interview with legendary designer Syd Mead


Despite little of his work existing beyond two dimensions, ‘visual futurist’ Syd Mead has inspired countless professional car designers. He’s worked on vehicle, city and character designs for cult films like Blade Runner and Tron (both 1982) and more recently Elysium (2013) and Tomorrowland (2015), product design for Sony and Phillips – including an electric car concept as far back as 1973 for the latter – plus aircraft, ship and hotel interiors and pretty much anything else you (or he) can imagine. Which is why car designers love him.
 Ferrari design boss Flavio Manzoni calls him a ‘visionary mind’ while ex-BMW Group design chief Chris Bangle dubs him ‘the Oscar Wilde of designers: when you think you have a new idea, you find he’s drawn it all before – and usually decades ago.’ In March 2016 he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by specialist website Car Design News.
 The key to the breadth of his influence is that unlike other imaginative artists, Mead is very much a designer too, and one specifically trained in car design.
 He started his professional career in 1959, at Ford’s advanced design studio where he jokes that his ‘contribution to American automobilia was the tail light on the ’64 Falcon Futura’. In fact he also designed the 1961 Ford Gyron show car – a suitably space-age wedge of wonder – before quitting to become a full-time commercial designer and illustrator.
 Throughout the ’60s he worked on lucrative accounts for large American corporations including marketing books for US Steel. These featured brilliantly-imagined and rendered futuristic vehicles that became an overnight sensation in the design world and are now highly sought-after collector’s items.

How Driverless Cars May Interact With People –

John Markoff

There are plenty of unanswered questions about how self-driving cars would function in the real world, like understanding local driving customs and handing controls back to a human in an emergency.
 Now a start-up called, based in Mountain View, Calif., is trying to address how an autonomous car would communicate with other drivers and pedestrians. The company is emphasizing what is known in the artificial intelligence field as “human-machine interaction” as a key to confusing road situations.
 How does a robot, for example, tell everyone what it plans to do in intersections when human drivers and people in crosswalks go through an informal ballet to decide who will go first and who will yield?

Why We Still Don’t Have Better Batteries

Richard Martin

Earlier this year, Ellen Williams, the director of ARPA-E, the U.S. Department of Energy’s advanced research program for alternative energy, made headlines when she told the Guardian newspaper that “We have reached some holy grails in batteries.”
 Despite very promising results from the 75-odd energy-storage research projects that ARPA-E funds, however, the grail of compact, low-cost energy storage remains elusive.
 A number of startups are closer to producing devices that are economical, safe, compact, and energy-dense enough to store energy at a cost of less than $100 a kilowatt-hour. Energy storage at that price would have a galvanic effect, overcoming the problem of powering a 24/7 grid with renewable energy that’s available only when the wind blows or the sun shines, and making electric vehicles lighter and less expensive.

Humans are the main obstacle to the driverless revolution

John Thornhill:

Brilliant technologies transform the magical into the banal. An idea that seems outlandish to one generation becomes commonplace to the next. So it has been with electricity, space flight and the internet. So it is likely to prove with driverless cars.

The past few weeks have seen a flurry of announcements. Singapore has launched the world’s first public trial of a robo-taxi service. Uber and Volvo announced that they would pioneer an autonomous taxi fleet in Pittsburgh within weeks. Ford said it would build its first mass-market driverless car by 2021.

To their backers, autonomous cars cannot arrive quickly enough. Conventional cars are inefficient, dangerous and dirty. They sit idle for 95 per cent of their lives, clogging up city streets and car parks. When moving, they smash into each other, killing 3,500 people every day around the world. Ninety per cent of accidents are caused by human error. Cars pollute the environment, accounting for 45 per cent of oil burnt.

The widespread adoption of fully autonomous and, still better, electric cars could therefore be a massive boon to mankind. It could lead to a far more efficient use of resources, save many lives and reduce congestion and pollution. Futurologists envisage small fleets of shareable, connected cars constantly whizzing around our cities picking up passengers on demand. McKinsey forecasts that 15 per cent of new cars could be fully autonomous by 2030.

We polled Americans about self-driving cars. Here’s what they told us.

Timothy Lee:

More Americans say they they’re more worried about the prospect of self-driving cars than excited. They’re afraid that the technology will take jobs away from taxi and truck drivers, and they’re skeptical that the technology will save lives as supporters claim. Overall, just 32 percent believe that self-driving cars will improve the driving experience, compared to 48 percent who don’t think so.
 And for all the hype surrounding ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, the vast majority of Americans say they never use them. Most of those who don’t use the services say it’s easier to just drive their own cars.
 The survey also reveals a massive age gap in attitudes about these emerging transportation technologies. Americans over 65 are way less likely to have used ride-hailing services, and they’re particularly skeptical about the potential benefits of self-driving technology.

New Streets for North America’s Cities

Kevin Krizek & David Levinson

Driverless cars are real and getting better by the day. Tesla owners have already driven over 75 million km on Autopilot since October 2015. Over the coming years, not decades, machines will increasingly replace humans at the ‘steering wheel’. Autonomous vehicles drive more predictably and can follow each other closer than humans in cars ever could. This means that once enough of them are on the road, a given stretch of road can carry more vehicles, in narrower lanes, than human drivers who need space to drive poorly.

China’s Electric-Car Startups Face Wipeout

Bloomberg Video.

Kumar Abhimanyu:

At some point within the next two to three years, consumers will come to expect car connectivity to be standard, similar to the adoption curve for GPS navigation. As this new era begins, the telecom metric of ARPU will morph into ARPC (average revenue per car). Note: In this case, the term “connected” brings together related concepts, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and evolving cellular networks, including 3G, 4G/LTE, 5G, etc.
 In that time frame, automotive OEMs will see a variety of revenue-generating touch points for connected vehicles at gas stations, electric charging stations and more. We also should expect progressive mobile carriers to gain prominence as essential links in the automotive value chain within those same two to three years.
 Early in 2016, that transitional process began with the quiet but dramatic announcement of a statistic that few noted at the time. The industry crossed a critical threshold in the first quarter when net adds of connected cars (32 percent) rose above the net adds of smartphones (31 percent) for the very first time. At the top of the mobile carrier chain, AT&T led the world with around eight million connected cars already plugged into its network.

Why Electric Cars Will Be Here Sooner Than You Think

Christopher Mims:

In 2015, about one in every 150 cars sold in the U.S. had a plug and a battery. But mass adoption of electric vehicles is coming, and much sooner than most people realize.
 In part, this is because electric cars are gadgets, and technological change in gadgets is rapid.
 One big leap is in batteries. A typical electric vehicle today costs $30,000 and will go about 100 miles on a charge, if that. Within a year, you’ll be able to get double that range for just a little more money.
 Tesla Motors Inc. is the standard-bearer, promising a Model 3 vehicle meant to appeal to the masses at $35,000 without incentives and more than 200 miles of range. By comparison, the average new car in the U.S. today sells for about $33,000.
 But Tesla is hardly alone. Later this year, Chevrolet will roll out its $37,500 Bolt EV. It, too, boasts more than 200 miles of range, which appears to be the new goal for eliminating “range anxiety”—the fear that a vehicle will run out of juice—among potential electric-vehicle buyers.

Electric vehicles – It’s not just about the car

Michael Liebreich and Angus McCrone:

One of the key characteristics of complex systems, such as the world’s energy and transport sectors, is that when they change it tends not to be a linear process. They flip from one state to another in a way strongly analogous to a phase change in material science. We have written about this before, for instance here and here.
 A second important characteristic of this type of economic phase change is that when one major sector flips, the results rip through the whole economy and can have impacts on the societal scale.
 We are seeing this effect in the electricity system right now. The rapid uptake of renewable generation in the power system, unstoppable now because of cost reductions in wind and solar, has not simply rendered a certain proportion of conventional generation uneconomic. It has fundamentally changed the way power markets work, making new investment in other sources all but impossible; it has changed the control paradigm for the grid from base-load-and-peak to forecast-and-balance; it has altered flows of investment throughout the power system and its technology providers; it is forcing through an accelerated digitisation of all electrical equipment. It is even changing the way buildings are designed, the training needed by the construction trades, and the way infrastructure is financed.

Amnon Shashua CVPR 2016 keynote: Autonomous Driving, Computer Vision and Machine Learning

Amnon Shashua. Video.


David Levinson & Kevin Krizek:

Autonomous vehicles are coming. At their best, AVs are stimulating an impulse to drive genuine innovation. At its worst, they are a hubris that causes us to overthink the solutions to transport problems in cities.
 Big changes are coming for how people will get around in cities across the globe. The most important change will hinge on the introduction of autonomous vehicles (AVs). Simultaneously, cities will witness the conversion of the vehicle fleet to being primarily electric-powered (from a grid rapidly converting to renewable energy and off-the-grid solar charging) and new ownership models like shared mobility become more common.

VW’s 2019 electric vehicle for Paris motor show reveal

Greg Kable:

Speaking to German magazine WirtschaftWoche (Industry and Economy Week), Diess said the car will have the exterior dimensions of a Golf but the same interior space as a Passat. Following the car’s debut as a prototype at the Paris motor show, it should be launched officially in late 2018 or early 2019.
 A Volkswagen spokesman couldn’t further comment and is waiting on official confirmation of the model’s presence at the show. No further details of the car have been revealed by Diess.
 VW Group CEO Matthias Müller has confirmed that Volkswagen’s leading engineers have been challenged to create an electric car that can be as iconic as the Golf and offer a 500km (310-mile) range while having a charge time of 15 minutes and costing less than a conventionally engined car.

Via Roman Meliška.

Uber Loses at Least $1.2 Billion in First Half of 2016

Eric Newcomer:

The ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies Inc. is not a public company, but every three months, dozens of shareholders get on a conference call to hear the latest details on its business performance from its head of finance, Gautam Gupta.
 On Friday, Gupta told investors that Uber’s losses mounted in the second quarter. Even in the U.S., where Uber had turned a profit during its first quarter, the company was once again losing money.
 In the first quarter of this year, Uber lost about $520 million before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, according to people familiar with the matter. In the second quarter the losses significantly exceeded $750 million, including a roughly $100 million shortfall in the U.S., those people said. That means Uber’s losses in the first half of 2016 totaled at least $1.27 billion.

Gavin Green on the future of internal combustion engines

Gavin Green:

Meanwhile, the sight of the delicious Jaguar C-X75 thundering through the streets of Rome in the Bond movie Spectre reminded me of the early days of that stillborn concept car, when it was powered by twin micro gas turbines. The good people at Bladon Jets continue developing their promising engines, and production versions are one day likely.
 But let us return to the rotary. The brainchild of former Hitler Youth leader Felix Wankel, the rotary has many advantages over a conventional petrol unit, including one-third the weight and size. As there are no reciprocating parts or a valvetrain, it is smoother and quieter. NSU, precursor of Audi, gave the world the first production rotary car, the two-seat Spider of 1964. Later came the Ro80, the most avant-garde sports saloon of the ’60s. In 1967, Mazda gave us the rotary-powered Cosmo, the first futuristic Japanese sports car.
 The Ro80 and Cosmo had much in common, including delectable looks. A smaller engine gives designers greater styling freedom, as well as the potential for better packaging. (And great packaging is the hallmark of superior car design.)
 Alas, there were bugbears with the only fundamentally new car engine to emerge, with any success, in the 20th century. First, was reliability. This was a problem those clever Japanese at Mazda apparently solved, as evinced by its rotary-powered victory at Le Mans in 1991. The second problem was the rotary’s poor fuel economy, due to seal leakages and inferior thermal efficiency. That a lighter and smaller engine should be less economical was a cruel irony; eventually even those rotary stalwarts at Mazda abandoned their free-revving progeny.
 Now, the rotary is on the verge of a comeback. Mazda and Audi, unsurprisingly, are leading the resurrection. Back in 2010, Audi showed one of its many electric concept cars, the A1 E-tron, which used a little single-rotor engine – less than 10in x 10in – as an on-board range-extending generator. The rotary may be a gas-guzzler as the primary power source, as revs rise and fall, and loads vary. But at constant and optimal rpm, such as experienced by a range-extending generator, it is ideal.

Audi vehicles to talk to U.S. traffic signals in first for industry

Alexandria Sage:

(Reuters) – German carmaker Audi is rolling out technology that will allow its vehicles in the United States to communicate with traffic signals, allowing for a more stress-free ride in what it says is the car industry’s first commercial use of the nascent technology.
 Audi of America, which is owned by Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE), said select 2017 Q7 and A4 models built after June 1, 2016 will be equipped with its vehicle-to-infrastructure technology.
 Known in the industry as “V-to-I,” the technology allows traffic signals and other infrastructure to exchange safety and other operational data wirelessly to vehicles over the cloud.

Delphi, Mobileye Join Forces to Develop Self-Drive System

Mike Colias:

“We’re able to pool the investment as well as the technology and execution risk in one place so it doesn’t have to be duplicated by multiple [auto makers] over and over again,” Mr. Clark said.
 The pair will jointly invest “several hundred million dollars” in the effort, but a spokesman declined to provide other details.
 In January, Delphi and Mobileye expect to demonstrate a system that can navigate tough road conditions, such as entering a roundabout, merging into highway traffic, or making left turns across multiple traffic lanes.
 Both companies have deep relationships with car makers, but their system won’t be ready until 2019.
 Integrating their tech in future vehicles could take as much as two years, the companies concede, making it unlikely to hit the market until 2021 or 2022.

Massachusetts to tax ride-hailing apps, give the money to taxis

David Ingram

Massachusetts is preparing to levy a 5-cent fee per trip on ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft and spend the money on the traditional taxi industry, a subsidy that appears to be the first of its kind in the United States.
 Republican Governor Charlie Baker signed the nickel fee into law this month as part of a sweeping package of regulations for the industry.
 Ride services are not enthusiastic about the fee.
 “I don’t think we should be in the business of subsidizing potential competitors,” said Kirill Evdakov, the chief executive of Fasten, a ride service that launched in Boston last year and also operates in Austin, Texas.
 Some taxi owners wanted the law to go further, perhaps banning the start-up competitors unless they meet the requirements taxis do, such as regular vehicle inspection by the police.

2021 May Be the Year of the Fully Autonomous Car

Jamie Condliffe:

Mark your calendars: automakers plan to put truly autonomous cars on our roads in the next five years.
 Ford has announced that it will manufacture a fleet of fully automated driverless cars, without steering wheels or pedals, and put them into commercial operation by 2021. The company—which has previously been modest about its self-driving-car claims—says that the vehicles will initially be used in ride-sharing fleets and for package delivery services, though it doesn’t say which companies might be involved.
 To enact its plan, Ford has acquired the Israeli machine-learning firm SAIPS and invested $75 million into the laser imaging company Velodyne, and it plans to double the size of its Silicon Valley staff.

Hackers expose holes in road for smarter cars

Hannah Kuchler:

Mr Miller and Mr Valasek, car hackers, prompted a recall of 1.4m Fiat Chrysler vehicles last year after a magazine article detailed how they accessed a radio to disable a Jeep’s transmission as it drove along a road. Now they are back at work, showing that with initial physical access, they can trick a car into speeding up, braking, or force it to ignore a request from the emergency parking brake.
 But they do not think carmakers are taking them seriously. “They all say their car couldn’t be affected,” the pair said, laughing on stage at this month’s Black Hat cyber security conference.

Bob Lutz compares Tesla to socialism after GM took $11B from taxpayers under his reign

Fred Lambert:

“As it is presently, no. As they say, “Socialism is great until they run out of other people’s money.” Tesla burns cash. It’s not a car company, it’s a cult of fanatics who think Elon Musk can do no wrong. But financially, it doesn’t work.”
 It’s not the first time he’s made similar comments about Tesla’s financial situation and I already addressed those in my last piece on his comments about Tesla.

Doubling battery power of consumer electronics

Rob Matheson:

An MIT spinout is preparing to commercialize a novel rechargable lithium metal battery that offers double the energy capacity of the lithium ion batteries that power many of today’s consumer electronics.
 Founded in 2012 by MIT alumnus and former postdoc Qichao Hu ’07, SolidEnergy Systems has developed an “anode-free” lithium metal battery with several material advances that make it twice as energy-dense, yet just as safe and long-lasting as the lithium ion batteries used in smartphones, electric cars, wearables, drones, and other devices.

Uber’s First Self-Driving Fleet Arrives in Pittsburgh This Month

Max Chafkin:

Near the end of 2014, Uber co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick flew to Pittsburgh on a mission: to hire dozens of the world’s experts in autonomous vehicles. The city is home to Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics department, which has produced many of the biggest names in the newly hot field. Sebastian Thrun, the creator of Google’s self-driving car project, spent seven years researching autonomous robots at CMU, and the project’s former director, Chris Urmson, was a CMU grad student.
 “Travis had an idea that he wanted to do self-driving,” says John Bares, who had run CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center for 13 years before founding Carnegie Robotics, a Pittsburgh-based company that makes components for self-driving industrial robots used in mining, farming, and the military. “I turned him down three times. But the case was pretty compelling.” Bares joined Uber in January 2015 and by early 2016 had recruited hundreds of engineers, robotics experts, and even a few car mechanics to join the venture. The goal: to replace Uber’s more than 1 million human drivers with robot drivers—as quickly as possible.

WHO CONTROLS YOUR DATA? Your Tesla is watching you—whether or not you’re watching the road

Edward Niedermeyer:

In the wake of Tesla’s first recorded autopilot crash, automakers are reassessing the risk involved with rushing semi-autonomous driving technology into the hands of distractible drivers. But another aspect of autopilot—its ability to hoover up huge amounts of mapping and “fleet learning” data—is also accelerating the auto industry’s rush to add new sensors to showroom-bound vehicles. The race to turn everyday vehicles into vast, data-collecting repositories is becoming a great technological opportunity for legacy carmakers. But in order to earn the enthusiasm of consumers, automakers and startups must first earn their trust.

From DeLorean to Tesla

Holman Jenkins, Jr.

There’s a reason why European and Japanese auto companies, leaders in cruise control and other automated driving technologies, were slow to bring their innovations to America: the U.S. liability system.

Tesla has experienced one fatal crash as a result of imperfections in its self-driving technology—the death of a Florida driver when his car hit a tractor trailer crossing its path. Tesla founder Elon Musk makes a plausible argument that Tesla’s “Autopilot” is a net improver of safety. That won’t matter to trial lawyers making a case that Tesla didn’t sufficiently flag the system’s limitations. And Mr. Musk himself is guilty of statements that could be portrayed as encouraging excessive confidence in what he calls a “beta” system.

Mr. Musk’s frequent recourse to hyperbole lately has many analysts wondering what Elon is up to. A Journal story this week detailed 20 cases, over the past five years, of him touting financial or production goals that Tesla failed to meet.

In just the past few weeks, he set an implausible timetable for rolling out his mass-market Model 3 sedan. He floated a pie-in-the-sky “master plan” to build tractor trailers and pickup trucks. He justified Tesla’s bailout of another Musk-related company, Solar City, by saying the two would revolutionize the world energy system. Last year, he even casually asserted that Tesla eventually would be worth more than Apple.

His fan, the investor Ron Baron, told the Journal this week: “This guy wants to save the world.”

BMW’s EV roadmap detailed, includes full autonomy by 2025

Darrell Etherington

BMW isn’t letting off the gas on its electric vehicle program – the company plans replacements for the i3 and i8 by 2022, according to Automobile Magazine, and a new entrant dubbed Project i20 internally (but likely to be known as the i5 or i6 when it hits streets) on track for 2021. The i20 has a fully electric drivetrain, like the i3 before it, and will also offer BMW’s most sophisticated autonomous driving features to date.
 The i20 will have multiple drivetrain options, ranging from 136 hp at the low end, to a powerful 247 hp at the top. Automobile describes it as a “bigger, prettier, and more aerodynamic i3,” which should go over well with potential BMW electric buyers, since the i3’s design is fairly divisive overall (I love the little guy, personally).

German carmakers led by BMW train their sights on Tesla

Patrick McGee:

“I wouldn’t call [the BMW ad] pathetic, but the two vehicles are not comparable,” says Roland Irle, co-founder of EV-volumes, a consultancy focused on electric cars. “Most people are scratching their head in the green car community.”

Under entrepreneur Elon Musk’s leadership, 13-year-old Tesla has shocked traditional carmakers with each of its four models.

The Roadster, unveiled in 2008, proved electric cars could be cool. The Model S saloon, in 2012, boasted a reassuringly long range of up to 426km.

The Model X, introduced last year, is a sport utility vehicle with Back to the Future-style doors that accelerates from 0 to 60mph in 3.2 seconds. The Model 3 secured orders from almost 400,000 prospective customers within four weeks, and therefore demonstrated there was a mass market for electric cars.

Tesla is now the electric car leader, whether it is measured by vehicle sales, range, battery costs per kilowatt hour, or acceleration, says Mr Irle.

As a result, the BMW ad will not so much lure away Tesla fans but reinforce the common narrative that the big German carmakers are on the defensive after being beaten at their own game, say several analysts.

But while it is widely acknowledged Tesla has been a disruptive force in the automobile industry, it is not clear the German carmakers have actually been upended.

In the years since the financial crisis, Chinese demand for vehicles has surged, enabling traditional carmakers to hit record global sales and operating earnings last year, according to Bernstein analysts.

Ford plans mass-market self-driving car by 2021

Peter Campbell & Patti Waldmeir:

The company announced a suite of investments in technology groups, including one alongside Chinese search engine Baidu, and a doubling of its operation in Silicon Valley on Tuesday, to bolster its position in the race to develop the autonomous technology that is expected to revolutionise the motor industry.

“There’s a real business rationale for this,” said Ford chief executive Mark Fields.

“Vehicle autonomy could have as big an impact on society as the Ford mass assembly line had over 100 years ago.”

He said the cars will be “specifically designed for commercial” services such as ride-booking or ride-sharing.

The move pits Ford directly against Google and Apple as well as rival car manufacturers such as BMW, which has formed a joint partnership with Intel and Mobileye to develop a fully driverless vehicle by 2021.

When it announced the deal last month, the German carmaker said it wanted to become the “number one in autonomous driving”.

But Ford has announced a number of investments it hopes will give it the edge over its rivals.

Ford to offer self-driving cars without steering wheels by 2021

Lucas Mearian:

Ford Motor Co. today announced its plans to begin mass producing a fully autonomous vehicle by 2021 that it will sell for ride hailing markets such as Uber.

Ford’s vehicle will be manufactured with no steering wheel, no gas or brake pedal. In other words, a driver will not be required.

“The world is changing, and it’s changing quickly. We’re not sitting on the sidelines. Ford will be actively driving that change,” Ford CEO Mark Fields said during a news conference held at the company’s Palo Alto, Calif. research facility.

Ford is planning to add two new buildings and 150,000 square feet of work and lab space adjacent to the current Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, doubling the size of the research team by the end of 2017. Currently, the facility has 130 researchers, engineers and scientists.

Why Range Anxiety for Electric Cars Is Overblown

Catherine Caruso:

Electric vehicles promise to free us from our dependence on gasoline, but there’s a catch: most models can’t travel as far as their internal-combustion counterparts without recharging. As a result, whenever widespread adoption of electrics comes up, the conversation almost always turns to “range anxiety.”
 New research suggests the concern is overblown. By analyzing people’s driving habits across the country, Jessika Trancik at MIT and colleagues found that currently available electric cars could replace 87 percent of the personal vehicles on the road and still get us where we need to go (and back again). Assuming battery technology improves in line with government estimates, by 2020 up to 98 percent of vehicles could be replaced.

The Shift To Solar, Wind, & Electric Vehicles Is Too Monumental To Overstate


Covering solar power, wind power, and electric vehicles obsessively for ~7 years, I have run across some fascinating observations regarding these technologies and the transitions we are going through — and then I’ve subsequently forgotten many of them. This article is centered around one of the coolest observations I’ve run across, which slipped my mind for a while but just came back to the forefront this week.
 Technology Disruption Is Fun, But This Is Seriously Historic
 When giving presentations and highlighting how quickly technology transitions happen once a disruptive technology is ripe, I like to use this graph:

Profile of People’s Ride: a co-operative, driver-owned alternative to Uber

Cory Doctorow:

People’s Ride is a co-op ride-hailing company in Grand Rapids, Michigan: drivers own the service in common and collectively decide how to spend its profits (for example, on deploying an app to go with its website); for-profit competitors like Uber take 30% commissions from their drivers and deliver them to investors, while People’s Ride spends all the revenue paying drivers and improving the service.

Uber and Metropolitan Traffic Fatalities in the United States

Noli Brazil & David S. Kirk:

Uber and similar rideshare services are rapidly dispersing in cities across the United States and beyond. Given the convenience and low cost, Uber has been characterized as a potential countermeasure for reducing the estimated 121 million episodes of drunk driving and the 10,000 resulting traffic fatalities that occur annually in the United States. We exploited differences in the timing of the deployment of Uber in US metropolitan counties from 2005 to 2014 to test the association between the availability of Uber’s rideshare services and total, drunk driving-related, and weekend- and holiday-specific traffic fatalities in the 100 most populated metropolitan areas in the United States using negative binomial and Poisson regression models. We found that the deployment of Uber services in a given metropolitan county had no association with the number of subsequent traffic fatalities, whether measured in aggregate or specific to drunk-driving fatalities or fatalities during weekends and holidays.

Centennial Colorado Launches Dry Creek First and Last Mile Pilot, Partnering with Lyft to Connect Seniors to RTD Light Rail

Laura Bliss:

But the success of ride-hailing apps is starting to change that equation. A handful of cities are testing out partnerships with these companies as a way to complement or replace older stop-gap solutions. Kansas City has gone all in on “micro-transit” buses in a partnership with Bridg. In Florida, Pinellas County has been piloting a Uber-based program that serves low-income transit riders traveling at late-night and early-morning hours, while Altamonte Springs has been picking up 25 percent of the tab for Uber rides to and from commuter rail stations.
 Now, a community in Colorado is set to experiment with maybe the most tech-savvy version of this model yet. Beginning August 17, citizens within a service area will be able to summon free Lyft rides to and from the Dry Creek light-rail station that serves the city of Centennial, which sits southeast of Denver. Riders will have the option of putting in their request on the Lyft app or on Go Denver, a mobile platform developed by Xerox that integrates scheduling and payment information for transit and ride-hailing services around the metro area.

Lyft Rebuffs Acquisition Approach from GM


General Motors in recent weeks told Lyft it was interested in acquiring the company, according to a person briefed on the situation. After soliciting other potential strategic acquirers, Lyft rebuffed GM’s approach and decided to raise a new funding round instead, according to two people.


Ehang 184.

At last, the 48 show

The Economist:

One reason is that cars are packed with more and more components, demanding more and more electrical power. A modern vehicle may have as many as 150 electric motors. But there is a second reason for the increase, too. Extra voltage lets engineers design cars in novel ways that boost engine output and efficiency. This can be used to make hybrids on the cheap (some people call them “mild hybrids”). These employ a combination of electric motors and combustion engines to cut both fuel consumption and polluting emissions.
 The first production car to use 48 volts is the SQ7, a new luxury sports-utility vehicle made by Audi, a German firm that is part of the Volkswagen Group. It is not a hybrid, but it employs an electrically driven 48-volt turbine to force extra air into the engine when a spurt of power is needed. This provides a faster response than a turbocharger, which is operated by the vehicle’s exhaust gases. The car also has a 48-volt active suspension. Again, this improves response time, permitting faster action from the electric motors that control how the vehicle rolls on corners.

Self-Driving Cars Will Improve Our Cities. If They Don’t Ruin Them.

Robin Chase:

outside the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan. I looked out over acres of glinting windshields in a packed parking lot. I’d reached this spot by driving from Ann Arbor on the I-94, where the highway sometimes reaches 12 lanes across, in a little over an hour. Public transit would have taken me three and a half hours. What would Henry Ford think, one hundred years after the birth of the car? Pride or horror?
 It took 50 years to transition from the horse to the car. Surely few could have imagined the impact the car would have as it tore through cities, countries, and economies worldwide. Today, average Americans spend almost two of their eight hours at work paying off their car, which they need to get to that job. Last year in the US, more than 38,000 people died and 4.4 million were seriously injured due to motorized transport. Farther afield, in Singapore, 12 percent of the island nation’s scarce land is devoted to car infrastructure. In Delhi, 2.2 million children have irreversible lung damage because of poor air quality.

Toyota gives U-M $22M for robotics, AV research

Greg Gardner:

The Toyota Research Institute is giving $22 million to advance research on artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous driving at the University of Michigan.
 The money will be spent over four years, and the work will be directed by robotics professors Ryan Eustice and Ed Olson, who will retain their part-time faculty positions.
 This is the latest step in the emerging private-public effort to establish southeast Michigan and Ann Arbor as a major hub for development of new modes of mobility and in-home robotics designed to help older citizens.

How connected car tech is eroding personal privacy

Erin Biba:

All he wanted was to disable a device in his car: An always-on, net-connected “helper” that provides the car’s driver with app connections, turn-by-turn navigation, and roadside assistance… at the expense of personal driving data. Similar devices track how fast you’re going, how hard you ride the brakes, even your final destination. And all that info gets sent back to the manufacturer. Scannell wanted out. Unfortunately, it was easier said than done.
 You see, Scannell is a security guy. And, while Scannell thought these features of the Car-Net system in his new Volkswagen Golf were pretty neat, for him the system was a lot more than the “partner” that VW advertises. But he’s been in privacy for years. In fact, it’s literally his job — he’s an adviser for security start-ups. And he knows all too well how simple it is to hack into a system with an open internet connection. For him, Car-Net wasn’t a helper. It was an opening for companies to spy on him. For a hacker to take control over his steering wheel. To find himself in a potentially dangerous situation.

Dealer groups open fire on Cadillac retail plan

Mike Colias:

In a sharply worded letter to de Nysschen dated Aug. 3 and obtained by Automotive News, seven state dealer association heads say Project Pinnacle would create several tiers of “effective pricing,” as Cad-illac funnels a disproportionate amount of money to larger, urban stores that are better able to make pricey investments in services such as complimentary roadside assistance.

1.8 million American truck drivers could lose their jobs to robots. What then? – Vox

David Roberts:

So far, discussion of self-driving cars has mostly confined itself to tech geeks and urbanists. But if they live up to their promise, autonomous vehicles could have seismic effects on America’s economy and culture. It’s probably time for a wider circle of participants, including economists, politicians, and social scientists, to start grappling seriously with what’s coming.

Language & Road Deaths

Julie Sedivy:

decades of the 20th century, people around the world began succumbing to an entirely new cause of mortality. These new deaths, due to the dangers of the automobile, soon became accepted as a lamentable but normal part of modern life. A hundred years later, with 1.25 million people worldwide (about 30,000 in the U.S.) being killed every year in road crashes, there’s now an effort to reject the perception that these deaths are normal or acceptable.


Do Oil Companies Really Need $4 Billion Per Year of Taxpayers’ Money?

Eduardo Porter:

government ended its subsidies to companies that drill for oil and gas?
 The American oil and gas industry has argued that such a move would leave the United States more dependent on foreign energy.
 Many environmental activists counter that ending subsidies could move the United States toward a future free of fossil fuels — helping it curtail its emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Latest to Quit Google’s Self-Driving Car Unit: Top Roboticist

John Markoff:

Carnegie Mellon University research scientist, joined Google in 2009 to help create the then-secret effort. He took over leadership of the team after Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford computer scientist and founder of Google X laboratory, left in 2013.
 Johnny Luu, a spokesman for Alphabet, the parent company of X, the company’s research division that oversees the car project, confirmed Mr. Urmson was planning to leave.

High-tech methods behind massive theft of Jeep, Dodge cars

Courtney Fischer and Mayra Moreno

It only took 6 minutes for high-tech thieves to steal Jeeps and Dodge cars, according to HPD. The department announced Thursday that it had caught two men who were behind that massive plot.

The two men apparently used a laptop and pirated software to start the vehicles and take off. HPD said the vehicles made it into Mexico.

It was in the middle of the day when Mike Hammette realized his Jeep was gone.

“(I) parked it around 1:30pm and walked out at 4,” said Hammette. “My pride and joy was stolen.”

That was the same story HPD heard over and over from several Jeep owners in the Houston area. Police were aware Jeep and Dodge vehicles were being stolen for months, but they just didn’t know how and who until home surveillance video surfaced from one victim.

“In that video, you see a guy walk up to the car carrying a laptop computer,” said Jim Woods with HPD. “(He) uses the laptop and — within 6 minutes — starts the Jeep, backs up the Jeep out of driveway.”

Why Singapore Is the Perfect Place to Test Self-Driving Cars

Mimi Kirk:

The idea of a driving car has long held great fascination. In the 1920s and 1930s, “phantom autos” were driven for spectacle in demos across the United States. The cars—often Pontiacs—were not truly “driverless,” as they were operated by remote control rather than computers.
 Today, honest-to-goodness self-driving cars are becoming a reality, and not just in the United States. This week, Delphi Automotive announced that it will launch a fleet of six automated taxis in Singapore next year.

Google Self-Driving Car Project Monthly Report


Every device experiences glitches from time to time, whether it’s a cellphone, a computer, or even a simple toaster. Naturally, people often ask us, what happens if something goes awry with the equipment operating a self-driving car? Of course, the systems that power our self-driving cars need to be more robust than your average household device, so we’ve built in many layers of safety and protections. Our goal is to make sure our car can safely operate even if things don’t go according to plan.
Our team is focused on making our roads safer, and that includes finding ways to make our car’s internal systems as reliable as possible. On a practical level, we begin with strengthening the most basic components of our self-driving systems — things like connectors and wiring harnesses that enable our hardware and software to communicate.


David Levinson:

Will AVs supplant transit?
 John Levin: “With high capacity transit, such as LRT, it’s difficult to imagine putting all those folks (transit riders) into individual vehicles, even with the better allocation of vehicle space that would come with AV. The issue is not supplanting high capacity vehicles but using AVs to feed people in.”
 Levin said AVs also could help seniors age in place and provide mobility in places harder to serve with transit, such as in suburban areas with dispersed development patterns.

Shared vehicles could make our cities dramatically more livable

David Roberts:

As these vehicles inch tantalizingly closer to reality, we are starting to imagine an entirely new transportation system, in which self-driving electric vehicles are organized into shared city fleets, and dispatched by smartphone to satisfy transportation demand. In this brave, new world, there’s no need for private vehicle ownership.
 Yet, while we can envision a safer, more livable utopia, we can also imagine a dystopia, clogged with yet more cars and congestion. We know huge, fundamental transformation is coming to our transportation system, but it remains maddeningly difficult to predict exactly what shape those changes will take.
 Our transportation system has not changed much, except to become bigger and more sprawling, in over 60 years. There are so many moving pieces today, so many new technologies and possibilities, that it seems impossible to wrap your head around what may be coming.

The Merging Worlds of Technology and Cars

Alex Webb and Chloe Whiteaker:

The line between the technology and automotive industries is blurring. The rise of rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft means that transportation is being tied ever more closely to your cell phone, while autonomous driving technology is turning your car into a computer. But these developments are expensive: Carmakers’ R&D budgets jumped 61 percent, to $137 billion from 2010 to 2014.

Fiat Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne thinks it makes no sense for carmakers to spend billions of dollars developing competing, yet largely identical systems. To share some of the risk—and the cost—the incumbent automotive giants and their would-be disruptors are teaming up in an ever-growing, ever more complex series of alliances.

Your Quick Lube Place I Probably Snitching on You to Your Insurance Company

Jack Baruth:

After some back-and-forth discussion between this person and various other individuals on Twitter, one user determined that the quick-change oil place had probably sold the information to CarFax, which had then sold it to State Farm. CarFax makes no secret of this; it’s a selling point from their perspective. But it’s worth noting that CarFax is just as happy to sell data in bulk to an insurance provider as they are to help you uncover odometer fraud on that sweet ’97 Mitsubishi Eclipse you’ve been considering. Probably more so, in fact.