Transitional Technologies: Autonomous vehicles lagging far behind factory robotics and drones

Tesla owners will have access to fully automated, Level 5 autonomous electric vehicles sometimes this year. No humans will need to be involved, except for being passengers. That’s according to comments made by CEO Elon Musk a few days ago from a video released at a Chinese AI conference.

“I remain confident that we will have the basic functionality for level five autonomy complete this year,” Musk said. “I think there are no fundamental challenges remaining for level five autonomy.”

The problem would be: Where could Tesla owners legally ride in their autonomous EV beyond a limited test run — most of which would not allow them to be the ones riding in that test car?

Australia, Canada, China, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the US have government-sponsored programs and policies in place for testing and developing AVs. None of these countries have yet allowed these vehicles to be deployed at scale. In the US, 40 states have enacted legislation, or have received governor executive orders, on autonomous vehicles. None of them have allowed them to be driven beyond the testing phase; or in limited applications, such as Waymo’s autonomous rides in Arizona.

As for now, AV activities have been put on hold. After COVID-19 hit hard in March, AV companies such as Argo, Aurora, Cruise, Pony, and Waymo, suspended vehicle testing and operations that involved a human driver. Around the same time, Waymo and Ford released open data sets of information collected during AV tests. The two companies challenged developers to use them to come up with faster and smarter self-driving systems.

AVs are years behind robotics being used in manufacturing plants, and for air and sea drones used by the military and other entities such as NOAA (more on this later).

Carnegie Mellon University has always played a leading role participating in AV test projects. A new study has taken a look at another angle — the connection between AVs and electric vehicles. Researchers from the university recently published a paper in the Nature Energy journal. They found that certain parts of the AV ride cycle can drain car batteries, but fixes made to software and hardware should make fleets of electric AVs possible.

“A bunch of commentators used to suggest the first AVs might have to be gas hybrids,” says Shashank Sripad, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon who worked on the paper. “But we believe that, if we want to do electric vehicles, autonomy will be compatible with it.”

That probably referred to the Toyota Priuses being used in the early stages of the study that was conducted near Google’s (now Alphabet’s) corporate campus in Mountain View, Calif. More recently with Waymo, that’s been taken over by the Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

Automakers are split on their support for Level 4 AVs, and what type of powertrain would be best to use. Ford plans to transition over to battery-powered self-driving cars, says an AV spokesperson for Ford. But if the company can stay on track and hit its original goal of rolling out an AV for service by 2022, it will be rolling out self-driving gas-electric hybrid vehicles.

Automakers have made big commitments to AVs in investments and research studies that will continue. Some of the more memorable deals include General Motor’s $1 billion acquisition of Cruise, Uber buying Otto for $680 million, Ford’s $1 billion Argo Ai investment, and Intel acquiring Mobileye for $15.3 billion.

Five years ago, several companies including Nissan and Toyota promised self-driving cars by this year, but that’s being delayed. AV stakeholders have started to revise their marketing and event messages on where it’s all going for now. Level 4 autonomous will be it for now.

Robotics are already here in production and assembly lines for several automakers and in other industries, with COVID-19 making the topic much more relevant with worker safety being factored in. Meat and poultry workers have been hit hard. In April and May, more than 17,300 meat and poultry processing workers in 29 states were infected and 91 died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Plant shutdowns started in late April.

Tyson Foods Inc. assembled a team, including designers once employed in the auto industry, working on a deboning system that could make more efficient and safe the procedures carried out in Tyson plants. The team is developing an automated deboning system designed to handle some of the roughly 39 million chickens slaughtered, plucked and sliced up each week in Tyson plants.

The company has invested about $500 million in technology and automation. CEO Noel White said those efforts likely would increase in the aftermath of the pandemic. It’s been chaotic for meat producers, grocery stores, and fast-food chains to keep the product in stores — with Americans having high expectations for buying meat.

On the drone side of the equation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is launching a fleet of 30 gliders to study how the ocean affects hurricanes. It started in 2014 with two gliders used for tracking and measuring huge storms approaching coastal areas.

“We have gliders that have gone through two or three hurricanes already,” explained Gustavo Goni, a lead scientist at the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, which is run by NOAA. “They are robust. They don’t even care. Some of them have even been in fights with sharks. We know this because we find sharks’ teeth in gliders when we recover them.”

The past six years has involved building up the floating, sensor-packed units. The first part was figuring out how to get them funded and set up to be sea worthy and long lasting. Then it had to train technicians on how to equip and use them.

Delivery drones have been another application for robotics, used by companies such as Workhorse Group and Amazon. Allowing human beings to go along for the rides in AVs will have to take a lot longer to work out safety, legal, and risk management issues.

Tesla reveals the long-range semi, What drunk driving means for self-driving cars

Newsworthy:  Tesla revealed its electric semi truck at a long-awaited Los Angeles unveiling last night. CEO Elon Musk bragged that it will go 500 miles per charge, with 400 of those miles capable of being charged in 30 minutes. An even faster charge may be coming, too. The heavy-duty truck will be able to go zero to 60 in five seconds, and can hit 60 mph in 20 seconds with an 80,000 pound payload. Musk said that it will make a real difference in the commercial truck market with its cost savings and driver comfort features. It will also save truckers a lot in maintenance costs, with Musk expecting the trucks to not break down until they pass the one million mile mark. The Tesla chief also said that the semi truck will be able to work in a three-truck convoy, reducing its cost per mile for the fleet down to $0.85 per mile, versus diesel being at about $1.25 per mile. The truck was revealed in a larger, long-haul version and a day cab without a sleeper. Attendees at the event were also able to view a new version of the Tesla Roadster roll out of the semi’s trailer. The sports car now has a removable glass roof. Musk said the Roadster will be the fastest car in production on the market with a maximum speed of 250 mph; and the ability to go from 0 to 60 in 1.9 seconds. It can go up to 620 miles on a single charge, a record for production-level electric vehicles………. Toyota is thinking about forging a joint-venture alliance with a Chinese automaker to build electric vehicles locally and meet new energy vehicle mandates issued by the government. China will be starting a quota requirement for all-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles beginning in 2019 with an ambitious target of seeing 2 mission NEV sales by 2020; and a potential phase-out of fossil-fuel powered vehicles. Toyota currently operates JV companies in the country with China FAW Group Corp and Guangzhou Automobile Group………  Daimler AG will be investing 5 billion yuan ($755 million) in China for factory capacity to manufacture electric cars and their battery packs. The company wants to be well prepared for its Mercedes-Benz and Smart brands comply with new energy vehicle mandates.

Safe automated driving:  A warning sign on California freeways says that “Buzzed driving is drunk driving.” A few other states have similar public education campaigns. What is the meaning of driving buzzed, and does it have anything to do with California and a few other states legalizing marijuana consumption? No, it has to do with a key issue state regulators and safety analysts bring up – the need to eliminate drunk driving and the necessity of bringing self-driving cars to U.S. roads. Buzzed driving refers to driving a car with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .01% to .07%. That’s slightly under the .08% BAC standard used in most state’s drunk driving laws; but there’s been a great deal of concern that while .01% to .07% is legal for drivers, it can be just as dangerous as .08% or higher drunk driving for some of them. Self-driving cars are expected to dramatically reduce the highway fatality rate by taking away control of the car from drunk drivers being part of it. Drunk driving is still the leading cause of fatal crashes in the U.S. Last year was one of the worst ever, with an average of 20 people per day killed in DUI crashes. Safety experts have shared concerns about states legalizing marijuana and its possible side effects on road safety. That’s not measurable in a BAC standard used in drunk driving, but it may become part of state legislation in the future. Ride-hailing firms like Uber and Lyft have successfully tapped into concerns over drunk driving and see their rides as providing a solution to the problem. Uber and Lyft drivers have stories about riders expressing gratitude for their services, not having risked drunk driving after an evening at a night club or party. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has been working with Uber in recent years to inform people that taking an Uber ride is much safer than getting behind the wheel after they’ve been drinking.

For Today: Alphabet investing in Lyft, Greenkraft receives CARB certification

Alphabet investing in Lyft:  Ride-hailing firm Lyft may be gaining $1 billion in a funding round organized by CapitalG, an investment arm within Alphabet, Google’s parent company. Alphabet’s self-driving driving division, Waymo, created an alliance with Lyft earlier this year on an autonomous vehicle project. Another funding division within Alphabet in 2013 made a $250 million investment in Lyft’s competitor, Uber. That ended badly after Uber entered the world of testing self-driving cars, with a major lawsuit coming from Waymo for allegations of intellectual property theft by Uber. The CapitalG funding round isn’t closed yet. One part of the agreement would be having CapitalG partner David Lawee join Lyft’s board.

UQM and Lightning Systems alliance:  UQM Technologies, Inc. announced that it will collaborate with Lightning Systems to support Ford Transit concept vehicles for Lightning Systems’ beta programs through Ford’s Advanced Fuel Qualified Vehicle Modifier (eQVM). Lightning Systems is already in production with hydraulic hybrid applications, and is in the process of expanding its customer offerings to electric vehicles. This early production program supports the initial vehicles that are expected to be delivered to customers during the first quarter of 2018. “This relationship will allow us to provide leading edge technology that will exceed our customers’ expectations for high quality and cost-effective zero emissions vehicles,” said Tim Reeser, President and CEO of Lightning Systems.

Greenkraft receives CARB certification:  Greenkraft Inc. announced that its 8L V8 gasoline, compressed natural gas (CNG), and propane autogas (LPG) fuel-injected engine received new certification from the California Air Resources Board’s On-Road New Vehicle and Engine Certification Program. The company’s 8L V8 fuel-injected engine achieved a NOx emission value less than 0.02 g/bhp-hr, which meets the optional near-zero NOx level set by CARB, on three different fuels: LPG, CNG and gasoline. The Greenkraft 8L spark-ignited engine is among the first to be certified at this near-zero NOx level on three different fuels, according to Greenkraft. It’s available as a stand-alone product, or it can be installed ln one of Greenkraft’s 26,000 GVW or 33,000 GVW heavy-duty trucks.

For Today: Tesla semi-tractor is being delayed yet again, Waymo promoting the safety of self-driving cars

Another delay on Tesla truck:  The Tesla semi-tractor heavy-duty truck is being delayed yet again, this time until mid-November. Resources will go instead to fix production bottlenecks for the Model 3. Another priority, in which Musk tweeted about, is diverting resources to help bring Puerto Rico back through battery production to help the island recover from hurricane devastation. Residents have been going without electricity. Tesla was below its production target to build more than 1,500 Model 3 units in the third quarter. The company had just delivered around 220 Model 3 sedans and produced 260 during the quarter. Earlier this week Tesla reported that “production bottlenecks” had left it behind the planned ramp-up for the Model 3.

Charging study:  The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has published a study on the state of charging stations in the U.S. The study looked into best practices for avoiding wasting funds on charging equipment that could be the wrong type or located in the wrong places. There are quite a few variables to consider including the ratio of plug-in hybrid to battery electric vehicles. Plug-in hybrids have smaller battery packs than all-electrics; they charge faster and become depleted more quickly. Drivers do have the advantage of running out of battery power and getting there powered by a gasoline engine.

Waymo public education drive:  Waymo is teaming up with non-profit groups to talk Americans into believing in the safety of self-driving cars. Google’s self-driving car company is teaming up with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Safety Council, and the Federation for Blind Children in a campaign called “Let’s Talk Self-Driving.” Waymo also emphasizes that autonomous vehicles can eliminate most alcohol-related fatal crashes, and would offer the blind a transportation option. The company said the public awareness ad campaign will begin in Arizona on Monday. That’s where Waymo has been doing a lot of its self-driving car testing. The ad campaign will be delivered through digital ads, outdoor billboards, fuel pump advertising, and radio spots.


For Today: Renault-Nissan and Dongfeng forge EV venture, Ford and Domino῾s delivering pizzas through self-driving car

Renault, Nissan and Dongfeng forge JV:  The Renault-Nissan Alliance is preparing to enter the world’s largest electric vehicle market through a joint venture with a Chinese partner. The alliance has forged a JV partnership with Dongfeng Motor Group Co. to bring an electric SUV to market by 2019 through eGT New Energy Automotive Co., Ltd., the new company. The three companies have been in alliance for years with a shared factory already in place. It will tie into CEO Carlos Ghohn strategy to maximize economies of scale and become more EV competitive, along with Donfeng’s mission to bring “light, electric, intelligent, interconnected and shared” vehicles to the new energy vehicle market. China is in the process of becoming stricter on subsidies and watching out for another cheating scandal. The government is expected to soon announce a zero emission vehicle mandate similar to California’s. Whatever the government requires, automakers are not backing off China’s booming EV market.

BYD profit declining:  Chinese EV manufacturer BYD reports that its profit margin has slimmed this year since the national government has been cutting back on generous new energy vehicle incentives to consumers and automakers. Increasing market competition is also taking its toll. The company expects its net profits will drop up to 25% during the first nine months of this year, compared to shooting up nearly 79% last year. Vehicle sales fell 14.8 percent to 183,637 units sold during the first half of the year. BYD has been the world’s largest manufacturer of plug-in electrified vehicles over the past two years. As passenger cars decline, the company is benefitting from bringing out more electric buses and trucks – such as what’s being built now at its Lancaster, Calif., plant. “We have seen a sales recovery trend for BYD during the past few months, especially in Q2. In addition, BYD is pushing green public transportation in China and globally,” said Bill Russo, managing director at consultancy Gao Feng Advisory Co.

Ford and Domino’s self-driven pizza deliveries:  Ford Motor Co. and Domino’s Pizza are testing out delivering pizzas in a Ford self-driving car. They’re asking customers what it’s like to receive a pizza through a self-driving vehicle. Over the next few weeks, customers in Ann Arbor, Mich., will have the opportunity to receive their order from a Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle. It will be manually-driven by a Ford safety engineer and staffed with researchers. Ford plans to begin producing self-driving vehicles in 2021 and will tap into the data from this test project.

For Today: NRDC and Blue Green Alliance study on jobs in clean vehicles, INRIX surveys drivers on autonomous vehicles

Clean vehicle job creation:  Manufacturing clean vehicles directly supports 288,000 jobs in the U.S. economy, according to a new study released by Natural Resources Defense Council and the Blue Green Alliance. These are manufacturing and engineering jobs at more than 1,200 factories and engineering facilities in 48 states who produce technologies designed to improve vehicle fuel efficiency. Nine of these stats have 10,000 or more workers employed in these jobs, with the five of them – Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky – have plants building cleaner vehicle technologies supporting nearly 160,000 manufacturing jobs.

Tesla going to India?:  Earlier this year, news came out about Tesla getting ready to enter the India market. Going to China has produced very strong sales results for the carmaker, and India has been seeing a growing auto sales market overall. Last week, CEO Elon Musk tweeted that Tesla would not be going to India due to the government’s requirement that 30% of the parts in Tesla cars would have to be sourced within that country. Tesla tends to do things its own way, so it may be holding off on entering the country until that can be worked out; or not entering at all. The electric carmaker recently denied that it will be forging a joint venture with the Chinese government after Musk met with a high-ranking government official. Tesla has wanted to build its own factory in China, and that may not happen if the government requires a joint venture with one of its government-owned companies. Both governments would like to see more electric cars sold locally to hit targets on vehicle emissions.

Rebates from utilities:  Southern California Edison announced yesterday that it’s offering a $450 rebate to customers who own an all-electric or plug-in electric hybrid vehicle. The utility has been receiving state funds coming from California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard program. Several electric utilities around the country are offering special rate programs for vehicle owners, including time-of-use (TOU) rates, to reduce the cost of powering an electric car or plug-in hybrid. In January, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) launched the Clean Fuel Rebate for residential, electric customers who are electric vehicle drivers. It’s one-time $500 rebate for eligible EV owners can receive one rebate per owned or leased EV.

Mobility & Innovation:  INRIX study says consumers trust tech giants more than Uber for autonomous vehicles 
INRIX, a leading provider of traffic information, has released a survey report on what U.S. and European drivers think about the future of autonomous vehicles – and who should be doing it. The survey interviewed 5,054 drivers in the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, and U.K., to find that major automakers and tech giants should lead the way over ridesharing firms or Tesla.

“A new battleground is emerging between automakers, tech companies and ridesharing companies in the race to develop connected and autonomous vehicles,” explained Bob Pishue, senior economist at INRIX. “With hundreds of millions of connected cars expected to be on the roads within the next 15 years, the market share will be owned by companies that can educate drivers and gain consumer trust.”

The U.S. respondents preferred companies like Google and Apple providing self-driving cars., with 1.4 of them preferring tech giants over automakers. For those surveyed in the four European countries 1.5 times prefer major automakers (not including Tesla) over tech giants.

Ridesharing leaders Uber and Lyft had the smallest level of support as makers of autonomous vehicles. Following in a close second in the study is the category of newer carmakers that the study identifies as Tesla and “Fisker Motors.” That could mean the former Fisker Automotive, which is now split off into two companies – Henrik Fisker’s Fisker, Inc. startup and Wanxiang Group’s Karma Automotive.

For current connected car features and upcoming autonomous vehicles, many taking the survey believe that these technologies are bringing in a new era of vehicle safety. In the U.S., blind spot warning is the most desired new car feature; that’s followed by stolen vehicle warning/tracking, night vision, road incident alerts and re-routing, and rear/front collision alerts.

Millennials have less concern over their privacy through over their vehicle data than do Baby Boomers. That generation is also less convinced about how trustworthy autonomous vehicles with ll be, with 73 percent of Baby Boomers reporting in the study that they don’t believe autonomous vehicles will be safer than cars on the road today.

This Week’s Top 10: Waymo claims Uber stole self-driving car tech, Workhorse supplying 500 plug-in hybrid pickups to utilities

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week…….

  1. Waymo sues Uber: Waymo has filed a federal lawsuit claiming Uber and its self-driving truck company stole Waymo’s self-driving car technology. Uber is dismissing the allegations, calling them a “a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor.” In the San Francisco federal court, the complaint alleges that an Otto self-driving truck employee earned that company more than $500 million before Uber acquired Otto. The suit alleges that Uber allegedly built a Lidar system for its own self-driving test project that lifted confidential designs from Waymo’s own technology. The company had committed “calculated theft” of Alphabet’s technology, the filing said. Uber committed to “vigorously” defend against the claims in court.
  2. Plug-in pickups: Workhorse Group will be supplying 500 of its W-15 Plug-In Electric Pickups through an agreement made with Southern California Public Power Authority (SCPPA), a joint power authority made up of 11 municipal utilities and one irrigation district in the region. The company cites letters of intent also being signed with Duke Energy, Portland General Electric, the City of Orlando, and other fleet clients for acquisitions of electric trucks. Workhorse says tat the W-15 light duty platform design is an extension of the E-Gen electric technology used in its medium-duty delivery trucks. It will be revealed at ACT Expo 2017 in Long Beach, Calif, with an expected starting price of $52,500 and deliveries beginning in 2018.
  3. Tap into event promotions: Don’t forget about working Green Auto Market to promote your industry events. Readers show a lot of interest in upcoming events and resources they can utilize to participate, as you can see in this week’s special feature on Green Truck Summit and ACT Expo 2017. GAM has been able to offer support and promote conferences through event coverage, e-blast announcements to readers, updates and links to websites, social media (such as an active Twitter page), and video. Those interested can reach me at
  4. Musk’s email on UAW: CEO Elon Musk has asked Tesla workers to turn down joining the United Auto Workers union, according to a leaked email. Reported by BuzzFeed, Musk’s email disputed claims about harsh working conditions made by an employee, and criticized the UAW’s efforts to organize workers at the carmaker’s Fremont, Calif., factory. The email argues that the UAW’s “true allegiance is to the giant car companies” that Tesla is challenging. Musk is concerned that the unionization would work to get in the way of the company’s “mission to accelerate the advent of a clean, sustainable energy future.”
  5. Panamera plug-in hybrid: Porsche says that the new Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid will be the new flagship in the Panamera line for its “electromobility” and power delivery. The all-wheel drive plug-in hybrid is expected to deliver impressive performance numbers in power and torque. The company said that the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid shows the “high importance of electromobility to Porsche.” It will go 50 kilometers (31 miles) on battery only; but that comes from European NEDC standards and would be less in the U.S.
  6. Carbon tax: ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods is backing the Paris Agreement and has called for a carbon tax to reduce U.S. emissions. In a blog post on the ExxonMobil website, Woods outlined his company’s plans to boost natural gas generation, energy efficiency, biofuels and carbon capture and storage to help drive down emissions. Woods replaced Rex Tillerson in January. Tillerson now serves as Secretary of State under President Trump. Tesla CEO Elpn Musk has been asking Tillerson to support bringing a carbon tax through Washington.
  7. Short range Clarity: Honda’s all-electric Clarity, which debuts this spring in the U.S., will only be able to go about 80 miles on a single charge, according to Automotive News. Honda said the 80-mile range has been based on two factors: building it on a platform right for the fuel cell and plug-in hybrid versions, and keeping the electric Clarity affordable to the typical Honda customer. “A pillar of the Honda brand is affordability, and if Honda came out with some obscenely priced long-range electric car, what does that do for the brand?” Steve Center, vice president of environmental business development at American Honda Motor Co. “Most of our customers would not be able to acquire it.”
  8. Mercedes EQ Power: Mercedes is launching the EQ Power sub-brand this summer, the company announced. All of the next hybrid and EV models will come out under the new brand, which was first revealed at the 2016 Paris Motor Show. Future AMG hybrid models will have EQ Power+ designations. The company has said it will launch 10 battery electric models by 2025 under the EQ umbrella, with the first model expected to arrive in 2019.
  9. 4 more Gigafactories: As a note to investors sent with its quarterly financial report, Tesla said it expects that long-term demand for its electric vehicles require the company to add four more Gigafactories beyond its current Nevada plant. One of the four will be established at SolarCity’s facility in Buffalo, N.Y., which Tesla acquired through the acquisition of the solar power company; the other three will probably be placed overseas such as in Europe and Asia.
  10. VW e-Golf doubles range: Volkswagen of America has gained a 50% increase in estimated range by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf. The new e-Golf can go 125 miles on a single charge, up from 83 miles in the previous model year. A new lithium-ion battery has 35.8 kWh, up from 24.2 kWh. It also received a better EPA fuel economy rating with 126 MPGe in city driving, 111 MPGe highway and 119 MPGe combined. That’s up over 126/105/116 respectively in comparable ratings for the 2016 model in EPA ratings.

Tesla separates new fully automated Level 5 system from semi-autonomous Autopilot Level 2 features

tesla-video-on-fully-automated-systemTake a look at Tesla’s new video, released hours after the Wednesday evening media conference call announcing its full self-driving hardware. It starts with a statement separating the new system from semi-autonomous Autopilot features: “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.”

A passenger sits in the driver’s seat of a Tesla Model X and places his hands under the steering wheel just as the Rolling Stone’s 1966 song, “Paint It Black,” provides background music. That song refers to black and white screen images laced into the video that shows viewers the new full self-driving capabilities that Tesla CEO Elon Musk explained Wednesday evening during the conference call. “Right rearward vehicle camera” is the first feature displayed in black and white during the video. After taking a spin around on city streets and a freeway, the all-electric SUV comes back to Tesla’s office. The passenger gets out of the Model X in the parking lot, which then moves forward without a human driver, and stops to let a pedestrian safely cross the lot. The Model X parks itself against a curb as the song comes to an end.

Tesla has said that Autopilot is at Level 2 on the autonomous vehicle scale, with a combination of two technologies designed to make driving easier. The new system will be what some organizations, include the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) would define as Level 5, which does not have any option for human driving – no steering wheel or controls. Automakers and suppliers are running the gamut over which level they’re supporting in the next few years. Tesla seems to be joining in with Google and Ford in supporting Level 5 fully autonomous vehicles, with Tesla having the potential to bring it first to market.

Tesla shares the viewpoint of Google, and other self-driving car advocates, on the necessity of bringing fully automated vehicles to roads to save lives. During the media Q&A on Wednesday night, Musk addressed the issue, referring to the fatal crashes in Florida and China this year tied to the Autopilot system:

“One of the things I should mention that frankly has been quite disturbing to me is the degree of media coverage of Autopilot crashes, which are basically almost none relative to the paucity of media coverage of the 1.2 million people that die every year in manual crashes. [It is] something that I think does not reflect well upon the media. It really doesn’t. Because, and really you need to think carefully about this, because if, in writing some article that’s negative, you effectively dissuade people from using an autonomous vehicle, you’re killing people.”

The fully autonomous system will need to gain government approval before it’s allowed to be activated and used by Tesla owners. Tesla said that high-end Model S and Model X vehicles equipped with hardware for full autonomy are already in production, and the upcoming Model 3 will have it as well. Previously built vehicles without the new hardware won’t have the fully autonomous features.

During that conference call, Musk said his goal is to demonstrate a vehicle traveling in fully autonomous mode from Los Angeles to New York by the end of 2017. Autonomous features will be introduced gradually over a period of time, and will be based on what Musk called “Hardware 2.”

The software for reaching the fully self-driving mode will need to be validated, and the new system still need to be approved by regulators. Tesla expects to reach those milestones in time, which Musk said would be much safer than cars currently on roads driven by humans.

“It will take us some time into the future to complete validation of the software and to get the required regulatory approval, but the important thing is that the foundation is laid for the cars to be fully autonomous at a safety level we believe to be at least twice that of a person, maybe better,” Musk said Wednesday.

The Tesla blog article, posted Wednesday, describes the new fully automated system. It will provide eight surround cameras with 360 degrees of visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range, compared to one camera in previous Tesla vehicles. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors improve the range, allowing for detection at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data through whatever weather and lighting conditions the vehicle is traveling through.

The question of whether Tesla will follow a similar path as is being tested by Uber, General Motors and Lyft, and Ford’s strategy to integrate autonomous systems to ride-hailing services, was clarified on Thursday. Yes, Tesla will be entering that space, and it will be called Tesla Network.

Tesla posted a disclaimer to its website on Thursday providing more information to a comment Musk made Wednesday. He said Tesla is building new vehicles with the necessary hardware to eventually enable full autonomy.

“Please note that using a self-driving Tesla for car-sharing and ride-hailing for friends and family is fine, but doing so for revenue purposes will only be permissible on the Tesla Network, details of which will be released next year,” read the Tesla website disclaimer.

The concept was originally announced by Musk in his July blog post, “Master Plan, Part Deux.” The Tesla CEO outlined a system in which a Tesla owner could add a car to a shared Tesla fleet using a mobile device app, allowing it to “generate income for you” and lower the cost of ownership. Musk said that in cities where car ownership is lower, Tesla would operate its own fleet.

Details coming out on Autopilot fatality in Tesla Model S

Tesla AutopilotThe fatality of a driver in a Tesla Model S with Autopilot is being described as the very first casualty from an autonomous vehicle technology. Here are details from the incident and where this may lead in the near future..……..

  • The crash took place on May 7 in Williston, Fla., but wasn’t in the public spotlight until June 30 when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said preliminary reports indicated that the crash occurred when a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla, and the car failed to apply the brakes.
  • The 2015 Tesla Model S sedan crashed in northern Florida into a truck that was turning left in front of it on a double-lane highway. The Tesla didn’t stop, hitting the trailer and traveling under it. The Tesla then ran off the road, hitting a fence and a power pole before coming to a stop.
  • It is the first known fatal accident involving a vehicle being driven by itself by means of sophisticated computer software, sensors, cameras and radar. Federal regulators, who are in the early stages of setting guidelines for autonomous vehicles, have opened a formal investigation into the incident.
  • The Florida Highway Patrol identified the Tesla driver who was killed as Joshua Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio. He was a former Navy SEAL known for dismantling bombs for the Navy during the Iraq war, then coming home to start his own company to extend internet service into rural America. He loved his Model S so much he nicknamed it “Tessy.” He celebrated the Autopilot feature that made it possible for him to cruise the highways, making YouTube videos of himself driving hands-free. In the first nine months he owned it, Brown put more than 45,000 miles on the car. In a YouTube video that Brown posted a month before the fatal crash showing the technology saving him from another collision and wrote that he was “very impressed. “Tessy did great. I have done a lot of testing with the sensors in the car and the software capabilities,” Brown wrote on April 5 in comments posted with the 41-second video.
  • Tesla Motors issued a statement on the incident and investigation on June 30 that said it’s the first known fatality in over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. In “A Tragic Loss,” posted in the company’s blog, Tesla said that neither Autopilot nor the driver “noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.”
  • A digital video disc player was found in the Model S after the crash, the Florida Highway Patrol officials said on Friday. Whether the portable DVD player was operating at the time of the crash has not been determined. Witnesses who came upon the wreckage gave differing accounts on Friday about whether the player was showing a movie.
  • The 62-year-old driver of the tractor trailer, Frank Baressi, told the Associated Press that the Tesla was driving so quickly that it “went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him.” Combined with the alleged high rate of speed the Model S was traveling, Baressi told the AP that he witnessed the Tesla “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen” though he acknowledged that he only heard the movie and couldn’t see it. “It was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road,” Baressi said to AP.
  • One driver on the Florida highway said that right before the crash, the Model S was driving well over the speed limit, according to a local resident interviewed during a TV news report who had spoken to the witness.
  • Evidence from the crash will take NHTSA several weeks to issue a statement. NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation will examine the design and performance of the automated driving systems in use at the time of the crash. During the preliminary investigation, NHTSA will gather additional data regarding this incident and other information regarding the automated driving systems. “The opening of the Preliminary Evaluation should not be construed as a finding that the Office of Defects Investigation believes there is either a presence or absence of a defect in the subject vehicles,” NHTSA said in a statement.
  • The federal government is expected to release its national guidelines for autonomous vehicles this month, and will likely acknowledge the NHTSA investigation of the Tesla crash. Speaking last month at a telematics conference in Novi, Mich., Mark Rosekind, head of NHTSA, expressed concern over how much is really known about the safety of autonomous vehicle technology. “We need new safety metrics,” Rosekind said. “We also are going to have to broaden our view on the data sources for what those metrics might be. We have laboratory work. We have simulations and real world data.” The industry and regulators don’t know everything they don’t know about the safety of the most advanced autonomous technologies, he said.
  • Google has collected a lot of data from its self-driving car test runs in recent years. Its self-driving test cars have been in several minor collisions, but on the receiving end. Earlier this year, Google filed a California DMV accident report confirming that one of its autonomous vehicles (a Lexus RX450h) collided with a bus in Mountain View, Calif. The vehicle and its test driver incorrectly assumed that a bus approaching from behind would slow or stop to let the car through. The Lexus smacked into the side of the bus at low speed, damaging its front fender, wheel and sensor in the process. It was a minor incident with no injuries.
  • Google test cars primarily use a laser system known as Lidar (light detection and ranging), a spinning range-finding unit on top of the car that creates a detailed map of the car’s surroundings as it moves. Lidar is also used now on many of the experimental autonomous vehicles being developed by Nissan, BMW, Apple and others, but not by Tesla. The Tesla uses a computer vision-based vehicle detection system, but according to the company, it is not intended to be used hands-free and parts of the system are unfinished. Some experts speculate that a Lidar-driven car might have avoided this fatal crash.
  • Safety of vehicle drivers and passengers, and pedestrians and bicyclists, have been the core issue behind allowing autonomous vehicles to be tested, and eventually to roll out, on U.S. roads. The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles made that very clear when the state adopted the nation’s first permission and guidelines for testing self-driving cars on its roads. Google and other companies have emphasized that issue more than any other reasons for investing in the technology. The Tesla fatality will heighten the debates – over whether cars should be fully autonomous as Google advocates, or they should have allowances for humans to take over in emergencies as the California DMV and others have expressed.
  • NHTSA just released a statistical projection of traffic fatalities for 2015, which estimates that 35,200 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes. That’s an increase of about 7.7% as compared to the 32,675 fatalities reported in 2014. It would will mark the highest level of fatalities since 2008, which saw 37,423 fatalities. This data will likely affect the debate even more.
  • Tesla just announced it will be releasing this month its Autopilot software version 8.0. That was in the works long before reporting of the investigation of the fatal crash, but the company says the update is the most important to its touchscreen since the launch of the Model S in 2012 and features significant improvements to the Autopilot. It will allow for improvements in the general Autopilot experience in traffic, but more significantly, it will introduce automatic off-ramp in exits on the highway, Tesla says.

Flying cars grabbing attention and funding right up there with autonomous vehicles

TerrafugiaIf you’re a fan of science fiction author Philip K. Dick, and movies made from his writings, you’ve probably been thinking about flying cars for years. Featured in the Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? novel and Blade Runner film – and “The Electric Ant” and “Minority Report” short stories (along with the Steven Spielberg film Minority Report) – flying cars will be one of the mobility options we use daily, according to the author.

Flying cars, and similar technologies such as aerial delivery drones, are on a similar track as autonomous vehicles. They’re still in the early testing and development phase, but it looks like we will see them on our roads and skyways much sooner than expected. Google co-founder Larry Page seems to think so.

Page, CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., is spending his own money on two startups developing flying cars. He’s funded one of them, Zee.Aero, more than $100 million since it started in 2010. Since last year, Page has also been backing another startup, Kitty Hawk, which is making another flying car that could compete with Zee.Aero.

Zee.Aero conducts test flights of its prototype at an airport hangar in Hollister, Calif. The startup firm also has a manufacturing facility on NASA’s research center at the edge of Mountain View, Calif. Zee.Aero employees call Page the guy upstairs (‘GUS’). Page had demanded his involvement in the startup should stay hidden, according to an article last week in Bloomberg.

Kitty Hawk has headquarters about half a mile away from Zee.Aero, The startup is working on “something that resembles a giant version of a quadcopter drone,” according to Bloomberg.

Larry Page isn’t the only investor passionate about flying cars……..

Terrafugia TF-X received Federal Aviation Administration approval for test flights in late 2015. The hybrid-electric flying car will have fold out wings with twin electric motor pods attached to it, and is capable of recharging its batteries either from its engine or by plugging in to electric car charging stations. This mid-size car has twin helicopter-style rotors at the tips of its wings that fold out of the car and lift the TF-X into the sky. Once it’s up in the air, electric engines teamed with a 300-horsepower engine provide power. The rotors fold back, and a ducted fan pushes the TF-X along. It has a cruising speed of about 200 mph, with a range of about 500 miles.

The company says that development of the TF-X hybrid-electric flying car is expected to last 8-12 years. Once developed it will be tested in a wind tunnel at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It could go on sale for $120,000 and seat four people. You can watch the video here; and the image was taken from the video for the photo shown at the beginning of this article.

Google is working with NASA and 13 other companies, including Amazon and Verizon, to create an air-traffic control system for drones, called Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Traffic Management. With safety being a key concern, the federal government is seeking to work with the private sector to create rules of the aerial highways. Recent crashes of drones, including at national parks and on the White House grounds, have brought concern to watching over the new technologies being tested. The economic opportunities are part of gaining support from corporate backers.

“They definitely see it as an economic opportunity and as something that they want to participate in,” said Brian Wynne, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. “This is real magic.”

NASA is researching prototype technologies for a UAS Traffic Management (UTM) system that could develop airspace integration requirements for enabling safe, efficient low-altitude operations. Currently, there is no established infrastructure to enable and safely manage the widespread use of low-altitude airspace and UAS operations. A UTM system for low-altitude airspace may be needed, perhaps leveraging concepts from the system of roads, lanes, stop signs, rules, and lights that govern vehicles on the ground today, whether the vehicles are driven by humans or are automated, NASA says.

Amazon has gained a lot of attention with its Prime Air automated delivery drones. In December, Amazon released a video showing a prototype of one of its delivery drones, which shares features of both helicopters and airplanes. Prime Air will get packages to customers within 30 minutes of them ordering it online at, according to Amazon’s Paul Misener. The range has to be over 10 miles and the carried weight will be less than five pounds for typical Amazon orders and up to 55 pounds, he said.

During a presentation at ACT Expo 2016, Steve Burns, CEO of Workhorse Group Inc., talked about the company’s truck-based HorseFly Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) delivery system, which is currently undergoing testing by Workhorse under a Section 333 exception granted by the Federal Aviation Administration. At its booth, the company showed a video featuring a small drone launching from the top of a delivery truck, flying a package to a nearby house and returning to the vehicle. Burns focused on the economic efficiencies and state-of-the-art technology in the HorseFly during his presentation.

A Chinese company’s EHang 184 has been cleared for testing in Nevada. The approval was given by the Nevada governor’s office to develop and test the vehicle at the state’s Federal Aviation Administration-approved drone test site. The electric passenger drone created by EHang was unveiled at CES in Las Vegas in January. The company says that it’s the world’s first passenger drone and is capable of autonomously carrying a person in the air for 23 minutes. It’s a 142-horsepower “personal flying vehicle” that can transport a single person at an altitude of more than 11,000 feet, China’s People’s Daily Online reported.

Other flying car projects in development described in a lengthy Bloomberg feature include:

  • Volocopter made by E-volo with a price tag of $280,000 and seating for two. The prototype all-electric vehicle will be sold as a hybrid to increase flight times. It will have 18 propellers in a circular structure placed above the cockpit.
  • AeroMobil 3.0 will cost $400,000 and seat four. It will be gasoline powered, can take off from driving down a road and soaring to the air quickly, and can cover a flight distance from, say, New York to Toronto. The company, AeroMobil, says it will start taking orders for it this year.
  • Moller Skycar is being built at Moller’s workshop in Davis, Calif. Moller International says it will cost $500,000 to $1 million and will seat four. It will have a range of 805 miles at 131 mpg, and a maximum speed of 308 mph. Founder Paul Moller has been trying to build a flying car for about 50 years; this is the fifth-generation flying car Moller has built. Investors have put in more than $100 million in his test projects over the years.
  • Lilium Jet, from German startup Lilium Aviation, is the world’s first all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) plane, according to the company. The price has yet to be determined and will seat two people. It has a range of 300 miles and a maximum speed of 250 mpg. The company says it will be easy to fly with software doing much of the work. Lilium Aviation has received funding form the European Union.
  • Joby Aviation says that customers will be able to call over its Joby flying car similar to getting an Uber ride. The all-electric plane, which seats two, will have a 100-to-200 mile range after being charged. The company expects to begin flying prototypes by this year’s end. It’s being built at a 500-acre compound in Santa Cruz, Calif. Future flying cars will seat four and look more like airplanes with six propellers positioned around the aircraft.