Monday, October 24, 2016

Elon musk lives in a fantasy world.

On Wednesday last week, Elon musk gave a presentation in which he said "Writing an article that’s negative, you’re effectively dissuading people from using autonomous vehicles, you’re killing people".

That's rich, coming from someone who's company is building cars that are killing people. And in my case, consider me firmly on that dissuasion bandwagon, and I'm very proud of it.

He went on to compare the accident stats of self-driving cars to those of human-driven cars. The problem is, that's irrelevant.
Spouting statistics without a frame of reference means nothing. If we were all driving in straight lines, on well-painted roads, in the middle of the day, in the dry, with no road construction or intersections, the accident rate for human-driven cars would be exactly the same as it is for Tesla's cars. But in the real world we don’t have that luxury, and Musk chooses to ignore that simple (but extremely important) fact.
The other fact he chooses to ignore is that the number of self-driving cars is miniscule so choosing an accident statistic that compares deaths to population is stupid. 10 deaths per 1,000,000 population is 0.01% - sure. And one crash in 25,000 autopilot-equipped cars is 0.0025%. But those are not the metrics to use. The metrics should be deaths per passenger mile driven vs deaths per passenger miles driven in self-driving mode, and because those stats simply are not available, you simply can't make a comparison.
Self-driving cars are not ready for prime-time yet. They can’t handle rain, autumn (leaves on the sensors), snow, ice, merging on and off freeways, road construction, pedestrians, misplaced street furniture, pot-holes, trees, large trucks (apparently) and a dozen other things.
There's a reason more attention is paid to deaths in self-driving cars - because they're new, they're very high profile, and they prove that Musk's claims about accident-free driving are bullshit. In the real world we all know this, but on planet Musk, he lives in a bubble of distorted reality. Musk continues to insist that his autopilot is in beta. A car capable of killing someone is not something that should be being beta tested on the open public. It's not an iPhone. Being flippant and glib about his customer's lives is even more reason to steer clear of Musk and his products.

I imagine once he's killed a bunch of astronauts with one of his spacecraft, he'll be critical of the media for dissuading people from space tourism too.
The more Musk speaks, the more I hate him and his company.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Eastern Airlines Flight 401 and it's relevant to Tesla Autopilot

Whenever I rag on Tesla for their so-called "autopilot", it gets pointed out to me time and time again that what Tesla put in their cars is "just like the autopilot in an aircraft". In other words it's designed to be an attended system that doesn't work without human input.
That's true. But Tesla should not have hyped their system and called it 'autopilot'. They should have called it 'assisted cruise control'. The naming difference is very important because a lot of people think 'autopilot' means the car will drive itself, which has been proven time and again to be a bad assumption.
Yes, Tesla put big warnings on the touchscreen about how you need to understand this and do that and watch this and that when the system is activated, but expecting drivers to read that before hitting 'accept' is like expecting someone to read all 69 pages of Apple's iTunes end user license agreement.
And this is where Eastern Airlines flight 401 becomes relevant. That flight crashed in 1972 killing 101 of the 163 people on board. The plane had been flying on autopilot at the time of the crash. The cause was inadequate pilot training and unfamiliarity with a new system. In 1972, autopilots were still relatively new on airliners and during an attempt to diagnose a gear down fault light, the pilots inadvertently switched the autopilot from 'altitude hold' to 'pitch hold'. The difference is crucial because in 'altitude hold' mode, the aircraft adjusts throttles and control surfaces to hold the current height. In 'pitch hold' all it does is maintain the current pitch. The aircraft crashed because the pilots didn't notice they'd done this and the autopilot did exactly what it was told to do - it held the aircraft pitched in a nose-up configuration while it lost speed and altitude and eventually crashed into the Florida Everglades.
EA401 changed pilot training and autopilot programming forever. It changed the in-cockpit indications and even today, pilot training programs include lessons learned from that crash.
Cut back to Tesla - who activated their 'autopilot' on all their cars overnight and sent out emails to the owners telling them this. There was no training, there was no tuition, there was no guidance. The only thing is a single box of text that appears on the touchscreen which is frequently ignored by people just hitting 'accept'.
So if your argument is that Tesla's autopilot is just like that of an aircraft, then my argument is that drivers should undergo rigorous training and testing on how to operate it before being allowed to use it in a real car on real roads. Just like airline pilots do. And when something goes wrong, the system is changed, and all drivers are re-trained on the new procedures.
Only then can you successfully argue that what Tesla have created is anything like an autopilot in an aircraft.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Even Google doesn't know how to make it's cars make life-or-death decisions.

In my long-running rant against the future of drone-cars, another snippit of anecdotal evidence that we're heading towards a bleak future. Google - in theory the current head of the pack when it comes to drone car technology- admitted this week that even they don't know how their cars will make life-or-death decisions.
Remember my posts where I talk about having to sign a contract when you purchase a car, that indicates that you're OK with the car killing you if need be? Yeah - THAT life-or-death decision.
Google also announced earlier in the year that yes, in fact their drone car WAS responsible for the bus crash it was involved in. So we have one company who's admitted their cars aren't the infallible nirvana everyone was promised, and that they don't know how to endow the car with the ability to make a life-changing decision.
And we have Tesla who have a couple of open lawsuits on their hands, one of which looks increasingly like it was indeed their car at fault for the death of it's driver.
Sure, Tesla also have stories about how their so-called "autopilot" helped get a guy to hospital, but one of those stories doesn't cancel out the fact that one of their cars killed it's driver.

In the meantime, you can join the debate because MIT have made a 'moral' game where you get to choose who gets killed in a self-driving car accident, including yourself. if you fancy seeing what the future looks like, when you hand over the responsibility of driving to a two-ton robot, head over to MIT's Moral Machine and start plowing down crowds of elderly women and male athletes....My results showed an extreme intolerance of rich people and people crossing on a red light :)

Me - I'm still not looking forward to this future. Too many companies are trying to ram something down our throats because they can, rather than sitting back to decide whether they should. These situations never end well.
Google admits it doesn't know how its cars will make life or death decisions.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Check your own tyre pressures - no garage will ever get it right.

In my 28 years (and counting) of driving, in six different countries, I've yet to come across anywhere that knows how to set car tyre pressures properly. I've not yet found a garage, dealership, oil-change shop or tyre store that understands what the sticker inside the driver's door means, nor how to use a pressure gauge.
At this point I'm convinced such a place doesn't exist. Generally, when someone else has worked on my car, I get it back with tyres that are anything from 5psi below the recommended pressure to 10psi above. My current Range Rover dealer is about the closest I've seen with all four tyres consistently 2psi above where they're supposed to be.
Underinflated tyres are bad, but on the occasion where I've had overinflated tyres, it's been dangerous. All tyres have a maximum inflation pressure and on one extreme occasion, a Subaru dealer gave me my car back with all four tyres inflated to 62psi. That was 7psi above the max pressure rating on the tyre and a full 34psi higher than the door sticker.
You can normally tell instantly. You'll get in your car and it will either feel like you're driving on grease, or on granite wheels. The greasy feeling means the tyres are underinflated. Rock-hard spinal re-adjustment feeling means the tyres are overinflated.
Spend a tenner and buy a decent dial pressure gauge (not one of those cheap pen type ones) and always check your own pressures when you get your car back from anywhere that's touched the wheels.
The same holds true for the lug nuts or bolts. If ANYONE touches them for ANY reason, check the torque yourself a day later, because as with tyre pressures, in 28 years I've yet to find a single place that knows what a torque wrench is.
I know you shouldn't need to do this but such is life.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Americans now own F1. And I think that's A Very Bad Thing.

Well it's happened. F1 has been sold to the Americans. Specifically Liberty Media for $4.4bn. With a "B". Bernie Ecclestone is supposedly going to stay on for another few years, but a full buyout is planned if the regulators approve it.
Red flags and alarm bells started going off when Greg Maffei, the CEO of Liberty Media, said this:
"We think our long-term perspective and expertise with media and sports assets will allow us to be good stewards of Formula One and benefit fans, teams and our shareholders."
So F1 is going to be run for the gain of the shareholders, and that's a problem. Shareholders generally don't know what they're talking about and have a propensity to ruin companies very quickly because all they care about is a quick buck and chasing dividends. Look at what happened to Lego - a company that could do no wrong, with the world's strongest brand in toys, who listened to their shareholders in the early 2000's and nearly bankrupted the company because of it.
My own direct experience of Liberty Media comes from SiriusXM satellite radio. I used to have XM Radio and it was pretty good. Cost me $7 a month. Then Liberty Media came along in 2008 with Sirius and bought out XM. Prices jumped to $19 a month for the same channel lineup and the service went to hell in a handbasket. In the end I ditched it because they couldn't keep the bill straight from one month to the next and the constant pressure to buy an even more expensive package was insane.
It's not just Liberty Media that's the problem though. I'm not a fan of this much American money being in F1. The sport is a uniquely European and international series. F1 fans don't need Indy car, or NASCAR, or any of the other won't-race-in-anything-other-than-perfect-weather events. We don't need commercial breaks and timeouts every 90 seconds. We don't need identical cars built to identical templates. We don't need oval circuits. In short - we really don't need American-style management and ownership of our sport. Liberty Media need to learn that throwing money at something won't make it better, or "fix" it, especially when it doesn't really need fixing.
But it's happened anyway, and I suspect the influence will start to become evident over the next 12 months. American interests have steadily been ramping up pressure to "own" F1 because it's a sport they're not very good at, and Americans don't like competing in things that they can't win. I suspect there will be pressure to have a second or even third US event added to the calendar. There will be pressure to use US-supplied tyres and engines, maybe even chassis'. Can you imagine Cooper being asked to supply F1 tyres? Or the teams headquartered in the UK, Germany and Italy being told to move to the US? Neither can I.
If they try to homologate the sport into a TV-commercial-break-ruled Indy-car type series in an effort to appease the beer-chugging, short attention span, redneck motorsport crowd, F1 will be forever ruined because that's not what it's about.
I hope beyond hope that Liberty Media do the right thing and listen to the fans and the teams. They have a Golden Goose here. But my suspicion is that they'll just do the usual "America Knows Best" routine and f*ck it up for everyone. They'll kill their goose and wonder what happened to all the eggs.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Another driver dies in another Tesla crash and MobilEye abandons Tesla.

Tesla is already under investigation for the death of Joshua Brown when his Model S slammed under the back of a truck and killed him whilst driving on autopilot. It turns out this isn't an isolated incident. In a remarkably similar crash in China in January, another driver was killed when his autopilot also didn't see a truck, and similar drove under the back of it at full speed. In the Chinese crash, a dashcam was recovered that shows the vehicle making no attempt to avoid the parked truck.
On top of these two autopilot deaths, a third driver has now died in his model S because of a severe electrical fire. In this latest case, the Dutch driver died when his Tesla crashed into a tree at 155kmh, in an accident so vicious that it split the battery in two and sparked the electrical fire. It seems autopilot wasn't responsible for this crash but it does call into question the integrity of the battery tub again (already investigated once due to a severe fire from road debris a couple of years ago).
Dutch first responders are extremely well-versed in dealing with electric cars - they're some of the best-trained first responders for these sorts of accidents. So when they tell you that the nature and severity of the wreckage was so bad that they could not be certain whether the car might be under high voltage, you ought to listen to them.
At the time, the driver was doing a reported 155kmh which would be a bad crash whichever way you look at it, in any car, but it ought to have been survivable.

With two confirmed deaths, it's not surprising then that the Israeli company that provides Tesla with part of the Autopilot system has broken ties with them. MobilEye don't want to be associated with a vehicle manufacturer that is killing it's driver with a flawed system. Ammon Shashua, chief technical officer for MobilEye said "No matter how you spin it, Autopilot is not designed for that. It is a driver assistance system and not a driverless system."
MobilEye abandons Tesla
Tesla autopilot caused second driver death?
Dashcam shows Chinese Tesla crash