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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Elon Musk Is Really Boring...Tunnels

As reported by Bloomberg News: The pit is at least 15 feet deep and more than 50 feet wide. It’s in a nondescript lot at Crenshaw Boulevard and West 120th Street, not far from Los Angeles International Airport. If not for the huge pile of dirt next to it, you’d never know it was there. Seen from the top of the parking garage at SpaceX, the aerospace startup founded by Elon Musk, the hole is an eyesore among eyesores—a crater in asphalt, fenced in by rusty-looking steel plates.

But Musk, the chief executive of both SpaceX and the electric car company Tesla, is quite proud of this pit. He started digging as a spur-of-the-moment thing one weekend at the end of January. The idea came to him while sitting in a traffic jam early on a Saturday morning in December. “Traffic is driving me nuts,” he tweeted. “Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging.” Within an hour, the project had a name and a marketing platform. “It shall be called ‘The Boring Company,’ ” he wrote. “Boring, it’s what we do.” Two hours passed, and Musk tweeted again: “I am actually going to do this.”
It sounded like a put-on. Musk is a serious person, but he can also be something of a loose cannon, making outlandish statements designed to troll the press or simply amuse himself. In a 2015 interview with Stephen Colbert he semi-seriously endorsed dropping nuclear weapons on Mars; last year he implied on Twitter that he’s developing an Iron Man-style flying suit for the Pentagon. Most reporters assumed that the tunnel thing was another one of his jokes.

Musk wasn’t joking. At least that’s what he tells me as we sit in the SpaceX offices in Washington. For years he’s been thinking about tunnels—both out of a personal fascination and because they’d be an important component of the Hyperloop, the fanciful high-speed rail system he proposed in 2013. All the while he’s been quietly encouraging anyone who asks him about new business opportunities to consider digging for a living. “I think they were hoping I’d say some sort of iPhone app that they could make,” he says with a smile. “I would just say, ‘Do tunnels.’ It would obviously solve urban congestion—and we wouldn’t be stuck in soul-destroying traffic all the time.”

As Musk tells it, the L.A. traffic jam was a breaking point. Screw it, he thought, I’ll do tunnels myself. Within days of his tweetstorm, he acquired a domain name——and appointed a leader for the project, Steve Davis, a senior SpaceX engineer who designed the guidance systems for the company’s first rocket. The barely sketched plan was to dig lots of tunnels for cars and high-speed trains. Mostly, Musk was going to approach it in his usual way: He’d figure it out as he went along.

One of the advantages of running two large industrial companies is that you can secure earth-moving equipment on short notice. And so, around noon on a Friday in January, an excavation crew started digging. “I was like, ‘Hey, what’s the biggest hole we can make by Sunday evening?’ ” Musk says.

Shortly after the 2016 election, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist, implied that the incoming administration would pursue infrastructure with a fervor not seen since the New Deal. “The conservatives are going to go crazy,” he toldthe Hollywood Reporter. “I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Shipyards, ironworks, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks.” On Inauguration Day, Trump promised “new roads and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.”

Like the Boring Company itself, Trump’s big-league construction agenda seems a little half-baked, but the possibility has already prompted private equity firms such as Blackstone and Carlyle to plan big infrastructure investments. “Infrastructure is at an inflection moment in the United States, where both parties agree on that one thing,” said Joe Baratta, Blackstone’s global head of private equity, during a Bloomberg TV interview in late January. He said his firm would raise as much as $40 billion for the efforts.

Musk wouldn’t seem to be in a particularly good ideological position to benefit from Trump’s infrastructure largesse. He’s a climate change hawk who was so closely identified with the Obama administration that Mitt Romney attacked Tesla during the 2012 debates. (Tesla had received a government-guaranteed loan in 2010.) In the next presidential election, Musk supported Hillary Clinton for president, describing Trump, in an interview with CNBC, as a man who “doesn’t seem to have the sort of character that reflects well on the United States.”

But after the election, Musk made several trips to Trump Tower, impressing the president and, especially, Bannon. A former Goldman Sachs banker, Bannon is the main proponent of Trump’s “America First” economic nationalism. After meeting privately with Musk on Jan. 6, Bannon told an associate that he views Musk and his companies as embodying the kind of U.S.-based job growth that Trump intends to foster. For Trump, who’s been publicly shunned by many Silicon Valley executives, the connection to Musk gives his administration a whiff of innovation and dynamism. In December, Musk was named to Trump’s Strategy and Policy Forum, an advisory group that includes IBM’s Ginni Rometty, Pepsi’s Indra Nooyi, and JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon.

Musk has warmed to Trump, too. In January he offered his support for Trump’s chosen secretary of state, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, despite having frequently criticized oil companies in the past. “This may sound surprising coming from me,” Musk wrote on Twitter, but “Rex Tillerson has the potential to be an excellent Sec of State.” He noted that Tillerson has expressed openness to a carbon tax, a policy Musk has long supported. After Trump issued a temporary ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, Musk criticized the order but also urged his many left-leaning followers to read its full text before freaking out.

Whereas Uber CEO Travis Kalanick left the Strategy and Policy Forum in response to protests, Musk is sticking with it. “Attending does not mean I agree with actions by the administration,” he wrote in a statement. “I believe at this time that engaging on critical issues will on balance serve the greater good.”

Our conversation at SpaceX takes place a few hours after his Feb. 3 meeting with Trump. Musk is attired in his strategy-forum best—black suit, white shirt, blue tie—and seems sleep-deprived and loopy as he deflects my question about Trump and changes the subject to the Boring Company, launching into what I can best describe as a tunnel-themed comedy routine.

“My other idea was to call it Tunnels R Us and to essentially troll Toys “R” Us into filing a lawsuit,” he says, letting out a loud and well-articulated ha-ha-ha-ha. “Now we’ve decided to troll AT&T instead! We’re going to call it American Tubes and Tunnels.”

When I ask him if the tunnel venture will be a subsidiary of SpaceX or an independent company, he responds cryptically. “Don’t you read my Twitter? The Boring Company. Or TBC. To Be Continued.” An aide chimes in: Yes, the Boring Company, aka To Be Continued, aka Tunnels R Us, aka American Tubes and Tunnels, aka whatever, will indeed be an independent company.

The Boring Company has no full-time employees yet, nor does it have a clear business model, though government contracts will almost certainly play a role. Musk says the tunneling business is a bit like the aerospace industry, which he shook up by starting SpaceX in 2002. Rockets hadn’t changed much since the Apollo program, and research projects were slow and expensive. SpaceX differentiated itself by offering low, fixed-price launches, eventually winning a $1.6 billion contract from NASA to run supply missions to the International Space Station.
Musk points out that as crazy as tunneling sounds, it’s less crazy than Silicon Valley’s go-to traffic solution: flying cars
Tunnel technology is older than rockets, and boring speeds are pretty much what they were 50 years ago. As with space launches, tunnels are often funded through cost-plus government contracts, in which the contractor assumes no risk for cost overruns, which tend to be enormous as a result. Famously, Boston’s Big Dig, which moved a section of Interstate 93 underground, was delayed by roughly eight years and cost $12 billion more than originally planned, but all tunnels tend to be wildly expensive. In L.A., plans to extend the subway’s Purple Line by 2.6 miles will cost more than $2.4 billion and take almost 10 years. “It’s basically a billion dollars a mile,” Musk says. “That’s crazy.”

Musk wouldn’t comment on Trump, but a person close to him says that while the Boring Company would be open to building tunnels as part of Trump’s infrastructure plan, it intends to move forward regardless of what happens in Washington. Musk says he hopes to build a much faster tunneling machine and use it to dig thousands of miles, eventually creating a vast underground network that includes as many as 30 levels of tunnels for cars and high-speed trains such as the Hyperloop.

Objections spring to mind. Such as: Wouldn’t having hundreds of feet of hollow tunnels destabilize the ground? Nope, Musk says, the mining industry does it all the time. “The earth is big, and we are small,” he says. “We are so f---ing small you cannot believe it.” Not only are these megatunnels possible, he argues, they’re the only way we can rid ourselves of the scourge of traffic.

“We have skyscrapers with all these levels, and we have a flat, two-dimensional road system,” he says. “When everyone decides to go into these structures and then exits them at the same time, you’re going to get jammed.” Tunnels, on the other hand, would represent a 3D transportation network.

Musk chose the SpaceX parking lot as the site of his first dig, mostly because it was convenient and he could legally do so without city permits. The plan is to expand the current hole into a ramp designed for a large tunnel boring machine and then start digging horizontally once the machine is 50 feet or so below ground, which would make it low enough to clear gas and sewer lines and to be undetectable at the surface. The company, such as it is, is working on securing permits and hopes to have them by the time the tunnel hits the property line. At the moment, Musk won’t say exactly where this “demo tunnel,” as he calls it, will lead—only that it will accommodate cars and be the very beginning of a vast underground transportation network.

As crazy as tunneling sounds, Musk points out that it’s arguably less crazy than Silicon Valley’s go-to traffic solution: flying cars. Google’s Larry Page has funded two personal-aircraft startups, Zee.Aero and Kitty Hawk, and companies such as Uber and Airbus have skunk works. But Musk thinks flying cars are a dumb idea, at least for city travel. “Obviously, I like flying things,” he says. “But it’s difficult to imagine the flying car becoming a scalable solution.” As long as the laws of physics hold, he explains, any flying car will need to generate a lot of downward force to stop it from falling out of the sky, which means wind and noise for those on the ground, not to mention debris from midair fender-benders. “If somebody doesn’t maintain their flying car, it could drop a hubcap and guillotine you,” he says. “Your anxiety level will not decrease as a result of things that weigh a lot buzzing around your head.”

Eventually the aide says it’s time for me to ask my last question. But Musk isn’t done. He pulls off his tie, lays it on the table, and looks at me seriously. “You want to come see it?” he asks.

“Holy shit. Holy shit! Ha-ha-ha-ha!”

By now the sun is low, and Musk, SpaceX’s Davis, and I are dangling 20 stories in the air, on a large steel platform surrounded by a railing. The “man basket,” as it’s known in the construction business, is being lowered by an enormous crane into a 100-foot-deep shaft not far from the baseball stadium where the Washington Nationals play. I’m freezing and terrified. Musk, with a wide, open-mouthed smile, stares down into the darkness. He wears a safety harness, a hard hat, and knee-high muck boots over the suit he wore when he met the president.

“Holy shit,” he says again as we step into several inches of sloppy mud. “This is cool.” It’s his first time seeing a tunnel-boring machine up close.

Musk has brought me to the site of a municipal project to kick the cutting wheels, so to speak, on a used boring machine he’s considering. The machine is 26 feet in diameter, about 400 feet long, weighs 1,200 tons, and is nicknamed Nannie. It’s been used by Washington’s water utility to dig a tunnel to prevent sewage from overflowing into the Anacostia River. New machines normally cost at least $15 million, but a decade of frantic subway construction in China has created a glut, and lightly used models can be had for 90 percent off sticker.

Nannie, made by the German company Herrenknecht, has been digging only since 2015, but it looks ancient, its surfaces scaled by rust or caked in mud. Although the head looks as you’d expect—like a giant power drill—most of the work happens in the back, where conveyor belts transport mud to the surface, hydraulic pistons brace the wall, and small, narrow-gauge trains haul sections of precast concrete rings to line the tunnel. There are also systems to bring in grout and various foams as well as enormous ducts to pump out exhaust and bring in enough clean air for Nannie’s crew of 15 or so. “This is like an ecosystem,” says Musk.

He plans to use a machine like this to test improvements in tunneling technology. He thinks that with more power, better materials, and a design that allows it to continue digging while installing the tunnel walls—a feat that’s impossible today—the Boring Company will be able to drastically reduce the price of digging. “To make it a little better should be easy,” he says. “To make it five times better is not crazy hard. To make it 10 times better is hard, but nobody will need to win a Nobel Prize. We don’t have to change the standard model of physics.”

As we walk through the machine, Musk and Davis pepper the tunnel’s project manager, Shane Yanagisawa, with questions. They ask about grouting materials and staffing, but mostly about speed. Yanagisawa says the limiting factor is muck. Nannie’s conveyor belts can carry only so much dirt at a time. The fastest he thinks the machine can possibly run is 75 millimeters per minute. In a typical week, it moves through 300 feet of clay.

Musk nods. “We’re trying to dramatically increase the tunneling speed,” he says. “We want to know what it would take to get to a mile a week? Could it be possible?”

“Wow,” says Yanagisawa, taken aback.

As Musk puts on his harness and steps back into the man basket for the return trip, he seems only slightly discouraged. “It may make sense to start with something smaller,” he says. “But I think we can simplify this a lot.”

As any longtime resident of Boston can tell you, tunneling tends to resist optimism. The average bridge or tunnel project costs 32 percent more and takes 22 percent more time than expected, according to Bent Flyvbjerg, a professor at Oxford’s Saïd Business School who studies large-scale infrastructure. The process is slow in part because the machines inevitably bump into unforeseen obstacles, such as boulders. “No matter how many tests you do, how many samples you take, you can’t know exactly what you’re drilling into,” Flyvbjerg says.

Even so, Flyvbjerg is enthusiastic about Musk’s plan. “I wouldn’t just laugh it off,” he says. He thinks that Musk can speed up tunneling just by doing some simple things, such as having enough spare parts on-site to avoid long waits for repairs. “The construction industry really needs disruption,” he says. “It’s the only sector of the economy that hasn’t improved its productivity in the last 50 years.” Musk, he notes, “has a long track record of disruption.”

This confidence doesn’t so much stem from anything Musk has said about tunnels, nor from any special tunnel expertise he possesses (i.e., none). Rather, it’s a handicapping of Musk himself: a guy with an uncanny ability to recruit smart people to wildly risky causes, while finding ways to make these causes—the colonization of Mars, an electric car that’s faster than a Ferrari—seem achievable rather than ridiculous. SpaceX’s cheap rockets were perfectly tailored to an effort undertaken by NASA starting in 2004 to privatize missions to the International Space Station; Tesla’s growth was spurred by a tax credit for buyers of electric cars. Both of these policies were created by the George W. Bush administration, then embraced by Barack Obama.

Musk rarely talked about the job-creating potential of his endeavors during those years, focusing instead on the advantages of electric cars over gas-powered ones and on the sheer awesomeness of space travel. “People are mentioning jobs more these days,” he tells me. “But I sort of take it for granted that if you solve problems, then it takes people to solve them.”

Lately, he’s been more explicit about the economic impact of his work. “My goals,” he recently tweeted in defense of his relationship with Trump, “are to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy and to help make humanity a multi-planet civilization, a consequence of which will be the creating of hundreds of thousands of jobs and a more inspiring future for all.”

Musk might be an environmentalist, and Trump might believe climate change is a Chinese hoax, but Musk’s companies employ 35,000 people, many of them working the very sorts of manufacturing jobs that Trump says are key to America’s future. Last year, Tesla began operations at its Reno, Nev.-based Gigafactory, which will eventually be the largest battery plant in the world. SolarCity, the solar panel company that Musk helped start and which recently merged with Tesla, opened a 1.2 million-square-foot factory in upstate New York.

The Boring Company, Musk suggests, is a natural extension of this: “It would certainly create a lot of jobs.” Then he smirks. “A trillion jobs,” he says. “With a T.”

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Gita is Your Personal Robot Porter

As reported by Engadget: Though robots are increasingly making their way into factories, offices and even airports, they're still not something you'd encounter walking down a city street -- and definitely not in a way that's personally useful to you. We'd all love to have our own personal 
BB-8 droid to follow us around and help get things done, but so far we've had to settle for robotic vacuums and airport greeters. Piaggio Fast Forward promises to bring us a bit closer to that science-fiction reality with its smart cargo vehicle, the Gita. It's relatively small, attractive and can follow you everywhere, ready to lend a hand when you've taken on too much to carry.

The Gita (pronounced "jee-ta") is the first project from Fast Forward, a new offshoot from the larger Piaggio Group. Unless you're a big scooter enthusiast, you might not immediately recognize that name. However, you're most certainly familiar with the company's most famous product, the Vespa. First sold in 1946 and popularized in films like Roman Holiday, Vespas have a reputation for being cute, sleek and stylish.

Piaggio's decades of design expertise are immediately apparent in the carbon body of each Gita unit. It's 22 inches tall, with the smooth, shiny surface broken only by the large rubber treads and the assortment of cameras that help the Gita navigate. There's a small compartment accessed via the hatch on top, which can carry up to 40 pounds. At a demonstration I attended this week, I easily stowed my work backpack and its contents inside one of the units. All told, the length of the storage unit was enough to lay my 14-inch notebook down with room to spare around the edges, and I could have easily stacked more laptops and books on top of it, plus my DSLR.
For larger loads, Piaggio's been working on a larger sibling called the Kilo. It's more than twice as long with an open bay and can handle up to 200 pounds. The Kilo is intended for delivery people, who can fill up the container with packages and have it follow them on their routes.

How exactly do the Gita and Kilo know where to go? They don't use GPS -- which is fine because the device is intended to work indoors as well as outdoors. Right now, there are two modes of basic operation. The Gita can follow a person wearing a special belt, which connects to the robot via WiFi. The belts are currently rough, bulky prototypes, with a cooling unit clearly visible inside the 3D-printed housing. The belt has cameras built in, which helps the Gita determine where exactly you're going.
The Gita maintains a good distance while you're walking or running, but will sidle up close once it's determined you've stopped moving around. It's not perfect just yet; during my demo the Gita seemed a little confused as to which direction it should face. But this is still an early version, with four to six months of testing ahead of it.

The other mode is Gita's autonomous mode, in which it will map out an area and journey to and fro on its own. This can be useful for letting it run errands -- one of the current ideas is to have Gita do deliveries, only unlocking its compartments once it's reached the intended recipient. Gitas can also work together in a convoy, communicating with each other about their surroundings and traveling in a straight line like ducklings following their mother.

If the Gita doesn't do much now, it's understandable given the whirlwind nature of its development. I spoke to several employees of Piaggio Fast Forward, including hardware engineers and designers, and most of them had been working there only four months or less. There's no price or availability to speak of because the project still has a lot of testing ahead of it. The plan is to take the Gita to places like corporate campuses, hospitals and stores and see what use cases arise from those situations. Chairman of the Board Michele Colaninno mentioned even asking his children what they'd like to see the Gita do -- and after a half hour, they came back with a list of 40 options.

The sidewalk-bound Gita may seem a little unusual for a company that specializes in road vehicles. But Piaggio sees it as yet another way to increase people's personal freedom and mobility -- something its scooters do well in cities where automobile traffic and parking are big problems. Ideally, Piaggio would like a future where people don't need cars and walk a lot more. And you might be willing to do just that if you have a lot less to carry.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Tesla to Transition from ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ to ‘Fully Self-Driving’ in ‘3 to 6 Months’

As reported by electrek: Tesla’s software timeline to fully autonomous driving on its new Autopilot hardware can be somewhat complicated. There’s ‘Enhanced Autopilot’, which in itself offers several different features, and there’s ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’, which despite its name will not enable self-driving for a while, but could still be useful to Tesla drivers very soon.

CEO Elon Musk clarified the timeline last night. Previously, our best understanding was the introduction of ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ in December 2016, which was late since Tesla only started pushing it last weeked, followed by updates every few weeks or months leading to a demonstration of the fully self-driving capability toward the end of 2017.

Then the feature would be available to certain Tesla owners based on validation and regulatory approval in different jurisdictions. For example, Michigan already introduced a law that would make such a self-driving system available to the public after passing a test.

But at the moment, Tesla sells separately the ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’. The former might sound useless until the “end of 2017” at best and while you can save a few dollars by buying it when ordering since Tesla charges a premium for activating the feature after delivery, you actually have other advantages by buying the feature before Tesla achieves a reliable self-driving system.

While all Tesla vehicles are now equipped with the same 8-camera, 1 radar, and 360-degree ultrasonics hardware suite, Tesla only enables half the cameras for ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ and the rest when buyers choose ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’. The company writes on its order page:
Build upon Enhanced Autopilot and order Full Self-Driving Capability on your Tesla. This doubles the number of active cameras from four to eight, enabling full self-driving in almost all circumstances, at what we believe will be a probability of safety at least twice as good as the average human driver.
Therefore, drivers should notice a difference between the two options even before Tesla can truly introduce a level 5 autonomous system in the vehicle.

It’s not the case currently since Tesla just now started pushing the “first phase” of Enhanced Autopilot and it’s not quite to parity with the first generation of the system. 

But as it improves with more data from the fleet, owners who chose ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’ on top of just Enhanced Autopilot will start to see a difference at some point by making full use of all the hardware.

Musk has now disclosed that he expects that point to be within 3 to 6 months:
While Enhanced Autopilot has been a little late, that’s still significantly before the full self-driving feature planned for the end of 2017.

The difference should be noticeable for new Autopilot features like Autosteer+ and On-ramp to Off-ramp, but especially for something like the new ‘Smart Summon’, which is the closest thing to a truly “driverless” car feature since there can literally be no one in the car. A feature like that, while available with ‘Enhanced Autopilot’, could really benefit from more camera coverage on ’Full Self-Driving Capability’.

In the meantime, Tesla is still focusing on the first phase of Enhanced Autopilot and to get the Autosteer, TACC and other features first introduced on the last generation Autopilot, to work right on the new hardware using Tesla’s new in-house image processing system: 'Tesla Vision'.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Kreisel and Schwarzenegger​ Reveal 483-HP 190-Mile All-Electric Mercedes G-Class

As reported by New Atlas: The Mercedes-Benz G-Class isn't really the first vehicle to come to mind when it comes to "green vehicles," especially with the hulking G 63 AMG 6x6 and G500 4x4 Squared variants lurking around out there terrorizing the planet. Thanks to Austrian battery specialist Kreisel Electric, though, there's a little more green in the G. With the Hahnenkamm ski race as its backdrop, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as a spokesman, the company revealed its fully electrified G-Class, and it might just be the most convincing battery-powered off-road 4x4 out there.

In an event that played out like a "who's who, what's what" of famous stuff from Austria – the Graz-built G-Class, Kitzbühel's world famous Hahnenkamm and Schwarzenegger – Kreisel pulled the cloth off its electric G-Class, a big, black block perfectly juxtaposed with the soft, white snow. Kreisel specializes in battery technology for automotive, industrial and residential applications, and the G-Class is its latest experiment.

Kreisel electrified the G 350 d by pulling out the engine and transmission and fitting dual electric motors with reduction gears to the transfer gearbox. It split the 1,124-lb (510-kg) 80-kWh battery up around the vehicle, putting modules under the hood, down low, and in the rear in place of the gas tank. By approaching the conversion in this way, the company was able to finish up in about two months while leaving the look of the G-Class virtually unchanged, save for the big Kreisel logo on the grille.

Kreisel says its electric, all-wheel-drive G-wagen can put out up to 483 hp, travel up to 186 miles (300 km) per charge and hit a top speed of 113 mph (183 km/h). The torquey electric powertrain also cuts three seconds off the 0-62 mph (100 km/h) time, getting it down to 5.6 seconds.

You might not be able to chuck a couple of jerry cans in back and wander into the wild for hundreds upon hundreds of miles, but Kreisel believes the conversion will approach shorter off-road missions with the same level of off-road capability and gradability as the regular G 350 d.

Inside, Kreisel left the G 350 mostly stock but redesigned the instruments in support of the electric powertrain. When the battery level drops off, 150 kW fast-charging technology will get it back to 80 percent in about 25 minutes.

As for his part, Schwarzenegger is more than just a movie star face and pile of muscle to spruce up the Kreisel name. As the company explains, it was conversations with the movie star, former California governor and G-Class enthusiast that led to the conceptualization and creation of the electric G.

Although, given the other projects Kreisel has experimented with since 2014, including an electric Porsche Panamera, VW Transporter and Mercedes Sprinter, it seems likely that it would have found its way to G-Class, with or without Arnold. But we reckon the company was more than happy to do it "with."

"To me, with the electric version of this fantastic car, a dream has become true," Schwarzenegger said at the debut. "The initial test drive was a real pleasure. The Kreisel is incredibly sporty and perfectly benefits from the advantages e-mobility has to offer. I really look forward to the following test runs and the further development in California."

Schwarzenegger isn't just BSing for the cameras. According to Kreisel's press release, he will continue to be involved in the electric G-Class's testing and development, working alongside Kreisel staff in Southern California.

Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that Kreisel has any plans to sell a full electric G-Class to customers. It describes it as a "unique prototype" before explaining that it's talking to partner companies about putting its battery technology into their mass-produced cars. So unless one of those companies is Mercedes, and one of those cars is a G-Class, don't expect to see this one on your local 4x4 trail or in the valet parking queue at your favorite fine dining hotspot.

The Kreisel electric G-Class is far from the first electrified version of a 4x4 icon we've seen, but it is the most capable and well-rounded. In the past we've covered the electric Jeep Grand Cherokee from AMP and the electric Defender from Land Rover. We've also read a little about an electric Land Cruiser project in Germany. Maybe one day, off-road tracks and trails will fill with some of these quiet, zero-emissions electric utility vehicles ... it just won't be today.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Tesla's Ludicrous Plus mode beats Faraday Future's 0-60 time

As reported by Engadget: Faraday Future claims its FF 91 SUV will be the fastest accelerating production vehicle to date with a 0-60 mph time of 2.39 seconds, but we're going to need a more precise stopwatch if the showdown with Tesla is going to continue.

In a real-world track test, the folks from Tesla Racing Channel were able to just barely edge out the FF 91's time in a Model S P100D sedan with the latest Ludicrous Plus mode update unlocked. The Tesla's new track time? A blistering 2.389 seconds -- besting Faraday by just a thousandth of a second.

Although that's a teensy margin, it's worth noting that Faraday Future has been selectively choosing who takes the other lane in its hype videos and the FF 91 might have benefited from using a lighter setup that will gain some weight with the final production model. The Tesla, on the other hand, just got a speed boost by downloading an over-the-air update.

Elon Musk also thinks Tesla can get that 0-60 time down even further to 2.34 seconds in a production model, while a race-ready version can reportedly hit 62 mph in just 2.1 seconds. Either way, it's doubtful we'll see a true head-to-head race for the title until Faraday Future finally starts production in 2018.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

NHTSA Investigation Closed: Tesla’s Crash Rate Dropped Almost 40 Percent After Autopilot was Installed, Feds Say

As reported by The VergeThe federal investigation into the fatal accident involving a Tesla Model S in Autopilot mode has ended, with no vehicle recalls being ordered, according to Reuters.
Further, Tesla’s crash rate dropped 40 percent after the electric carmaker installed its semi-autonomous Autopilot software, government regulators reported.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration just released its report on the May 2016 fatal accident involving a Tesla Model S. Within the document, the government reports that the number of crashes dropped dramatically after Tesla introduced Autopilot in 2015, a fact that would seem to bolster the company’s claims about the safety of semi-autonomous features in its vehicles.
NHTSA analyzed all mileage and airbag deployment data supplied by Tesla for all 2014 through 2016 Model S and 2016 Model X vehicles equipped with Autopilot. The data show that the Tesla vehicles crash rate dropped by almost 40 percent after Autosteer installation.
The government concluded that while advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) like Autopilot may help in reducing auto accidents, they should not supplement or replace a driver’s attention to the road. “While ADAS technologies are continually improving in performance in larger percentages of crash types, a driver should never wait for automatic braking to occur when a collision threat is perceived,” the NHTSA said.

Joshua Brown, 40, was killed in central Florida on May 7th, 2016 when his Model S slammed into a tractor trailer at a highway intersection. Tesla said the car’s sensor system, against a bright spring sky, failed to distinguish a large white 18-wheel truck and trailer crossing the highway. In a tweet, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said at the time that the vehicle's radar "tunes out what looks like an overhead road sign to avoid false braking events."
The truck driver, meanwhile, claimed that Brown may have been watching a Harry Potter movie at the time of the accident, and the Florida highway patrol told Reuters that there was a portable DVD player in the vehicle.

Further details about the conclusions of the investigation are still unclear. A spokesperson for the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which had been investigating the crash for over six months, did not immediately respond to questions. NHTSA plans to hold a briefing at 12PM ET to discuss its findings.