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Monday, November 20, 2017

Elon Musk Reveals New Details About Tesla Roadster

As reported by Futurism: In a surprise move at the official launch of the Tesla electric semi on Nov. 17, Elon Musk unveiled the new Tesla Roadster. This move was done without warning or lead-up, and it left audiences a bit shocked and wanting more information.

Thankfully, Musk didn’t make his announcement without any further details on the vehicle. He revealed that the Roadster can jump from 0-100 km/h (0-60 mph) in as little as 1.9 seconds. With a top speed of 400 km/h (250 mph), this little vehicle boasts an impressive range of 1,000 km (600 miles). Musk asserted, at the event, that this immense range was made possible by the Roadster’s 200 kWh battery pack.

Following this unexpected news, Musk took to Twitter to further reveal that purchasers will have the option to make their Roadster’s even more powerful.

Should clarify that this is the base model performance. There will be a special option package that takes it to the next level.

Rocket Powered?
What exactly this “optional package” refers to remains a mystery. So far, the only supplementary information that has been provided by Musk is this cryptic tweet:
Should clarify that this is the base model performance. There will be a special option package that takes it to the next level.
Not saying the next gen Roadster special upgrade package *will* definitely enable it to fly short hops, but maybe …

Certainly possible. Just a question of safety. Rocket tech applied to a car opens up revolutionary possibilities.

So what could this “next level” be? Laying aside for the moment the possibility that it will allow the car to fly short distances, the main features announced about the Roadster were its speed, power, and — most notably — its range. It seems unlikely that these three capabilities could be improved upon in more souped-up models, but it is not outside of the realm of possibility.
The Roadster’s upgrade could also potentially be an option to have more advanced autonomous features in the vehicle. But all of these hypotheticals are based off of previous launches from Tesla. With such a surprise release, Musk could shock his audience again by revealing features of the Tesla Roadster that we haven’t yet seen in any other electric vehicles — like rocket boosters.

Whatever new level the Roadster will take us to — be it on land or in the air — we’ll be sure to know for certain in 2020 when the vehicle is scheduled for release.

Editor’s Note: To be clear, Musk was joking about the rocket booster comment.

Friday, November 17, 2017

What Does Tesla's Automated Truck Mean for Truckers?

As reported by Wired: On Thursday night, Elon Musk rolled out Tesla's biggest gizmo yet: a fully electric semitruck. The Semi can go a whopping 500 miles between charges, hauling 80,000 pounds along the way. And it can sorta, kinda drive itself—on highways, anyway. The truck comes with Enhanced Autopilot, the second generation of Tesla's semiautonomous technology, equipped with automatic braking, lane keeping, and lane departure warnings.

"Every truck we sell has Autopilot as standard," Musk said of the Semi, which goes into production in 2019. "This is a massive increase in safety."

That may be true—about 4,000 Americans die in truck-related collisions every year, and human error is responsible for many of them. Self-driving trucks will certainly change lives. That goes double for the nearly 3.2 million people currently employed as delivery and heavy truck drivers. But we don't know how: A dearth of research means that no one really knows what effect automation will have on the sector. It's clear that truck driving will change, though, and companies testing autonomous trucking today in Florida and California and elsewhere show what that new future might look like.

Driving Today
Trucking jobs are, as a recent report from the Washington, DC, think tank Global Policy Solutions points out, solid, middle class jobs. The median annual wage for delivery and heavy truck drivers is $34,768, 11 percent higher than the country's median wage. Trucking has also been an opportunity for black, Hispanic, and Native American workers, who have faced serious, race-based barriers to entry in other blue collar jobs and are now over-represented in the industry. Many trucking jobs are unionized, and the gig doesn’t require an advanced education. You probably won't get rich doing it, but driving a truck is an option for those—men, in many cases—who might otherwise have done the kind of factory work that's left the country in the last three decades or so. Losing these jobs outright could devastate them.

Truck driving is, at the same time, a not-so-great job. Driving is solitary, physically inert, and psychologically exhausting. And long-haul truckers can be on the road—and away from family and friends—for months at a time. So people leave. In fact, there aren't enough truck drivers to go around. The American Trucking Associations reports the annual driver turnover for large truckload carriers reached a whopping 90 percent this year, and it projects 50,000-driver shortage by the end of 2017.
The driver's seat of the Tesla Semi is positions in the center of the cab - which also provides standing room
the company says.  - Tesla

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Honda’s Connected Cars will Communicate Over 5G

As reported by Engadget: When it's not busy making billion-dollar acquisitions to expand its roboticsline-up, Japanese mobile carrier SoftBank is pursuing its other hobby: smart cars. Central to this endeavour is its partner, and fellow Japan native, Honda. Last year, the two announced plans to make cars emotive using cloud-based tech based on SoftBank's Pepper robot (think Knight Rider's KITT). The fruits of that colloboration are beginning to emerge, in the guise of the auto-maker's AI-assisted NeuV and Sports EV concepts. With the clock ticking down to Honda's 2025 deadline for driverless cars, the duo are moving on to the next phase in their connected cars project, which is all about 5G.

Along with rivals NTT Docomo and KDDI, SoftBank is already testing 5G in Japan, with a view to kick-starting services by 2020. Before then, the carrier will test how well Honda's cars can communicate with one another over its 5G network. Starting in 2018, SoftBank will install 5G base stations at the auto-maker's Takasu Proving Ground closed test course in Hokkaido, Japan. The 6.8 km circular course serves as a stomping ground for Honda's smart cars, and soon they'll be talking over wireless networks while speeding around.

All the while, the two firms will be monitoring outcomes in order to develop the vehicles' on-board tech and antennas. In addition, the experiment will allow SoftBank to test its 5G signal in a rural setting -- thus far its trials have been mainly limited to urban locations.

The bigger picture may encompass SoftBank's ridesharing investments, which include Singapore's Grab (which also counts Honda as a backer), India's Ola, China's Didi, and now Uber. We know that Uber is also testing driverless cars in select states in the US. And, smarter cars operating over faster wireless networks will only improve these services and, in turn, line SoftBank's bursting pockets.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A US Freeway May Get Self-Driving Car and Truck Lanes Thanks to Foxconn

The I-94 highway connects to the Apple supplier's upcoming facility in the Midwest.
As reported by Engadget: Wisconsin highway planners are studying the possibility of placing driverless vehicle lanes on I-94 to serve Foxconn's mega factory in Racine County. The Taiwanese company -- supplier to tech firms including Apple, Microsoft, and Nintendo -- reportedly made the suggestion at a meeting with regional officials, according to USA Today's Journal Sentinel.

Foxconn's $10 billion midwest facility will span 20 million square feet and could create up to 13,000 jobs. That's an awful lot of humans commuting back and forth from work, and that's before you take into account the goods getting hauled in. But, seeing as the I-94 highway is getting a bump from six to eight lanes anyway, regional officials figured they were prepared for the uptick in traffic. Foxconn, it seems, has other ideas in mind.

While companies like Uber and Waymo are trialing self-driving vehicles on roads across the US, there's also been talk of dedicated lanes for robocars (and trucks). Last year, VC firm Madrona Ventures floated the idea for replacing the I-5 freeway between Seattle and Vancouver with an "autonomous vehicle" corridor.

But, Foxconn's desire to yield regular car lanes to driverless vehicles could be a way off yet. A spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation told the Journal Sentinel that the proposal is just one of many "on the table." One possibility, according to Tim Sheehy (president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce), is driverless lanes between the Foxconn plant and Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Embark's Semi-Autonomous Trucks are Hauling Frigidaire Appliances

As reported by Engadget: Last year, Otto made a 120-mile beer run. Now Frigidaire and Ryder have partnered with autonomous trucking company Embark to deliver smart fridges from Texas to California. You know, so you have a place to store the brews. Embark thinks that freeways are the ideal test grounds for its autonomous efforts because there aren't any traffic lights, pedestrians or oncoming traffic to deal with. Which makes sense. All a truck needs to do, basically, is stay in its lane, maintain speed and keep a safe distance from other cars.

The Level 2 autonomous semis (think: Tesla's Autopilot and Cadillac's Super Cruise) will have a driver behind the wheel for insurance, of course. But once a Ryder driver drops the trailers at a designated spot in El Paso before the journey begins, Embark's systems will be driving until the load reaches Palm Springs. From there, another Ryder driver will complete the last-mile trip. The reason for this push is one of available manpower. Or, in this case, a steady decline of it. Two years ago, the American Trucking Association estimated that there could be a shortage of 175,000 drivers by 2024.

"More than 50 percent of all drivers will retire in the next two decades and there aren't nearly enough young drivers joining this industry to replace them," Embark CEO Alex Rodrigues said in a statement. "By allowing automation to work together with local drivers to handle less desirable long haul routes, we will be able to increase productivity to address the current 50,000 driver shortage wile also creating new local driving jobs that attract younger drivers for the industry."

The pilot program has already completed a handful of the 650-mile trips as of October, with more expected to follow. Rodrigues says that this is the first time someone had demonstrated an end-to-end autonomous driving system for semis.

Commercial trucking is ripe for innovation. Diesel-maker Cummins announced an EV big rig in late August, and Tesla plans to launch its own alt-fuel variant this week. Given the latter's pushes into autonomous driving, it isn't a stretch to think it'll have self-driving trucks on the road at some point in the future as well. Then there's Otto, Uber's self-driving truck company.

While the company has been embroiled in a lawsuit with Uber over allegedly stolen trade secrets, it has kept plugging away. In June Otto showed off its new trucks built with off-the-shelf 64-channel LiDAR arrays. You know, the type from Velodyne -- not Alphabet.

UPS is Converting Diesel Trucks to Electric for NYC Deliveries

As reported by Engadget: UPS is investing more seriously in electric vehicles, testing out new EV delivery vans in California and snagging some of Mitsubishi Fuso's urban trucks coming to NYC. But what about its existing fleet? The shipping company is partnering with New York State's Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to convert up to 1,500 of its old diesel trucks to all-electric systems.

With a $500,000 grant provided by NYSERDA, UPS will collaborate with energy transportation company Unique Electric Solutions to innovate methods to switch its vehicles over to electric. Producing a conversion kit is the first milestone, which involves switching out the UPS trucks' chassis for 225kw electric motorized ones designed by UES; The second is developing a process blueprint to transform three vehicles in a day.

If everything goes to plan, the partners will start converting trucks in Spring 2018. The upper estimate on the amount of vehicles affected -- 1,500 -- represents two-thirds of UPS' NYC delivery fleet.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Daimler's Electric School Bus Will Have a 100 Mile Range

It comes with gadget chargers and could provide backup power for neighborhoods.
Most school buses don't scream "high-tech," but they're actually perfect candidates for electrification -- most run two short routes and have long breaks for recharging. Daimler and its Thomas Built Buses division have unveiled an electric bus called the Jouley that should be able to handle that task perfectly. It's got a 160 km (100 mile) all-electric range and can pack up to 81 kids "safely, quietly and emission-free," Thomas said. Should operators need more range, they can add another battery pack.

Mercedes-Benz (Daimler) Citaro bus
Jouley is just a first step in an electric future, Thomas suggested. "We snuck up on our competition, they didn't see it coming," said CEO Caley Edgerly on Facebook. "I've had the pleasure to drive it, it's super smooth, it's going to allow us to develop future electric vehicles."

Thomas points out that it's equipped with both 120 volt and USB charging ports for laptops and cellphones, an obvious must for students nowadays. The company also implied that it might one day serve as a Tesla Powerwall-type device that could, say, backup power for a school or even a neighborhood.

Daimler's Mercedes-Benz, much like other automakers, has said it will greatly expand its electric vehicle range over the next few years with the EQ lineup of electric cars. Daimler is also set to start making its first electric truck deliveries in Japan and the US.

Whether schools will jump on board the Jouley, however, likely depends on the economics. School boards are chronically short of money, so the overall cost would have to be less than regular school buses, unless they're supplemented by local, state or federal governments. In Europe and Asia that's a given, but under the current US administration, the situation is less clear.