FreshRSS

🔒
❌ About FreshRSS
There are new available articles, click to refresh the page.
Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

What we learned on our Tesla Cybertruck ride

By Kirsten Korosec

After Elon Musk had left the stage Thursday evening, the crowd — still excited and a little stunned from the Tesla Cybertrunk reveal — converged to the back doors that led outside where a gigantic queue quickly formed.

Media got their own area, the VIPs another, and finally, the other invited guests were in the main, and much longer line. Everyone was waiting for a ride in the Tesla Cybertruck, and TechCrunch was among those who captured the ride.

The ride was short; just a skosh over two minutes overall. But it was long enough to take note of several features. The dash, which looks like sandstone, is actually a kind of compressed paper. A 17-inch screen is mounted in the center.

tesla cybertruck dash

The pickup bed, called the vault, is lit up and visible. But if the lockable storage was closed, the window would no longer be visible. Instead, the rear mirror provides streaming video to allow the driver to see behind the vehicle.

Check out the video for the whole ride, which included a quick moment of acceleration just past 60 miles per hour.

Mercedes prices its all-electric EQC SUV at $67,900

By Kirsten Korosec

The Mercedes-Benz EQC 400 4MATIC, the German automaker’s first all-electric vehicle under its new EQ brand, will start at $67,900 when it arrives in the U.S. early next year.

Mercedes-Benz announced the price of the EQC 400 Wednesday at the LA Auto Show. The price, which doesn’t account for the $7,500 federal tax credit, is notable because it’s below competitors like the Jaguar I-Pace, Audi e-tron and Tesla Model X.

It’s been a year since Mercedes-Benz unveiled the EQC, an all-electric SUV that kicked off the automaker’s plans to invest more than $12 billion to produce a line of battery-powered models under its new EQ brand. And in March, TechCrunch got a brief ride in the SUV in Austin during SXSW. In short, information about the vehicle has been out there. But the price has not.

The Mercedes EQC has a new drive system with compact dual electric drivetrains at each axle, which together generate 402 horsepower and 561 pound-feet of torque. The EQC can travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds.

Mercedes has configured the vehicle motors to handle different aspects of the driving. The front electric motor is optimized for efficiency in the low to medium load range, while the rear motor is designed to create a sporty driving experience.

The vehicle’s 80 kilowatt-hour battery has an estimated range of around 200 miles, Mercedes-Benz has said in the past. The company didn’t provide updated numbers. The battery has standard DC fast-charging that can reach an 80% charge in 40 minutes.

The EQC will come standard with the company’s new MBUX infotainment system, which is already in the A-Class. The infotainment system has put an emphasis on voice assistant technology and navigation, which will be critical for new EV converts worried about locating charging stations. EQ-optimized navigation, driving modes, charging current and departure time also can be controlled and set via MBUX, the company said.

MBUX will recommend the shortest amount of time needed to get to a destination and uses online services to find available DC fast charging stations to use if the operating range is insufficient. Mercedes-Benz customers can also find charging stations via the Mercedes me Charge card, the Mercedes me App or directly from the car.

The onboard charger makes the most from available external power, with the battery able to recharge from 10% to 80% in just 40 minutes.

The EQC will be available in three tiers at launch: progressive, premium and advanced. The progressive and premium tiers will offer two curated paint and upholstery options, while three selections will be available for the more expensive advanced tier.

The entry-level progressive trim will come standard with MBUX, two 10.25-inch digital displays with touchscreen, advanced driver assistance system features like active brake assist with autonomous emergency braking, LED headlamps with adaptive high-beam assist and three years of

Production of the EQC started this year at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Bremen.

Audi’s next all-electric vehicle, the e-tron Sportback, is a “coupé” SUV

By Kirsten Korosec

Audi revealed Tuesday evening in Los Angeles the e-tron Sportback as the German automaker begins to chip away at its plan to launch more than 30 electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids by 2025.

The e-tron Sportback reveal ahead of the LA Auto Show follows the launch earlier this year of Audi’s first all-electric vehicle, the 2019 e-tron.

Audi has delivered 18,500 of its all-electric e-tron SUVs globally since March 2019 when the vehicle first came to market. And the company is hoping to grab more, and different, customers with the Sportback.

Audi plans to offer two variants of the vehicle, a Sportback 50 and Sportback 55. The Sportback will come to Europe first in spring 2020. The Sportback 55 will come to the U.S. in fall 2020.

Audi calls this e-tron Sportback a SUV coupé, the latest evidence that automakers are comfortable pushing the boundaries of traditional automotive terminology. This is not a two-door car with a fixed roof and a sloping rear, although there are “coupé” elements in the design.

This is in fact a SUV with a roof that extend flat over the body and then drops steeply to the rear — that’s where the coupé name comes in — and into the D pillar of the vehicle. Then there’s the classic “Sportback” feature in the body where the lower edge of the side window rises toward the rear.

There are design details repeated throughout the exterior, specifically the four-bar pattern in the headlamps, front grille and wheels. And of course there are special interior and exterior finishes – 13 paint colors in all — and a first edition version customers can buy. The base price of the Sportback is 71,350 ($79,000).

But importantly, besides some styling and design changes, this vehicle boasts longer range and for everyone outside the U.S., futuristic looking side mirrors and new lighting tech.

The 2020 Audi e-tron Sportback has a 86.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack that has a range of up to 446 kilometers (277.1 miles) in the EU’s WLTP cycle. The EPA estimates aren’t out yet, but expect the range numbers to be slightly lower.

The company is targeting an EPA range of about 220 miles over the 204 miles of range that the regular e-tron gets.

Audi was able to improve the range by increasing the net battery capacity. It also decoupled the front motor and improved the thermal management.

Lighting and mirrors

Audi is known for its lighting and the company has made this a key feature in the Sportback. The vehicle has a new digital matrix headlights that breaks down light into tiny pixels. The result is precise lighting that has high resolution.

Inside the headlight is a digital micromirror device that acts like a video projector. Inside the DMD is a small chip from Texas Instruments that contains one million micromirrors. These micromirrors can be tilted up to 5,000 times per second.

The upshot: The headlights can project specific patterns on the road or illuminate certain areas more brightly. And for fun, animations like the e-tron or Audi logos can be projected on a wall when the vehicle is stopped.

Check out this video to see it in action.

The safety piece of this is the most interesting. For instance, on a freeway the light might creates a carpet of light that illuminates the driver’s own lane brightly and adjusts dynamically when he or she changes lane.

Then there are the virtual exterior mirrors. This wing-shaped side mirror doesn’t have an exterior mirror. Instead, it supports integrate small cameras. The captured images appear on high-contrast OLED displays inside the car between the instrument panel and the door.

If the driver moves their finger toward the surface of the touch display, symbols are activated with which the driver can reposition the image. The mirrors can be adjust automatically to three driving situations for highway driving, turning and parking.

Neither the mirrors of the digital matrix LED lighting is available in the U.S. and won’t be until the government changes its Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, or FMVSS, which are the regulations that dictate the design, construction, performance, and durability requirements for motor vehicles.

Karma’s new electric hinge-winged hypercar concept goes 0 to 60 mph in 1.9 seconds

By Kirsten Korosec

Karma Automotive took the wraps off Tuesday of a new electric concept car called the SC2 that produces a heart-thumping 1,100 horsepower and can travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds.

The concept is a showpiece and an integral part of the Chinese-backed California-based startup’s new strategy to become a technology and design incubator that supplies other automakers.

Karma Automotive also unveiled Tuesday at Automobility LA, the press and trade days of the LA Auto Show, a performance variant of its Revero GT. The new Revero GTS is similar to the Revero GT, but boasts more performance and several other new interior and tech touches.

Meanwhile, the SC2 — with its eye-popping looks and performance specs — is meant to be show what Karma can do, not necessarily what it will do.

Karma CEO Lance Zhou called the SC2 a “signpost” to the company’s future as a technology-driven brand. It also previews the company’s future design language.

“Our open platform serves as a test bed for new technologies and partnerships, where we are to provide engineering, design, technology and customization resources others,” Zhao said.

The nuts and bolts

The battery-electric concept has front and rear mounted twin electric motors that deliver 800 kW peak power, with 10,500 pound-feet wheel torque and 350 miles of pure electric range. The I-shaped 120 kilowatt-hour battery is housed in the center tunnel beneath the dashboard and seats.

The vehicle has carbon ceramic breaks, a push-rod operated racing suspension and a Karma torque vectoring gearbox.

The hinge-winged doors aren’t the only flashy or tech-forward features. The concept has long-range radars, cameras, and FMCW lidar sensors in a nod towards an autonomous driving future.

Karma Automotive SC2 Interior

Drivers will theoretically (this is a concept after all) enter the vehicle through fingerprint and facial recognition sensors. Inside the vehicle, there are biometric seats and 3D audio to create individual sound zones for driver and passenger. Electro chromatic glass shifts from clear to opaque for privacy and light sensitivity.

Reliving the drive

Karma also showed a feature that lets drivers re-live their street-racing adventures through a simulation. A triple high definition camera under the windshield and frequency-modulated
continuous wave lidar sensors capture of the car in motion. At the same time, software captures in real-time all of the turns, braking and acceleration of driving.

After the drive, an adaptive laser projector replays the journey while the vehicle is parked. A mounted smartphone acts as the cabin’s rear-view mirror and turns it into a driving simulator where the user can re-experience their drive and fine-tune their skills.

And of course, drivers can then share that experience with others or stream drivers’ routes from
around the world within their own vehicles.

SC2’s technology can be integrated into a variety of future vehicles, according to Andreas Thurner, Karma’s vp of global design and architecture.

And that’s the whole point of this exercise. It’s unlikely that the SC2 will ever be made as a production vehicle. But the tech and design features in it could live on.

Karma Automotive’s roots began with Fisker Automotive, the startup led by Henrik Fisker that ended in bankruptcy in 2013. China’s Wanxiang Group purchased what was left of Fisker in 2014 and Karma Automotive was born.

Karma hasn’t had the smoothest of resurrections. The company’s first effort, known as the Revero, wasn’t received warmly. The Revero GT has been an improved effort. However, that hasn’t relieved the pressure.

The company laid off about 200 workers this month from its Irvine, Calif. headquarters following a restructuring that will focus on licensing its technology to other carmakers. The company’s assembly plant is in Moreno Valley, Calif.

This new incubator effort is an effort to bring some stability to the company and help it offset the capitally intensive business of designing and producing its own cars.

Karma Automotive unveils its faster next act, the Revero GTS

By Kirsten Korosec

Karma Automotive’s second act is a gasoline-electric luxury vehicle that aims to deliver more performance and tech inside a sleek and sporty $149,950 package.

The 2020 Revero GTS unveiled Tuesday during AutoMobility LA, the press and trade days of LA Auto Show, shares some of the same bits as its sibling Revero GT. Both vehicles use a gasoline-electric powertrain — a BMW engine powers a generator that charges the 28 kilowatt-hour nickel manganese cobalt lithium-ion battery. Like the GT, the battery supplies the GTS with 80 miles of electric driving. Both vehicles have a total 360-mile range when they’re fully charged and fueled with gas.

And both have some of the same operational features, including three driving modes and launch control that allows drivers to unlock all the power and torque inside and “launch” the vehicle down the road. The three drive modes are “stealth,” for pure-electric driving, a range extender mode called “sustain,” and sport, which combines the output from the battery pack and the generator for maximum driving performance.

The specs

The GTS does have a lot of extra though and costs about $15,000 more than the GT. The GTS has a new body, including a redesigned hood, doors, deck lid, body sides and side mirrors. It’s also faster off the line and can travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in an estimated 3.9 seconds compared to the 4.5 seconds in the GT. The GTS comes with electronic torque vectoring, refined power steering. It also has a higher electronically-limited top speed of 130 miles per hour versus the GT’s 125 mph.

The GTS’ twin electric motors and all-electric powertrain produce 536 horsepower and 635 pound-feet of torque, which should deliver a responsive and exciting enough drive. Although we’ll have to wait and experience it for ourselves.

Karma Automotive GTS Interior Detail

The new vehicle has advanced driver assistance features like blind spot and cross traffic detection as well as audio technology developed in house and active noise cancelling. The infotainment system has also been improved on the GTS and includes haptic tactile switches a new touchscreen and user interface processor as well as a center console with improved storage.

Karma Automotive says it will begin production of the GTS in first quarter of 2020. First deliveries of the Revero GT expected during the fourth quarter of 2019.

The new business plan

The Karma Revero GT was the first fully conceived product to come out of a company that launched from the remnants of Fisker Automotive, the startup led by Henrik Fisker that ended in bankruptcy in 2013. China’s Wanxiang Group purchased what was left of Fisker in 2014 and Karma Automotive was born.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing though. The company’s first effort, known as the Revero, wasn’t received warmly. The Revero GT has been an improved effort. However, that hasn’t relieved the pressure.

The company laid off about 200 workers this month from its Irvine, Calif. headquarters following a restructuring that will focus on licensing its technology to other carmakers. The company’s assembly plant is in Moreno Valley, Calif.

Karma’s efforts to pack more tech and performance in the GTS makes sense considering the company’s new business strategy to open its engineering, design, customization and manufacturing resources to other companies. It also explains Karma’s other reveal Tuesday, an all-electric concept vehicle called the SC2 that delivers a stunning 1,100 horsepower and 10,500 lb.-ft. of torque and can achieve 0 to 60 mph in less than 1.9 seconds.

In other words, the GTS is a model of what Karma can do. And it explains some of Karma’s decisions to design and produce more of the vehicle’s components in house. Karma has developed its own inverters to maximize and maintain full software control for fast over-the-air updates as well as a proprietary 7.1-channel 570-watt Soloscape audio system, according to Todd George, the company’s VP of Engineering. The inverters convert DC current from the battery  pack to power the AC drive motors, and to also capture AC power from the regenerative braking system to recharge the battery pack.

It’s a business angle that Karma hopes will give it the immediate and long-term capital it needs to stay afloat. Karma is backed and owned by Wanxiang, the massive Chinese auto parts supplier. But it will eventually need to stand on its own.

BMW’s magical gesture control finally makes sense as touchscreens take over cars

By Matt Burns

BMW has been equipping its cars with in-air gesture control for several years and I never paid attention to it. It seemed redundant. Why wave your hand in the air when there are dials, buttons and touchscreens to do the same? Until this week, that is, when took delivery of a BMW 850i loaner equipped with the tech. This is about the future.

I didn’t know the 850i used gesture control, because, frankly, I had forgotten BMW had this technology; I stumbled upon it. Just make a motion in the air to control the volume or tell the navigation to send you home. Now, in 2019, with giant touchscreens set to takeover cars, I find BMW’s gesture control smart and a great solution to a future void of buttons.

It’s limited in use right now. There are only a few commands: volume, nav, recent calls, and turning on and off the center screen. It’s easy to see additional functions added in the future. It’s sorely missing the ability to step back a screen. I want that function the most.

Here’s how it works: to control the volume, take one finger and spin it in the air above the center stack. Anywhere. The range is impressive. A person can do this next to the screen or two feet away. A person’s arm could be resting on the center armrest and lift in the air and twirl their finger. Bam, it controls the volume. Put two fingers up – not spinning, like a flat peace sign – and the screen turns on or off. Make a fist and open it twice to load the navigation or phone (user picks the function).

After using the system for several days, I never had a false positive. The volume control took about 10 minutes to master while the other gestures worked the first time.

In this car, these commands work in conjunction with physical buttons, dials, and a touchscreen. The gestures are optional. A user can turn off the function in the settings, too.

I found the in-air control a lovely addition to the buttons, though. At night, in the rain, they’re great as they do not require the driver to remove their focus from the road. Just twirl your fingers to turn down the volume.

I’m not convinced massive touchscreens are better for the driver. The lack of actual, tactile response along with burying options in menus can lead drivers to take their eyes off the road. For the automaker, using touchscreens is less expensive than developing, manufacturing, and installing physical buttons. Instead of having rows of plastic buttons and dials along with the mechanical bits behind them, automakers can use a touchscreen and program everything to be on screen. Tesla did it first, Ram, Volvo, and now Ford is following.

In-air gesture control could improve the user experience with touchscreens. When using BMW’s system, I didn’t have to take my eyes off the road to find the volume — something that I have to do occasionally, even in my car. Instead, I just made a circle in the air with my right hand. Likewise, BMW’s system lets the user call up the nav and navigate to a preset destination (like work or home) by just making another gesture.

BMW debuted this system in 2015. The automotive world was different. Vehicles were

Hailing a driverless ride in a Waymo

By Kirsten Korosec
Ed Niedermeyer Contributor
Ed Niedermeyer is an author, columnist and co-host of The Autonocast. His book, Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors, was released in August 2019.

“Congrats! This car is all yours, with no one up front,” the pop-up notification from the Waymo One app reads. “This ride will be different. With no one else in the car, Waymo will do all the driving. Enjoy this free ride on us!”

Moments later, an empty Chrysler Pacifica minivan appears and navigates its way to my location near a park in Chandler, the Phoenix suburb where Waymo has been testing its autonomous vehicles since 2016.

Waymo, the Google self-driving-project-turned-Alphabet unit, has given demos of its autonomous vehicles before. More than a dozen journalists experienced driverless rides in 2017 on a closed course at Waymo’s testing facility in Castle; and Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, took a driverless ride in the company’s Firefly prototype on Austin’s city streets way back in 2015.

waymo Driverless notificationBut this driverless ride is different — and not just because it involved an unprotected left-hand turn, busy city streets or that the Waymo One app was used to hail the ride. It marks the beginning of a driverless ride-hailing service that is now being used by members of its early rider program and eventually the public.

It’s a milestone that has been promised — and has remained just out of reach — for years.

In 2017, Waymo CEO John Krafcik declared on stage at the Lisbon Web Summit that “fully self-driving cars are here.” Krafcik’s show of confidence and accompanying blog post implied that the “race to autonomy” was almost over. But it wasn’t.

Nearly two years after Krafcik’s comments, vehicles driven by humans — not computers — still clog the roads in Phoenix. The majority of Waymo’s fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans in Arizona have human safety drivers behind the wheel; and the few driverless ones have been limited to testing only.

Despite some progress, Waymo’s promise of a driverless future has seemed destined to be forever overshadowed by stagnation. Until now.

Waymo wouldn’t share specific numbers on just how many driverless rides it would be giving, only saying that it continues to ramp up its operations. Here’s what we do know. There are hundreds of customers in its early rider program, all of whom will have access to this offering. These early riders can’t request a fully driverless ride. Instead, they are matched with a driverless car if it’s nearby.

There are, of course, caveats to this milestone. Waymo is conducting these “completely driverless” rides in a controlled geofenced environment. Early rider program members are people who are selected based on what ZIP code they live in and are required to sign NDAs. And the rides are free, at least for now.waymo VID 20191023 093743

Still, as I buckle my seatbelt and take stock of the empty driver’s seat, it’s hard not to be struck, at least for a fleeting moment, by the achievement.

It would be a mistake to think that the job is done. This moment marks the start of another, potentially lengthy, chapter in the development of driverless mobility rather than a sign that ubiquitous autonomy is finally at hand.

Futuristic joyride   

A driverless ride sounds like a futuristic joyride, but it’s obvious from the outset that the absence of a human touch presents a wealth of practical and psychological challenges.

As soon as I’m seated, belted and underway, the car automatically calls Waymo’s rider assistance team to address any questions or concerns about the driverless ride — bringing a brief human touch to the experience.

I’ve been riding in autonomous vehicles on public roads since late 2016. All of those rides had human safety drivers behind the wheel. Seeing an empty driver’s seat at 45 miles per hour, or a steering wheel spinning in empty space as it navigates suburban traffic, feels inescapably surreal. The sensation is akin to one of those dreams where everything is the picture of normalcy except for that one detail — the clock with a human face or the cat dressed in boots and walking with a cane.

Other than that niggling feeling that I might wake up at any moment, my 10-minute ride from a park to a coffee shop was very much like any other ride in a “self-driving” car. There were moments where the self-driving system’s driving impressed, like the way it caught an unprotected left turn just as the traffic signal turned yellow or how its acceleration matched surrounding traffic. The vehicle seemed to even have mastered the more human-like driving skill of crawling forward at a stop sign to signal its intent.

Only a few typical quirks, like moments of overly cautious traffic spacing and overactive path planning, betrayed the fact that a computer was in control. A more typical rider, specifically one who doesn’t regularly practice their version of the driving Turing Test, might not have even noticed them.

How safe is ‘safe enough’?

Waymo’s decision to put me in a fully driverless car on public roads anywhere speaks to the confidence it puts in its “driver,” but the company was cagey about the specific source of that confidence.

Waymo’s Director of Product Saswat Panigrahi declined to share how many driverless miles Waymo had accumulated in Chandler, or what specific benchmarks proved that its driver was “safe enough” to handle the risk of a fully driverless ride. Citing the firm’s 10 million real-world miles and 10 billion simulation miles, Panigrahi argued that Waymo’s confidence comes from “a holistic picture.”

“Autonomous driving is complex enough not to rely on a singular metric,” Panigrahi said.

It’s a sensible, albeit frustrating, argument, given that the most significant open question hanging over the autonomous drive space is “how safe is safe enough?” Absent more details, it’s hard to say if my driverless ride reflects a significant benchmark in Waymo’s broader technical maturity or simply its confidence in a relatively unchallenging route.

The company’s driverless rides are currently free and only taking place in a geofenced area that includes parts of Chandler, Mesa and Tempe. This driverless territory is smaller than Waymo’s standard domain in the Phoenix suburbs, implying that confidence levels are still highly situational. Even Waymo vehicles with safety drivers don’t yet take riders to one of the most popular ride-hailing destinations: the airport.

The complexities of driverless

Panigrahi deflected questions about the proliferation of driverless rides, saying only that the number has been increasing and will continue to do so. Waymo has about 600 autonomous vehicles in its fleet across all geographies, including Mountain View, Calif. The majority of those vehicles are in Phoenix, according to the company.

However, Panigrahi did reveal that the primary limiting factor is applying what it learned from research into early rider experiences.

“This is an experience that you can’t really learn from someone else,” Panigrahi said. “This is truly new.”

Some of the most difficult challenges of driverless mobility only emerge once riders are combined with the absence of a human behind the wheel. For example, developing the technologies and protocols that allow a driverless Waymo to detect and pull over for emergency response vehicles and even allow emergency services to take over control was a complex task that required extensive testing and collaboration with local authorities.

“This was an entire area that, before doing full driverless, we didn’t have to worry as much about,” Panigrahi said.

The user experience is another crux of driverless ride-hailing. It’s an area to which Waymo has dedicated considerable time and resources — and for good reason. User experience turns out to hold some surprisingly thorny challenges once humans are removed from the equation.

WAYMO 1. edjpg

The everyday interactions between a passenger and an Uber or Lyft driver, such as conversations about pick-up and drop-offs as well as sudden changes in plans, become more complex when the driver is a computer. It’s an area that Waymo’s user experience research (UXR) team admits it is still figuring out.

Computers and sensors may already be better than humans at specific driving capabilities, like staying in lanes or avoiding obstacles (especially over long periods of time), but they lack the human flexibility and adaptability needed to be a good mobility provider.

Learning how to either handle or avoid the complexities that humans accomplish with little effort requires a mix of extensive experience and targeted research into areas like behavioral psychology that tech companies can seem allergic to.

Not just a tech problem

Waymo’s early driverless rides mark the beginning of a new phase of development filled with fresh challenges that can’t be solved with technology alone. Research into human behavior, building up expertise in the stochastic interactions of the modern urban curbside, and developing relationships and protocols with local authorities are all deeply time-consuming efforts. These are not challenges that Waymo can simply throw technology at, but require painstaking work by humans who understand other humans.

Some of these challenges are relatively straightforward. For example, it didn’t take long for Waymo to realize that dropping off riders as close to the entrance of a Walmart was actually less convenient due to the high volume of foot traffic. But understanding that pick-up and drop-off isn’t ruled by a single principle (e.g. closer to the entrance is always better) hints at a hidden wealth of complexity that Waymo’s vehicles need to master.

waymo interaction

As frustrating as the slow pace of self-driving proliferation is, the fact that Waymo is embracing these challenges and taking the time to address it is encouraging.

The first chapter of autonomous drive technology development was focused on the purely technical challenge of making computers drive. Weaving Waymo’s computer “driver” into the fabric of society requires an understanding of something even more mysterious and complex: people and how they interact with each other and the environment around them.

Given how fundamentally autonomous mobility could impact our society and cities, it’s reassuring to know that one of the technology’s leading developers is taking the time to understand and adapt to them.

Google Maps adds more Waze-like features, including driving-incident reports

By Sarah Perez

Google Maps is starting to look a lot more like Waze. Google today announced a series of new features that will allow drivers using the Maps app on iOS to report accidents, speed traps and traffic jams. And on both iOS and Android, users will be able to report other driving hazards and incidents, like road construction, lane closures, disabled vehicles and objects in the road — like debris. These are all core Waze features and among the primary reasons why many users opt for Waze over Google Maps.

Google had already offered accident, speed trap and traffic slowdown reports on Android before today.

The new updates follow a steady launch of Waze-like additions to the Google Maps app.

For example, Google launched speed limits and speed trap alerts in more than 40 countries in Google Maps back in May. And it had been testing various driving hazard alerts before now. Google Maps also previously adopted other Waze features, like the ability to add a stop to your route while in navigation mode, or the ability to view nearby gas prices.Mid trip UGC ReportWhen you’re navigating your route in Google Maps, you can tap to add a report, then choose from a long list that now includes: Crash, Speed Trap, Slowdown, Construction, Lane Closure, Disabled vehicle and Object on Road.

With the additions, Google is chipping away at the many reasons why people still turn to Waze.

However, Waze is still better for planning a trip by connecting to your personal calendar or Facebook events, while Google Maps has instead focused more on helping users plan their commutes. Waze also is more social and includes a carpooling service.

The benefit of more users switching to Maps means more aggregate data to help power Google’s other products. Data collection from Google Maps is behind features like those that show the wait times, popular times and visit duration at local businesses, for example. Plus, Google Maps is a jumping off point for Google’s My Business platform, which has more recently been challenging Facebook Pages by allowing Maps users to follow their favorite businesses to track promotions and events, and even message the businesses directly.

Google says the new Google Maps features start rolling out globally on Android and iOS this week.

Tesla acquires computer vision startup DeepScale in push toward robotaxis

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla has acquired DeepScale, a Silicon Valley startup that uses low-wattage processors to power more accurate computer vision, in a bid to improve its Autopilot driver assistance system and deliver on CEO Elon Musk’s vision to turn its electric vehicles into robotaxis.

CNBC was the first to report the acquisition. TechCrunch independently confirmed the deal with two unnamed sources, although neither one would provide more information on the financial terms of the deal. 

Tesla vehicles are not considered fully autonomous, or Level 4, a designation by SAE that means the car can handle all aspects of driving in certain conditions without human intervention.

Instead, Tesla vehicles are “Level 2,” and its Autopilot feature is a more advanced driver assistance system than most other vehicles on the road today. Musk has promised that the advanced driver assistance capabilities on Tesla vehicles will continue to improve until eventually reaching that full automation high-water mark.

Earlier this year, Musk said Tesla would launch an autonomous ridesharing network by 2020. DeepScale, a four-year-old startup based in Mountain View, Calif., appears to be part of that plan. The acquisition also brings much needed talent to Tesla’s Autopilot team, which has suffered from a number of departures in the past year, The Information reported in July.

DeepScale has developed a way to use efficient deep neural networks on small, low-cost, automotive-grade sensors and processors to improve the accuracy of perception systems. These perception systems, which use sensors, mapping, planning and control systems to interpret and classify data in real time, are essential to the operation of autonomous vehicles. In short, these systems allow vehicles to understand the world around them.

The company argued that its method of using low-wattage and low-cost sensors and processors allowed it to deliver driver assistance and autonomous driving to vehicles at all price points.

The company had raised more than $18 million — in $3 million seed and $156 million Series A rounds — from investors that included Autotech VC, Bessemer, Greylock and Trucks VC.

On Monday, DeepScale’s co-founder Forrest Iandola posted an announcement on Twitter and updated his LinkedIn account. The Twitter message read “I joined the @Tesla #Autopilot team this week. I am looking forward to working with some of the brightest minds in #deeplearning and #autonomousdriving.”

I joined the @Tesla #Autopilot team this week. I am looking forward to working with some of the brightest minds in #deeplearning and #autonomousdriving.

— Forrest Iandola (@fiandola) October 1, 2019

In Tesla’s push toward “full self-driving,” it developed a new custom chip designed to those capabilities. This chip is now in all new Model 3, X and S vehicles. Musk has said that Tesla vehicles being produced now have the hardware necessary — computer and otherwise — for full self-driving. “All you need to do is improve the software,” Musk said in April at the company’s Autonomy Day.

Others in the industry have balked at those claims. Tesla and Musk have maintained the “improve software” line, and have continued to roll out improvements to the capability of Autopilot. Earlier this month, Tesla released a software update that adds new features to its cars. The update included Smart Summon, an autonomous parking feature that allows owners to use their app to summon their vehicles from a parking space.

With the 2020 Cadillac CT4, GM begins to expand its hands-free Super Cruise driving system

By Kirsten Korosec

GM’s high-end brand unveiled Thursday the 2020 Cadillac CT4, a sporty and small sedan that is designed and priced to attract younger buyers looking to enter into the luxury car market.

The vehicle’s debut also marks an important expansion for GM’s hands-free driver assistance system, Super Cruise. The hands-free driving system has been lauded for its capabilities; it’s also been criticized because of its severe limitations. Today, Super Cruise is available in just one Cadillac model, the full-size CT6 sedan. And even in the CT6, the system is restricted to certain highways.

Super Cruise uses a combination of lidar map data, high-precision GPS, cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system, which monitors the person behind the wheel to ensure they’re paying attention. Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system, users of Super Cruise do not need to have their hands on the wheel. However, their eyes must remain directed straight ahead.

GM is finally starting to expand where the system can be used and bringing it to more models. Earlier this year, the company said it will add another 70,000 miles of compatible divided highways in the United States and Canada to the existing system via a software update. By the end of the year, Super Cruise will be available on more than 200,000 miles of highways.

The automaker plans to bring SuperCruise to other GM brands such as Chevrolet, GMC and Buick after 2020.

The expansion follows other improvements rolled out in 2018, including adding a dynamic lane offset so that a CT6 with Super Cruise activated can adjust slightly over in its lane for driver comfort when passing large vehicles. Gauge cluster messages were also added, to inform drivers why Super Cruise may not be available in certain instances.

Super Cruise isn’t the only feature of note in the 2020 Cadillac CT4 model. Cadillac is offering the CT4 in a few trim levels, all of which will have turbo engines. The standard version will have a an eight-speed transmission and a 2.0 turbo-4 engine that generates 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

The CT4-V, and the premium luxury version the CT4, have a 2.7-liter turbo-4 engine with a 10-speed automatic transmission.

The CT4 will come with unique grilles and bright exterior accents to distinguish the CT4 luxury and premium luxury models. The Sport and V-Series models are differentiated by darker accents and “performance-inspired” details, including unique grilles, fascias, rocker extensions, rear spoiler and exclusive performance design wheels, Cadillac said.

Every version of the CT4 will have LED exterior lighting including headlamps, tail lamps and signature vertical lights at all four corners.

Cadillac 2020 CT4 Sport 023

The interior of the 2020 Cadillac CT4.

Inside the car, drivers will find an 8-inch touchscreen that is mounted prominently in the center of the instrument panel. GM’s new digital platform, which can handle over-the-air software updates, is integrated into the CT4 as well.

“We developed CT4 to appeal to youthful buyers in the luxury market who may be new to the Cadillac brand,” said Andrew Smith, executive director of global Cadillac design. “The vehicle was intended to draw attention, using a combination of great proportions, taught surfacing and Cadillac family details that hint at the athletic driving experience this vehicle offers.”

Audi’s off-roading electric concept would be perfect for Tatooine

By Kirsten Korosec

Concept vehicles are a staple of the auto show circuit. And while most will never end up as a production vehicle, they can provide insight into an automaker and clues to where it’s headed.

Over at Audi, designers and engineers might have had a distant planet in mind. Or at least an expanse of wilderness.

The German automaker unveiled Tuesday at the Frankfurt Motor Show the Audi AI: TRAIL quattro, a concept electric vehicle designed for the “future of off roading.” The “Trail” off roader is one of four concept vehicles that Audi has presented at various auto shows since 2017. Other concepts included a sports car, luxury vehicle and one designed for megacities.

Audi argues that these concepts aren’t efforts of futility. Instead, the company says it these four vehicles show how Audi vehicles in the future will be designed for specific use cases.

“In the future, customers will be able to order any of these specialist Audi models from an Audi on-demand vehicle pool to suit their personal preferences and requirements and to lease them for a limited period,” the company said in its announcement.

Audi takes this idea of the on-demand subscription further by noting that vehicles will be configured to suit individual preferences of customers who use this still non-existent and totally conceptual on-demand product. All the essential customer information would be stored in the myAudi system and accompanying app, the company said.

In the video below, Audi’s head of design Marc Lichte explains the thinking behind these concepts.

 

In the case of the Audi AI: TRAIL, designers put an emphasis on exploration and seeing the surrounding environment. It even comes with five drones, which aside from replacing the headlights, can provide other tasks such as lighting up your camping area or picnic spot.

The all-electric concept, which has a range of up to 310 miles, is about 13.5 feet long and 7 feet wide and is outfitted with beefy 22-inch wheels. And because it’s a vehicle meant to off road, designers gave it ground clearance of 13.4 inches. This concept, if it really existed beyond the showroom floor, can ford through water more than half a meter deep. The range of the vehicle does drop on rough roads to about 155 miles, which would theoretically (if this vehicle actually existed) make wilderness travel more difficult.

[gallery ids="1880216,1880211,1880220,1880215,1880212,1880213,1880210,1880221,1880214,1880207"]

The battery unit is integrated into the floor providing a spacious interior that sits four people. Glass surrounds the cabin to provide unrivaled views of the environment, whether it’s an earthly vista or the binary sunset over the fictional Tatooine desert.

The remaining exterior body is made of a mixture of high-tech steel, aluminum and carbon fiber, giving it a total weight of 3,858 pounds.

The concept vehicle is equipped with four electric motors, systems for assisted and automated driving and all-wheel drive. What you won’t find are any screens for streaming video. This concept was designed for viewing the outside world.

The interior, which uses recycled materials, is scant. There are pedals, a yoke for a steering wheel, a few buttons, and a smartphone attached to the steering column as a display and control center for vehicle functions and navigation.

The second row features seats that are designed to function like hammocks — and can be removed and used as mobile outdoor chairs.

Drones as headlights!

Perhaps the most interesting feature is the inclusion of five rotorless electrically operated drones, which serve a variety of purposes. The drones, which have matrix LED lighting, can dock on the roof to get more power with the inductive charging elements.

Audi calls these drones Audi Light Pathfinders because of their ability to fly and illuminate the path ahead. These drones, Audi says replace headlights altogether. When the vehicle is parked, the drones can be used ti light up the surrounding area.

Occupants control the drones through their smartphones in this theoretical use case. The on-board cameras can generate a video image that can be transmitted to the display in front of the driver via Wi-Fi, turning the Pathfinders into “eyes in the sky,” Audi says.

❌