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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.

The US Army Successfully flies its Hoverbike Prototype

As reported by Engadget: The Army has proven that the hoverbike its contractors are developing actually works during a flight demo with the Department of Defense. Dr. William Roper, director of the Strategic Capabilities Office for the Secretary of Defense, watched the large rectangular prototype quadcopter take off at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland on January 10th. 

The hoverbike began as a Kickstarter project by creator Malloy Aeronautics. Once Malloy secured a contract with the military, it teamed up with defense company Survice Engineering Co. to continue the bike's development. It has since become a joint project between the Army and the US Marine Corps.

Officially known as Joint Tactical Aerial Resupply Vehicle, or JTARV, the hoverbike could someday be used to carry supplies to soldiers on the field. Tim Vong, associate chief of the Army Research Lab's Protection Division, said it's like having "Amazon on the battlefield," since it'll allow the military to deliver resupplies in less than 30 minutes.

It'll take some time before the military deploys JTARV, though. To start with, its developers are looking to make a hybrid propulsion system to give it a longer range (up to 125 miles) than it has today as an electric-powered prototype. Further, they want to increase the payload it can carry to 800 pounds, as well as to load it with an advanced navigation system and mission planning. Vong says they're looking to "end up with a modular, stable platform that can be used for even more dynamic and challenging missions."

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Tesla Will Manufacture Model 3 Parts at the Gigafactory

As reported by Engadget: Nevada governor Brian Sandoval has announced that Tesla will bring some of its manufacturing for the Model 3 across from California. At a speech outlining policy initiatives for the last two years of his term, Sandoval revealed that the car company will build electric motors and gearboxes in the state.

The new lines will be installed at the Gigafactory, Tesla's 4.9 million square foot battery plant that it's building along with Panasonic. According to Fortune, the deal will create 550 new jobs at the facility, based in the city of North Las Vegas.

The news goes some way to answering the question as to how Tesla will build more than 400,000 of its new Model 3 cars in a reasonable time frame. Demand for the affordable EV vastly exceeded Elon Musk's wildest dreams, sending the company into something of a spin.

By moving the bulk of the drivetrain construction to the Gigafactory, Tesla's main Fremont facility in California will have more space to construct the rest of the vehicle. But even then, there are still issues for a business that has yet to ship a quarter of the Model 3's expected demand in a single year.

In 2016, Tesla managed to deliver 83,992 of its cars to customers, its most successful year as a car company. By 2018, it'll need to produce at least twice that figure on an annual basis or risk angering pre-order customers.

In order to cope, Tesla is raising a war chest apparently worth upwards of $2 billion and has recently purchased an automation company. No to mention that you'd be quite foolish to bet against Elon Musk when he's got all those rockets on standby.

Tesla's Autopilot Update Rolls Out

Tesla's Enhanced Autopilot update has rolled out to all its HW2 vehicles, company chief Elon Musk has announced on Twitter. HW2 is what the automaker calls its second-generation self-driving hardware found in its newer models, including the Model S and X. 

The Enhanced Autopilot update was designed to bring several autonomous features to the new hardware, such as autosteer, smart summon, autopark and auto lane change. Some of those features were available on the first-gen hardware, but Tesla had to deactivate them for HW2 until they've undergone more testing. Unfortunately, it might still take some time before you can try the reactivated features unless you're one of the 1,000 testers who had early access to them.

Musk said Enhanced Autopilot is in "non-actuating mode," which means it'll lurk in your system in an inactive state while Tesla continues to assess its reliability. If all goes well, the automaker could activate all the features that came with the update as soon as the end of this week. You'll know for sure once they've appeared on the system's patch notes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

SpaceX Falcon 9: Company Has Busy Launch Schedule

As reported by International Business Times: SpaceX is back in business. After being grounded from flight operations, following the spectacular Sept. 1 explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket while it was being refueled at its launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Elon Musk company made its much-anticipated comeback Jan. 14.

Falcon 9’s resumption to flight was a keenly watched affair, since SpaceX reuses the first stage of the rocket, which brings down its launch costs, making it more affordable for companies who want to use its services. During Saturday’s launch, its first since the accident over four months ago, the rocket put a constellation of 10 Iridium NEXT communication satellites in orbit, and its first stage also landed successfully on a drone ship, called “Just Read the Instructions,” in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California.

The company had initially planned to return to flight in December 2016, but was forced to delay its plans, pending completion of its investigation into the Sept. 1 accident, and the acceptance of its report by both NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration. The delay also cost SpaceX some business when Inmarsat shifted the launch contract for its EAN satellite launch to Arianespace.
But now, with an estimated $10 billion worth of launch orders, it looks like Falcon 9 is going to be a busy rocket. Apart from the over 60 more satellites (in six batches) SpaceX is supposed to launch for Iridium in the coming months, the company has to make up for the over four months of delay.
According to the launch schedule posted on Spaceflight Now, a Falcon 9 rocket will make its next flight Jan. 26 from Florida, carrying an EchoStar 23 communications satellite into orbit, which will be used to broadcast digital television over Brazil. The next launch will be of SpaceX’s own Dragon spacecraft, which will leave Feb. 8 on a resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station.
Later in February, the Falcon 9 rocket will likely make four more flights, including one to launch the next batch of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites. Another launch from California will carry Formosat 5, which belongs to Taiwan’s National Space Organization, as well as the Sherpa deployer — which will carry about 90 CubeSats and small payloads for a variety of commercial and scientific purposes — owned by Spaceflight Industries.
An SES 10 communications satellite, owned by Luxembourg-based SES, and a Koreasat 5A communications satellite, operated by South Korea’s KTsat, round out February for SpaceX launches. Both these satellites will launch from Florida; the former will provide television broadcast and telecommunication services over Central and South America, the Caribbean and Mexico, while the latter will provide similar services over South Korea, Japan and parts of South Asia.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Europe’s New Satellite System Will Improve Your Phone's GPS

As reported by MIT Technology ReviewGalileo, a global navigation satellite system that will reach more places and work more precisely than today’s GPS services, is now available for free public use. When it is complete, expected by 2020, Galileo will have taken two decades and an estimated $10 billion to build. But the system, created by the European Union, will make your phone run better and offer new possibilities for both corporate and government users.
With Galileo’s opening, announced this month, providers of a variety of services and devices, from specialized navigation systems to mobile-phone and car makers, will be able to add its signal to that of the 70-odd satellites in the American GPS and Russian GLONASS systems. At least 17 companies are already poised to do so, among them phone makers Huawei and BQ.
The more satellite signals available, the choosier your receiver can be. If buildings or other devices interfere with signals in one direction, your receiver may be able to find a less noisy signal from a satellite elsewhere. This means the Galileo satellites will make it easier to get a signal in places covered by fewer satellites, such as the far north of Europe, and provide more accurate and faster position fixes elsewhere, says Richard Langley, a geospatial expert at the University of New Brunswick in Canada and a member of a working group focused on research uses for Galileo’s data. Just one additional satellite “can make a huge difference” in position accuracy, he says.
When your phone finds less noisy signals, it frees the device’s processor for other tasks, explains Lukasz Bonenberg of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, which is helping to build Galileo. That will allow developers, such as those who attended a Galileo hackathon last month, to design software that focuses on using location data rather than helping to interpret it, he says.
Galileo should also speed up search-and-rescue operations. Today it can take hours for a distress signal to reach enough low-orbiting satellites to confirm a position. Navigation satellites, which orbit higher, are more suitable for the task, but only the newest GPS and GLONASS satellites have the right hardware. All the Galileo satellites have it, and they should be able to locate rescue beacons in 10 minutes. An encrypted channel will be available to government agencies for emergency services.
Today the Galileo constellation consists of 18 satellites. Six more, enough for full global coverage of Earth, will be launched over the next three years by the system’s operator, the European Space Agency. (There will be six backup satellites as well, Galileo having learned a lesson from GPS and GLONASS’s struggles with dud satellites.)
Galileo is one of a growing number of satellite navigation systems. China is building its own, BeiDou, also scheduled for completion in 2020. Other countries, including India and Japan, have growing regional navigation systems as well.
These systems are interoperable, and researchers around the world are  developing efficient algorithms for combining signals from multiple constellations. As more of these satellites come online, location information will get even better.

A French Town Just Installed the World's First 'Solar Road'

The tiny town of Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy, France no longer has to worry about how it will power its street lights. The Sun will handle that.

French Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal (below) officially opened the kilometer-long road on Wednesday. It took five years to develop and cost $5.2 million to produce and install the 30,000 square feet of solar panels. They're coated with a clear silicon resin that enables them to withstand the impact of passing traffic.

Being the first of its kind, the panels are still prohibitively expensive to produce en masse (they're also less efficient than conventional panels because they're laid flat rather than angled). But should Colas, the road's manufacturer, figure out how to get costs down and efficiency up, France may install them along another 1,000 kilometers of its roads.