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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Tesla’s New Autopilot Will Run in ‘Shadow Mode’ to Prove That it’s Safer Than Human Driving

As reported by The Verge: Tesla today rolled out a next-generation version of its autonomous driving hardware suite, which the company says the tech should be able to autonomously drive a Tesla from LA to New York, dropping a rider off in Times Square and then going to park itself.

But, before Teslas can start driving autonomously, the company needs to collect a lot of data to prove to customers (and regulators) that the technology is safe and reliable. So, the car will run Autopilot in “shadow mode” in order for Tesla to gather statistical data to show false positives and false negatives of the software. In shadow mode, the car isn’t taking any action, but it registers when it would have taken action. Then, if the Tesla is in an accident, the company can see if the autonomous mode would have avoided the accident (or the other way around, with the self-driving system potentially causing an accident).

It will record how the car would have acted if the computer was in control, including information about how the car might have avoided an accident (or caused one). That data would then be used to show “a material improvement in the accident rate over manually driven cars,” said Tesla CEO Elon Musk on a call with reporters today. “I think at that point regulators would be comfortable approving it.”
Musk said that he hopes the US will not end up with a patchwork of autonomous regulations across states, noting that the EU appears like it will have a unified standard. He hopes that Tesla’s collection of statistical data regarding potential autonomous vehicle actions — millions of miles across thousands of cars driving in the real world — will help regulators be comfortable enough to sign off on his self-driving vision.
“We look carefully at the regulations and make sure that what we do is in line with those,” Musk said. “We can’t do anything other than that because it would be against the law.”
Tesla also announced it is giving all its new cars the hardware for “full self-driving capabilities,” including 8 cameras with 360-degree viewing at up to 820 feet of distance, as well as 12 ultrasonic sensors that can detect both hard and soft objects. A new forward-facing radar helps see through rain, fog, and dust.
“The full autonomy update will be standard on all Tesla vehicles from here on out,” Musk says.
The updates are included in all new Tesla vehicles built from today forward — however, don’t expect your new Model X to be fully autonomous when you pick it up. Tesla says it needs to “further calibrate the system using millions of miles of real-world driving” before it hands your car fully over to a computer.
On the call about the new hardware, Musk said the hardware is fully capable of “Level 5 autonomy,” a big step forward.
Most significantly, new Teslas won’t have access to some safety features that older Teslas have, including automatic emergency braking, collision warning, lane holding, and active cruise control. The company says that these features will be activated after they are “robustly validated.”
“As always, our over-the-air software updates will keep customers at the forefront of technology and continue to make every Tesla, including those equipped with first-generation Autopilot and earlier cars, more capable over time,” said the Tesla statement.
In essence, it reads as though Tesla has put together a better, more powerful hardware system for these safety and autonomous driving features, but this new system isn’t going to be ready for real use right away. That’s a disappointing dip in the road, but apparently a necessary one.

Musk started off the call with a testy answer - defending Tesla Autopilot and laying into media outlets that don’t put the accidents that have happened from it into the proper context. Autonomous driving is so much safer, Musk argues, that outlets that put too much emphasis on the crash are “killing people.” He then added: “next question.”

Musk says that the “Tesla Neural Net” doesn’t require any third party hardware sensors, and that it’s based on the Nvidia Titan GPU (although it could run on other processors). He says that it’s 40 times more powerful than the last Tesla computer, “it’s basically a supercomputer in a car,” he said. “We go from one camera to eight cameras,” Musk said. Three of them are forward cameras, for redundancy, and the rest provide “360 coverage” for the rest of the car. The new Teslas will also have 360-ultrasonic sonar.

“I think is is very hard to turn into a kit,” Musk said, so it won’t be sold to other car makers. All the cameras and sensors he is talking about won’t cause “weird protuberances” or make the cars look funny.

Musk also promised a demonstration of a fully autonomous drive from Los Angeles to New York by the end of 2017. Musk largely begged off talking about what the regulation would or should be but he did note that the computer will “always be running in ‘shadow mode,’” so that he can build the case that his self-driving software would have been safer than human drivers.

Fully-autonomous Teslas are getting closer to reality. Yesterday, the electric carmaker announced that all new vehicles will come with extra hardware to support "full self-driving capabilities,” and this morning, the company posted a video showing exactly what that hardware can do.

The self-driving software is not finished and has yet to be approved by regulators, but the four-minute clip is nonetheless impressive, showing a Tesla leaving a garage, driving across town, and finding its own parking spot — all autonomously. There is someone sat in the driver's seat, as per current legal requirements, but they never touch the wheel. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who posted the clip to Twitter, notes that the car is even smart enough to driver past a disabled parking spot, knowing it's not allowed to park there. He also highlighted the car's summon function:
When searching for parking, the car reads the signs to see if it is allowed to park there, which is why it skipped the disabled spot
When you want your car to return, tap Summon on your phone. It will eventually find you even if you are on the other side of the country

All of this technology is a long way from being implemented, but it does raise some interesting questions. Like, what happens if you summon a Tesla on your phone while you are moving (say on a train, or in another form of transportation like a taxi) — will the car follow you round indefinitely, or will it only drive to the initial summon location? It's all to come.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

These AI Traffic Lights Could Shorten Your Commute

As reported by Spectrum IEEEIdling in rush-hour traffic can be mind numbing. It also carries other costs. Traffic congestion costs the U.S. economy $121 billion a year, mostly due to lost productivity, and produces about 25 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions, Carnegie Mellon University professor of robotics Stephen Smith told the audience at a White House Frontiers Conference last week. In urban areas, drivers spend 40 percent of their time idling in traffic, he added.
The big reason is that today’s traffic signals are dumb. Smith is developing smart artificial-intelligence-fueled traffic signals that adapt to changing traffic conditions on the fly. His startup Surtrac is commercializing the technology.
In pilot tests in Pittsburgh, the smart traffic management system has gotten impressive results. It reduced travel time by 25 percent and idling time by over 40 percent. That means less time spent staring out the windshield and more time working, being with your family, or doing anything else. I’m a Pittsburgh resident who has witnessed the city’s rapidly-evolving urban landscape. And I can attest to the mostly frustration-free driving that has resulted from this system despite a the city’s growing population. 
The researchers also estimate that the system cuts emissions by 21 percent. It could also save cities the cost of road-widening or eliminating street parking by boosting traffic throughput.
Conventional traffic lights have preprogrammed timing that’s updated every few years. But as traffic patterns evolve, the systems can fall out of date much more quickly that.
Image result for Surtrac systemThe Surtrac system instead relies on computerized traffic lights coordinating closely with each other. Radar sensors and cameras at each light detect traffic. Sophisticated AI algorithms use that data to build a timing plan “that moves all the vehicles it knows about through the intersection in the most efficient way possible,” Smith says. The computer also sends the data to traffic intersections downstream so they can plan ahead.
Unlike other smart traffic-management systems, such as one used in Los Angeles, Smith emphasized that this one is decentralized. So each signal makes its own timing decisions, making it a truly smart system.
Smith’s team started by implementing the AI traffic control system at nine intersections in Pittsburgh’s busy East Liberty neighborhood in 2012. The network now spans 50 intersections, with plans to expand it city-wide.
The next step is to have traffic signals talk to cars. The Smith’s group has already installed short-range radios at 24 intersections. Such systems are expected to begin being built into some cars in 2017, he said. Traffic signals could then let drivers know of upcoming traffic conditions or let them know lights are about to change, increasing safety and relieving congestion.
vehicle-to-infrastructure communication system could also prioritize certain vehicles. The CMU team is working with the Pittsburgh Port Authority to develop a system that prioritizes public transport buses.
Pittsburgh is also the test-bed for Uber’s self-driving cars, and Smith’s work on AI-enhanced traffic signals that talk with self-driving cars is paving the way for the ultimately fluid and efficient autonomous intersections.
Image result for Uber self driving cars pittsburgh

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Millimeter-Wave 5G Modems Coming Mid-2018 with 5Gbps Peak Download

As reported by ArsTechnicaQualcomm is promising to launch its first 5G modem in 2018, even though basic standards for 5G have yet to be established, nor even which part of the radio spectrum it will use.
Dubbed the Snapdragon X50, the San Diego chipmaker says its new modem will be able to deliver blindingly fast peak download speeds of around 5Gbps.
The X50 5G will at first operate with a bandwidth of about 800MHz on the 28GHz millimetre wave (mmWave in Qualcomm jargon) spectrum, a frequency that's also being investigated by Samsung, Nokia, and Verizon. However, the powers that be have far from settled on this area of the spectrum, with 73GHz also being mooted. In the UK, Ofcom is investigating several bands in a range between 6GHz and 100GHz. As the industry as a whole is a long way from consensus, this could be Qualcomm's bid to get the final frequency locked down well before 2020—the year that 5G is expected to reach any kind of consumer penetration.
"The Snapdragon X50 5G modem heralds the arrival of 5G as operators and OEMs reach the cellular network and device testing phase," said Qualcomm exec veep Cristiano Amon. "Utilising our long history of LTE and Wi-Fi leadership, we are thrilled to deliver a product that will help play a critical role in bringing 5G devices and networks to reality. This shows that we’re not just talking about 5G, we’re truly committed to it.”
A rather cutesy infographic from Qualcomm on how millimetre-wave cell networks might operate. Click to zoom in.

The modem, which Qualcomm stresses is designed to aid early trials for manufacturers and operators, can switch back down to 4G LTE if a 5G cell can't be found, which is just as well, as millimetre-wave frequencies often struggle to penetrate solid and semi-solid objects.  Qualcomm's offering seems to be to increase the number of base stations (small cells), and then use lots of Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) antennas. It said:
"Years of research and development have allowed us to invent technologies to overcome mmWave’s limitations. Instead of using only a handful of antennas (as with 4G), the Snapdragon X50 5G modem relies on multi-element antenna arrays. The antennas are designed to work together intelligently, using beamforming and beam tracking technologies, extending mmWave’s mobility and reach to non-line-of-sight scenarios. For example, the Snapdragon X50 5G modem can direct the energy of the mmWave beam, bouncing off obstacles to reach the mmWave 5G small cell with which it is communicating."
At the same time, the firm also revealed its next generation of Snapdragon chips on the first day of its 4G/5G Summit in Hong Kong. The three new processors, dubbed Snapdragon 653, 626, and 427, will supersede its current 652, 625, and 425 chips. All three chips are strictly pitched at mid-range solutions—there was no new reveal in its high-end 800 series, but all three apparently have support for several key new features.
Firstly, the chips integrate Qualcomm's newer X9 LTE modem, which it says allows Cat 7 downlink speeds of up to 300Mbps, and Cat 13 uplink speeds reaching 150Mbps—a 50 percent increase in maximum uplink speed over its previous X8 model. Dual-camera support—branded Clear Sight technology— taken from the 800 series is also included in the new chips, while the new Quick Charge 3.0 could deliver four times the charging speeds. The 653 also sees a significant memory upgrade, with its RAM doubled from 4GB to 8GB.
The 653 and 626 chipsets should be commercially available by the end of the year, while the 427 is planned to be slotted into consumer devices in early 2017.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

BMW's Motorcycle of the Future Doesn't Require a Helmet

As reported by EngadgetBMW has unveiled a slew of concept vehicles to mark its 100th birthday, but its fourth and last example might be the most daring. Its new Motorrad Vision Next 100 concept motorcycle would supposedly be so smart that you wouldn't need a helmet, or even a padded suit. The key would be a self-balancing system that keeps the bike upright whether or not you're moving -- newcomers wouldn't have to worry about toppling over, and veterans could push limits further than usual.

Also, notice the absence of the usual space for an instrument cluster? That's because you wouldn't need it. Most information would instead display through a smart visor that shows data as it becomes relevant. All told, you'd spend more time enjoying open air driving and less time worrying about your speed or range (BMW will only say that this is a "zero-emission" bike, but it'd likely be electric).

Like the other Vision Next 100 concepts, you're not going to see this exact motorcycle on the road any time soon. However, it might not just be due to the grand technological ambitions. While a self-balancing system could prevent you from crashing the bike yourself, it wouldn't protect you in many serious collisions. What if you're forcefully ejected from your vehicle? Regulators would likely require some kind of helmet, even if it's not as cumbersome as what you wear today.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Germany Calls for a Ban on Combustion Engine Cars by 2030

As reported by EngadgetGermany isn't content with relying on financial incentives to usher in an era of pollution-free cars. The country's Bundesrat (federal council) has passed a resolution calling for a ban on new internal combustion engine cars by 2030. From then on, you'd have to buy a zero-emissions vehicle, whether it's electric or running on a hydrogen fuel cell. This isn't legally binding, but the Bundesrat is asking the European Commission to implement the ban across the European Union... and when German regulations tend to shape EU policy, there's a chance that might happen.

The council also wants the European Commission to review its taxation policies and their effect on the "stimulation of emission-free mobility." Just what that means isn't clear. It could involve stronger tax incentives for buying zero-emissions cars, but it could also involve eliminating tax breaks for diesel cars in EU states. Automakers are already worried that tougher emission standards could kill diesels -- remove the low cost of ownership and it'd only hasten their demise.

Not that the public would necessarily be worried. Forbes notes that registrations of diesels, still mainstays of the European car market, dropped sharply in numerous EU countries in August. There's a real possibility that Volkswagen's emission cheating scandal is having a delayed effect on diesel sales. Combine that with larger zero-emissions incentives and the proposed combustion engine ban, and it might not take much for Europeans to go with electric or hydrogen the next time they go car shopping.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Rimac's Electric Bike can go 150 Miles on a Single Charge

As reported by EngadgetRimac has revealed a new electric bicycle that is just as impressive as its LaFerrari-killing, million-dollar Concept One supercar, in its own way. With a massive 3kWh battery, the Greyp G12H can go up to 240 km (150 miles) on a single charge, making it the longest-range e-bicycle out there. If you have a 10 mile round trip to work, each would cost 2.3 cents, making it one of the cheapest powered transportation options, too.

"Cheap" is strictly related to energy consumption, however. The Greyp G12S, the company's current model that has a shorter 75 mile range but is faster at 70 km/h (44 mph) costs €8,380, or around $9,400. That's Lionel Messi money (he bought a custom version), and the new model isn't likely to be cheaper, as the battery is double the size. That said, other long-endurance models like those from Optibike are in that ballpark too.The G12H and faster G12S both look more like motocross bikes than electric bicycles, and Greyp markets the latter as such (see the video, above). Given the 107 pound weight of the G12S model, in fact, the pedals are mostly for show, and the G12H should weigh at least that much. Other features include "Supernova" lights, a custom rack, and biometric sensor to activate the e-bike. There's no word yet on availability or cost, but Greyp says the price tag and range will depend on the battery option you choose.

The G12H and faster G12S both look more like motocross bikes than electric bicycles, and Greyp markets the latter as such (see the video, above). Given the 107 pound weight of the G12S model, in fact, the pedals are mostly for show, and the G12H should weigh at least that much. Other features include "Supernova" lights, a custom rack, and biometric sensor to activate the e-bike. There's no word yet on availability or cost, but Greyp says the price tag and range will depend on the battery option you choose.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket Lands in the Desert After a Successful Escape System Test

As reported by The VergeDespite expectations of fiery explosions, Blue Origin successfully landed its New Shepard rocket after launching the vehicle for the fifth time today. The landing was a delightful surprise for the company, since it fully expected that rocket to either break up or slam into the floor of the Texas desert.
That's because the purpose of today's flight was to test out the New Shepard's escape system. It's a feature that will save future passengers on board the vehicle, in case the rocket suffers a major failure during flight. Blue Origin initiated the escape system about 45 seconds after takeoff today, causing a rocket motor to ignite underneath the New Shepard's crew capsule — the portion of the vehicle that's meant to carry people. The motor, which burned for about two seconds, successfully carried the capsule up and away from the rest of the rocket. The capsule's parachutes then deployed and lowered the vehicle gently down to the ground.
Prior to the flight, it was thought that igniting the capsule's motor would be too much for the rocket booster to handle. The ignition slammed the booster with a bunch of forceful heat exhaust, making it hard to survive and continue working properly. But the booster actually continued to climb to space after the escape system was ignited, and then landed successfully at Blue Origin's test facility. Even if the booster had crashed, the flight would still have been considered a success, since the only objective today was to recover the crew capsule. But landing the New Shepard booster is just icing on the cake.
Since the vehicle did survive, Blue Origin has some celebrating to do. CEO Jeff Bezos said that the company would throw a party for the rocket, since it's the first vehicle that they successfully landed after launching to space. However, this New Shepard won't fly again, as the rocket will live out the rest of its days in a museum.
Eventually, Blue Origin hopes to use future New Shepard vehicles to send passengers to the edge of space, where they can float around weightless for a few minutes. People have yet to ride on the New Shepard, but when they do, up to six people can ride inside of the crew capsule. The booster will carry the capsule up to 62 miles above the Earth's surface, an altitude that many consider to be the boundary of outer space. Once there, the capsule separates from the booster and the two eventually fall back to earth; the capsule touches down with the help of parachutes while the booster reignites its engine and lands upright on solid ground.
Blue Origin plans to start sending test pilots up on the New Shepard sometime next year. And paying customers are expected to start riding in 2018, though there's still no word on how much tickets will cost. Seeing as how the company's test flights have gone so smoothly — and even better than expected — that timeline doesn't seem in jeopardy of changing.