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Monday, June 25, 2018

VW Electric Race Car Smashes Pikes Peak's Overall Record

As reported by EngadgetVW may have been overly cautious when it hoped to beat Pikes Peak's electric vehicle record with its purpose-built racer. Official lap time datahas confirmed that Romain Dumas' I.D. R Pikes Peak made it up the legendary hill in just over 7 minutes and 57 seconds, crushing not only the EV record (8 minutes and 57 seconds) but the overall record (just over 8 minutes and 13 seconds in the Unlimited class). It managed that with an average speed of 90.5MPH, clearly trouncing the 83.5MPH of its closest competitor, a Norma M20 SF PKP.

There's not much mystery to why the I.D. R Pikes Peak came out in front: it made the most of its electric motor. It doesn't have the most raw horsepower at 680HP, but the combination of instant access to 479 pound-feet of torque, a relatively light weight for an EV (2,500lbs) and Porsche-derived aerodynamics make for a vehicle that can quickly recover speed when exiting the hill's 156 turns. EVs are practically tailor-made for twisty hill climbs, and VW's achievement serves as proof.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Elon Musk's Boring Company Will Build a High-Speed Link in Chicago

As reported by Engadget:  Elon Musk's tunneling and transportation startup, The Boring Company, has been selected to construct a high-speed link in Chicago. The route, called The Chicago Express Loop, will run between Terminals 1-3 of Chicago's O'Hare airport, and Block 37 in downtown Chicago. At least, that's the plan.

Boring has been selected as the preferred option to build an express route between the airport and downtown by the city. The new line is part of an $8.5 billion redevelopment of O'Hare, one of America's busiest airports, which includes renovated terminals and gates. It's thought that, when running, the journey will take 12 minutes between the two stops, with fares expected to cost between $20 and $25.

TBC was the preferred bidder from a number of companies that pitched for the contract, and will now enter into formal negotiations with the city. When a deal has been thrashed out, a vote on the agreement will be put before Chicago's city council, after which point, construction can begin.

The Chicago Express Loop will utilize Boring's "Loop" concept, itself distinct from Musk's Hyperloop idea which Boring is also developing. This loop is the one in which passengers will ride on electric skates that are said to travel at speeds up to 150 miles per hour. So, just to be clear, that's a Chicago Loop loop using Loop not a Hyperloop loop, okay?

Each capsule will, essentially, be a Tesla Model X that runs on rails, albeit big enough to hold between 8 and 16 passengers. The hope is that the service will run every 30 seconds, and be in operation for 20 hours a day, every day.

According to the Chicago Tribune, there are plenty of details still to be worked out, including the proposed route the tunnels will take. The paper's sources believe that Boring's preferred route would be to run west from Block 37, before turning north to run below the Kennedy Expressway, Halsted Street and Milwaukee Avenue. The route would then, after some time, turn back west to go to O'Hare.

Chicago has selected Elon Musk’s Boring Company to build high-speed transit tunnels between the Loop and O’Hare.

Here’s a conceptual look, provided by The Boring Company. 

If you're unfamiliar with Chicago history, Block 37 is the nickname for 108 North State Street, a large development in the city's downtown. The name comes from the fact that it sits on one of the original 58 blocks that were designated for the city, and houses a large entertainment and business complex. The site was expected to grow to include a large transit station in the basement that included a link to O'Hare.

If you're unfamiliar with Chicago history, Block 37 is the nickname for 108 North State Street, a large development in the city's downtown. The name comes from the fact that it sits on one of the original 58 blocks that were designated for the city, and houses a large entertainment and business complex. The site was expected to grow to include a large transit station in the basement that included a link to O'Hare.

The deal would see The Boring Company take over some interest in the transit station beneath Block 37 and fund its completion. It's not clear if the site would, as originally planned, include links to Midway airport and connections to both the Blue and Red subway lines.

It's thought that the whole project will cost less than $1 billion, and The Boring Company claims that it will finance the entire project itself. In a statement, an unnamed representative said that TBC had been selected to "design, build, finance, operate and maintain an O'Hare Express service." It will be a challenge for Musk's company, which has little-to-no experience in building a mass transit system of this caliber and importance.

And, of course, it comes at a crunch time for the billionaire, who has experienced pushback on another Boring Company project in LA. Not to mention the sustained production issues that have plagued his car company Tesla as it attempts to scale up to becoming a mass-market auto company.

Cynics may point out that Musk's strength has been to align his business interests into sectors where he can leverage government subsidy. They may have to change their tune if TBC does manage to build a working and reliable express route without a penny of public cash. Although we imagine that it will receive benefits in kind, like the land beneath Block 37, in order to get the system working.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Tesla Will Start Enabling Full Self-Driving Features in August

As reported by EngadgetTesla has been promising true self-driving features in its cars for the better part of two years, but there has been precious little to show for it. Now, though, you might get what you paid for. Elon Musk has revealed that Autopilot version 9 should arrive in August, and Tesla will "begin to enable" the full autonomous driving features with that release. The company has "rightly focused entirely on safety" with previous versions, Musk said, but now it's time to spread its wings.

This doesn't guarantee that your Tesla will be a self-driving car, so you may want to forego dreams of your Model 3 traveling coast-to-coast by itself. However, the "full self-driving capability" package should actually mean something once Autopilot 9 arrives and the more advanced features kick in. There may be some situations where it's genuinely acceptable to let go of the steering wheel, even if it's limited to parking lots and other private spaces.
Image result for Tesla Will Start Enabling Full Self-Driving Features in August

There's a lingering question, though: is Tesla ready to move beyond safety-related updates? Crashes with Autopilot active are still making headlines, and it's not certain that the drivers are entirely to blame. While Autopilot 9 doesn't signal the end to safety-related features (it'll include a fix for merging lanes in rush hour traffic), there's a concern that Tesla hasn't fully addressed driver anxieties before moving on. The company settled the latest lawsuit over Autopilot safety in late May.

At the same time, introducing some true autonomy features might address some safety issues. Many complain that the Autopilot name exaggerates the cars' self-driving abilities, giving some drivers the false impression that it's safe to check their phone or even leave the driver's seat. This could help Tesla more closely match those expectations and reduce the chances of a collision due to neglect, even if the initial self-driving features might only apply to a narrow set of circumstances.

Tesla Opens its 10,000th Supercharger Station

As reported by EngadgetTesla's Supercharger network has come a long, long way since it was available in a handful of California towns in late 2012. The automaker has opened its 10,000th Supercharger station in Belleville, Ontario, Canada as part of a rapid expansion that (as of late May) included roughly 1,000 stations either in construction or at the permit phase. For context, it took roughly a year and a half for Tesla just to have enough EV charging stations for one coast-to-coast route in the US -- now, Superchargers blanket North America as well as significant stretches of Asia, Australia, Europe and the Middle East.

There's no question that Tesla's success as an EV brand (production problems notwithstanding) played a part in the expansion, but it also stems partly from the company's initial willingness to throw caution to the wind. Remember, Supercharger use was completely free for owners until 2017 -- Tesla was willing to take a financial hit to both create the infrastructure needed for long-distance trips and offer a strong incentive to use that framework. Rivals have typically had to worry more about profit, especially those that aren't attached to a car manufacturer.

As large as the network has become, though, it also underscores those gaps that are left. It's still impractical to cross some regions using Superchargers alone (most notably Canada and significant parts of China), and availability within cities is still thin. And then there's the competition. While their growth is currently slow, they're a clear reminder that Tesla isn't the only game in town. It just has advantages in performance and sheer ubiquity that may take a long time to beat.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

All Cadillacs Will Have Semi-Autonomous Features Starting in 2020

As reported by Engadget: Every model Cadillac sells will be available with semi-autonomous features starting in 2020. The luxury automaker's Super Cruise system for hands-free highway driving will be available across its entire model line in two years; currently, it's exclusive to the CT6 sedan. After 2020, the feature will make its way to other GM lines including Chevrolet, Buick and GMC, according to TechCrunch.

More than that, Cadillac is also working on a "high volume" crossover vehicle that will debut around 2023 and feature vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication, allowing the car to talk to everything from other vehicles, to infrastructure and other sources. So, for example, if there's road work up ahead or a light that's about to change, the car will know ahead of time and plan accordingly.

Much like how Super Cruise will make its way to other brands, so too will the V2X system, USA Today reports. And of course, Chevy is working on fully-autonomous vehicles, saying that those will first serve as taxis -- a byproduct of SoftBank's recent $2.25 billion investment.

The only way we'll get to a world where every car on the road can talk to each other is if more automakers get on board, and making sure that every new vehicle that rolls off the lot has a set of autonomous capabilities is the fastest way for us to get there. Now, we just need more automakers to follow the lead of GM and others to make it happen.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

First Images of New SpaceX 'Starlink' Satellites that could Change the Internet

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches toward space carrying the Spanish Paz satellite and two experimental Starlink
satellites on February 22, 2018.
As reported by Business Insider: The first pieces of a radical plan to bathe Earth with high-speed internet access just launched into space.

SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, piggybacked two experimental spacecraft onto a rocket that deployed a Spanish radar satellite into orbit.

Officially known as Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, the spacecraft will test technologies that would enable the creation of a pervasive broadband network with connection speeds roughly 180 times the global average.
  • SpaceX launched two experimental satellites on Thursday.
  • The satellites are designed to test Starlink, a concept to bathe all of Earth in high-speed broadband internet using a fleet of 12,000 satellites.
  • Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, posted a video of the new satellites deploying into orbit.
  • Musk named the satellites "Tintin A" and "Tintin B."
"Today's Falcon launch carries 2 SpaceX test satellites for global broadband," Musk tweeted on Wednesday (before a launch delay). "If successful, Starlink constellation will serve least served."

The scale of plans for the space-based network, known as Starlink, boggles the mind. In the coming years, SpaceX may launch 4,425 Starlink satellites into orbit some 700 to 800 miles above Earth, plus another 7,500 similar spacecraft into lower orbits.

That's nearly 12,000 satellites — more than twice the number of all satellites launched in history, according to a count by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

If the project is successful, people around the world would get internet that's about 40 times fasterthan current satellite internet providers, even in incredibly remote and rural areas.

SpaceX and Musk released the first-ever public images and video of the satellites shortly after their launch on Thursday.

The Spanish satellite, called Paz, deployed about 11 minutes after the Falcon 9 rocket launched, followed by Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b some time after that.

live webcast of the Paz mission launch on YouTube offered the first-ever (though somewhat fuzzy) glimpses of the two Starlink satellites (above).

An announcer said during SpaceX's live webcast that the company couldn't show the deployment of the Starlink demonstration satellites because of poor signal coverage. However, the rocket later beamed down high-resolution video of the satellites deploying.

"First two Starlink demo satellites, called Tintin A & B, deployed and communicating to Earth stations," Musk tweeted with a clip of them floating out into space.

Musk later said the two satellites "will attempt to beam 'hello world'" on Friday when they pass over Los Angeles — a critical moment that would show the spacecraft can talk to ground stations.

"Don't tell anyone, but the wifi password is 'martians,'" Musk joked.

The list of Starlink test ground stations, according to Federal Communications Commission documentation released earlier this month, includes the offices of Musk's electric-car company, Tesla, which sells internet-connected vehicles. Here's the full list:

  • SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
  • Tesla Motors headquarters in Fremont, California.
  • SpaceX test center in McGregor, Texas.
  • SpaceX in Brownsville, Texas.
  • SpaceX in Redmond, Washington.
  • SpaceX in Brewster, Washington.
  • Three mobile "test vans."
In November, the FCC gave SpaceX permission to launch the two spacecraft and test its space-based internet concept.

How Starlink customers would get online
Musk and SpaceX have said little about their plan since announcing it in 2015, but the full, nearly 12,000-satellite fleet ultimately needs approval from the FCC, which regulates internet access.

It may seem like an absurd task to launch thousands of satellites, but SpaceX regularly deploys 10 at a time with its reusable Falcon 9 rocket system.

The company has also successfullytest-launched its Falcon Heavy system, an even larger reusable rocket that can send twice as much payload into low-Earth orbit as the next-largest launcher on the market — at perhaps one-fourth the cost.

Thus, it's feasible that Falcon Heavy could deploy dozens of Starlink satellites in a single launch.

Musk hopes to get Starlink in an operational (though not complete) state sometime around 2024, according to Florida Today, and start selling access around that time.

Musk and SpaceX have not yet said what the monthly cost of the service might be. However, Musk said in 2015 that user terminals should be laptop-size and cost between $100-$300 each.