TweakTown NewsRefine News by Category:
It looks like Mercedes Benz will be shining the spotlight on self-driving cars at CES 2015 next year, with company CEO Dr. Dieter Zetsche to deliver a keynote about autonomous vehicle technology, and its greater impact.
The CEO will also be unveiling a new concept vehicle, which I'm sure will have everyone talking. The company has recently shown off a semi-truck that has an auto-pilot system, so we should expect the tease of its upcoming vehicle with some impressive autonomous abilities. Come 8pm Pacific, January 5, 2015, we will see what Mercedes has on offer.
As new technologies continue to roll out in new vehicles, distracted driving is still a major hazard, including the use of Siri and other voice-activated technologies. Using voice-activated services on a smartphone and in-car infotainment systems can be fun, but studies indicate participants struggled to safely and effectively complete cognitive tasks.
Despite many U.S. states adopting hands-free laws - or considering future legislation - conversations and a growing number of other tasks are becoming common place. Automakers are following increased demand from drivers to boost in-car technology, despite the threat of distracted driving.
"Infotainment systems are unregulated," said Deborah Hersman, National Safety Council president, when speaking of in-vehicle technology. "It is like the Wild West, where the most critical safety feature in the vehicle - the driver - is being treated like a guinea pig in human trials with new technologies."
German luxury automaker Mercedes-Benz is expanding its autonomous driving program from the Autobahn to the United States. Mercedes recently announced plans to test self-driving technology at the Concord Naval Weapons Station in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is perfect timing for Mercedes, able to use the old military base before it is turned over to the city for redevelopment.
Mercedes will conduct simulation tests with autonomous vehicles using the base's 20 miles of paved roads, including technology that allows vehicles to communicate with one another and traffic lights.
"There's very limited connected infrastructure right now, and that's what we're trying to bring and expand throughout the country," said Jack Hall, Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) program manager, in an interview with local media. "The goal is to not have cars idling at stoplights, to reduce congestion and (achieve) the vision of zero automobile fatalities."
Most are expecting self-driving cars to be something real before the end of the decade, but 2020 is too far away for Tesla. During a recent interview with CNNMoney, Tesla Motors' boss and real-life Tony Stark, Elon Musk, has teased that an autonomous car from the company is only months away from retail.
Musk said: "Autonomous cars will definitely be a reality. A Tesla car next year will probably be 90 percent capable of autopilot. Like, so 90 percent of your miles can be on auto. For sure highway travel. How's that going to happen? With a combination of various sensors. You combine cameras with image recognition with radar and long-range ultrasonics, that'll do it. Other car companies will follow. But you guys are going to be the leader? Of course. I mean, Tesla's a Silicon Valley company. If we're not the leader, shame on us".
Tesla Motors has an announcement ready for October 9, inviting media and promising to unveil "the D and something else". A self-driving car is a total surprise at this point, and could be the catalyst Tesla requires to become the undisputed new big thing in vehicles not only in the US, but the world. Cheap to run, high-quality, safe, autonomous cars? Sure, they might be expensive at first, but with the new Gigafactory, we could be looking at cheaper, mid-range autonomous cars being the norm by 2020, instead of the first one rolling off the production line.
German automaker BMW wants to test its autonomous driving abilities in China, and has partnered with Baidu to begin tests in both Beijing and Shanghai. Both companies hope the project will expand to other large cities in China, but didn't name which metropolitan areas could be next in line.
Despite thousands of kilometers logged on the German autobahn highway, trying to carefully navigate the chaotic streets and highways in China should prove to be a difficult test. Using Baidu's high-resolution maps and familiarity with the local area should help give BMW a more precise method to avoid missing turns and keeping vehicles safely on the road.
"BMW is embarking on a further research project which will pave the way for highly automated driving in China as well," BMW noted in a press statement. "China's fast-expanding urban centers present the engineers with challenges such as multi-level highways."
Much of the attention related to car technology is focused on in-car features to woo potential buyers - but not the technology that could prevent a vehicle from starting. A harsh lesson for those people late on car payments, as lenders are using technology to prevent vehicles from moving until payments are made.
Subprime auto loans have increased over the past five years - 25 percent of car loans in 2013 were made to people with credit scores at or below 640 - so vehicle lease holders want to try to protect themselves if payments aren't made. The starter interrupt device provides lenders the ability to remotely disable locks, along with track vehicles via GPS.
However, customers have complained that their vehicles have been shut down for payments just a few days late - or randomly shut down while waiting in traffic - further igniting a car technology debate.
Tech knickknack website ThinkGeek has reintroduced the Flux Capacitor USB Car Charger, a blast from the past for fans of the Back to the Future movies. The device plugs into a traditional 12V power adapter - i.e. cigarette lighter - and is able to charge a smartphone and tablet simultaneously.
Originally an April Fool's product earlier in the year, the device was popular enough that ThinkGeek decided to bring it back. The Flux Capacitor USB car charger is available for $24.99.
"We wanted to create something that would not only work, but give people the chance to enjoy a Flux Capacitor in the real-world," said Ty Liotta, GeekLabs' Chief Mad Scientist, in a press statement.
New car technologies that has paved the way for autonomous driving, cars communicating with one another, and other emerging features could scare some drivers away, according to Ford Chairman Bill Ford. To counter this initial fear, Ford and other carmakers need to make it easier for customers to opt out of high-tech car technologies they might not be interested in.
"A lot of this really cool technology... kind of freaks some people out," said Bill Ford, Ford Motor executive chairman, during a recent conference. "Some people hear 'autonomous driving,' and say, 'Oh my God, I never want to get into that vehicle.' Other people say, 'I don't want my car talking to other cars. That's terrible.' We have to do this thoughtfully."
Regardless of potential concerns, cars are getting smarter - and more connected - but automakers will continue to walk a fine-line to ensure they aren't forcing car buyers into uncomfortable situations.
During a recent interview with Reuters, Google's Lead Software Engineer Dmitri Dolgov said that Google's self-driving car is programmed to sit within the speed limits of the roads, most of the time.
However, if traffic around your autonomous car is speeding, your self-driving car will go up to 10 mph above the legal speed limit to keep up with the traffic around you. This is a double-edged sword, as the self-driving car removes human error, so even while speeding, it is picking up every single detail of the road - the speed and varying distance of the other cars around you, other objects, and would slow down and avoid accidents, even when speeding - better than most drivers.
What happens when you get a speeding fine, though? Who is at fault if you have an unavoidable accident while your self-driving car was speeding on your behalf? Would you drive a self-driving vehicle if you knew it was going to be speeding at times?
Drivers are used to seeing gas pumps, but California, the No. 1 electric-vehicle market globally, is seeing a wider expansion of electric vehicle charging stations. EV owners are able to recharge their vehicles at home, but there are a number of free charging stations being installed - and helping woo a growing number of car buyers to consider purchase electric vehicles.
Not surprisingly, most of the charging stations can be found in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Sacramento, but are increasing in number in more rural areas. The state currently has more than 1,840 charging stations statewide, and that figure is only increasing.
"To put it in perspective, I sold 10 (Leafs) last month but the numbers out of the Bay Area are much higher," said John Driebe, Nissan car dealer in Elk Grove near Sacramento, California. "I'm seeing (monthly dealership) sales of 60, 70 and 74 at those dealerships. With the population density and the all high-tech people working in the Bay Area, it's crazy how many they're selling there."