It’s Already Here

You can hail a self-driving Uber in San Francisco starting today:

Starting today, anyone in San Francisco who hails an UberX could find themselves in the backseat of a luxury, self-driving Volvo XC90, complete with leather interior, spinning LIDAR sensor, and a trunk full of computing power. It’s where I found myself last week, after being invited out to the Bay Area for a sneak peak before the official launch.

“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

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Technology, Vehicle

Porsche Mission E

Today’s previous post on artificial engine noises linked to Porsche’s announcement from last year on their electric Mission E:

Don’t call it a 911: Porsche spent much of its presentation at this evening’s Volkswagen Group press conference talking about the new 911, yes, but the real news is the Mission E — an all-electric four-seater with a design that’s well beyond anything Porsche’s ever made. The company is focusing on “long-distance driving” with this concept, but that’s not to say it won’t be exciting to drive: Porsche is promising 600 horsepower, a 0-62mph time “under” 3.5 seconds, a top speed of over 250 km/h (about 155mph), and a total range of over 500 kilometers (311 miles) while driving in a “sporty” manner. Those are Tesla Model S numbers, and it stands to reason that Porsche could command at least the same amount of money, too — well over $100,000 in top configurations. And the company says the Mission E can store an 80 percent charge in just 15 minutes using an 800-volt “Porsche Turbo Charging” system, even faster than Tesla’s Superchargers.

It’s now been over a year since the Mission E was announced and we still haven’t seen anything. I’m skeptical if Porsche has a the ability to assemble a team that can take on Tesla and their computer engineering and AI savvy.

I’ll believe the superior technical specs Porsche is flaunting when I see them.

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Technology, Vehicle

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A Wonderful Engine Note

Can electric sports cars be sporty without any engine noise?

Not only does a noisy engine give a visceral thrill, knowing that there are thousands of tiny explosions happening to keep you going, but it just sounds awesome. It would be a shame to lose it, and carmakers know it. Bloomberg says Porsche has been looking at artificially inserting noise into the cabin, perhaps via the stereo like some other manufacturers have done, or amplifying the high-pitched hum of the electric motor.

One side of me is appalled by the idea of a car with fake engine noises. The other side of me sees this as a merging of video games and real life.

If the simulation is indistinguishable from reality, does it matter?

Another question: if simulated engine noises become the new normal, will car companies copyright engine sounds?

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.

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Technology, Vehicle

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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.

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Advertising, Vehicle

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