The Mind Car?

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Could the next step from the self-driving car be the car with thoughts of their own? Is this a dip into science fiction, perhaps but it’s more likely a dip into science future fact.

Although we think of self-driving or autonomous vehicles (AVs) as “cars with minds of their own” in reality they’re no different from a calculator or a computer. It’s actually just following a sophisticated set of logical steps as a result of stimuli, which is a fancy way of saying when something triggers it the car responds according to it’s programming.

A car having it’s own thoughts comes under the umbrella of artificial intelligence.

To be fair, most of us sort of feel like computers have a mind of their own. When a computer breaks down it feels like its acting out of spite. Even non-autonomous cars are sometime feel like they have minds of their own. And most car owners take refuge in giving their car a personality, sometimes even a name.

There are two possible ways a car might gain the ability to generate its own thoughts.

  • True artificial intelligence: where programming become so sophisticated that the program writes additional programming to deal with situations it wasn’t already programmed to handle.
  • Creating a digital imprint of a human to act as a logic engine from which programs will feed in questions and carry out instructions

A current example of the first kind is Siri, which sort of spoofs intelligence by being able to intuit what is being asked of it and trying to carry out instructions as best it can. A science fiction example would be HAL 9000 the murderous computer in “2001 a Space Odyssey” who decided it was self-defense to wipe out the astronauts who want to disable it for making an error.

eeg-2680957_1920Science fiction is rife with examples of the second kind of artificial intelligence as it has become a common trope. The idea that a human nearing the end of his/her life could “upload” their conscious into an android, for example, is alluring and entertaining. But taking it the extra step and uploading the contents of the human brain into a vehicle is also portrayed frequently. Take for example, “The Tunnel Under the World” by Frederick Pohl (1955), which is perhaps the first story about transferring a mind into a machine. (Earlier works cantered on transferring the mind into another person.)

The advantage (or disadvantage) is that the new computer would have a personality as well as experiences and the ability to really read the subtext of spoken questions or instructions. The result would be giving your car an actual personality.

Do we really need a car to flip out when we pass gas while driving? That’s what our spouse is for, right? We’ll leave you to wrestle with these deep questions.

Current examples the second type of AI don’t exist, but how far off could they really be? Well, the science behind how you might do this is still in its infancy so you are unlikely to get a car with a real brain any time soon, but… there is a Wikipedia page devoted to whole brain emulation (WBE) so efforts are underway.

If a car can’t gain a mind what about cars that can read your mind? An institute in Lausanne in Switzerland reported that they had invented the brain-machine transference that allows wheelchairs to be powered by thought alone in disabled people. The next step, and it could be tricky, is to find a way they can interact with cars.

Nissan plans to look at the brainwaves of drivers to study the patterns as they about to react to driving situations. They Nissan will pilot the cars off their driver based on the actions it reads the driver attempting to make. Right now it requires you to wear an EEG headset which isn’t the kind of thing you might wear out to the mall, so there is room for improvement. The other key part of the research is keeping drivers focused on the road. Most drivers don’t actually concentrate on driving while driving any more than most pedestrians concentrate on walking while strolling down the sidewalk.

It could be said that this system won’t produce autonomic driving cars as much as it is could improving the system of “human driving.”

Nissan is not alone though; there have been similar plans with Jaguar and Renault. As with all things autonomous there’s always the problem of legally deciding who’s driving the vehicle, because our laws currently hold the driver liable for moving infractions. If an AV kills someone in an accident is the human occupant responsible or the company that made the AI in the AV.

Based on the money companies are throwing at these projects, it’s not likely they’ll give up.

The first idea on brain waves came not from a car company but from an EEG company in 2011, no doubt looking for a way to use their product. It’s commonly believed that General Motors got involved in the first experiments into fatigue though it wasn’t officially established. If that sounds a little wonky you have to remember that GM spent decades as the largest defense contractor in the US, and worked on many secret projects for the US military developing technology that we may never truly learn the origins of.

hand-prosthesis-3853267_1920Regardless of origin, the idea of brain scans was seen as a quite controversial idea at the time, maybe we’re just more used to augmented and virtual reality now?

When we throw in the ideas of reading human brains to drive, whether we’re leaving the brain in the head of the driver or transferring it into the vehicle, the better label for the topic should cybernetics. We are, after all, trying to meld man and machine, which is the heart of the idea when you say the word “driving.”

The term cybernetics was created in 1948 and apparently refers to both “control and communication.” So presumably the machine part allows human augmentation, in the case of the Swiss EEG driving experiment, a disabled person gets augmented control and an ability to express themselves.

 

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What’s News: Tesla price cut on standard models

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(Reuters) – Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) has dropped the standard-range variants of its Model X and Model S from its product lineup and adjusted prices across its range, in a sales push that comes days after the U.S. electric vehicle maker reported record deliveries.

To simplify its offerings, the automaker on Tuesday limited variants of its Model X sport-utility vehicle and Model S sedan to “Long Range” and the more expensive “Performance”. It also trimmed the price of its now entry-level Long Range variants.

The discontinuation of the standard-range variants, however, means a rise in starting prices – to $84,990 for the Model X and $79,990 for the Model S, excluding potential buying incentives.

Story link

Best of the Web: Homebrew Tesla 3 pickup, #why?

Simone Giertz was tired of waiting for Elon Musk to unveil his new Tesla pickup truck, so she decided to make one herself. The popular YouTuber and self-described “queen of shitty robots”transformed a Model 3 into an honest-to-god pickup truck, which she dubs “Truckla” — and naturally you can watch all the cutting and welding (and cursing) on her YouTube channel. There’s even a fake truck commercial to go along with it.

Original Story
Giertz spent over a year planning and designing before launching into the arduous task of turning her Model 3 into a pickup truck. And she recruited a ragtag team of mechanics and DIY car modifiers to tackle the project: Marcos Ramirez, a Bay Area maker, mechanic and artist; Boston-based Richard Benoit, whose YouTube channel Rich Rebuilds is largely dedicated to the modification of pre-owned Tesla models; and German designer and YouTuber Laura Kampf.

Human Error and the Crash

 

car-accident-2789841_1920People worry about the rise of self-driving cars but it seems like most people struggle to negotiate the road with normal cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that 94% are due to dangerous choices or errors which people make when they are behind the wheel. Whether they are blatantly dangerous or are revealed to be so after hindsight must be worth looking into though.

The statistics divide things into “distracted driving,” “drunken driving,” or “driving while drowsy.” Possibly a crash might be caused by a combination of factors which no one can get to the bottom of. Some of which might be natural, such as ice on the road, stormy winds etc. Certainly, there are days when it pays to be more vigilant.

The errors can be divided into five types:

  • Recognition error
  • Decision error
  • Performance error
  • Non-performance error
  • Other

Distraction is usually regarded as a recognition error. Deciding to speed or do another illegal maneuver or not anticipating what other drivers will do is known as decision error. Performance error is losing control of the vehicle or pushing the car too far. Non-performance is another name for drowsiness and falling asleep. 8% of car accidents were caused by miscellaneous human error or “other”.

drink-driving-808790_1920Something which seems on the rise is drugged driving. There are warning signs of drunk or stoned driving you might watch out for, such as a driver weaving in and out of the traffic. Or it may be that a driver goes far too slowly, though that could be down to a number of factors, the weaving is more obvious a sign.

The problem with many drivers is that driving consists of many tiny micro-tasks which all need to be obeyed to keep the car on the road. If something changes then there could be a problem. It may be something the brain has yet to process or it could be something that is making the person behave in a reckless manner.

Teens age drivers are most likely to behave irresponsibly, and they win high insurance premiums as their only prize. It’s likely a combination of being less experienced drivers (not knowing how to react to a situation) and less experienced decision makers.

So what can you do to reduce the risk? Well, you’ve likely heard a lot of ideas that, while technically sound, are really difficult to carry out. Things like:

  • Never drive with someone to distract you?
  • Never drive late at night?

You can’t really avoid every situation that is inherently unsafe. Perhaps the bigger shift needs to happen in our thinking. Many people don’t think they are doing anything which might cause an accident, and that’s when it gets you.

Although self-driving is said to wipe out death by human error it is unlikely to be widespread any time soon. The same can be said for laws about what lanes trucks use, or sensors to detect pedestrians. The kicker has pondered these efforts before and we generally recommend actually trying things out before making sweeping changes because computers have yet to prove themselves as better decision makers than humans in the driving seat.

Hacking a Tesla?

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Like all modern cars, Tesla is computer controlled. Unlike most modern cars, Tesla equips there cars with the latest in Automated Driving Technology, which is to say they believe their cars can drive themselves. For the most part, they seem to have succeeded in the self-driving part.

Of course, our minds instantly begin to ponder what happens if a hacker gets it. I mean in most cars you might be able to give it bad fuel economy or lock the doors. What happens when you hack an A.V.

Well, a couple of white hat hackers have given it a try and managed to turn on the windshield wipers. While that doesn’t sound like much it does shoot down the hope that Tesla somehow created a hack-proof car.

HOWEVER, the hackers, Tencent, were also able to take over control of the steering wheel and run it via a gamepad controller. They did this even though the autopilot feature wasn’t activated. Here’s a link to more details below.

Original Story Link

 

Best of the Web: Cheaper Tesla finally out…in Canada

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Due to pricing restrictions, Tesla’s vehicles didn’t get access to Canada’s new $5,000 federal incentive for electric vehicles, but the automaker has now launched a new and cheaper Model 3 with a software-locked range of just 150 km (93 miles) in Canada to get access to the discount.

Link to story.

What is interesting here is that Tesla can still do it while not even listing the base Model 3 at $44,999 and only making it available as some secret product that you need to know about to be able to order.

Attacks on Self Drive Vehicles

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When the title says “protests” pictures of angry mobs in the streets come to mind, and that’s not exactly what’s happened yet. Instead, Autonomous Vehicles are being outright attacked or vandalized by individuals, but in numbers that indicate more than something random. Though the media has yet to sensationalize it, they are reporting it, and you might be surprised by who that upsets most.

Before diving into that aspect lets make the case that these attacks are significant. Do they, in fact, indicate that the public isn’t embracing this whole notion of computer-driven vehicles? If you were in an AV, how many times would someone have to attempt to intentionally ram you before you decided John Q Public is not quite ready for this kind of technology?

Another example involved a taxi driver exiting his car and slapping the windscreen of a General Motors self-driving car.

This came to a head in Chandler, Arizona in December 2018 when police were informed of members of the public slashing tires, throwing rocks and pointing guns (thankfully so far no bullets fired) at driverless cars.

It seems that this kind of behavior happens nearly every day and just isn’t being reported, to the police or the media. Waymo, who have created a fleet of self-driving cars, also had vehicles attacked in October 2018. They expressed doubt that a police presence on the issue would reduce attacks, in fact, they felt it generally not a good idea to popularize the idea that you can attack a self-driving car.

Not unsurprisingly the police take a dim view of rock throwing and tire slashing and likely desire a solution to the heightened tensions. But it seems unlikely these protests will do much to change the march of tech in places like California, which since March last year has allowed driverless cars to operate without anyone in the driving seat.  Other states which approve driverless cars are Alabama and Washington.

Surely someone should do something! Maybe the marketers of these cars should worry about this strength of feeling they face instead of sticking their heads in the sand? AV makers seem focused on the inevitability of their product and not very focused on consumer sentiment.

That is the problem with self-driving cars though; it is easier to get annoyed with a person in a car. A self-driving car is a bit more removed.

Think about when robotic answering services took over answering your phone calls. Ten years ago when you’d have a problem with a product you’d call the helpline and spend an eternity of hold listening to music. Sometimes when someone answered they’d pass you around to different departments but eventually, someone helped.

woman-3797696_1920Then came the automated service that pre-sorted your call based on your needs. Push one for “X,” push two for “Y.” It felt efficient. And they could take some basic information while you waited. Companies jumped at the chance to lay off extra help desk employees. Then they turned the automated system into an automated runaround. When a human finally answered they usually asked for all the same info you already gave, proving that it was just a delay tactic to waste your time.

If you’re a maker of AV’s think about that angry guy who just hung up on the automated answering device because he’s the same guy who isn’t excited to share the road with automated cars.

Maybe people are right to protest, the ability to drive is all about complicated algorithms or programs in order to be safe and the driverless car has yet to learn all these algorithms. Humans make mistakes, sure, but robots with a systematic error will make the same mistake over and again until a human fixes their programming. John Q. Public maybe doesn’t have much faith that companies will even bother to fix these problems. Not based on their last call to correct a utility bill.

The driverless car industry is valued at 100 billion dollars so it may need a massive PR campaign in order to get people to change their mind about using it. Makers are throwing money into attempts to get the government on their side, but the Senate isn’t planning to launch a self-driving bill until either 2022 because they don’t think there is enough public support for a bill any earlier.

Poles and sales data indicate that 25% of all cars will be driverless by 2030, yet they also say that 15% of the public don’t see a fully autonomous car as ever happening, despite “forever” being a hell of a stretch. This might simply be the product of cynical minds and may even change over time, but fixing all the safety issues and a PR campaign faced toward the public would help in that effort.

The big players such as Uber want driverless to be the way of the world but it’s yet to be carved in stone. In addition to the safety issue, they might want to consider making these cars less like something from a sci-fi dystopia.

A Look Ahead To 2019—for Commuters at least

 

car-3866120_1920Trying to predict the future of the automobile is like trying to predict the weather. There’s the farmer’s almanac method which examines the last century of trends and cycles, then mathematically predicts what’s most likely to happen. Then there’s the meteorological method which involves Doppler radar, satellite imagery, and computer models. In this method, well-educated experts analyze the data to produce a percentage chance of an outcome—usually, something like it will rain or not, odds are 50/50.

There’s a third method that involves Granny Clampett and a beetle she keeps in an old matchbox…but in all seriousness natural observation can’t be completely discounted. It’s maybe odd that the first two methods don’t involve stepping outside and looking up.

So let’s take a look at the automobile, it’s industry and environment in 2019 from all three viewpoints.

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The Market/Industry

The automotive version of the Farmer’s Almanac might be the Cox Automotive Dealer Sentiment Index. It says that the fourth quarter of 2018 was not as profitable as it could have been and the market may be heading south.

The meteorological approach would see a number of new tariffs for the market put there so that we might compete with China for manufacturing jobs. This includes all the pieces which make up a car, the engine, the tires, the transmission shafts and so on. But manufacturing jobs will be hit hard by automation in 2019.

Fewer imports mean less crude oil burnt to bring goods from China, but a bigger cut to fuel consumption is coming from electric vehicles. This is where we get some conflicting indicators. GM is closing plants because it gambled on hybrids that no one seems to want to buy. So fuel economy may not be the single biggest driving force in market decisions. And the current power grid and generation level can’t handle charging all those cars, so it’s not likely that electric cars (EVs) will quickly supplant traditional ICE Cars (internal combustion engine).

If EVs are truly more reliable and the cost of fuel, which has come down, is the big car consumer driver then we’re heading for a big oil surplus in three to five years, along with cheap used cars, and almost no new ICE Cars being purchased. This will mean a temporary boon for repair shops as the driving public buys cheap surplus used cars to exclusion of new cars (unless they’re EVs). For more on that theory see our post from 12/28/18.

The tariffs won’t hit for a couple months into 2018 and then we’ll get a better idea what the impact might be.

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Financing

The Almanac student would point to the fact that new cars price tags have gone up and up. Some of this could be that EV’s are in development phase more than really in the production phase. Companies like Tesla have released their luxury versions first because it’s better able to absorb the high cost of buying something so new to the market. Even as Tesla moves on to more consumer-friendly car models their price won’t fall until they get into their second and third rendition (where new the new model uses the old assembly). Also, more EV manufacturers will enter the market and need to go through the same cycle.

If we exclude EV’s entirely we still see a trend to more expensive new car prices as the amount of mandatory safety features increases every year. However, it’s likely that the big driver of cost in cars is that makers aren’t able to sell as many. The reduced demand should bring prices down, but not if automakers believe that the people opting to not own a car are a cheap car buying people.

In other words:

  • Generationals aren’t as interested in driving
  • Jobs are concentrated in population centers where parking is scarce, gas is expensive, and mass transit is an option,
  • While baby-boomers are staying in the job market longer, they’re finding other ways to get around.

With young and old not buying cars, that leaves only the more affluent of the smaller generations to market to and they’re not as afraid of a high price tag.

The car meteorologist would notice the number of creative financing options popping up. (Whoever heard of an 18-year house loan, right?) Well, if manufacturers think the answer to their woes is to sell fewer, but more expensive cars, then it’s likely we’ll see longer term car loans. Many experts are predicting that your FICA score will become more volatile as technology can now track your income and debt down to the minute. It puts the whole subprime loan process into a new light.

Assuming all the above is true we’re looking at a giant used car market coming, which could see lenders sending consumers to car inspection services, to verify the condition of their next purchase as early as June 2019.

One way dealerships and automakers might partner to respond to changing conditions are with leases and cashback services. The idea is to make cars more like cell phones where you buy the car but the trade in value follows the market better when you return it to the maker’s official dealership. Then you can turn it in toward the new model. One could imagine it coupled with levels of extended warranty so that after a year you can upgrade at a good trade-in price and the next buyer would get a special extended warranty based on mileage. This might sound like what already happens but it’s not. This plan would take some of the sting out of the new car depreciation but offer people more flexibility that they have with a lease.

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Type & Trend

The car meteorologist says there is a host of new EV and hybrid models coming out, including the Lexus UX HUV and the Jaguar’s i-Pace. There are also new manufactures entering the market. A startup called Rivian (https://www.engadget.com/2018/11/27/rivian-electric-truck-suv-r1s/) is going to enter the market in 2019.

The car almanac reader says it’s a bit too early to tell if EVs area fad or a revolution. Most of the time cost of operation is a major influence and power rates may not always be cheaper than gas and diesel. Many new technologies have false started a few years before they actually took off. The more expensive the item the slower it’s adopted.

As for dealerships, CarMax has become the number one used car dealership in the world based on volume. But their system isn’t perfect (you can’t get it inspected pre-purchase) and just because they have a lead doesn’t mean they won’t get competition. There’s no barrier to entry for their system. In fact, it’s likely that they’ll get at least one big competitor in 2019.

Certainly, the appeal of new models means new car dealerships will thrive, but what about long-term? It seems that optimism is declining in both new car sales and used car sales. The optimism for used car dealerships is down to about 57% from 60%, according to the Kelley Blue Book. It should mean that when new car dealerships are declining that used car dealerships pick up, but that doesn’t seem to be happening and it’s not clear why.

One thing is likely, 2019 will see hybrids start to fade as European clean diesel and longer range EVs start to take market share.

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Car Design Trends (Mid-engine Mainia!?!?)

The car meteorologist points to sudden interest in mid-engine design. Mid-engine cars aren’t new. In fact, it’s basically the first design for cars (see 1901 autocar). It’s common sense that placing the heavy engine closer to the back wheels increases torque and evenly distributes the weight. It’s become quite the rage in sports cars where performance is more important than a back seat. But Chevrolet is gambling on a mid-engine Corvette in 2020. (Note that cars stated as 2020 are sold in 2019. An advertising gimmick, but it confuses some people.)

A mid-engine just means it has an engine located centrally between the axles. Confusingly, there is also a rear-mid engine type car. It’s possible that automakers who embrace EVs will go to a low engine/battery compartment that sits entirely below the seats and between the wheel wells. This might enable them to build all their car lines on the same base frame and engine platform. Imagine a thick car-sized surfboard with wheels attached that you can just attach seats to and then add a body over.

The car almanac reader says that certainly, the SUV fashion will remain. At least Ford is banking on it by bringing back the Bronco. The last Bronco was manufactured in 1996 but in order to compete with jeep, the design has been rejuvenated. In many ways, it looks more like the Ford Ranger than the 1996 Ford Bronco.

 

afterfx-custom-jeep-2774671_1920In Conclusion

Is there a devastating storm brewing that will leave the American auto industry in turmoil or is it just shifting from ICE cars to EVs?

The car meteorologist would say that apart from giving cars a facelift and what appears at concept car shows is relatively unchanged from past shows.

The car almanac reader points out that new trends move slower with expensive items (like cars) and the current power grid won’t sustain an army of electric cars. Unless the government does another round of incentives it’s unlikely EV’s will grow their market share drastically in 2019.

So the net answer is the American Car Maker should be able to ride the storm if there is one, but no one really knows, except perhaps Granny Clampetts weather bug. The weather bug has rolled onto it’s back and started wiggling its legs, so 2019 will ease in deceptively slow, but big changes are coming in the spring.

PS if you thought we’d update you on autonomous driving cars…well, the weather there changes by the minute. Look for stretches of long desolate highway in the southern Midwest (Arizona/Texas) to be upgraded with paint and electronic location devises so that driverless semis can be tested. The shortage of drivers and brutally boring sections of road with relatively stable weather conditions make it a good place to implement automated driving. Market forces will power this so it will happen, but maybe not 2019.

But Granny’s weather bug remains convinced that we’re five or more years away from regular use of AVs. That’s a controversial opinion these days, but Granny stands by her bug.

Digital Side Mirrors

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Op-Ed by Andy Bunch

You may have heard that digital side mirrors are coming. This is a loose interpretation of equipment automakers have been tossing onto concept cars or adding to limited runs of super-luxury vehicles these last few years. However, most of us who cover the car business have been skeptical. Edison once had his people come up with an electric pen.

Does the world really need one more doodad that must be better because it relies on technology rather than simple physics?

We’ll Lexus has announced that they’re ready to put them into production on their full line of cars and the US is evaluating them for safety, so someones pushing hard for them. My real question was echoed by Stephen Williams in his September article on the topic, entitled “Digital Side Mirrors Become a Production Reality, but You Can’t Get Your Hands on One Just Yet.

“…replacing side mirrors with two 5-inch screens located at the base of the vehicle’s A-pillar is an extra measure of radical….But how much do we really see in our side-view mirrors?”

I’d put his question more as a statement, “it better do something really great if you’re going to continue to train people not to look outside there own car.

Williams eventual support can be summed up in four words, “Bike lanes & night vision.”

But there are other potential advantages. The cameras are designed to be less affected by rain and to reduce road noise. The screens can replace ones already employed for side impact warnings and parking assistance. On the whole, drivers report them as more intuitive than other center-column backup camera screens.

Bottom line they show a wider angle, which has long been a desire of many drivers. How many times do you see people fasten extra mirrors onto their side mirrors, especially when towing a trailer?  Well, that issue could be a thing of the past. These mirrors could add zooming in and out to the adjustments you already make to accommodate the height and taste of the individual driver.

It’s likely these cameras will succeed in gaining mainstream use as early as 2019.

Here’s some video, see for yourself: