Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Posts Tagged ‘autonomous vehicles

Didi Chuxing Cha-Ching

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Greetings from the Big Apple.

I arrived here over the weekend to visit some friends and prepare for some meetings in NYC. 

The weather has been beyond spectacular — if I’d have planned ahead, I would have brought my golf clubs and teed up in the middle of 5th Avenue to attempt my first mile long drive.

But instead, I’m following the attempts of China’s Didi Chuxing Technology Co. to drive for a humongous IPO that The Wall Street Journal is claiming could happen as soon as this year.

Didi operates China’s largest ride-sharing platform and is expanding in Latin America and other parts of Asia, and according to the Journal report, is hoping to garner a valuation of at least $70 to $80 billion if it goes public.

The report also suggests that Didi is looking to “amass a large war chest to fend off rivals in China and other countries.”

But the company is also apparently looking to develop a smart car customized for ride-sharing and looking for auto makers that could manufacture such a car. 

The car is anticipated to be an electric vehicle and would be connected to the internet, allowing Didi to monitor data from the car for safety by applying artificial intelligence technology.

The Journal article suggests this worries some automakers, as it would put companies like Didi (and potentially others who move in this direction) in direct competition, one which could put the Didis of the world in the driver’s seat when it comes to the “operating system” for cars (i.e., the software).

Written by turbotodd

April 24, 2018 at 8:12 am

China’s Self-Driving Rules

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Reuters is reporting that China has laid out national guidelines for testing self-driving cars, and cites its source as the China Daily newspaper.

The rules indicate that vehicles must first be tested in non-public zones, that road tests can only be on designated streets, and that a qualified person must always sit in the driver’s position, ready to take over control.

Autonomous vehicles have become a “key plank” in Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” push.

In other Chinese Internet-related news, China’s rough equivalent to Twitter, Sina Weibo, reversed itself earlier today of an edict to ban gay content, according to a report from CNBC.

On Friday, Weibo announced plans to remove posts containing pornographic cartoons, videos that promote violence, homosexual content, and violent video games, arguing that it was making these moves to comply with Chinese law.

But over the weekend, Weibo endured a major backlash from Weibo users, and in a post from today the company said it would no longer target “homosexual content” (but would continue forward cleaning up pornographic and violent posts).

CNBC’s story points out that homosexuality was decriminalized in China in 1997, and “later removed from an official list of mental illnesses.”

Written by turbotodd

April 16, 2018 at 2:35 pm

Human Crash Test Dummies?

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Put on the brakes!

The NTSB has dispatched investigators to examine another fatal crash of a Tesla electric vehicle, this one last week in California. 

One of the goals of their investigation will be to determine whether its semi-automated driving system was engaged, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

“Unclear if automated control system was active at time of crash,” the NTSB said in a social-media posting, in a reference to Tesla’s Autopilot feature. “Issues examined include: post-crash fire, steps to make vehicle safe for removal from scene.”

According to the story, a man died in the accident after his Tesla Model X sport-utility vehicle traveling south on Highway 101 struck a barrier and was struck by two other vehicles.

“This investigation is not focused on the automation, rather, it is focused on understanding the post-crash fire and the steps taken to make the vehicle safe for removal/transport from the scene,” an NTSB spokesman said in an email message. “We are working with Tesla to determine if automation was in use at the time of the accident, but the focus of this field investigation is on the other two points.”

Still, the NTSB has found itself increasingly scrutinizing emerging automated- driving technologies, adding to typical investigations the agency conducts of crashes involving aircraft, trains and buses, and other incidents.

I’ll ask the question: Is this going to increasingly put the NTSB in a difficult position, being asked to investigate accidents by semi- or fully-autonomous vehicles after the crash has occurred, instead of having the U.S. Congress or other authority put some laws into effect that are proactive and prescriptive?

The SELF-DRIVE Act, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives late last year, aimed to allow automakers and tech giants to eventually test as many as 100,000 experimental autonomous vehicles annually. 

But as reported by Recode, under the proposal those companies could obtain exemptions for the federal safety standards that govern all motor vehicles, and they would not have to seek review of their technology before it hits the market.

The measure got hung up in the U.S. Senate, and perhaps for good reason (although the hitch was concerns about cybersecurity intrusions, and not the autonomous technology itself).

When I went through driving school, they always told me to keep two hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road.  I always thought it was a pretty good prescription for safer driving.

And though I fully expect in the long term autonomous vehicles will be a boon for highway safety, in the short term, we humans seem to be sitting in the crash test dummy driver(less) seat.

Written by turbotodd

March 28, 2018 at 2:33 pm

Uber’s Loss of Autonomy

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The Verge is reporting that Arizona has suspended Uber’s testing of autonomous vehicles following last week’s fatal crash in the city of Tempe.

That accident occurred at night and coincided with autonomous test driver Rafaela Vasquez looking down just prior to the moment of impact, leaving pedestrian 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg dead.

The Verge reports this was likely the first death caused by a self-driving vehicle, and the aftermath has been “severe” for Uber. The company voluntarily suspended self-driving operations in the state amid an NTSB investigation, and is currently under investigation by the Tempe Police Department.

In his formal letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi (dated yesterday, March 26, 2018), Arizona governor Doug Ducey, a Republic who had initially been quite welcoming of Uber’s using Arizona public roads as its autonomous vehicle proving grounds, wrote the following:

As governor, my top priority is public safety. Improving public safety has always been the emphasis of Arizona’s approach to autonomous vehicle testing, and my expectation is that public safety is also the top priority for all who operate this technology in the state of Arizona.

The incident that took place on March 18 is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation. While the incident is currently under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Arizona must take action now. In the best interest of the people of my state, I have directed the Arizona Department of Transportation to suspend Uber’s ability to test and operate autonomous vehicles on Arizona’s public roadways.

The Verge reminds us that Uber had been testing self-driving cars in Arizona since late 2016, thanks to Arizona’s loose regulatory stance on the technology.

So what does this portend for the future of autonomous vehicles? The future of Uber’s self-driving program?

Their cause certainly wasn’t assisted by a report from The New York Times last week that Uber had been struggling to meet a target of just 13 miles per “intervention” in Arizona, compared to Waymo’s 5,600 miles. 

And the Time’s report suggested Uber was cutting other corners, so to speak, putting more of its test drivers out on solo runs as opposed to working in pairs.

Uber has since halted autonomous car tests in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto as well, and the Time’s indicated “it is not clear when the company will revive them.”

How about when they can prove they can stop running over pedestrians?

Written by turbotodd

March 27, 2018 at 10:08 am

East Bound and Down

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LiveTrucking reported yesterday that a self-driving semi truck from Embark just completed its first cross-country trip.

Unlike in “Smokey and the Bandit,” the self-driving software did not have to pick up a case of beer in Texarkana along the way, and never had to stop to use the restroom.

The tractor trailer completed a 2,400 mile trip from LA to Jacksonsville, Florida in five days, and according to Embark’s CEO, Alex Rodriguez, the truck traveled for “hours at a time with no disengagements.”

The technology used in the Embark truck includes machine learning software, as well as data from five cameras, three long-range radars, and two light detecting sensors so that it may map its surroundings in real time.

But lest ye be worried about all those trucks displacing us humans, there was a real person in the truck for the entire ride, and the human took over whenever the truck got off the highway to unload or traverse local roads.

For now, the machines and humans are working together, according to Embark.

“By allowing automation to work together with local drivers to handle less desirable long haul routes, we will be able to increase productivity to address the current 50,000 driver shortage while also creating new local driving jobs that attract younger drivers for the industry,” Rodriguez said.

For me, this new technology just won’t be complete until the autonomous truck can get on a CB radio and report “There’s a bear at your back door!”

 

Written by turbotodd

February 9, 2018 at 12:47 pm

IBM Leads the Blockchain

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Happy Monday.

First things first. If you’re a University of Texas football fan, my condolences on Saturday night. That was an epic football game between the ‘Horns and USC, and the last minute comeback by Texas during regulation deserved its own Emmy award for high drama. Then, to go into Double OT…well, let’s hope it’s a harbinger of continued great play.

As for the Monday morning tech world news, there’s certainly plenty to go around.

CNBC reported earlier that, according to Juniper Research, IBM far outranks Microsoft as the blockchain industry leader. The report wrote that "More than 40 percent of tech executives and leaders in the blockchain sector ranked IBM as top, with only 20 percent saying the same of Microsoft."

You can go here to learn more about IBM’s blockchain initiatives.

If you’re keeping track of the tech VC race, Slack just got a huge infusion of $250 million (largely from Softbank’s Vision Fund), valuing the firm at $5.1B.

SiliconANGLE on the infusion: "…Slack said it will use the latest funding to improve its ‘operational flexibility,’ a statement that is vague at best. The company also said it still has much of the $591 million it previously raised in the bank, which should at least give it lots of room for maneuvering in the months and years to come."

SA goes on to explain Slack may need the wiggle room, considering Microsoft has entered into the messaging space with its new Teams application.

In China, autonomous driving startup JingChi has raised a $30M angel round and is raising a $100M Series A. The company’s founder is Wang Jing, former head of Baidu Inc’s Autonomous Driving Unit, and will be HQed in Silicon Valley.

According to China Money Network, it completed a test drive in California in June, and is the 34th company to obtain a license to test autonomous vehicles on public roads there.

So next time you’re driving down the 101 and you see one car after another with nobody driving, you’ll know why.

Written by turbotodd

September 18, 2017 at 11:08 am

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