Jack the Autonomous Audi came to DC and drove us around

Video shot and edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few years, you’re aware that autonomous cars are now a thing. The technology is still in relative infancy, but most of the major OEMs, Tier 1 automotive suppliers, and many of the big tech companies—not to mention plenty of startups—have been telling us that we should expect self-driving vehicles to show up (in some geofenced areas) within the next five years. But as often happens, getting the technology in place is only one part of the puzzle. Society has to be ready for it, too. In the case of autonomous cars, both the general public and regulators are going to need to know the cars are safe. And that was the precise reason that Audi brought Jack to Washington DC earlier this month.

Jack has been doing some stellar work for Audi, but he’s not an employee; he’s an AI-controlled car. He was in town to show off his abilities to law makers in Congress, but during his time there, Ars also got to experience his skills.

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Source: Ars Technica

Swift creator leaves Tesla as a computer vision expert joins the company

Enlarge (credit: Scott Olson | Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Tesla’s vice president of Autopilot software Chris Lattner announced that he would be leaving Tesla just six months after he joined. Lattner wrote on Twitter: “Turns out that Tesla isn’t a good fit for me after all. I’m interested to hear about interesting roles for a seasoned engineering leader!

Lattner joined Tesla after leaving Apple in January. He had worked at Apple since 2005 and is credited with creating the Swift programming language. Lattner doesn’t appear to have plans for the future just yet, as he tweeted, “My resume is easy to find online. 7 years of Swift experience”

Tesla hired Lattner just as it dropped a partnership with Mobileye and announced that it would be developing hardware and software for Autopilot in house to reach Level 5 autonomy—or fully autonomous driving—faster.

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Source: Ars Technica

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigns after pressure from investors

Enlarge (credit: Money Sharma/AFP/Getty Images)

Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick has resigned effective immediately, following an indefinite leave of absence that was announced just last week. Kalanick said that the leave of absence was to grieve for the recent death of his mother.

The New York Times reported that five of Uber’s major investors had called for Kalanick’s resignation earlier on Tuesday, including venture capital group Benchmark which is one of Uber’s biggest shareholders. An Uber spokesperson confirmed the NYT‘s report with Ars.

Kalanick will remain on Uber’s board of directors, and he still controls a majority of the company’s voting shares; he’ll still be a key player in future decisions, including the hiring of a new CEO.

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Source: Ars Technica

Tesla Model S warned driver in fatal crash to put hands on steering wheel

Enlarge / The Tesla Model S following its recovery last year from the crash scene near Williston, Florida. (credit: National Transportation Safety Board)

Federal regulators said Monday that the driver of a Tesla Model S killed in a collision while the car was in autopilot mode did not have his hands on the steering wheel for a prolonged period of time. He was repeatedly warned by the vehicle that his hands were necessary, the regulators said.

That’s one of the findings contained in documents that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is releasing as part of its ongoing probe into the death of Joshua Brown, who was killed last year in a Florida highway crash when the Tesla he was driving struck a tractor-trailer. The crash raised eyebrows about the safety of new automated driving features when used during long stretches of driving.

Tesla’s autopilot mode allows a vehicle to maintain the speed of traffic, and an auto-steer function is designed to help keep the Tesla inside its lane. The board said the Tesla alerted the driver seven times with a visual of “Hands Required Not Detected.” The authorities said the motorist, a former Navy Seal, had his hands on the wheel for 25 seconds during the 37 minutes of the trip when they should have been placed on the steering wheel. That’s according to “system performance data” from Tesla, the government said.

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Source: Ars Technica

Audi’s A5 and S5 Sportback: A performance-minded detour from the SUV

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Source: Ars Technica

Last year, Joey Hand won Le Mans; he tells us about this year’s race prep

Way back in 1966—after two unsuccessful attempts to beat Ferrari at its own game—the Ford Motor Company scored an impressive win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Last June, the Blue Oval returned to La Sarthe for a repeat performance, finishing first and third in class (bookending a Ferrari in the process). The company is hoping that was no one-off, and it will be back again this year with a four-car effort, hoping to make it two for two. That race takes place between June 17 and 18, but ahead of the event we caught up with one of Ford’s racing drivers, Joey Hand, to find out how the preparation has been going and his thoughts on competing in one of our favorite races of the year.

Video edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

Hand has raced in a ton of different series but appears to be enjoying racing in the factory-backed GTE-Pro and GTLM (in IMSA’s series) class. “It’s one of the most competitive things I’ve done,” he told Ars. “You have two factory drivers all the time, so it makes for good, tough fights.”

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Source: Ars Technica

Surprising no one, Tim Cook says Apple is “focusing” on auto autonomy

Enlarge (credit: Simone Pittaluga)

Rumors have been traded for years now about Apple’s automotive ambitions. Would Apple try to compete with Tesla to build an electric vehicle? Would it go toe-to-toe with its old foe Google to offer self-driving cars? In recent months, however, a clearer picture of Apple’s automotive work has slowly been revealed, most recently with Apple CEO Tim Cook telling Bloomberg in an interview that Apple is “focusing on autonomous systems. And um, clearly one purpose of autonomous systems is self-driving cars.”

Back in December, Apple wrote a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to say that it was investing heavily in machine learning and automation, without giving any salient details about what the company was building. Then in April, Apple applied for a California DMV permit to test autonomous systems on public roads using “three 2015 Lexus RX540h SUVs and six drivers.”

Cook’s recent comments are unsurprising but bolster the notion that Apple is working to build an autonomous car system, possibly one that extends beyond basic autonomous functions that have hit the road today. In Apple’s December NHTSA letter, the company’s director of product integrity Steve Kenner wrote, “Apple uses machine learning to make its products and services smarter, more intuitive, and more personal. The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.”

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Source: Ars Technica

There are more than 2 million electric vehicles on the road around the world

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Source: Ars Technica

Are flying cars about to become a real thing? Starburst Accelerator thinks they are

Enlarge / This is Lillium Aviation’s proposed VTOL vehicle. (credit: Lillium)

Could the time finally be right for the flying car to leave the drawing boards of futurists and take to our skies as a new form of transportation? According to Francois Chopard, Founder and CEO of investment firm Starburst Accelerator, the answer is yes. For decades, the idea of flying cars have been used as shorthand for “the future”; something perpetually a few years off in the distance, waiting for technology to catch up and make them possible. Chopard thinks that’s finally happening.

He is not alone. In addition to AeroMobil—which plans to sell winged vehicles to well-heeled enthusiasts—there are quite a few other companies working on developing new vehicles to solve our commutes by taking them into the third dimension (see for example Uber, which is planning a new service called Uber Elevate). There’s also Google co-founder Larry Page, who owns two different flying car startups: Zee.Aero and Kitty Hawk. Even Airbus is getting in on the action.

An Electric VTOL Orchestra?

Chopard and others think that taking to the skies will be a solution for increasing traffic density and ever-longer commutes in major cities. We spoke with him recently to see if he could counter our heavy skepticism. “When you look at prototypes that have been flying you can see the tech and performance is ready,” he explained, pointing to companies like Joby, Lilium, and Aurora. Unlike the AeroMobil Flying Car, which uses wings to generate lift and an internal combustion engine to provide propulsion, Chopard told us the real action is in electric vertical take-off and landing machines, which don’t require a runway or landing strip to operate.

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Source: Ars Technica

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