By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario -- February 9, 2018 -- In this week’s Autonomous Report, Tesla stocks are down, Elon Musk continues to make false predictions, a self-driving semi crossed the U.S. and much, much more.
Elon Musk attracted another round of attention this past week when the SpaceX Heavy launched. The impressive bit of engineering sent up yet another flare of positive PR around Musk. Sometimes it seems as if the PR he pays for is as infinite as space itself. But even as he races to space, he’s developing a bad reputation for over-stating goals in the car manufacturing industry. The car company is burning through massive amounts of money and their cars are coming out with the kind of defects (and patches) that GM used to pull off in the 1970s. The manufacturing for the Model 3 has turned into a disaster and Musk’s off-the-shelf batteries are no better than any other manufacturer’s. Stock analysts are more openly questioning his pronouncements these days, as the company continues to miss stated milestones. Tesla just posted its biggest quarterly loss yet. Stock analysts that had hyped shares in the company to record levels this past summer are now turning against the entrepreneur. Analysts are now discounting his projections. This week an analyst was quoted as saying,"We discount what he says pretty substantially.” The stock is at $317 now, down from a high of just a bit over $383 this past June. http://bit.ly/2EbjbD
-Another of Musk’s missed goals: He claimed last year that a self-driving Tesla would be the first AV to drive across the U.S. According to Musk one of his cars would set this record by the end of 2017, but that didn’t happen. According to a transcript of the conference call, Musk admitted that he’d “missed the mark on that front.” He went on to predict, however, that a self-driving Tesla would “probably” drive from one end of the U.S. to the other in the next three to six months.
-A company working on self-driving trucks, EMbark, claims that a self-driving semi just made its first cross-country trip. The vehicle drove from Los Angeles to Jacksonville with, “minimal help from its on-board human driver… The autonomous tractor trailer completed a 2,400 mile trip from Los Angeles, California to Jacksonville, Florida in five days, travelling for hours at a time with no disengagements,” according to the company’s chief executive officer. “When they [disengagements] did occur they were usually only a few seconds.” The trucks are equipped with, “... five cameras, three long-range radars and two light detecting sensors, to map its surroundings in real time, helping it to avoid obstacles… Embark plans to have installed autonomous technology in 40 more tractor trailers by the end of 2018.” The CEO was quoted as saying, “By allowing automation to work together with local drivers to handle less desirable long haul routes, we will be able to increase productivity to address the current 50,000 driver shortage while also creating new local driving jobs that attract younger drivers for the industry.”
-According to a media release from the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, the agency has issued 23 fines of $1,150 against drivers. B.C. has not legally allowed ride sharing services to operate. Nevertheless, several “underground” ride-sharing services have popped up. According to the press release, “... companies operating under the names Longmao, Udi Kuaiche, U Drop, RaccoonGo, GoKabu, Dingdang Carpool and AO Rideshare have developed ride-sourcing apps… These companies have been recruiting drivers to operate their personal vehicles as commercial passenger-directed vehicles on the Lower Mainland.” In the media release, the transportation and infrastructure ministry noted that "drivers providing commercial transportation services through these social media apps understand they are assuming all of the risk related to providing the service… It is the driver, not the app companies, that are operating illegally and are subject to penalties and fines of $1,150… These drivers are subject to possible further sanctions for not disclosing the commercial use of their vehicles to lease and insurance providers." http://bit.ly/2GsB6U3
-For some reason researchers in Europe are looking at integrating biometric sensors into cars so that the vehicle can, “... understand when a driver is tired or stressed.” According to a report cars could be able to, “... combine facial recognition technology with sensors tracking pulse, breathing rate and sweat…” The story goes on to note that Ford demonstrated an “... early-concept prototype, a customized Ford Focus RS, in London on Tuesday, which lit up according to the mood of its driver, who was wired up with fitness trackers and skin sensors. A computer then interpreted the biometric data to make thousands of LED lights in the side windows flicker along with the driver’s stress levels.” Although it seems ridiculous OEMs are really doing this. “If you’re stressed, nervous, distracted, we can detect these things. This is a big emerging market. A lot of automobile manufacturers are working out how to humanize the technology: the autonomous vehicle people know how to map the world and track other cars, but not much about the people inside them.... A self-driving car which knows how you are feeling could reassure a stressed passenger, or if you’re happy about it being in control, just do its thing,” according to a research scientist at Ford in Europe. http://bit.ly/2DuCNyE
-Could AVs end up being impractical as a result of “too much data?” Possibly. According to one report this past week the massive amounts of data a self-driving car would have to generate will turn out to be too great to make such a vehicle worthwhile to produce. According to the report, a production car today with cameras and radar already generates some six gigabytes of data every thirty seconds. According to the report, “All the data needs to be combined, sorted, and turned into a robot-friendly picture of the world, with instructions on how to move through it. That takes huge computing power, which means huge electricity demands. Prototypes use around 2,500 watts, enough to light 40 incandescent light bulbs. To put such a system into a combustion-engined car doesn’t make any sense, because the fuel consumption will go up tremendously.” The source is Mercedes-Benz's vice president of strategy. “Switch over to electric cars, and that draw translates to reduced range, because power from the battery goes to the computers instead of the motors…,” he said. http://bit.ly/2EJFdL9
-Canada’s largest oil company, Suncor, announced this past week that it will cut 400 well-paying jobs from its operation in the Athabasca tar sands of Alberta. The company uses massive dump trucks to mine the tar sands. According to Suncor, over the next six years they will phase in a new fleet of self-driving trucks. Eventually they will deploy 150 driverless trucks, leading to job cuts starting as soon as 2019 according to a news report. "We have about 500 roles that will get eliminated through this and we're going to add about 100. So the net change in our workforce is about 400 positions," said the company’s chief operating officer. Suncor is said to be the first tar sands mining operation to adopt the technology. According to the story, “At present, Suncor has nine self-driving trucks moving building materials at a job site in Alberta, making it one of the first companies in Canada to use autonomous trucks... the company has been testing the 400-tonne capacity Komatsu trucks for about four years and has nine now.” The trucks are operating at the company’s North Steepbank mine at the Suncor base camp north of Fort McMurray.