

And ‘smell’ is the best description, right? It’s a pleasant odor, but not perfume. Its fresh like ozone more than sweet like air freshener. It can be hard to put your finger on, and one reason could be that it’s a complex cocktail of other odors.

 

 

So what does a new car smell of?

Well, it could remind you of a newly washed sweatshirt, a bath sponge or an escalator. This is because the most active ingredients are both polymers found in those two items; polyester (sweatshirt) and polyurethane (the sponge or an escalator). Not really connecting the two odors? As appealing as you may find the smell of sweatshirt/sponge/ escalator, there’s a big difference in intensity. Escalators are in big rooms and we’re not usually closely confined with our sweaters and sponges. The odor doesn’t collect and stagnate the way it does in a car. The complexity of the molecules in a car is greater too.

 

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The scent of polymers comes from something called “outgassing” or releasing their raw materials. Fortunately, vehicles are not as insulated as houses because continued exposure to polymers it can cause headaches or dizziness. Despite the innocuousness of these materials, compared to exhaust fumes or cigarette smoke it may also lead to lung cancer if you have too much exposure to these types of materials.

 

Some simple chemicals come into play as well, which don’t account for as much volume but due to their volatile state put our more scent.  And not all the chemicals are simple. A number of more complex ones include benzene and formaldehyde. Benzene is found in gasoline while formaldehyde is a disinfectant type substance.

Most likely the compelling odor comes from all these substances coming in “one big hit” which would be a happy accident for car sellers, at least at first. Used car dealers quickly adapted and the industry has managed to bottle the scent so they can spray it in any freshly cleaned vehicle to add that special zing.

While the bottled smell fades rapidly after purchase a truly new car smell is hard to remove quickly. If you are one of the folks who doesn’t enjoy the smell of a fresh new car, don’t bother trying to mask it with a car air freshener—they’re not up to the task. The best thing is just to avoid taking the car on too many long journeys and if you do take some long breaks park in the shade. Sun and warmth just exacerbate the problem.

So to sum up, the new car smell, while pleasant is only mostly harmless. The problem is of course that people generally like a new car smell and it’s one of the reasons people buy a new car. There has been some attempt to remove some of the more volatile substances but the actual smell won’t be going anywhere for a long time.

 

5 Benefits of Diesel

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Shopping for a new truck—and thinking about going diesel? You may be surprised by the sheer number of benefits and perks that a diesel engine can offer. There are still some lingering stigmas about diesel from years ago that no longer apply thanks to new technology, so you have to have the right information. Whether the Duramax has caught your eye or it’s the Denali that’s captured your heart, here’s the icing on your diesel-fueled sweet ride.

  1. Electric Complexity? Forget About It.

“Regular” ignition systems are managed by complicated electrical systems—which can have glitches and have you shelling out thousands to the mechanic. Diesel ignition systems are simply, well, simpler. This means they’re more reliable, while even touting better thermal efficiency. You need your truck to be a true workhorse, and going diesel can help you get there.

  1. They’re Green

Diesel fuel burns cleaner than other types of gasoline, making a GMC diesel truck more eco-friendly than other options while still maintaining their rugged clout. For those who wouldn’t be caught in a Prius or Tesla, but still have a soft spot for the environment, diesel is the ultimate alternative—no tree-hugging bumper stickers required (unless, of course, that’s your thing).

  1. Torquediesel-2076482_1920

When it comes to sheer power, diesel provides more torque than other fuel options. There’s more horsepower in every square inch of displacement, leading to an increased revolution-per-minute of fuel. Basically, when hauling heavy loads, you simply need a diesel engine for better, stronger and faster performance. GMC diesel trucks are the ultimate ride for heavy haulers. From boating gear to construction supplies, if you actually use your bed and hitch, you need the right fuel to pull the goods.

  1. Better Fuel Consumption

There was a time when diesel was cheaper per gallon than unleaded. Those days are sadly over, but what many people don’t realize is that diesel is still more affordable. Diesel engines consume less fuel, which means when you fill up the tank, it’ll last longer. When compared to a gasoline truck that averages 15 mpg, you can expect 22 mpg from a diesel engine. That’s something both you and your wallet will enjoy.

  1. It’s Safer in a Crash

ford-pick-up-truck-2821964_1920Hopefully, you and your loved ones will never be in a serious accident—but if the worst does happen, a diesel engine can help protect you. Diesel is less flammable than other types of fuel, so you have a reduced risk of fire or, even worse, an explosion. This isn’t something that people like to think about, which means that it’s not a common conversation starter when checking out a diesel dealership. However, your diesel engine might just save your life, and it’s something worth considering.

When shopping for your new heavy hauler, there’s more to think about than extended cabs and lift kits. How you fuel your truck can make a huge difference in your bank account, your safety, and performance. Choose wisely.

 

 

Self-Driving (AV) Car First Fatality

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Op-Ed by Managing Editor of the Kicker Blog A. R. Bunch

We at the Kicker, have waited a couple days to comment on this story because it’s important to acknowledge the loss of life before engaging in what will no doubt be a ruckus brawl of a debate regarding the fall out of the event. However, we’d be remiss if we didn’t respond to it at all.

Last Sunday, a 49-year-old Arizona woman was struck by one of Uber’s autonomous (self-driving) vehicles while pushing her bike across the street outside the crosswalk. The collision seems to have occurred at roughly the speed limit of the road, with no sign that the AV attempted to slow down.

The is a myriad of legal viewpoints on who should be held responsible. The owner of the vehicle? The person behind the wheel, though not driving the vehicle, Uber, the state of Arizona!? Seriously. Was this a workplace accident? Was it vehicular manslaughter? Without being a lawyer, we can’t answer those types of questions. But let’s talk about another question that seems relevant.

Who could have predicted such a tragedy? Frankly everyone. I don’t know that anyone didn’t expect it to happen at some point. Cars hit people. Here at the Kicker we’ve also warned that self-driving cars are further from reality than we’re being told for one big reason. Mindset!

There’s an inevitable transition happening in vehicles away from mechanical and toward technological. We’ve covered it in several posts. But we’ve hit a tipping point where manufacture and design is shifting away from the car industry and toward technology companies. The leaders of these different industries have radically different approaches to development and often for good reasons.

In the late 1960’s Ford leadership came to their designers with a unique and exciting challenge–design a new subcompact car that weighed less than 2,000 pounds and bring it to market in under two years, for less than $2,000. pinto-699303_1920

The met that goal and the resulting Ford Pinto. burst into flames when struck from behind at low speeds. It didn’t need to. The issue was brought to the attention of decision-makers, but the suggested fix was a couple pound hunk of hard plastic that cost $11. It put the car over cost, and overweight. The controversy came when the public discovered that Ford had run a cost-benefit analysis to determine how many people would be injured or killed by not improving the design and decided it would be cheaper to settle lawsuits than to prevent them.

In other words, there was an acceptable number of people who could be killed or maimed if it let them meet their goals and profit margin. The resulting outcry tot Ford a valuable lesson–one which technology companies have yet to learn.

Ever buy a new computer and find it runs horribly? Ever find it buggy or insecure from hackers? Ever think, these people are releasing their beta version and letting us debug it for them? Well, that sort of thinking won’t be very compatible with the commuting public. Especially when they’re touting how much safer we’ll all be when their product is behind the wheel.

I’m going to make a prediction about how these new laws around AV’s are going to shake out. 100% of the fault for anything your car does will be blamed on you–the official operator of the vehicle. The only thing the law can hold accountable is the driver. That means insurance rates for people with AVs may be higher until actuaries determine if they are actually safer. It means, you can’t just sit back and watch TV while your car drives you to work, which could make the car less attractive to buyers and less attractive to companies like Apple who are jumping in with both feet because AVs are the next iPod.

If the sudden craving doesn’t create demand then the irrational exuberance driving us to rush AVs to market will slow and we can actually test these cars before they get on the road instead of just killing people and debugging later. So it’s a self-correcting process. However, it does mean two things–we were right that we’re more than 5 years away from self-driving cars AND no one is going to realize that until it kills someone.

This tragedy was avoidable. There is no acceptable number of people who can be injured or killed in the process of helping companies hit their financial goals. I hope that everyone involved in designing and testing AVs reflects hard on this tragedy, and I hope that the lawmakers of AZ consider their role in it.

Rest in Peace Elaine Herzberg

Until next time–this is A. R. Bunch hoping you stay safe on the roads.

The Near Future of Mass Transit: A Work in Progress

 

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Hong Kong CityScape at Night

 

 Typically when we think mass transit, visions of buses and trains populate our mind. However, there has been quite a culture shift over the last few years for greener commuting and lower cost options that provide not only the services commuters want, but can also lead to the revitalization of various metropolitan areas. While not one place seems to have mass transit down to an art form, there are several places that have gotten creative and inventive over the years to make people’s commutes more enjoyable and beneficial while saving taxpayers money and the environment.

 

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Los Angeles

 

  • Los Angeles

Over the years, Los Angeles has always been seen as an example for sustainable mass transit growth and green initiatives. Recently, the city passed a new transit plan that incorporates proposals for new bike trails throughout the city, bus-only lanes to help with congestion, and a manageable road maintenance schedule. However, the most unique aspect of this plan is the allowance for self-driving vehicles, in anticipation of the technological advances with companies such as Tesla. Los Angeles certainly has the capacity to handle the coming advances as well with a recent small tax increase that will provide the transportation division with billions of funds in the years to come.

 

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Philadelphia

 

  • Philadelphia

Philadelphia has embraced the green movement for the long haul with the introduction of bike share services. In fact, they are the number one city for bicycle commuting in the US with more than 400 miles of dedicated bike lanes. With mass transit facing a decline in ridership and cost of fuel rising, the city introduced Indego, a city-wide bike sharing service. Cost is approximately $4 a ride and bikes can be rented all over the city. The convenience of the system allows for anyone, including tourists, to rent a bike any time of day or night, every day of the week. The biggest benefit to come from Indego has been to provide affordable commuting services to low-income users in all areas of the city without restriction.

 

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Sky Hammock over Hong Kong

 

  • Hong Kong

Of all domestic and international cities, Hong Kong has by far the best metro system. This state of the art system is constantly monitored in a massive control center called the Super Operation Control Center or Super OCC. With Hong Kong mass transit supporting billions of passengers a year, the Mass Transit Railway or MTR is by the far the most popular option. When a problem arises that could delay transit times, the MTR strives to address each issue within two minutes. They have largely succeeded with an overall on-time performance at nearly 100%. The reason behind their success lies within the way the program is managed through accountability, funded (private and publically), and designed for riders. The system is so popular that the MTR Corporation has already started expanding to other cities worldwide to introduce efficiency and innovation.

 

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Who Killed J.R.?

 

  • Dallas

With the rising fuel prices and decline of federal funding, many cities have been researching long-term alternative fuels options such as natural gas, biodiesel, hybrid-electric, and all-electric. The city of Dallas recently finished a study that looked into cost savings with alternatives fuels along with more efficient technologies to help make their mass transit more effective overall. The Dallas mass transit system chose to switch all buses from diesel to compressed natural gas. The switch is aimed to fulfil green initiatives as compressed natural gas is a cleaner fuel alternative. Additionally, the switch will save taxpayers millions over the coming years.

 

 

V8 vs. V6

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Ah, the V8 vs. V6 debate – it’s as classic as a second generation Trans Am. Which one is better? Is there really a big difference in these muscle car parts? The answer is that the “best” option is up to you, the driver. What will you be using your ride for? There are a lot of racing enthusiasts who are only happy with the V8 option because of the power and speed. However, for many “regular” drivers a V6 is (way) more than enough power. Consider what you really want from your machine to make the best-informed decision.

What’s the Difference?

Overall, V6 cars will be less expensive to purchase, insurance will likely be lower, and your pocketbook will thank you at the gas station. This can mean more cash flow for those must-have accessories. A V6 can easily handle the daily commute and the occasional road trip, packing enough punch to inject a good amount of speed and power into an open road ride. The downside? Well, it’s not a V8 and doesn’t have the power of that monster.Mehta_V6 Emblem

Yes, a V8 will likely cost more in every department. Is it worth it? That’s up to you. Are you jonesing for weekends at the track, car show hopping, or heading to that favorite stretch of open road? Then a V8 may well be worth it. Sure, it might be a little trickier (ahem, expensive) to modify and those with lead feet might be tempting fate, especially with highway photo radar systems, but you only live once.

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So, How Do I Choose?

Test driving many different V6’s and V8’s is the only way to get a real feel for the difference – and your preference. Many of the newer V6 models are extremely (and sometimes surprisingly) powerful and people realize that’s “all” they need. Others instantly fall in love with the rumble of a V8. There’s no way to predict which way you will lean until you get behind the wheel.

Some Things to Keep in Mind

Some racing pros suggest that a V6 is the right choice for someone new to the muscle car family. Others are more the “do what feels right” type. It’s important to keep practicality in mind, even though it may not be the most fun part of buying a new ride. If you’re shopping for an (extremely lucky) teen’s first car, they likely won’t need a V8 and that’s asking for trouble anyway.

However, if it’s a second “just for fun” car that won’t be eating up gas in a long routine commute, it might be the perfect pick. Think about financing, the often unpredictable gas prices, and insurance premiums when making a selection. Choosing power is a big deal, so do your research, test drive as many machines as possible, be reasonable, and most of all, enjoy.

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A Glance at Car Culture Past to Future

 

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Henry Ford

 

There is much debate about when the first car was introduced to the world. From the early 1800s all the way up until the 1900s, numerous designs were patented and produced throughout the world. However, it was not until the early 1900s when the first full-scale automobile assembly lines were introduced that production of the car really ramped up. The introduction of the car helped shape and growing world economies and also shifted cultural mindsets. With the increased production, there was an increase in the need for skilled labourers and with that came the reinvestment of wages into the economy. Never before did people of all walks of life have access to a means of transportation that could take them to even the most remote places of the world in a much more compressed length of time. The wealthy were no longer the only ones who could afford to shape the cultural patterns of their countries since these workers also became a substantial wedge of the market share.

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Car culture continued to grow over the years especially with the use of motorcycles and vehicles during World War I and II, but nothing screams quintessential car culture more than muscle cars. Interestingly enough, the need for speed developed early in the 1900s during prohibition times, but it wasn’t until 1949 that the first official muscle car, the Rocket 88, was debuted by Oldsmobile. It had a lightweight frame with a powerful V8 engine. After its introduction, the Rocket 88 became popular within the NASCAR world, which helped to elevate the muscle car amongst American car culture. By the mid-1950s, muscle cars had begun to dominate the market with American automakers Chrysler and Chevrolet contributing heavily. It was during this time that Chrysler first introduced the Hemi engine, which was a series of V8 engines that used a hemispherically shaped combustion chamber. It had advantages over the tradition reverse-flow cylinder combustion chambers and allowed muscle cars to reach much sought after speeds.

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With the increased desire in speed, there came a larger concern for safety and regulation. Car manufacturers became increasingly aware of the need for such things as safety harnesses, reinforced framework, door locks, and even airbags. Throughout the late 1950s and into the 60s, these safety features became more standardized on vehicles, but it was until the late 60s when the first seat belt law was introduced in America.

Technological advancements have continued to dominate the car industry as the years have gone by. Every year cars get more and more upgraded features that not only incorporate safety but are user-friendly and meant to make the drive a pleasant experience for all. Some interesting new developments include the introduction of ADAS windshield technology and the self-driving car. ADAs technology assists drivers through a network of sensors and direct connections to the vehicle while promoting safe driving. The self-driving car has always been somewhat of a fantasy, but car companies such as Tesla have pushed to make it a mainstay in the car industry. They already produce cars capable of full autonomy but have yet to implement all the capabilities at this time.

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However, car culture may be slowly coming to end outside of people’s personal hobbies. Studies have begun to show that the younger generations are moving away from buying and owning vehicles. With the introduction of companies like Uber and Lyft and the growing push for greener solutions, we may be seeing fewer vehicles on the road in the very near future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is The Car In An Identity Crisis?

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OP-ED from across the pond by Paul Wimsett

People see a car as a way of getting from A to B, a status symbol or an extension of personal tastes and character. What people tend not to see is a computer.

Looking at the computer it did have a mechanical history, first made of cogs and gears then bulbs and transistors. It doesn’t take much to imagine the pipes and chambers under the hood as the early beginnings of a computerized device. As more people get AVs (autonomous vehicles) we may have to change how we see the humble car, I feel.

The idea of AVs seems to be growing in popularity even if it seems unlikely to become a reality any time soon. It seems that AVs will cause accidents in the early days, but each country’s legal system will have to determine if the fault is with the driver or the programmer? I also feel that a certain amount of driving is culture. In some places, everyone runs amber lights or stops at crosswalks and other places they don’t. We grow accustomed to how we drive locally. As a motorist, you can’t follow the habits of a fellow driver who isn’t even in the driving seat. We’ll have to learn what the computer does or doesn’t do and it won’t match what the other human drivers are doing. It’s a different way of driving completely.

This post, however, isn’t about how safe or unsafe the driverless car is, merely how our relationship may change. My feelings are that a car will stop being a personal possession. It may well become a family-owned possession, maybe passing down generations if the car is expensive enough. It may also mean that cars are harder to buy and keep their values more, as houses do today.

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How do cars not being personal change their meaning? Well, there may be a lack of stickers and go-faster stripes. This is a shame as it so much part of American society, including political interest. However, if an automobile is no longer a personal thing, this will alter, I feel. The interior of the car might become neutral and the form of the interior less some kind of hierarchy where the driver is in charge.

Okay, will we be driving by committee? No, but even now the driver shares the load with a navigator. At least for now (perhaps, fortunately) folks in the back seat cannot physically control the vehicle, but that could change.

This will essentially change the way cars are marketed too. No longer just to the breadwinner and now more to the family as a whole. The idea of a car being a “macho-wagon” and “chick-attractor” may alter as the automobile changes its character.

Less obviously, how women see cars may also change. Even with a female “driver” there may be more neutral colors, fewer turquoise, and other pastel colors. (It seems these days women prefer the color green to other colors, (https://www.thoughtco.com/what-are-womens-favorite-colors-1077397). The car may be in future designed with all the family in mind.

Does this mean that a car will be more of an investment? It would seem so, IHS says that a self-driving technology will add $7,000-$10,000 to the value, at least up to 2025. Even now, cars can be collateral against a loan. In the future will expensive cars be “remortgaged” and become an income source? It doesn’t seem likely at the moment, but at a time of fluid change, who knows?

It seems to me that drivers who drive themselves will become the outsiders, the people who chose the cheaper car. As stated above they will also find it harder to drive in a world of non-drivers. So what if you know a three point turn? No one else does. That information will not be valuable anymore.

The predictor of the future will no doubt get many things wrong. Maybe the world of the driverless car will always be considered unsafe except in arranged convoys or it will never happen at all. We can never totally predict what the future might bring.

Month in Motion

 

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OP-ED by A. R. Bunch

If you take a quick look at the news lately (aside from the daily inappropriate workplace philandering of the latest celeb or politician) a trend is emerging. The world is changing, rapidly, and vehicles/transportation is right in the middle of it.

Here’s just a brief list of topics that are trending according to Linked In just this week:
1,500 Holiday Flights without Pilots
Uber Ex-Employee Alleges Covert Tactics to Steal Rivals’ Secrets
Sweeping Tax Reform to be debated
Bitcoin surges through $11,000 less than 24 hours after topping $10,000

What we’re seeing is a hyper-change of culture and how we move goods, services, and people around is changing just as quickly. Frankly, we’re all getting some intellectual and emotional whiplash. I wanted to dash off this quick update because it’s the holiday season and I for one hear my heart crying for me to refocus on what’s really important, while at the same time my instinct is telling me there’s a theme to all this change and I can’t really step down until I’ve sifted out the potential impact on my life.

 

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I happen to live in a midsized town across the bridge from a midsized city that’s growing by leaps and bounds. Property values are skyrocketing as builders can’t keep up with demand. As I drive around town I notice a strange trend. Developments and apartment complexes are being built miles from other infrastructure. If I drive north on a rural road toward the next small town, which is also growing quickly, the area between is “filling in” as you might expect. What is different is that the infrastructure isn’t filling in–only the dwellings. One grocery store might be next to a dairy farm and beyond that a large apartment complex, then empty fields, then a high-density development. It hit me, we don’t need as much business support as we used to. The nearby strip malls sit empty and all those grassy fields were supposed to become more “shopping” which we won’t need because of the internet and “HOME DELIVERY.”

City planners still haven’t accounted for internet shopping so the only thing really being built are places to live. Lower density means more dependence on roads to connect us. We’ll soon need more capacity and upkeep and savvy city planners might be wise to plan ahead when budgeting, but that’s another topic.

I looked for a common thread both in my observations and the news topics listed above to see if there are forces behind what we’re seeing and I’ve come to a set of interesting conclusions.

#1 Technology and automation are making life more complicated and stressful, at least in the short run.

There seem to be two main camps, those who abstain from the tornado of technology and those who embrace it to the hilt. Camp one, like my own mother, will find it ever more difficult to accomplish the basic tasks they once took for granted like paying bills, getting a paycheck, and buying groceries. Camp two, like me, will find it impossible to keep up with the rate of change that seems to change how we do every simple thing in our lives. We’re also facing a complete life shut down whenever there’s a simple glitch in technology that gets faster, cheaper and more powerful daily but seems not to get any more stable. If you decide to not own a car, for example, how do you get home when your cell phone gets wet and turns into a brick? Just call…well, hail a rideshare…oh, I know, I’ll look up the bus schedule…nope. None of that!

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Of course, most of us find ourselves stuck in the middle trying to survive, and I’m not using the word survive to be dramatic. We must not only learn to use technology instead of sticking our head in the sand, we must also learn how to fit technology into our lives in a manner that brings more life instead of impeding it.

If it seems like I’m talking about nothing new, consider technology change level two. When the PC turned from an expensive paperweight into an indispensable tool of business it didn’t just kill the typewriter, it centralized and automated business practices, we had to learn to remote sign contracts, information became trackable and searchable, online identity eventually became more real than your reputation in your community. It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened rapidly. The shift to cell phones had a similarly profound effect.

I know this has been happening for a hundred years. The invention of the car and the lightbulb and so on, have all had drastic impacts on American culture as well as individual health. (Did we really have wrestles leg syndrome or insomnia before cars, desk jobs, and electric light on demand?) I’m not arguing that it’s different only that it’s happening at a pace we’re struggling to adjust to and that it may indicate a larger mega-shift is at hand.

This doesn’t have to be a scary thing. The industrial revolution did a lot of harm if you view it early on from the perspective of a child forced to work twelve hour days in unsafe conditions to help feed his family. But if we step back and look at the impact of it long term, after we’ve had a chance to adjust our laws and our culture to it. You could make a case that we’re ultimately both better and worse depending on your perspective.

This leads me to conclusion #2.

If we take the same filter and apply it to the things we’re seeing right now, a picture immerges. What if we’re in the early stages of the next great revolution? What if it already started and the next 20 years will decide the quality of life for generations? Are there skills that we can learn now to help us weather the coming turbulence more easily? I think there is.

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Conclusion #3:

Whether you start the industrial revolution at the invention of the cotton gin or the steam engine in the early days the terms innovation and industry were virtually synonymous. If you had a great invention or the money to capitalize on someone else’s invention you could become wealthy. The gap between rich and poor widened until a vacuum appeared where the need for educated workers required the creation of a middle class.

I predict that this new automation revolution will present with similar effect. We’re already seeing overnight success for innovators and wealth for investors. Alongside this jump in opportunity is a widening gap between haves and have-nots. The traditional answer to automation is education. Put simply, more machines will need few but better-trained operators to tend them. But this is the minor theme in this mega-shift.

The surprise side effect of the industrial revolution was that the world got smaller. Cheaper parts make cheaper items including vehicles and the need for cheaper labor means moving jobs to less developed regions. Basically, we traveled more and competed globally, and we earn the same or less. We consumed more and became less self-sufficient–less locally sufficient. Few of us can change our own oil, most of us can’t cook our own food, and that food isn’t grown anywhere near us. We’ve become dependent on glitch technology, unstable economies, and cheap goods and services. Did I mention that our spending power hasn’t gone up?

We’re stressed out and its no wonder. I’m not trying to bring you down dear reader, we’re about to turn it around. I just want to say that conclusion #3 is when you can 3D print a cell phone in your garage with plans you buy off the internet and you just made a ton of money selling a software patch for the operating system of that cell, the company that used to make money manufacturing that phone in Asia, as well as the store that used to sell it to you, are going to go the way of the typewriter. The need to move people and goods around will change radically and the world will, in many ways, get bigger again.

Conclusion #4:

Before the industrial revolution was an age of enlightenment that brought us out of the dark ages. Prosperity and rationality lead to an appreciation for creativity and philosophy. Humans began to value things beyond the end of their fork. If there’s hope for the future it’s that automation will give people time to dream up better perspectives for a higher quality of life.

Rose M. from the company Patagonia wrote a great article on her company’s commitment to using recycled material in their products to reduce the depletion of virgin natural resources (link). While I don’t think environmentalist lobbying government to put us back in the Stone Age to save the planet will truly help the world, I do applaud companies that voluntarily seek market-based answers. Step one of the solution has to be giving people a good option. However, here’s a ridiculously long block quote to illustrate one perspective I think we’ll need to take head-on.

 

But the natural world and we, ourselves, can’t sustain this economy. Just one fact among many: between 1970 and 2012, more than half of the world’s wildlife was lost. The loss happened largely in poorer countries because their resources go to feed wealthy consuming countries. “Extinction,” as the journalist George Monbiot said, “is the bycatch of consumerism.” The consumption economy is destroying the natural world.

It’s also outdated and ineffective. “Capitalism has produced great wealth and helped lift hundreds of millions from poverty,” writes Stephen Heintz, the president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, “But it has also produced deep and growing inequality within many societies and eroded local cultures, traditions and livelihoods. Industrial capitalism, with its reliance on fossil fuels, has heated the planet nearly to a point of no return with potentially catastrophic consequences for all forms of life, and financial capitalism has pushed income and wealth inequality to levels not seen since the Gilded Age.”

The economy isn’t working: it’s not working for the planet and it’s not working for us. Says hedge fund founder Ray Dalio, “… for the bottom 60%, it’s a miserable economy.”

 

If the early industrial revolution conflated the terms innovation with industry, this new digital/automation age is conflating the terms consumerism with capitalism. Perspectives have begun to shift. We’re no longer thinking that cheaper is better, and we’re redefining our definition of better. Is it worth paying more to support products that you believe will bring you better health or a more sustainable environment? We each must answer this question for ourselves, and perhaps on a case by case basis.

But does capitalism automatically equate to rampant waste?

Capitalism is defined as “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.”

Consumerism is defined as “the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable; also : a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods.”

Isn’t Patagonia Inc. proof that corporations don’t have to be greedy? Isn’t there an answer to be found in our own decisions? Why do politicians take bribes and celebs philander? In part because we don’t hold them accountable, right? Why do corporations soak up cheap virgin resources, treat employees badly, export jobs to places they find cheap labor where they can skirt safety and pollution standards? Because we still buy their cheap products.

Final conclusion:

I promised to come to a more uplifting point and I will. I’m not blaming all our problems on simple greed so I can shake a finger at you and me. I want to empower each of us to learn two skills that will help us survive the coming changes in our society as a result of the shift in technology.

keys-525732_1920I’ve mentioned that are earning power hasn’t gone up and now I’m indicating that we need be willing to pay more for goods that echo our values. I’ve flogged the point that we are stressed and busy, but now I’m saying that we need to become better-informed consumers in order to reward some businesses and punish others. So what’s the answer?

It’s deceptively simple. Think about everything your purchases and be intentional about your use of technology. For the latter, I recommend the books “The 5 Choices” by Kory Kogon and Adam Merrill. It contains a section on making savvy tech choices. You can also find good resources at LifeHacker.com.

For the former, choose quality over quantity at all times. That goes double for anything you’d have to use debt to acquire. Advice for smart use of debt can be found around the internet, I recommend Robert Kiyosaki “Rich Dad Poor Dad.” Bottom line, don’t buy it or put in your mouth or wear it if it won’t make your life better. Just asking the question, “will this bring me more life?” That’s the standard.

What’s all this got to do with vehicles and commuting?

Simple, after houses the most expensive thing most of us will own is a car. Of course, a college education is almost in a tie with home buying and I recommend thinking twice before buying that as well. However, how you get around and how things get to you is a big part of our life. In the wake of the last crash, home buying has become more regulated, with mandatory checks and balances on your financial end as well as physical inspection of the property. Cars…not so much.

If you’re planning a trip please consider having someone look at your vehicle. Get tires rotated every time you get an oil change. Have brakes checked semiannually. For the love of all that’s holy don’t buy a used car without having it inspected. Cars represent a big expense and you need to know its value and have it’s safety verified before you spend your money on it.

Prepurchase car inspection is more affordable than you’d think, click here for more detail.

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That’s it for me on this first day of December. Please be safe on the roads and try not to let the stress get to you. We’re all feeling it. Slow down. Take a break. Listen to some cheery music and enjoy your favorite dessert as slowly as you can eat it. Tomorrow will come and you’ll be okay.

As always, if you think I’m full of it, let me know in the comments below.

AVs Autonomous Vehicles (part 10?)

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Progress toward Autonomous Vehicles So Far:

2016 Qualcomm’s purchased NXP Semiconductors for it’s chip tech for AVs ($39 billion)

2017 Intel purchased Mobileye for its AV sensors ($15 billion)

2017 GM purchased Cruise Automation for AV tech patents ($1 billion)

Other companies with AV projects…Apple, Baidu, Google/Waymo, Intel, Tesla, and Uber. Experts are projecting a $7 trillion market for AVs.

 

Predictions about when we can expect them, range from as early as 2019 (Morgan Stanly) to 2032 (ABI Research). The National Highway Trafic Safety Administration predicts 2025. However, there’s a big push to make it by 2020: NuTonomy, Ford, Audi, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen. Uber ex-CEO said 2030.

The reason its become such a holy grail is based on a prediction that they’ll be more reliable than humans at driving safely, and allow more cars on the road per mile, traveling faster, which equates to less need to expand or improve infrastructure.city-1487891_1920

Critics point out that while AI’s might drive more consistently that doesn’t always equate to safer, and of course if you need to spend a bunch of money to say, equip every bridge, crosswalk, and road sign with a transmitter broadcasting don’t hit me, that negates the savings on infrastructure.

There’s often a disparity between the potential a new technology represents and how the market responds. Look no further than Electric Powered Vehicles (EVs). President Obama predicted one million EVs driven by 2016 and missed it by 700,000. Look at the initial launch of the personal computer. A lot of Apple 2e’s sat next to kitchens being the world’s most expensive Rolodex/recipe holder until the internet came along and gave them purpose.

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And who do we hold responsible when a crash does happen? The car owner or the programmer that created the algorithm that told the car it’s okay to run over your poodle if it avoids a 27% chance of concussing a passenger? States like Oregon require an attendant to pump your gas for you in order to create jobs. Will the threat of mass professional driver layoffs cause legislature to throttle the spread of AV’s? What happens when some states okay AVs and others don’t. I private owner/driver can simply engage or disengage the feature during travel, but if you’re a package delivery service trying to save money paying CDL drivers for long haul, do you drive around certain states in order to use driver-less trucks?

What about mapping every square inch of the US? Most people assume that navigation has been on the market long enough that virtually everywhere is mapped. But companies like Uber are buying whole other companies for their mapping data. Not how they map but the maps themselves. Road’s change, constantly and we don’t need AVs driving through a building that used to be a road or going the wrong way on a one way street because its maps are 6 months out of date.

Take for example a simple thing. GPS navigation will take you to the front door of a local restaurant where you can get out and walk in. Except that the restaurant has it’s front door on the street instead of the parking lot. So the car will stop in traffic for you to exit because it’s at it’s destination. What happens when a teenage girl hails a ride from a rides hare company and the GPS puts the car in the alley behind her apartment complex? When she walks to meet it and is attacked is the ride share company going to compensate her?

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These aren’t hurtles that can never be overcome, but when a programmer says he’s six months from producing a program that doesn’t mean your seven months from seeing it on store shelves. A lot has to happen in a lot of areas a programmer wouldn’t think about because it’s not his/her responsibility.

Another similarity to electric vehicles is that what makes sense in one setting doesn’t in another. Dense populations in highly developed areas may be early adapters to EVs and AVs where they’d be less attractive in rural Texas (for example). When a technology executive does an interview and says we’re only a year away from having AVs roaming the road around you ask yourself if she’s more intimately familiar with the programming capabilities than the legal implications and if she more likely lives in a dense urban area or a ranch in Montana. Could there be some paradigm blindness going on?

Perhaps one of the most telling indicators is a 2016 Kelly Blue Book Survey. Among EV owners only 53% said they’d re-buy the same car (31% if it only plugged in) compared to traditional engine vehicles where 82% would re-buy. 74% of Americans surveyed felt that AVs weren’t safe. Think about that. Imagine for a second that three out of four people felt you were less likely to die from a crash if you didn’t wear a seat belt. That’s a significant PR problem for companies that hope to sell $7 trillion worth of these cars.

Here’s an aspect seldom covered when pondering the topic, you can’t buy a new car today for less than $8,000 because in part that’s the cost of building it to modern safety standards. Even if the law requires cars be able to drive themselves how much more will people pay for the feature? We actually have some data on this. The Tesla model 3 sells for $10,000 more than cars in it’s class. Certainly Tesla has showed they can sell cars, but Tesla has more going for it than just autonomous driving and it’s not a Traditional Automotive Manufacturer. So you can’t get an apples to apples comparison to establish what consumers are willing to pay $10,000 more for. When surveyed directly they report that their willingness to pay more for automation has dropped by a 30% since 2014 and that they don’t trust Original manufacturers to provide safe AVs to market.

So while most writers on this topic are defending the position that they can get a car to drive itself by a certain date, there remains some doubt as to it’s market viability.