The most detailed maps of the world will be for cars, not humans


The weight of the automotive and tech industries is fully behind the move toward self-driving cars. Cars with “limited autonomy”—i.e., the ability to drive themselves under certain conditions (level 3) or within certain geofenced locations (level 4)—should be on our roads within the next five years.

But a completely autonomous vehicle—capable of driving anywhere, any time, with human input limited to telling it just a destination—remains a more distant goal. To make that happen, cars are going to need to know exactly where they are in the world with far greater precision than currently possible with technology like GPS. And that means new maps that are far more accurate than anything you could buy at the next gas station—not that a human would be able to read them anyway.

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Source: Ars Technica

Geohot’s new automated-driving device can only be redeemed by coughing up data

AUSTIN, Texas—At the first day of the SXSW Interactive festival, George “Geohot” Hotz announced an updated business plan for his company, all while revealing a new piece of hardware that will be given away, as opposed to sold: the Panda.

Sam Machkovech

The small circuit-board device comes with an ODB2 connector on one end, which Hotz described as compatible with any car made after 1996 (though ideal for cars made later than 2006), and a USB port on the other. The device’s crowded circuit board also includes a 32-bit processor, a Wi-Fi driver, and a 4A charger, which he described as “an awesome phone charger.” Hotz said the Panda can be used to expose more active car data than the ODB2 plug-in devices used by apps such as Torque, including individual wheel speeds, steering wheel angles, blinker functions, and even the ability to issue accelerator and brake commands to a car.

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Source: Ars Technica

Elon Musk on batteries for Australia: “Installed in 100 days or it is free”

Enlarge / A collection of Powerpacks at the storage facility next to the Mira Loma substation in Southern California. (credit: Megan Geuss)

On Thursday morning, the Australian Financial Review published a story saying that Lyndon Rive, Tesla’s vice president for energy products, promised the company could deliver 100-300 MWh of storage to South Australia within 100 days of signing a contract.

Mike Cannon-Brookes, the billionaire behind software company Atlassian, saw the story and tweeted a link saying “Holy s#%t.” Cannon-Brookes then tweeted at Tesla CEO Elon Musk “How serious are you about this bet? If I can make the $ happen (& politics), can you guarantee the 100MW in 100 days?”

Musk responded in a tweet, “Tesla will get the system installed and working 100 days from contract signature or it is free. That serious enough for you?”

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Source: Ars Technica

Ars asks: How do you feel about junkets for auto coverage?


It has been almost three years since we launched the Cars Technica section here at Ars, during which time we’ve brought our unique voice and insights to the auto industry. Car coverage at Ars goes back a long way—see this 2000 review of the Honda Insight hybrid, for example—but current tech trends make our coverage more relevant than ever. Car companies are throwing LTE modems into everything with wheels, vehicles are learning to drive themselves, the internal combustion engine has serious competition for the first time in over a century—and that’s before we get to buzzwords like “mobility.”

The question is how best to cover cars, especially new models with the hottest tech. Launching a new automobile to the media isn’t quite the same as introducing a new phone, console, or video game. Cars are big and expensive, and it’s not feasible to send “review copies” out to journalists the way one can with a new laptop or smartphone. Instead, the car companies will do the opposite: find a location (usually somewhere they think will be sunny, which frequently means California), then bring in a bunch of journalists to drive the new vehicle. They also bring along a few of the engineers who worked on the vehicle, so we can ask plenty of annoying questions. Sounds good! But there’s a catch: the car companies pay for travel, and they nearly always refuse requests to pay our own way.

Pay to play, pay to test

Ars has historically preferred not to accept paid travel for auto reviews or stories. This feels like the best way to offer valuable content to our readers, untainted by questions about “cozy relationships” and quid pro quo situations. When it comes to cars, we have taken three of these paid trips—on especially important occasions—after offering to pay our own way and having that offer refused. (Last September’s trip to Munich to learn about Audi’s new car tech is the only one that has been published yet.) Such paid travel is always disclosed to readers. In all other areas of our coverage (IT, science, legal, etc.), we simply never do paid travel, and it is clearly not necessary at all (for instance, there are many gaming junkets, and we simply refuse to go).

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Source: Ars Technica

Geneva motor show: EVs, autonomous tech, and the end of GM in Europe

Electric powertrains and driver-assist features have been the cutting edge in automotive technology for a while now, and at this year’s Geneva International Motor Show both were more in evidence than ever.

There were the obligatory supercars, of course, from Ferrari’s 812 Superfast and Lamborghini’s Huracan Performante to McLaren’s 720S, with styling that was less than universally loved. Aston Martin’s Adrian Newey-masterminded AM-RB 001 now sported the name Valkyrie and showed off a profile so slender it seems hard to imagine a 6.5-litre V12 and a driver will both fit inside. There were also debuts for the production version of Techrules’ Ren turbine-powered range-extender EV and the (Williams-engineered) Vanda Dendrobium prototype from Singapore, which may make limited production. Even Tata got in on the performance car act, with the Racemo sports car powered by a 187bhp (140kW) 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo engine.

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Source: Ars Technica

Techrules shows how to make EVs interesting: Just add a jet engine


Like all auto shows, Geneva has its share of vaporware projects that never go beyond the first hopeful display of dreams. Most people would have filed Techrules’ turbine hybrid, seen in concept form a year ago, in the same category. But at this year’s Geneva International Motor Show, which opened to the public on March 9, the Chinese R&D company was back with a production version of its supercar—and big plans for more accessible machines based on the same formula.

That formula is as simple as it is breathtaking. The Techrules Ren—the name comes from a Chinese word that roughly translates as ‘benevolence’—is a carbon composite supercar with race-style pushrod suspension and a modular layout with up to three seats. Power comes from TREV, the Turbine-Recharging Electric Vehicle system that uses one or more micro-turbines to drive generators that recharge the vehicle’s lithium polymer batteries and power up to six traction motors.

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Source: Ars Technica

Uber says it will stop using Greyball to evade authorities

Enlarge (credit: Daniel Sorabji / Getty Images News)

On Friday, The New York Times reported that Uber had developed a tool called Greyball that it used to evade regulators in markets where its ride-hailing service wasn’t legal. Uber defended the use of Greyball to the Times, but this week Uber’s chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, told the BBC that the company will no longer use the tool to evade regulators.

“We are expressly prohibiting its use to target action by local regulators going forward,” Sullivan said.

The tool seeks about a dozen data points on a new user in a specific market, like whether the Uber app is opened repeatedly in or around municipal offices, which credit card is linked to the account, and any publicly available information about the new user on social media. If the data suggests the new user is a regulator in a market where Uber is not permitted, the company will present that user false information about where Uber rides are, showing ghost cars or no cars in the area.

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Source: Ars Technica

The all-new Land Rover Discovery: More versatile than a Swiss Army Knife

Jim Resnick

It’s a cliché to call versatile cars—and Land Rovers in particular—Swiss Army Knives. It’s inaccurate; knives can cut, carve, slice, pick, pinch, and screw. Land Rovers can’t do any of those things. but the new 2017 Discovery can do plenty. With this vehicle, Land Rover is betting the whole farm, the livestock, and the apartment in the city that the Discovery will carve out an extra portion of the market.

The big stuff first: There’s nothing within roughly $40,000 of the new Discovery (about $50,000 base price and roughly $64,000 as tested here) that can hang with it, in all its various roles including ne plus ultra off-roader, seven-seat transporter, capable tow rig, and luxury car.

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Source: Ars Technica

Volkswagen unveils Sedric, its first fully-autonomous vehicle

Volkswagen Group

Volkswagen’s plans to develop fully autonomous vehicles that would offer greater comfort and convenience than current cars, while slashing the number of road deaths and truly democratizing mobility, have borne their first fruit. This is Sedric, designed to be a platform for cross-brand ideas, which will feed into subsequent concepts from the group’s car brands. The biggest idea it introduces is its full “Level 5” autonomy: no human driver is required.

There’s no VW badge on the front of Sedric because this is the first concept car built by the Volkswagen Group, rather than the Volkswagen car brand. It was devised, designed, developed and constructed by Volkswagen Group’s Future Center Europe in Potsdam and Volkswagen Group Research in Wolfsburg. “We are systematically focusing on our customers, their wishes and requirements for the mobility of the future,” says chief designer Michael Mauer. “The Volkswagen Group Future Centers give us the opportunity to conceptualize and develop new ideas of mobile life.”

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Source: Ars Technica

Photos of the 11ft-diameter Hyperloop test track under construction in Nevada

Hyperloop One

Los Angeles-based startup Hyperloop One has made it its mission to build a rail system that levitates pods on magnetic skis and sends them through a low-pressure tube at 760mph. At a railway conference in Dubai on Tuesday, the startup showed the first images of the test track it has started building in southern Nevada, north of Las Vegas.

The test track is going to be 500m (or about a third of a mile) long and 3.3m (almost 11ft) wide. A press release from the startup said that it hopes to do a public test in the track in the first half of 2017.

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Source: Ars Technica

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