Innovation & Safety

Comma.ai cancels the Comma One following NHTSA letter:

Renowned iPhone hacker turned entrepreneur George Hotz (aka geohot) has cancelled his autonomous driving startup’s first official product, the Comma One aftermarket add-on that would’ve allowed certain cars to gain Autopilot-like highway driving assistance abilities.

Hotz announced the news on the Comma.ai official Twitter account, noting that the decision to cancel was made after he received a letter from the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA letter explained that given its mandate of ensuring safety on U.S. roadways, it needed to ensure the Comma One is compliant with regulations before it can be offered for sale.

Some of these startups are fragile little snowflakes, aren’t they? One letter from the NHTSA and they’re done. Hey Hotz: this isn’t just publishing code to a fucking server, you’re putting physical vehicles onto physical roads.

I’m all for innovation, but safety is kind of important. The transition we’ve begun — from humans driving cars to cars driving themselves — is not something we can take lightly or we run the risk of killing many people.

In the longterm, after we’ve conducted thorough tests and ironed out the kinks, I’m certain autonomous vehicles will be multiple times safer than us humans driving ourselves. Robots don’t drive angry, robots don’t play Pokémon Go while driving and end up killing a young boy, and robots don’t drive drunk.

When We Drove the Cars Ourselves

Tamara Warren was at the Concours d’Elegance at Pebble Beach in August and reflected on the golden age of automobiles:

Being up close with the more elegant pre-war cars at Pebble Beach, it’s natural to see how the affair with the automobile began. Before computers, there were cars. It must have been exciting, to be on the advent of such progress in the early 20th century. That’s what I imagine when I see the cars, what it was like to be alive then, when horses ruled over horsepower. In 1909, the Italian futurists constructed their ideology based on the allure of the automobile, a contemporary thing of seduction of power and speed inspired by rapid innovation:

“We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.”

And:

We’re on the brink of self-driving cars, new ways of thinking about transportation, and the myriad of ways that technology will shape car culture. But what happens if and when we no longer drive for purpose, or even for pleasure? Could the 20-teens be the beginning of the end of motoring as we know it? We live on a planet where fires burn uncontained, where perhaps the golden era of motoring is a flickering flame, as we seek out other solutions that come with other tradeoffs and a new gold-rush of speculation.

I think the act of manually driving a car faces a similar fate as riding a horse: it will become a leisure time activity reserved for the weekends for those that can afford it.

Hacking Cars

BBC News: Tesla cars get hacked:

Tesla has updated its software after researchers from China hacked into the operating system of its electric cars.

The team from Keen Security Lab remotely manipulated the brake system on a Tesla while it was on the move, from a distance of 12 miles (19km).

It used to be computers were the only things that were hacked, but now that cars are computers with wheels, they can be hacked too.

Welcome to the new normal.

Elon Musk’s Master Plan, Part Deux

While Donald Trump talks about bringing coal jobs back to West Virginia, Elon Musk is creating (actually, he laid out his vision 10 years ago) concrete plans to get us off fossil fuels, but we can’t just jump directly from A to Z.

Two days ago he revealed part deux of his master plan:

The first master plan that I wrote 10 years ago is now in the final stages of completion. It wasn’t all that complicated and basically consisted of:

  1. Create a low volume car, which would necessarily be expensive

  2. Use that money to develop a medium volume car at a lower price

  3. Use that money to create an affordable, high volume car And…

  4. Provide solar power. No kidding, this has literally been on our website for 10 years.

Elon Musk a great example of putting your money where you mouth is. Talking the talk and walking the walk.

What’s important about Musk is he has a reason for everything. Everything is done by design.

I should add a note here to explain why Tesla is deploying partial autonomy now, rather than waiting until some point in the future. The most important reason is that, when used correctly, it is already significantly safer than a person driving by themselves and it would therefore be morally reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability.

I’ll tell you this: I trust a partially autonomous Telsa over a human being who’s driving while playing fucking Pokémon Go and slamming into a police car.

DeSoto on Valencia

DeSoto automobile from Instagram

Taken from Instagram

From Wikipedia:

The DeSoto make was founded by Walter Chrysler on August 4, 1928, and introduced for the 1929 model year. It was named after the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. The DeSoto logo featured a stylized image of the explorer who led the first European expedition deep into the territory of the modern-day United States (Florida, Georgia, and Alabama), and was the first documented European to have crossed the Mississippi River.

The Blackbird

This is awesome.

The Blackbird is, “the first fully adjustable car rig that creates photoreal CG cars.”

From what I can decipher from the video, not only does the Blackbird adjust it’s size to match the car it’s mimicking, but it also captures the environment around it with the 360-degree cameras mounted on top, so when it comes time to render the vehicle on screen, it’s indistinguishable from the real thing.

They’re positioning this as a breakthrough for the ad industry, but I see this being used in many more industries—gaming to name the most obvious. I wonder how the Blackbird compares to the technology Sony Interactive uses for game franchises like Gran Turismo?

Nerdy detail: When you click on the link above, note the ® register mark at the end of the URL. The Mill clearly sweats the details.

The Gear Shifter Was Working Perfectly, Thanks for Messing it Up

The Verge: The recalled Jeep shifter is just bad user interface design:

First things first: if you have a 2014 or 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee or a 2012-2014 Dodge Charger or Chrysler 300, you should call your dealer right now and set up an appointment for the recall. According to my local dealer, the update takes 3.5 hours, and it patches the car’s software to engage the emergency brake if the driver’s door is opened when the car is in neutral. That’s it. It’s a software update that was finally accelerated in the past few weeks after a death, even though problems with this shifter were so widespread that it made local TV news stories last year, the National Highway Transportation Administration issued a harsh report in February, and FCA recalled the shifter in April. The timeline is damning, but at least the update is here now. Go get it.

It’s frustrating to watch the video of Nilay Patel using the shifter. Car companies have essentially taken something that worked perfectly and replaced it with something that is confusing as shit. On the Jeep shifter, when you pull or push it into a gear, it returns to the center position, so there’s no way to tell by looking at it what gear you’re in.

If car companies want to experiment with new shifter configurations, they should remove the shifter entirely. Come up with something better, maybe something that saves space. If they’re offloading everything from an analog stick to software, then just use buttons. We’re already seeing this happen with cars where you don’t need to insert a key to them.

On a related note, car makers are already working on evolving the steering wheel:

Volvo’s Concept 26 vehicle, which debuted in November at the Los Angeles Auto Show, features a retractable steering wheel. Robin Page, Volvo chief of interior design, says Volvo chose to keep the familiar shape of the steering wheel.

“We wanted to keep that recognition of a round steering wheel,” he said. “People need to get used to autonomous drive, so being able to get back to that steering wheel and grab hold of it, that’s comforting. We decided to have it there as a recognizable icon.”

Kottke guest editor Tim Carmody makes a great point about this:

The steering wheel becomes a skeuomorph. It becomes a surveillance device, registering pressure to tell whether you have both hands firmly on the wheel, or if you’ve fallen asleep or are in distress. It becomes an entertainment console. It transforms and retracts into the dash to signal when you’ve shifted between user-controlled and autonomous modes. Its familiar presence soothes you through the transition. Eventually, you forget it was ever there at all.

A retactable steering wheel.

This reminds me of the retractable steering wheels in Demolition Man (video at 53 sec):

What else will evolve and go away. Rubber tires? Glass windshields?

Just think about just the word ‘car’. It originally was shorthand for ‘horseless carriage’ and the ‘glove compartment’ was the place you put your actual gloves.

The interfaces are changing. Will the labels?

Porsche 911 R

Porsche is dropping a new 911 R this summer:

Despondent over Porsche’s migration with the rest of the auto world to boosted engines and automatic transmissions? Behold this ray of sunshine: Porsche has a new 911 R that combines just what you want/need—a hot naturally aspirated engine, six shift-’em-yourself gears, and a clutch pedal all in one tantalizing package.

So awesome.

Porsche is only manufacturing 991 of these and even though they’re supposed to go out the door at $185,950, they’ve been going for over $1 million.

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