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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Best of the Web: Indonesian Home Brew Motor Bikes

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We love some do it yourself ingenuity but the commuting public of Indonesia takes the prize in the anything goes category.  These are some rides you need to see.

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The top criteria seems to be cheap on fuel and easy to fix in a pinch? You decide.

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At the Kicker we wish we’d thought this one up, but the we found it at Fun Cage, along with many more worth checking out.

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The Car Collapse

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Op-Ed by Paul Wimsett

For this blog we are going back in time ten years. So picture it in your mind — Lost and ER are on the on TV. Barack Obama had just become president and Sarah Palin began her comeback. The Internet of Things, Alexa and Siri’s parents was born. And on you car radio Bleeding Love by Leona Lewis or I Gotta Feeling by The Black Eyed Peas are playing. And the car business took a strange turn that no-one could have predicted.

The economic events of the period between 2008 and 2010 are best known for the mortgages and stock market crashes but they were also detrimental to a number of car businesses.

In a bad economy people look to save dollars and while it was harder than ever to get a loan if you did need to buy a new car, you were looking for a deal. America made large, expensive, vehicles with bad fuel economy. A crash then combined with an energy crisis to drive sales of vehicles like as SUVs and pick-up trucks to rock bottom. It got so bad in the United States that Chrysler and General Motors needed to be rescued by the government.

For the US government to step in and help a business goes against the grain of what America stands for in the eyes of many of her citizens. Survival of the fittest is the core of any free market and it guarantees the best price for goods. However, the thinking at the time is that if a giant part of the economy, such as the automotive industry, failed too many jobs lost would send the economy into a death spiral. There was no other way to keep the economy stable and allow people to keep buying.

Pre-crash, in 2005, GM’s factories were performing at 85% of capacity. This may not seem much but it was a pattern to be found in other businesses too. So the term too big to fail started getting tossed around. Of course what “too big to fail” means is “too big to let fail.” The idea goes all the way back to 1984 and Stewart McKinney, though its true source probably predates that. Even in 1984 the term was controversial.

A CNN/Opinion Research poll said only 36% of the public supported the bailout. What people may not realise is that there was in fact two bailouts to the car industry, the second mainly going to General Motors and Chrysler. Part of GM’s bail out included an odd sort of bankruptcy that allowed them to default on certain loans. They were allowed to zero out stock that didn’t belong to the government or union members. It was not a good deal for most Americans.

automotive-74070_1920The lasting memory in the minds of “Big Auto” was how only really excelling at selling gas guzzlers had left them vulnerable. After all, this was the second time that a large scale economic crash had knocked out the auto industry. The first time was in the 1980s. When the economy got going again this time it found the American automaker throwing everything it had behind convincing its fans to buy hybrids and electric cars.

While the move to EVs and hybrids made fuel economic cars, suddenly needing to retool factories and develop new designs raised the price of all American vehicles. Then there’s the uncertainty of whether electric and hybrid cars will even stay popular.

Given that the economy is not stable long term we’ll most likely see another test of the American auto industries ability to remain viable. Given that they haven’t made cars more affordable they’ve only dealt with half the challenge of selling cars during a down turn. In fact, it’s not an original solution its just copying Asian car makers into an obvious decision.

So has the American auto industry learned anything from needing a bail-out? You decide.

 

Can We Live Without Vehicle Insights?

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Op-Ed by Paul Wimsett

First what are Insights?

Your car’s computer gathers and transmits information about how your car performs under various conditions—like when you’re stomping on the gas.

According to IBM

“IBM® IoT Connected Vehicle Insights extends the power of cognitive computing to connected cars, acquiring data from sensors and systems to improve the in-car experience. Today’s cars are moving data centers with onboard sensors and computers that can capture information about the vehicle and access it in near real time. IBM IoT Connected Vehicle Insights is an IBM Cloud service that you can use to retrieve, manage and analyze big data from connected vehicles.”

It’s all designed to improve your business, or so says SAP.com.

It’s about optimizing your fleet. Instead of drivers checking in via CB radio, dispatchers know everything about where you are, what speed and direction you’re traveling. They know when you’ll need to refuel.

Does it sound a little invasive? Yes! But it also allows logistics companies to optimize everything they do.

It is meant to go hand-in-hand with monitoring inventory and warehousing. For example, Walmart is pretty famous for their distribution model. While the specifics are a proprietary secret, in general it involves using the content of trucks as part of their warehouse system.

In an old logistics scenario, trucks would pick up an entire order from a factory when it’s completed and taking it to a distribution center to be stored until loads are dispatched to stores. Now trucks pick up smaller batches of product daily as they are produced. These trucks can swing by several factories or warehouses in a day so their load contains a mix of products. Then when a store orders a case of inventory the nearest truck can drop it off on the fly.

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When it comes to day-to-day operations, the number one cost for logistics business would be fuel costs, hands down.

A logistic business is one which organizes movement of materials.

The key with vehicle insights is that all the information is fed live to the company.

It produces graphs which might mean nothing to you unless you have a degree in statistics, but it all amounts to time and motion–saving time and reducing the amount of motion (that is movement of traffic) involved. It’s about knowing where all your vehicles are at any one time, and what’s on them, so that you can reroute them on at a moment’s notice.

It is hard to think of cars or trucks as “moving data centers” but this is how IBM puts it. Nor is it easy to imagine what they call “big data” coming from such a business, but that’s another way of saying that there is a huge output of data available to analyse.

What about unsafe practices:

How do you know that a specific driver is keeping to the best rules of the road?

Car insights are used to monitor driving performance and decision-making. Only a few years ago this was accomplished via putting the company phone number on it’s trucks so virtuous members of the public could report bad the behaviour of drivers. Many companies also employed a “governor” which limited the maximum speed of it’s fleet vehicle.

But times have changed. Nowadays the driving patterns can be investigated at a distance. The idea is that drivers will take fewer risks if they know someone is watching. Whether that’s true or not, hasn’t been statistically proven. Clearly it’s not a popular feature for drivers who don’t enjoy being micromanaged. Most drivers who are forced to be conscious of how they are driving are more stressed and perform more poorly than drivers that are simply paying attention to the road and not to how they’re driving.

Weather and Traffic—the real benefit:

Perhaps the biggest blessing to drivers themselves is aiding them with unfamiliar weather conditions and constantly changing traffic. When one vehicle hits a traffic slow down it will notify other vehicles to try an alternate route. It will also let a destination know that their shipment is delayed.

In summary, car insights allow companies to see problems for themselves and do more with the information, which can translate to money. However, this could also mean less and less freedom for drivers in such enterprises. Safety and money is one thing, but what is the real toll on the health of drivers who feel like they’re under a microscope all day at work?

How Hot Was It?

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While the pictures tell the tale of just how hot it’s been, there is a serious side to this. Animals and children who get locked in a car are at serious risk of permanent brain damage or even death.

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picture found Fun Cage

According to AVMA.org when the outside temperature is 90 the air inside your car can climb to 119 degrees in as little as 20 minutes. If it’s 95 it could climb to 140 degrees after an hour. Please make sure your children and animals are not left unattended in this summer heat wave we’re having.

Signs-Its-Too-Hot-Outside-009.jpgThis message is brought to you by Tire Kickers. Make sure the car you buy has working power locks.

 

What’s New: Walmart and Tesla tussle over solar panel fires.

  • On Tuesday, Walmart filed suit against Tesla alleging its solar panels had caused fires at seven of its stores.
  • Tesla short David Einhorn tweeted Friday, “A recall should have happened long ago” and that CEO Elon Musk should resign.
  • Walmart and Tesla said in a statement Thursday that they “look forward to addressing all issues and re-energizing Tesla solar installations at Walmart stores, once all parties are certain that all concerns have been addressed.”

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Seeing the USA in a Van

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By Paul Wimsett of the U.K. Desk

It seems madness to live in a van, but the caravan has had a long history. But when it comes to taking a road trip across America it surely is the only way to travel.

Although many people do own camper vans outright it takes out so much of the hassle to hire them instead.

Companies such as Campervan Hire USA feed off people’s wanderlust to see the sights around the USA. (Although Campervans are used abroad the idea of hiring a campervan for a limited period seems to be an idea confined to the USA. It may have something to do with the narrowness of roads elsewhere). You have a choice of traveling from A to B or taking a round trip. You need to be over 21 to drive a camper-van and you need to have had a license for more than 12 months.

Luxuries…

car-3314753_1920.jpgWhen it comes to luxuries you have a short list: a stove, clean bedding, pots and pans, table and chairs and a fridge. Presumably the fridge has somewhere to store frozen goods, which can be a matter of controversy. You hope for quite a substantial spot but many only have a tiny “most cold corner of the fridge.” There’s nothing like travelling all day to make one want to snack.

Technicalities…

What might worry people is if they pay to go on a trip and they do not take the whole journey. Do they still have to pay the same amount of money? No, because it all comes down to the recorded mileage. If you are traveling from another country you can even get a reduction on your flight.

Special Types of Camper-Vans…

With all these hire firms there are number of pick up centers throughout the USA. As well as general campers, it is possible to hire what is known as an “A-Class Motorhome”, also known as a RV. Opinions vary on what an A-Class Motorhome is, but the consensus is that it’s an RV built on a van frame that doesn’t require altering the basic shape of the vehicle. Class A’s do accommodate larger groups – for instance four adults and two children—where a typical caravan is better suited to a couple of surfers and their boards.

Pre-Trip Prep…

If you’re from a place like England traveling to America it’s important to remember that even though the culture isn’t radically different, some of the climates you encounter are quite different. Do you have the right clothes for the climate? That’s the first question, you’d ask for a trip to a location, but this is a touring holiday. If you plan to explore New Mexico for instance and you research weather in New Mexico, everything will indicate that the place is generally warm. Then you learn how close you are to the Rocky Mountains and you decide its worth a few hours just to say you’ve been there. Well if you don’t want to pay tourist prices for a jumper it’s vital to plan ahead.

The Trip Itself…

roadtrip-4087903_1920.jpgThere are a number of things you need to remember such as booking the campsites. You also need to check they have all the amenities you need.

The big shocker for those of us from small, but populous places like Java, Japan, or Great Britten is the distances in America. It feels strange just how far apart things are. And while petrol seems cheap compared to home, if you want to explore the West coast and go from Phoenix to Seattle that’s 1441 miles. No matter how cheap price per liter its a hell of a lot of diesel.

The right tool for the job…

We’ve spoken a lot of Class As and simple caravans, which are more dissimilar than we’ve perhaps described. Here’s why it matters. The motorhome/RV is no good in urban areas but comes into its own in the country. If you have in mind, hitting the world’s longest yard sale in but you also want to hit the statue of liberty then you have an issue on your hands. The better vehicle to navigate the streets of “The Big Apple” is a small camper van, but a Class A will provide more comfort on the open road.

The answer any American will give you is to fly into New York and site see for a couple days, then get out of the city to pick up a descent sized Class A and start traveling. Almost any direction you go will provide mind blowing things to see and neat people to meet.

Where to go…

boat-1834837_1920.jpgWe can’t include it all here, but assuming you started in New York, you could drive North and see Niagra Falls, Boston where you can’t throw a crate of tea without hitting a bit of history, then head to main for some lobster. Or, you could head south and go to the nation’s capital where you’ll catch as many museums as America has to offer in one town. (In America 17 museums in one city is a lot, so try not to bring it up London’s 250.)

If you head west there is so much to see but you’ll learn just how spread out America can be. It’s truly impossible see it all if you had a year, but go ahead and throw a dart in the map, you’ll find adventure and friends wherever you go. The most boring state will take more than a day to explore and you’ll never be bored. (I confess that Yanks love our accent, which helps you make new friends and if you speak engine, well, good like buying your own pint.)

Resources…

The websites will refer to “tumbleweed deserts” to “palm lined” roads, but it’s important just to see these as brochures. See if you can find someone online who has actually taken a trip and can inform the best ways to enjoy the trip and stay safe.

By the way, the English version of an ugly American tourist is to say you’ve been to the states and then confess you’ve only been to Walt Disney World in Florida. However, instead of a scowl or good withering look, a yank will smile in amusement. They take for granted that we’ve all glanced at a map and noticed that Florida is one extreme corner of the country and the park is built for fanciful amusement. Expect a follow up comment along the lines of, “Ahh, well your seen it all then.”

But the unexpected truth is, real America is shockingly more amazing than the place they built to escape reality. So what are you waiting for? Explore what’s out there.

 

What’s News: Tesla shares take a hit

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  • Shares of Tesla initially rise Thursday after a German business publication reports that Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess is interested in buying a stake in the company, citing sources.
  • The stock pares some of its gains after Volkswagen denies the report.
  • A VW spokesman tells CNBC the report is “completely unfounded.”

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Where did they get a crazy idea of a VW acquisition? Well, from stories like this one.

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