VW exec arrested during Miami vacation over emissions scandal

On Saturday night, the FBI arrested Oliver Schmidt, a former emissions compliance executive for Volkswagen Group, as he waited to catch a plane back to Germany at Miami International Airport in Florida. The arrest is a major setback for VW Group, which has thus far been able to shelter most of its high-level executives from individual prosecution by US authorities.

In a Monday appearance in US District Court in Miami, a Justice Department lawyer said that an attorney for Schmidt “had alerted government lawyers that the executive would be in Florida for vacation,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Schmidt, 48, was charged with defrauding the United States, wire fraud, and violating the Clean Air Act. He allegedly played a central role in hiding from US regulators the fact that some 500,000 Volkswagen and Audi vehicles with 2.0L diesel engines sold in the US were equipped with various types of illegal software designed to help the cars pass their emissions tests in a lab and to kill the emissions control system on the cars when they were driving on the road under “real world” conditions.

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Source: Ars Technica

Google’s Waymo invests in LIDAR technology, cuts costs by 90 percent

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/GettyImages

Right now self-driving cars are a technical challenge. No amount of sensors and mapping can currently produce a 100 percent reliable self-driving car, but plenty of companies are working on it. When this technology does hit the market, the inevitable question is going to be “how much extra does it cost?”

Waymo, the Alphabet self-driving car division that was recently spun off from Google, is working on getting that cost as low as possible. According to a recent article from Bloomberg, the company has spent the last 12 months working on “scalability.” The company’s efforts have lead to a “90 percent” decrease in the cost of the LIDAR sensor, which is typically the most costly item in a self-driving car solution.

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Source: Ars Technica

Sim racing hits the big time with the $1 million Vegas eRace

Zak Mauger/LAT

With a a total prize purse of $1 million, the Visa Vegas eRace that took place on Saturday in Las Vegas was the most lucrative sim racing competition yet. As well as big cash prizes—including $200,000 for first place in the final—It had plenty of support from the owners, teams, and sponsors of the Formula E racing series. And the event delivered racing excitement, with stiff competition between professional drivers and some of the world’s best sim racers. But the result wasn’t without controversy, and the sim of choice—rFactor 2—drew plenty of complaints from spectators.

All 20 professional Formula E drivers took part, along with 10 leading sim racers, one assigned to each of the 10 race teams. They raced on a virtual 3.13-mile (5km) circuit that snaked through the sights of the Las Vegas Strip. No one got to see the 20-turn track until the day before the race, and each would use a identically set-up Formula E car, identical PlaySeats and Thrustmaster wheels, and rFactor 2 as the platform. Broadcast live on Twitch, the racers put on an entertaining show, even if it wasn’t entirely trouble-free.

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Source: Ars Technica

BMW concept car interior puts holographic controls at your fingertips

LAS VEGAS—At CES this year, BMW showed off a concept car as part of its “i Inside Future” exhibit, which was built upon the idea that car interiors could be more friendly and inviting. With its rich textures and light wooden accents, the concept car feels more like an artisanal nook than a cold vessel of technology.

But arguably more interesting than its holistically-designed frame is the new HoloActive Touch system, which builds on BMW’s earlier AirTouch dashboard system.

AirTouch debuted at CES 2016 and uses sensors on the dash to pick up hand gestures. It allows you to control parts of the information system without pressing any physical buttons. HoloActive Touch adds a new layer by placing holographic action buttons near the center console. The buttons provide haptic feedback when “pressed” using a hand gesture. BMW told Ars that this concept car was mostly designed with autonomous vehicles in mind and likely wouldn’t be a reality for another 15 years. Nevertheless, it was exciting to play with now. Check out the video below to see a demo of HoloActive and BMW’s concept car.

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Source: Ars Technica

Taking a ride in Nvidia’s self-driving car

Enlarge

Sitting in the passenger seat of a car affectionately known at Nvidia as “BB8” is an oddly terrifying experience. Between me and the driver’s seat is a centre panel covered in touchscreens detailing readings from the numerous cameras and sensors placed around the car, and a large red button helpfully labelled “stop.”

As BB8 pulls away to take me on a short ride around a dedicated test track on the north side of the Las Vegas convention centre—with no-one in the driver’s seat—it’s hard to resist keeping a hand hovering over that big red button. After all, it’s not every day that you consciously put your life in the hands of a computer.

The steering wheel jerks and turns as BB8 sweeps around a corner at a cool 10 miles per hour, neatly avoiding a set of traffic cones while remaining within the freshly painted white lines of the makeshift circuit. After three smooth laps, two Nvidia employees wheel out an obstacle—a large orange panel—into the middle of track, which BB8 deftly avoids.

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Source: Ars Technica

70,000 diesel VWs get approval for a fix requiring software, hardware updates

(credit: Erik B)

Nearly a year and a half has passed since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publicly announced that Volkswagen had cheated on its federally-required emissions tests for 2.0L diesel vehicles produced between 2009 and 2015. And, just today, the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced the first fix that could make street-legal the 475,474 diesels that were caught up in the scandal.

Unfortunately, the fix only pertains to 70,000 “Generation 3” diesels from VW Group, all of which were made in 2015. The rest of the 405,000-or-so customers with older 2.0L diesels will have to keep waiting for a fix, unless they want to sell their cars back to Volkswagen.

The news of the fix comes months after the approval of a $15 billion settlement between VW Group and the Justice Department. That settlement set aside approximately $10 billion to buy back 2.0L diesels at the price the cars were worth before the scandal was made public, as well as compensate each purchaser with somewhere between $5,100 and $10,000, depending on the make and model of the car.

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Source: Ars Technica

Concept-i is Toyota’s friendly future

Toyota

Appearing like a large dimpled egg, the Concept-i autonomous car was unveiled by Toyota at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas as a true design concept; a canvas stitched with ideas for a warmer, more engaging, connected autonomous car of the future. Its hypothetical on-sale date is 2030, although Toyota freely admits that it has virtually no plans to put the Concept-i into production.

The most problematic trend in autonomous cars, Toyota says, is that they simply do not appeal to the touchy-feely sentiment we humans have when it comes to our emotional connection with cars. Fully autonomous concepts have thus far been cold, distant, and purgatorial, Toyota posits. No more. Toyota’s future eggmobile puts a cheeky face on the future of driving and is even fitted with Yui, a synthetic AI car butler/pal/servant who will learn your likes and dislikes behind the wheel. Just as importantly, though, the Concept-i is also drivable by humans, so you need not feel like luggage all the time.

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Source: Ars Technica

Algorithm does real-time, city-wide ridesharing

Enlarge / Don’t worry, an algorithm has you covered, future NYC resident. (credit: Louise Ma / WNYC)

Anyone who’s ever been stuck in stop-and-go traffic would be happy to tell you that congestion is a waste of time. But the true scale of the waste is difficult to comprehend. It’s estimated that congestion costs the US one percent of its annual GDP, as people waste otherwise productive hours and fuel sitting in their vehicles, and that doesn’t even consider all the pollution this traffic creates.

Despite those numbers, most people wouldn’t choose to use options that cut congestion, like public transit or ride sharing. In many cases, that’s because these alternatives require giving up some autonomy, as you can’t necessarily go where you want whenever you want.

A paper in this week’s PNAS suggests that doesn’t have to be the case. Using a real-world database of fully autonomous travel—a week’s worth of New York City taxi rides—the authors demonstrate an algorithm that can service travel needs in real time with minimal waits for a ride. The result would be far fewer cars on the road. Even with standard cabs, only a quarter of today’s taxi fleet would be required to service all the ride requests.

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Source: Ars Technica

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