The War to Remotely Control Self-Driving Cars Heats Up

Even in the middle of the day, the 50-mile trip from San Francisco to San Jose is a pain. Like a toddler, Bay Area driving toggles between slumber (rush-hour slogs) and frenzy (passing-happy speeding). It’s enough to make one eager for the day when robots rule the roads. And it’s more than enough to make me envy Evan Livingston, who doesn’t have to show up in person this meeting, held in a Lincoln MKZ sedan roaming downtown San Jose.

No, Livingston is sitting comfortably in his office in Portland, Oregon, when he appears on the screens inside the car and announces he’ll be our teleoperator this afternoon. A moment later, the MKZ pulls into traffic, responding not to the man in the driver’s seat, but to Livingston, who’s sitting in front of a bank of screens displaying feeds from the four cameras on the car’s roof, working the kind of steering wheel and pedals serious players use for games [...]  read more

Ferrari Built the Track-Slaying P80/C for a Single Customer

Single issue hypercars—usually custom projects for the most super-super-super-rich of super-rich clients—range from vanity projects to high-concept design efforts to hardcore track beasts that would scare the Gucci loafers off the average Gallardo owner.

The Ferrari P80/C, a new ride four years in the making and built for one unnamed collector for an undisclosed price, is a bit of each. It’s a design exercise that Ferrari promises can still slay any track in the world. The Italian marque unveiled the project Tuesday, describing it as both an homage to legendary Ferraris of eras past, namely the 330 P3/P4 and Dino 206 S race cars from the 1960s, and a precision-crafted “Hero Car” that makes little in the way of compromises.

Those marching orders came directly from the client who commissioned the effort (which is where the vanity bit comes in.) Said buyer worked with Ferrari designer Flavio Manzoni and the automaker’s performance engineers and aerodynamicists. [...]  read more

Tesla Sues Zoox and More Car News This Week

Thinking about the fantastic pie-in-the-sky future is always a fun exercise. I, too, want a self-driving car. But some weeks, it’s clear everyone needs to come down to earth. This was one of them.

Tesla sued two other electric vehicle companies focusing on self-driving for trade secret theft, proving that building this tech will be a grind. Peloton Technology let me hang out on its not-at-all-driverless truck, and explained how its approach could save lives and beat the robo-focused competition to market. What’s more, we reflected on the one-year anniversary of the fatal Uber self-driving crash, which forced the industry to become more introspective and realistic about the limitations of its tech.

OK, but that said: Plenty of others are making fancy transpo tech happen today. One of our reporters flew a helicopter with zero experience; another took to a mountain [...]  read more

Safety-Obsessed Volvo Goes After Distracted, Speedy Drivers

Volvo has had it up to här with drivers. The Swedish carmaker has spent decades building a reputation based on safety (and low-key luxury), but humanity’s taste for speeding, distraction, and impaired driving remains a threat no airbag, semi-autonomous system or moose-detection system can neutralize. So this week, Volvo announced a raft of potentially controversial initiatives that will help deliver on its Vision 2020 goal—no more deaths or serious injuries in its new cars—by making its customers behave.

After announcing a few weeks ago that it will limit the top speed of all its new cars to 112 mph, Volvo will roll out efforts to eliminate impaired driving, keep young drivers in check, and help its competitors benefit from its years of safety research.

Improving driver behavior hinges on knowing how the driver is behaving, so Volvo—at an event also marking 60 years since it introduced [...]  read more

Tesla Sues Zoox Over Manufacturing and Logistics Secrets

On Wednesday night, Tesla sued four former employees and the self-driving startup Zoox for misappropriation of trade secrets. No, you’re not having driverless-car lawsuit déjà vu—you’re just remembering the time last year when Waymo and Uber settled their own trade secrets case after four days of trial.

Tesla’s suit, filed in the Northern California federal district court, alleges that four of its former employees took proprietary information related to “warehousing, logistics, and inventory control operations” when they left the electric automaker, and later, while working for Zoox, used that proprietary information to improve its technology and operations.

Tesla says the former employees—Scott Turner, Sydney Cooper, Chrisian Dement, and Craig Emigh—worked in product distribution and warehouse supervising. It alleges they forwarded the trade secrets to their own personal email accounts, or the accounts of other former Tesla employees. “You sly [...]  read more

A Cab’s-Eye View of How Peloton’s Trucks ‘Talk’ to Each Other

Techno-optimist prognosticators will tell you that driverless trucks are just around the corner. They will also gently tell you—always gently—that yes, truck driving, a job that nearly 3.7 million Americans perform today is perhaps on the brink of extinction. At the very least, on the brink of uncomfortable change.

A startup called Peloton Technology sees the future a bit differently. Based in Mountain View, California, the eight-year-old company has a plan to broadly commercialize a partially automated truck technology called platooning. It would still depend on drivers sitting in front of a steering wheel but it would be more fuel efficient and, hopefully, safer than truck-based transportation today.

The company employs ten professional truck drivers to help refine its tech, and I’m about to meet two of them out on Peloton’s test track in California’s Central Valley. Michael Perkins is tall, thin, and has been driving very big trucks for about 20 years. Jake [...]  read more

Sikorsky’s Self-Flying Helicopter Hints at the Flying Future

As helicopter flights go, this one was especially boring. We took off, hovered for a bit, and maneuvered around the airport. We flew to a spot about 10 miles away, did some turns and gentle banks, then came back and landed. I’ve been on more exciting ferris wheels, with views more inspiring than those of rural Connecticut. Still, the flight was impressive for at least one reason: The pilot controlling the 12,000-pound Sikorsky S-76 had never before operated a helicopter. That would be me.

Fortunately, I’m not responsible for keeping anybody alive. The blue and white commercial chopper did all the work, from takeoff to touchdown. It navigated and executed those turns and banks, all the while scanning its surroundings for trees, power lines, birds, and other aircraft. I merely played conductor, occasionally tapping the tablet strapped to my right knee to direct it here or there.

This, of course, is no ordinary helicopter. It’s the testbed for Sikorsky’s Matrix Technology, [...]  read more

1 Year After Uber’s Fatal Crash, Robocars Carry On Quietly

In America, 2018 was supposed to be a very big year for self-driving cars. Uber quietly prepped to launch a robo-taxi service. Waymo said riders would be able to catch a driverless ride by year’s end. General Motors’ Cruise said it would start testing in New York City, the country’s traffic chaos capital. Congress was poised to pass legislation that would set broad outlines for federal regulation of the tech.

Instead, one year ago today, an Uber self-driving SUV testing in Arizona struck and killed a woman named Elaine Herzberg as she was crossing the street. The crash derailed much of the optimism surrounding the advent of autonomy, underscoring its potential to do harm. And it ushered in a year during which the greatest promise of the technology—a drastic drop in road deaths—could feel farther away than ever.

Uber stopped testing on public roads for nine months, recalibrated its program, and now only uses one part of a Pittsburgh neighborhood to experiment with [...]  read more

SEC: Elon Musk Fully Ignored a Key Term of Settlement

In defiance of an October settlement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Elon Musk did not have his tweets pre-approved by an official Tesla babysitter, the SEC says in newly filed court documents.

In a filing submitted Monday evening, lawyers for the federal agency wrote it was “stunning to learn” that “Musk had not sought pre-approval for a single one of the numerous tweets about Tesla he published in the months since the Court-ordered pre-approval policy went into effect.” (The SEC lawyers also complained in the filing that “it took more than two weeks for Musk and Tesla to concede as much.”)

The dispute dates back to August 2018, when Musk tweeted that he had “funding secured” for a plan to take Tesla private. (The electric vehicle company has traded publicly since 2010.) It turned out that was not entirely true—something the SEC objected to, given that [...]  read more

Tesla’s Model Y SUV Brings More to the Masses

The Model Y is here, and Elon Musk has once again shown why Tesla may be the most exciting car company on the planet—notwithstanding the never-ending crises and controversies.

From the stage at Tesla’s design studio in Hawthorne, California, Musk unveiled the baby SUV, which shares about three-quarters of its parts with the Model 3 sedan. But it’s a bit bigger, with three rows and room for seven passengers. You can now preorder the car via Tesla’s website by putting down $2,500.

Tesla plans to release the Model Y in four flavors. The Performance version, due out in fall 2020, will go from 0 to 60 mph in a blistery 3.5 seconds, and offer 280 miles of range for a cool $60,000. The Dual Motor AWD, also slated for fall 2020, should do 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds, hit a 135 mph top speed, and travel up to 280 miles on one charge for $51,000. Tesla promises the Long Range version, also due fall 2020, will have 300 miles of range, hit 130 mph, and clock in a 5.5-second 0 to [...]  read more