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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, Kitzb├╝hel'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.

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.