The NTSB has released their docket on the fatal crash of a Tesla on Autopilot in Silicon Valley in 2018. In this article, I examine what they learned about the cause of the accident and the few new details and wrinkles found in the latest report. The full hearing will be Feb 25.
Before I bought an electric car, I knew it would be different and I was ready for it. Even so, here is my list of 17 things that I didn't quite expect, that I only realized after driving one for a while.
See the list at my Forbes site article Top 17 surprises from the first year of a Tesla
We often repeat the misattributed quote that "for evil to triumph, it is only necessary that good men do nothing." We also often cite father Niemoeller's poem about how "First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out -- Because I was not a socialist... Then they came for the Jews ... Then they came for me."
These lines remind us to resist the forces of evil, and to do it early. And we definitely should.
I wrote earlier about Cruise's "Origin" which they say is a vehicle devoted to shared rides. Many other companies also are hoping to make vehicles for shared rides -- it's treated as almost a received wisdom. But the reality is that sharing rides isn't all that it's cracked up to be, and to work what you really need is frictionless instant mode transfers so nobody goes out of their way. And for that you need automated single person pods, not big shared vehicles.
With the story of the Uber fatality now behind us, I thought I would do a review of the various leaks and early releases that we saw about the incident, and how well they scored once the final NTSB report came out. The score is not at all good.
Read my report on Forbes.com at Early leaks and reports on Uber weren't too long on the truth
Recently, Cruise, the unit of GM (and partner of Honda) did a splash release of a new vehicle design which they say is "not a concept." It's a custom-designed robotaxi, and it reminds me a lot of the plan of Zoox, the $billion funded startup that I advised when it was just getting going.
I've written an article about the risks and benefits of making your own custom vehicle, and whether it's smart or crazy. You can find that at:
I'm back from CES and my first report concerns the trends in the LIDAR industry I saw from the 43 LIDAR companies exhibiting there. I talked to most of them. Those trends include lowered cost, more robust instruments and scores of paths to victory. There is also much more attention on LIDAR for the ADAS market. Bosch even said it would make a LIDAR, but said nothing about it.
Read LIDARS for robocars are everywhere at CES on Forbes.com
Here is a summary of the Robocar stories from 2019 that were the most significant. It was actually not a year of very big change. Waymo is still the distant leader, in spite of having slipped a bit on their goals. I talk about the trough of the hype cycle and the challenges going ahead for the 2020s. If you skipped most of my coverage in the year, these are the selected ones to read.
Read the year in review at Robocars 2019 in review
If you read stories that California just put in new regulations that will change all the per-minute chargers and Tesla superchargers, don't worry, the changes are not that big and don't apply to chargers for some time. But it is worth examining how the regulations, such as they are, exhibit 20th century "gasoline thinking" by imagining that the same rules that apply to gas pumps should apply to electric charging stations. See about it in my Forbes site article:
One has to be impressed in a perverse way at the fact that no Republican broke ranks on Donald Trump in the impeachment vote. Some even defended their votes with passion. I've often felt that since we know several of them loathe Trump that they were just acting out of party loyalty and a sense of self-preservation within their party.
But I start to wonder that some serious number of them, and their voters, don't think Trump's actions are that big a deal. Here's why:
One of the most contentious issues in robocars are the moral issues involved in testing and deploying them. We hope they will prevent many crashes and save many lives, but know that due to imperfection, they also create a risk of causing other crashes, both in deployment, and during deployment. People regularly wonder if they should be out there tested on city streets, or ever deployed. Even with numbers that are perhaps the most overwhelmingly positive from a utilitarian standpoint, we remain uncertain.
Often when you attempt to install an EV charging station in an older home, you find that the old 100 amp service on your panel is not enough, and the electrician may quote a very large price to replace the panel and upgrade the service.
There are ways to avoid paying thousands of dollars by putting in a modestly smaller circuit, and you may find it charges you just fine. Here is a guide to how to get away with less than a 50 amp plug and save many thousands.
I think driving navigation is a great thing, but the UI is all wrong. It needs to work to understand me, to see the routes I have driven with it 100 times, and only tell me when there is something unusual I need to know, not where to turn to get to my house (or telling me "You have arrived at your destination" at my driveway.) The ideal navigation system, on a commute, won't even say a word to me unless there is traffic that means I should not take my standard route. How do we make it smarter?
California is now collecting the 2019 "disengagement reports" for robocars, which always get lots of attention. But in fact, they are measuring the wrong thing -- it is the safety of testing they should measure in the public interest, not the quality of the prototypes -- and they are measuring it wrong, and pushing companies to do things that may be unsafe in order to meet their wrong and useless metric.
I was thinking about all the different variants of battery powered and hybrid cars, and thinking about the BMW i3 REX, which is a medium range PHEV that uses a small, cheap motorcycle engine to drive a generator. I think there might be two new types of semi-hybrid cars with this approach, so I wrote up a summary of all the types, and where the new modes fit it, particularly a plan to make cars with a receiver in which a temporary generator module can be placed.
If the world switches to mostly electric cars, how will they handle the charging on peak travel days like Thanksgiving? I wrote an article on some thoughts for that, and on evacuations as well.
Read about it at Can An Electric Car World Handle Thanksgiving Travel?
Here are two recent articles on the economics of electric vehicles.
On Nov 1, PG&E, probably the most common power company for electric vehicle owners, raised the cost of their EV off-peak rate by about 25% in exchange for making the off-peak period last longer. Nobody even noticed, even though a 25% rise in gas prices would be a major calamity in the eyes of many. I look into that math and why nobody cared in:
The FCC has finally declared it intends to take 45mhz of the DSRC spectrum and make it unlicenced instead, though they are still leaving 20mhz for C-V2X (Qualcomm's LTE based replacement for DSRC that is mostly similar with 10mhz still to be figured out. Getting rid of DSRC and the silly idea of vehicle to vehicle communications is a good idea, but they should go even further -- and solve the V2V problem far better -- but making it all unlicenced and doing V2V in phones, not cars.