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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Future Cars Might Be Mirrorless, Using Cameras and AI Tech To Navigate Instead

As reported by Futurism: Self-driving cars are already asking people to put AI systems in control of their vehicles. Now, Mitsubishi wants to rid its new cars of one of the last relics of the past: the rear-view mirror.

The automotive manufacturer announced this week that it has developed the industry’s highest performing automotive camera technology. When installed on a vehicle, it can detect objects up to 100 meters (328 feet) away, and boosts object detection accuracy from a previous 14 percent to 81 percent.

Mitsubishi explains their new cameras utilize their own Maisart AI, which has the ability to accurately differentiate between pedestrians, cars, and motorcycles. Ultimately, the cameras are expected to help prevent traffic accidents, such as those happening when drivers zig zag between lanes. This is only an early version of Mitsubishi’s technology, as the company explains it wants the cameras to perform better in bad weather, at night, and on winding roads.

Your Safety Matters

This isn’t the first effort aimed at improving the “sight” of cars. In December, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and NASA veteran Luis Dussan partnered to form AEye, a company hoping to create new sensors for driverless cars. And beyond camera technology, Mitsubishi proposed a new safety system that would project symbols on the ground to inform other drivers and pedestrians of the driver’s actions.

Mirrorless cars were approved for use in Japan and Europe in 2016, so Mitsubishi had plenty of time to develop and test the experimental cameras. The carmaker foresees mirrorless cars hitting the market in Japan in 2019.

Beyond improving their safety through an array of digital eyes keener than those of any human driver, Engadget notes that removing the side mirrors from cars would make them more aerodynamic and allow for greater speed and fuel efficiency. Depending on the success of  the new vehicles, other automakers may soon follow Mitsubishi’s lead, speeding up the development of their own mirrorless cars.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Boeing's Prototype Cargo Drone can Haul 500-Pound Loads

As reported by Engadget: In the future, autonomy won't just mean you can relax in the passenger seat on your drive home from work. Driverless vehicles of all kinds are set to revolutionize the cargo industry, too, from delivering a pizza or dropping off an Amazon package, to hauling much larger shipments across continents and the high seas. Naturally, Boeing is one of many companiesinvesting in cargo planes of tomorrow, and is keen to show off some of its early work in the form of a huge octocopter capable of carrying loads of up to 500 pounds (over 250kg). In less than three months, Boeing eggheads built and carried out successful test flights of the all-electric prototype, possibly (but unofficially) breaking a Guinness world record in the process.

The rough-and-ready concoction of metal and batteries measures 15 feet long, 18 feet wide and 4 feet tall, weighing in at 747 pounds (nearly 339kg). In other words, it dwarfs the consumer DJI drone you got for Christmas. Obviously Boeing's prototype is far from a commercial product, but the firm says it'll be used "as a flying test bed to mature the building blocks of autonomous technology for future applications."

Boeing's work in the realm of cargocopters is running alongside that of Aurora Flight Sciences, a company with a particular focus on autonomous drones and planes that Boeing announced it was buying last October. Aurora is working with DARPA to develop some zany vehicles and technologies, as well as with Uber on its flying taxi project. And most recently, Aurora demonstrated how unmanned resupply missions could support troops on the ground using a US Marine UH-1H helicopter retrofitted with autonomous systems.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Fully Solar-Powered Car May Be Hitting the Road by 2019

Solar-powered cars have been thought of by many as an impossible pipe-dream.  But
the innovators behind Lightyear One, a fully solar-powered vehicle to be released in
2019, just won an award for their design.
As reported by Futurism: Lightyear One, a car whose ability to use solar power has been thought of as an impossible feat, just won a Climate Change Innovator Award. Designed by the Dutch startup Lightyear, the “car that charges itself” can supposedly drive for months without charging and has a 400 – 800 km range. But is a solar-powered car feasible?

For years, the concept of “solar-powered cars” has loomed over the electric car industry as a hopeful, possible future. But there are many who argue that this concept is not only impractical, it is basically impossible. For instance, a solar roof that was designed to power the Toyota Prius was found to only be useful in combination with a traditional battery charging system and it only added an additional 4 miles to the range — not that impressive. One engineer even calculated the power capacity of a car with a solar roof under the optimal amount of solar radiation, and the results are underwhelming. Engineers measure the rate at which an engine’s work is done in “horsepower” (hp): the car equipped with a solar roof had a horsepower rate of 6.4. For comparison, engineer Tom Lombardo said, “my riding lawnmower has an 18 hp engine.”

Going Fully Solar
The first 10 Lightyear One cars are due to be released in 2019. Up until now fully solar-powered cars were not considered a realistic prospect, Solar Assisted Electric Vehicles (SAEVs) were considered the best possible option for solar cars, adding up to hundreds of miles to a car’s range.   are set on releasing a vehicle that uses only solar power. But the Dutch Lightyear promises to topple the canon with a car that is not only fully powered by the sun, but also overcomes some of the conventional challenges associated with the technology, such as intermittency and low performance.

The five entrepreneurs have been prototyping and working out the kinks of their concept for years but, as long as the project remains an early-stage design, it is difficult to imagine that anyone would be capable of bridging the gap between SAEVs and fully-solar vehicles with record-breaking range.

But small encouraging signs are emerging all over the world. For example, in 2017, the Byron Bay Railroad Company created the first fully solar-powered train. And, while the vehicle has a very limited range, it shows that solar-powered vehicles are within the realm of possibility.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Toyota’s New Self-Driving Car Can ‘See’ up to 200 Meters in Every Direction

As reported by The Verge: Toyota Research Institute, the Silicon Valley-based arm of the biggest carmaker in the world, just unveiled the latest version of its autonomous test vehicle. The vehicle — a Lexus LS 600hL test vehicle equipped with LIDAR, radar, and camera arrays — is an iterative improvement on the vehicle Toyota showed off twice last year. (The institute is calling this one Platform 3.0.) The car will be on display at CES in Las Vegas next week.

The biggest improvement over previous versions of Toyota’s autonomous research vehicles is the ability to “see” farther in every direction. Thanks to four long-range LIDAR sensors attached to its roof, manufactured by a Portola Valley, California-based startup called Luminar, the vehicle now has a 200-meter range around a 360-degree perimeter, which Toyota argues makes it “one of the most perceptive automated driving test cars on the road.”

By comparison, Velodyne’s powerful LIDAR, the HDL-64E, has a 120-meter range, while its most popular LIDAR, the VLP-16 Puck, has a range of 100 meters. (Velodyne recently slashed the price of the VLP-16 in half, which could help facilitate the widespread adoption of autonomous cars.)

Toyota’s car also has a new and improved look, with a more seamless integration of the cameras and sensor array into the vehicle’s design. Toyota Research Institute said it tapped the CALTY Design Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and engineers at Toyota Motor North America Research and Development to help improve the car’s appearance:

They created a new rooftop weather and temperature proof panel, cleverly using available space in the sunroof compartment to minimize the overall height. Their ingenuity eliminates the look of equipment as bolt-on appendages and replaces the “spinning bucket” LIDAR sensor that has historically characterized autonomous test vehicles.

Production of Platform 3.0 vehicles begins this spring. A share of the new test vehicles will be assembled with the dual-steering wheel layout that TRI debuted last summer.

To be sure, Toyota has been more coy about releasing information on its autonomous systems to the public. A recent analysis by Navigant places the Japanese automaker further behind OEMs like Ford, General Motors, Daimler, and BMW in its ability to deploy a fully self-driving car by the industry’s target date of 2021. (An updated version of Navigant’s leaderboard is coming out later this month, so it should be interesting to see where Toyota places in the new ranking.)

Several big car companies have already struck deals with tech companies like Waymo, Uber, and Lyft to speed the process along. Toyota has stayed noticeably on the sidelines during much of the talks around partnerships. With the release of its latest vehicles, Toyota appears ready to join the fray.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Here Are All the Companies Buying Tesla’s Electric Semi Truck

As reported by Futurism: Tesla is now taking Semi pre-orders from some European countries, as Norwegian food distribution company Asko has ordered 10 of the electric semi-trucks, Electrek reports.

Asko has already integrated a European electric truck into its fleet, but the company believes Tesla’s Semi has more advanced features.

“We have an electric truck today from a Dutch company, which we have had for almost two years,” CEO Tore Bekken told E24, Electrek first reported. “So, we think that Tesla is the one who has come the furthest with the technology so far. Therefore, we choose to book ten trucks from them.”

While some had doubts about Tesla’s ability to break into the trucking industry before it introduced the Semi, early orders indicate Tesla may beat expectations.

The electric trucks have impressive features, including a 500-mile range per charge and the ability to travel 400 miles on a 30-minute charge, impact resistant glass, an innovative cabin design, and the ability to go from 0-60 mph in five seconds without any cargo and in 20 seconds while carrying 80,000 pounds of cargo. But Tesla will ultimately be judged on the number of clients who buy and use the trucks over the long term.

These are the companies who have placed orders for the Tesla Semi so far:
  • Walmart: One of the first major companies to reserve the trucks, the retailer has made aggressive investments in technology in recent years as part of its effort to compete with Amazon.
  • Pepsi: Pepsi previously had the largest Semi order, reserving 100 trucks in December.
  • Anheuser-Busch: The brewer announced it ordered 40 Semis in December.
  • Sysco: The food distributor has reserved 50 Semis.
  • UPS: The delivery company placed the largest Semi order to date, reserving 125 trucks on Tuesday.
  • DHL: The transportation and logistics company has reserved 10 Semis to add to its fleet.
  • Meijer: Based in Michigan, the grocery chain has ordered four of the electric trucks.
  • Ryder: The transportation company reserved an unspecified number of Semis in November.
  • J.B. Hunt: The trucking company is set to purchase “multiple” Semis, but hasn’t revealed the exact number.
  • Asko: The Norwegian food distribution company has ordered 10 Semis.
  • Flexport: Ryan Peterson, the freight company’s CEO, announced the company has ordered one Semi.
  • JK Moving: The independent moving company has reserved four Semis.
  • Loblaw: After ordering 25 Semis, the Canadian supermarket chain announced plans to make its trucking fleet 100% electric by 2030.
  • Fercam: Based in Italy, the trucking company has reserved a single Semi.
  • Girteka Logistics: Not to be outdone by Fercam, the European transportation company also announced its plans to invest in one of Tesla’s electric trucks.
  • Fortigo Freight Services: The Canadian logistics company reserved one Semi.
  • Best Transportation: The shipping company also ordered one Semi.
  • Mecca & Son Trucking: According to Jalopnik, this trucking company has reserved one Semi.

Friday, December 29, 2017

China's Shenzhen City Electrifies all 16,359 of its Public Buses

As reported by Engadget: If you ever see anyone crowing about how nobody's taking the initiative on sustainable transport, point them in the direction of Shenzhen. The Chinese city has announced that it has successfully electrified its entire fleet of public buses, all 16,359 of them. In addition, more than half of Shenzhen's fabs now run on electricity, and the plan is to get rid of the remaining gas-powered rides by 2020.

Of course, it's not as simple as just dumping more than 16,000 diesel-powered buses in a lake and hoping for the best. There was also the matter of building out 510 charging stations and an additional 8,000 charging poles across the city. According to EyeShenzhen, these poles can re-juice a bus from dry in two hours, serving up to 300 vehicles each day.

As much as this is good for the environment more generally, there are already some more tangible benefits for local authorities. China is notorious for its smog problems, but the fleet of electric buses serves to avoid releasing around 1.35 million tons of CO2 into the local atmosphere each year. Then there's the fact that the city is much quieter now, because the buses themselves aren't as noisy.

And then there's the overall cost savings, since the vehicles use nearly 75 percent less energy than their fossil-fuel powered equivalents. Yes, it took around $490 million in subsidy to get the program started, but that's a small price to pay for cleaner air, quieter cities and a huge boost to the renewables world.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

An Electric Pickup Truck Will Be Tesla’s Top Priority After the Model Y

For the past five years, Elon Musk has been mulling the prospect of an electric
pickup truck.  Now, he's confirmed that the idea is set to become a reality once work
on the Model Y has been completed.
As reported by Futurism: Elon Musk has once again promised that Tesla will bring an electric pickup truck to market. Apparently, the automaker plans to focus on the vehicle as soon as work on the as-yet-unrevealed Model Y has been completed.

In a tweet about the prospect of an electric pickup truck, Musk states that he’s been thinking about the project for nearly five years. This checks out — he mentioned the idea at an event in November 2013 and was talking about it again as recently as April 2017.
Musk showed off an early concept image of the Tesla pickup when the company revealed its electric semi in November 2017. The vehicle is expected to be based in part on the design of the 18-wheeler.

When he was first discussing the vehicle, Musk said that one thing about current pickup trucks that he would like to improve upon is how they handle in the absence of a heavy load. He observed that many trucks don’t handle well with an empty bed, and suggested that a well-placed battery pack could give the vehicle a more advantageous center of gravity.
Of course, the biggest game changer is the prospect of a pickup truck that doesn’t use gasoline or diesel. Pickups are typically much less fuel efficient than standard cars, so an electric version could be a major boon for the environment, given the popularity of these vehicles. In 2016, the Ford F-150, the Dodge Ram, and the Chevrolet Silverado were the three top-selling vehicles in the United States.

While Tesla’s pickup is in the pipeline, there’s no clear schedule of when it will be made available. For the time being, less well-known companies like Workhorse Group and VIA Motors are already offering electric trucks that feature traditional engines as a backup. Meanwhile, Ford is considering an all-electric F-150 as part of its increased commitment to electric vehicles.