automotive

Simone Giertz’s converted Tesla Model 3 pickup truck is wonderful

Posted by | automotive, Elon Musk, Gadgets, GreenTech, hardware, pickup truck, simone giertz, TC, Tesla, tesla model 3, Transportation | No Comments

YouTuber Simone Giertz, celebrated DIY inventor, roboticist and general maker of cool stuff, decided not to wait for Tesla’s forthcoming pickup truck. Instead, she bought a Tesla Model 3 direct from the company new and then used elbow grease, ingenuity, some help from friends and power tools to turn it into a two-seater with a flatbed.

The amazing thing is, unlike some of the robots Giertz is famous for making, the final product looks terrific — both in terms of the detail work and in terms of its functionality. Giertz also installed a cage over the truck bed, and a tailgate that can double as a work bench. Plus, as you can see from this fake commercial for the so-called “Truckla,” the thing still rips both on and off-road.

Along with her crew, Giertz rented a dedicated workshop to do the build, which took around two weeks and a lot of sawing at the metal chassis. The team had to rebuild crucial components like the roll cage to ensure that the finished product was still safe.

There’s still work to be done in terms of waterproofing, lifting up the vehicle, giving it a paint makeover and more, per Giertz, but the finished product looks amazing, and potentially better than whatever sci-fi nightmare Elon Musk is putting together for the actual Tesla pickup.

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Tesla’s in-car touchscreens are getting YouTube support

Posted by | Android, automotive, cars, e3 2019, electric vehicles, Elon Musk, in-car navigation, Louisiana, Media, streaming video, TC, Tesla, tesla model 3, Tesla Model S, YouTube | No Comments

Tesla has consistently been adding software to its in-car touchscreen infotainment displays — including sometimes things that probably leave a lot of people scratching their heads. During a special Q&A today at annual gaming event E3 in LA, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that Tesla’s in-car display will support YouTube someday soon.

This isn’t the first time the Tesla CEO has suggested YouTube might one day have a home in the company’s cars: In response to a fan’s question on Twitter last August he noted that version 10 of the company’s in-car software would provide support for third-party video streaming. The company debuted its Software Version 9.0 last year.

Musk specifically said YouTube would be coming to cars during the E3 event today, at which he revealed that Bethesda’s Fallout 3 would be coming to the infotainment displays, and unveiled a demo video of Android game Beach Buggy Racer running on a display in a Tesla Model 3.

On a recent podcast, the Tesla CEO also said the company would consider opening the platform more broadly to third-party developers for both apps and games. The company has done a lot on its own to add software “Easter Eggs” to the dash display, but turning it into a true platform is a much more ambitious vision.

On its face, adding to a car attention-heavy apps like streaming video services definitely seems counterintuitive, but to be fair to Tesla, a large number of drivers today use their phones for in-car navigation and those can also all technically display YouTube at any time. It does seem like a case of Musk’s mind racing ahead to a day when his cars are fully autonomous, something he recently reiterated he expects to happen within the next couple of years.

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Tesla is bringing the ‘Fallout Shelter’ game to its cars

Posted by | arcade games, asteroids, Atari, automotive, Bethesda Games, e3 2019, Elon Musk, fallout, Gaming, missile command, TC, Tesla, video games, video gaming, ZeniMax Media | No Comments

As part of the gaming option for Tesla’s cars, Todd Howard, the director of Bethesda Games, said that the company’s “Fallout Shelter” game will be coming to Tesla displays.

Elon Musk is a huge fan of the Fallout series, saying in an interview at the E3 gaming conference that he’d explored “every inch” of Fallout 3.

Earlier this year, Tesla announced that it was adding “2048” and “Atari’s Super Breakout” to the list of games that drivers and passengers can play on the company’s dashboard display.

The company added Atari games to its slate of apps and services last August via a software update. At the time, the initial slate of games included “Missile Command,” “Asteroids,” “Lunar Lander” and “Centipede.”

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Sense Photonics flashes onto the lidar scene with a new approach and $26M

Posted by | automotive, autonomous vehicles, Gadgets, hardware, Lidar, robotics, self-driving cars, sense photonics, Startups, TC | No Comments

Lidar is a critical part of many autonomous cars and robotic systems, but the technology is also evolving quickly. A new company called Sense Photonics just emerged from stealth mode today with a $26M A round, touting a whole new approach that allows for an ultra-wide field of view and (literally) flexible installation.

Still in prototype phase but clearly enough to attract eight figures of investment, Sense Photonics’ lidar doesn’t look dramatically different from others at first, but the changes are both under the hood and, in a way, on both sides of it.

Early popular lidar systems like those from Velodyne use a spinning module that emit and detect infrared laser pulses, finding the range of the surroundings by measuring the light’s time of flight. Subsequent ones have replaced the spinning unit with something less mechanical, like a DLP-type mirror or even metamaterials-based beam steering.

All these systems are “scanning” systems in that they sweep a beam, column, or spot of light across the scene in some structured fashion — faster than we can perceive, but still piece by piece. Few companies, however, have managed to implement what’s called “flash” lidar, which illuminates the whole scene with one giant, well, flash.

That’s what Sense has created, and it claims to have avoided the usual shortcomings of such systems — namely limited resolution and range. Not only that, but by separating the laser emitting part and the sensor that measures the pulses, Sense’s lidar could be simpler to install without redesigning the whole car around it.

I talked with CEO and co-founder Scott Burroughs, a veteran engineer of laser systems, about what makes Sense’s lidar a different animal from the competition.

“It starts with the laser emitter,” he said. “We have some secret sauce that lets us build a massive array of lasers — literally thousands and thousands, spread apart for better thermal performance and eye safety.”

These tiny laser elements are stuck on a flexible backing, meaning the array can be curved — providing a vastly improved field of view. Lidar units (except for the 360-degree ones) tend to be around 120 degrees horizontally, since that’s what you can reliably get from a sensor and emitter on a flat plane, and perhaps 50 or 60 degrees vertically.

“We can go as high as 90 degrees for vert which i think is unprecedented, and as high as 180 degrees for horizontal,” said Burroughs proudly. “And that’s something auto makers we’ve talked to have been very excited about.”

Here it is worth mentioning that lidar systems have also begun to bifurcate into long-range, forward-facing lidar (like those from Luminar and Lumotive) for detecting things like obstacles or people 200 meters down the road, and more short-range, wider-field lidar for more immediate situational awareness — a dog behind the vehicle as it backs up, or a car pulling out of a parking spot just a few meters away. Sense’s devices are very much geared toward the second use case.

These are just prototype units, but they work and you can see they’re more than just renders.

Particularly because of the second interesting innovation they’ve included: the sensor, normally part and parcel with the lidar unit, can exist totally separately from the emitter, and is little more than a specialized camera. That means that while the emitter can be integrated into a curved surface like the headlight assembly, while the tiny detectors can be stuck in places where there are already traditional cameras: side mirrors, bumpers, and so on.

The camera-like architecture is more than convenient for placement; it also fundamentally affects the way the system reconstructs the image of its surroundings. Because the sensor they use is so close to an ordinary RGB camera’s, images from the former can be matched to the latter very easily.

The depth data and traditional camera image correspond pixel-to-pixel right out of the system.

Most lidars output a 3D point cloud, the result of the beam finding millions of points with different ranges. This is a very different form of “image” than a traditional camera, and it can take some work to convert or compare the depths and shapes of a point cloud to a 2D RGB image. Sense’s unit not only outputs a 2D depth map natively, but that data can be synced with a twin camera so the visible light image matches pixel for pixel to the depth map. It saves on computing time and therefore on delay — always a good thing for autonomous platforms.

Sense Photonics’ unit also can output a point cloud, as you see here.

The benefits of Sense’s system are manifest, but of course right now the company is still working on getting the first units to production. To that end it has of course raised the $26 million A round, “co-led by Acadia Woods and Congruent Ventures, with participation from a number of other investors, including Prelude Ventures, Samsung Ventures and Shell Ventures,” as the press release puts it.

Cash on hand is always good. But it has also partnered with Infineon and others, including an unnamed tier-1 automotive company, which is no doubt helping shape the first commercial Sense Photonics product. The details will have to wait until later this year when that offering solidifies, and production should start a few months after that — no hard timeline yet, but expect this all before the end of the year.

“We are very appreciative of this strong vote of investor confidence in our team and our technology,” Burroughs said in the press release. “The demand we’ve encountered – even while operating in stealth mode – has been extraordinary.”

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Google Assistant comes to Waze navigation app

Posted by | Android, Android Auto, Apps, Assistant, automotive, computing, Google, Google-Maps, Lyft, smartphones, Software, TC, Transportation, Uber, United States, waze | No Comments

Ever since Google acquired Waze back in 2013, features from each have been slowly making their way back and forth between it and Google Maps — and today Waze gets a big upgrade with Google Assistant integration, which means you can use the smart voice companion within the app.

Google Assistant in Waze will provide access to your usual Assistant features, like playback of music and podcasts, but it’ll also offer access to many Waze-specific abilities, including letting you ask it to report traffic conditions, or specifying that you want to avoid tolls when routing to your destination.

Google has done a good job of rolling out support for Assistant in its own Android Auto in-car software, and even brought it to Google Maps on Apple’s competing CarPlay system earlier this year. The benefits of having Assistant work natively within Waze are many, but the number one might be its potential to reduce distractions while on the road.

Waze remains a top choice among drivers, and anecdotally most Uber and Lyft drivers I encounter still swear by its supremacy over the competition, including Google’s other own-branded Maps solution.

Google Assistant will be available via a rollout starting today in the U.S., in English only to start and on Android smartphones. Expect that availability to expand over time.

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Audi proves two little screens are better than one big screen

Posted by | Audi, automotive, Gadgets, Tesla | No Comments

I’m spending some time in the new Audi Q8, and the car company equipped the crossover with its latest infotainment system. I love it, fingerprints, dust and all.

The grimy screens are part of the story. I could have cleaned up the screens for the photos, but I thought it was essential to show the screens after a couple of weeks of use.

There are two screens placed in the center stack of the Q8. The top one features controls for the radio, mapping system and vehicle settings. The bottom screen is for climate controls and additional controls like garage door opener and the vehicle’s cameras. Both have haptic feedback, so the buttons feel nearly real.

Both screens are tilted at the right angle, and the shifter is built in a way that provides a handy spot to rest your wrist, steadying it as you hit the screens.

Car companies are turning to touchscreens over physical buttons. It makes sense on some level, as screens are less expensive and scalable across vehicles. With screens, car companies do not need to design and manufacture knobs, buttons and sliders but instead create a software user interface.

Tesla took it to the next level with the debut of the Model S in 2012. The car company stuck a massive touchscreen in the center stack. It’s huge. I’m not a fan. I find the large screen uncomfortable and impractical to use while driving. Other car companies must agree, as few have included similar touchscreens in their vehicles. Instead of a single touchscreen, most car makers are using a combination of a touchscreen with physical knobs and buttons. For the most part, this is an excellent compromise, as the knobs and buttons are used for functions that will always be needed, like climate control.

Audi is using a similar thought in its latest infotainment system. The bottom screen is always on and always displays the climate control. There’s a button that reveals shortcuts, too, so if the top screen is turned off, the driver can still change the radio to a preset. The top screen houses buttons for the radio, mapping and lesser-used settings.

The user interface uses a dark theme. The black levels are fantastic, even in direct sunlight, and this color scheme makes it easy to use during the day or night.

The touchscreens have downsides but none that are not present on other touchscreens. Glare is often an issue, and these screens are fingerprint magnets. I also found the screen to run hot to the touch after a few minutes in the sun.

Apple CarPlay remains a source of frustration. The Q8 has the latest CarPlay option, which allows an iPhone to run CarPlay wirelessly. It only works sometimes. And sometimes, when it does work, various apps like Spotify do not work in their typical fashion. Thankfully, Apple just announced a big update for CarPlay that will hopefully improve the connectivity and stability.

The infotainment system is now a critical component. Automakers must build a system that’s competent and feels natural to the driver and yet able to evolve as features are added to vehicles through over-the-air updates. Automakers must build a system that works today and continues to work years from now.

Audi’s latest infotainment system is impressive. It does everything right: it’s not a distraction, it’s easy to use and features fantastic haptic feedback.

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Google refreshes Android Auto with new features and a darker look

Posted by | Android, Android Auto, Apple, automotive, CarPlay, Google, Google I/O 2019, linux, Polestar, smartphones, Transportation | No Comments

Android Auto — the in-car platform that brings the look and functions of a smartphone to the vehicle’s central screen — is getting a new look and improved navigation and communication features that will roll out this summer.

The improvements and new look were revealed Monday during Google I/O 2019, the annual developer conference.

The most noticeable change might be the overall look of Android Auto. It now has a dark theme, new fonts and color accents designed to make it easier for drivers to quickly and more easily see the content on the car’s central screen.

The new version of Android Auto has also improved its notifications. Drivers can choose to view, listen and respond to messages and calls more easily.

Engineers have updated the software to make it more seamless. The system, if properly enabled, would pop up on the car’s screen once the vehicle was turned on. However, the user would still have to restart their media or navigation option. Now, Android Auto will continue playing the media and navigation app of the driver’s choice. Drivers can tap on a suggested location or say “Hey Google” to navigate to a new place.

The navigation bar on Android Auto has changed, as well. Drivers will be able to see their turn-by-turn directions and control apps and phone on the same screen.

Finally, the platform has been adjusted so it will fit various sized-screens. Android Auto now maximizes the in-car display to show more information, like next-turn directions, playback controls and ongoing calls.

Android Auto is not an operating system. It’s a secondary interface — or HMI layer — that sits on top of an operating system. Google released Android Auto in 2015. Rival Apple introduced its own in-car platform, Apple CarPlay, that same year.

Automakers that wanted to give consumers a better in-car experience without giving Google or Apple total access quickly adopted the platform. Even some holdouts, such as Toyota, have come around. Today, Android Auto is available in more than 500 car models from 50 different brands, according to Android Auto product manager Rod Lopez.

Google has since developed an operating system called Android Automotive OS that’s modeled after its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. Instead of running smartphones and tablets, Google modified it so it could be used in cars. Polestar, Volvo’s standalone performance electric car brand, is going to produce a new vehicle, the Polestar 2, that has an infotainment system powered by Android Automotive OS.

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Google opens Android Automotive OS to Spotify, other media app developers

Posted by | Android, Android Auto, automotive, electric vehicles, Google, Polestar, Transportation | No Comments

Google is opening its Android Automotive operating system up to third-party developers to bring music and other entertainment apps into vehicle infotainment systems, starting with the Polestar 2, an all-electric vehicle developed by Volvo’s standalone electric performance brand.

Google announced Wednesday that media app developers will be able to create new entertainment experiences for Android Automotive OS and the Polestar 2, starting at Google I/O 2019, the annual developer’s conference that kicks off May 7.

Google is starting with media app developers such as Spotify and other entertainment sites. However, the company plans to expand into other categories of apps as well such as navigation, Haris Ramic, Google’s product lead for Android Automotive told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

Android Automotive OS shouldn’t be confused with Android Auto, which is a secondary interface that lies on top of an operating system. Android Automotive OS is modeled after its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. But instead of running smartphones and tablets, Google modified it so it could be used in cars.

Polestar  introduced in February its first all-electric vehicle, a five-door fastback called the Polestar 2, ahead of the Geneva Motor Show. The Polestar 2’s infotainment system is powered by Android Automotive OS and, as a result, brings into the car embedded Google services such as Google Assistant, Google Maps and the Google Play Store.

Ramic noted that the system shown in Geneva has improved and now has updated Google Maps and a media center that allows third-party applications like Spotify, NPR and YouTube Music to function more seamlessly in the vehicles. These applications will be ready when the vehicle goes into volume production, which is slated to begin in early 2020 at its Chengdu, China factory. The company is initially targeting sales in China, the U.S., Canada and a handful of European countries that include Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the U.K.

Polestar isn’t the only company with plans to incorporate a version of its Android operating system into its car infotainment systems. Volvo announced in 2017 that it would use the Android OS and a year later said it would embed voice-controlled Google Assistant, Google  Play Store, Google Maps and other Google services into its next-generation Sensus infotainment system. lvo.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced Tuesday that it will use tech from Harman and Google to build out its connected-car services. Google’s Android Automotive OS will power FCA’s next version of its Uconnect infotainment system, while Samsung-owned Harman’s Ignite cloud platform will handle the out-of-car services.

Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance has also publicly announced plans for Android Automotive OS as well as other automakers that Google can’t reveal at this time, Ramic said.

“Interest is very high,” Ramic said, noting that a growing number of companies have come to see the value in leveraging Google’s expertise.

That’s a shift from the traditionally protective stance of automakers intent of keeping Google out of the car. But as the divide between the capabilities of smartphones and in-car infotainment systems grows, automakers have been more willing to turn to Google.

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Waymo launches robotaxi app on Google Play

Posted by | Android, Apps, automotive, electric vehicles, Google, Lyft, robotaxi, self-driving car, self-driving cars, transport, Transportation, Uber, waymo | No Comments

Waymo is making its ride-hailing app more widely available by putting it on the Google Play store as the self-driving car company prepares to open its service to more Phoenix residents.

The company, which spun out to become a business under Alphabet, launched a limited commercial robotaxi service called Waymo One in the Phoenix area in December. The Waymo One self-driving car service, and accompanying app, was only available to Phoenix residents who were part of its early rider program, which aimed to bring vetted regular folks into its self-driving minivans.

Technically, Waymo has had Android and iOS apps for some time. But interested riders would only gain access to the app after first applying on the company’s website. Once accepted to the early rider program, they would be sent a link to the app to download to their device.

The early rider program, which launched in April 2017, had more than 400 participants the last time Waymo shared figures. Waymo hasn’t shared information on how many people have moved over to the public service, except to say “hundreds of riders” are using it.

Now, with Waymo One launching on Google Play, the company is cracking the door a bit wider. However, there will be still be limitations to the service.

Interested customers with Android devices can download the app. Unlike a traditional ride-hailing service, like Uber or Lyft, this doesn’t mean users will get instant access. Instead, potential riders will be added to a waitlist. Once accepted, they will be able to request rides in the app.

These new customers will first be invited into Waymo’s early rider program before they’re moved to the public service. This is an important distinction, because early rider program participants have to to sign non-disclosure agreements and can’t bring guests with them. These new riders will eventually be moved to Waymo’s public service, the company said. Riders on the public service can invite guests, take photos and videos and talk about their experience.

“These two offerings are deeply connected, as learnings from our early rider program help shape the experience we ultimately provide to our public riders,” Waymo said in a blog post Tuesday.

Waymo has been creeping toward a commercial service in Phoenix since it began testing self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans in suburbs like Chandler in 2016.

The following year, Waymo launched its early rider program. The company also started testing empty self-driving minivans on public streets that year.

Waymo began in May 2018 to allow some early riders to hail a self-driving minivan without a human test driver behind the wheel. More recently, the company launched a public transit program in Phoenix focused on delivering people to bus stops and train and light-rail stations.

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Alibaba will let you find restaurants and order food with voice in a car

Posted by | alibaba, alibaba group, alipay, Android, Asia, automotive, AutoNavi, Baidu, Beijing, China, Emerging-Technologies, in-car apps, online marketplaces, operating system, operating systems, order food, shanghai, taobao, Tencent, Transportation | No Comments

Competition in the Chinese internet has for years been about who controls your mobile apps. These days, giants are increasingly turning to offline scenarios, including what’s going on behind the dashboard in your car.

On Tuesday, Alibaba announced at the annual Shanghai Auto Show that it’s developing apps for connected cars that will let drivers find restaurants, queue up and make reservations at restaurants, order food and eventually complete a plethora of other tasks using voice, motion or touch control. Third-party developers are invited to make their in-car apps, which will run on Alibaba’s operating system AliOS.

Rather than working as standalone apps, these in-car services come in the form of “mini apps,” which are smaller than regular ones in exchange for faster access and smaller file sizes, in Alibaba’s all-in-one digital wallet Alipay . Alibaba has other so-called “super apps” in its ecosystem, such as marketplace Taobao and navigation service AutoNavi, but the payments solution clearly makes more economic sense if Alibaba wants people to spend more while sitting in a four-wheeler.

There’s no timeline for when Alibaba will officially roll out in-car mini apps, but it’s already planning for a launch, a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Making lite apps has been a popular strategy for China’s internet giants operating super apps that host outside apps, or “mini-apps”; that way users rarely need to leave their ecosystems. These lite apps are known to be easier and cheaper to build than a native app, although developers have to make concessions, like giving their hosts a certain level of access to user data and obeying rules as they would with Apple’s App Store. For in-car services, Alibaba says there will be “specific review criteria for safety and control” tailored to the auto industry.

alios cars alibaba

Photo source: Alibaba

Alibaba’s move is indicative of a heightened competition to control the operating system in next-gen connected cars. For those who wonder whether the e-commerce behemoth will make its own cars given it has aggressively infiltrated the physical space, like opening its own supermarket chain Hema, the company’s solution to vehicles appears to be on the software front, at least for now.

In 2017, Alibaba rebranded its operating system with a deep focus to put AliOS into car partners. To achieve this goal, Alibaba also set up a joint venture called Banma Network with state-owned automaker SAIC Motor and Dongfeng Peugeot Citroen, which is the French car company’s China venture, that would hawk and integrate AliOS-powered solutions with car clients. As of last August, 700,000 AliOS-powered SAIC vehicles had been sold.

Alibaba competitors Tencent and Baidu have also driven into the auto field, although through slightly different routes. Baidu began by betting on autonomous driving and built an Android-like developer platform for car manufacturers. While the futuristic plan is far from bearing significant commercial fruit, it has gained a strong foothold in self-driving with the most mileage driven in Beijing, a pivotal hub to test autonomous cars. Tencent’s car initiatives seem more nebulous. Like Baidu, it’s testing self-driving and like Alibaba, it’s partnered with industry veterans to make cars, but it’s unclear where the advantage lies for the social media and gaming giant in the auto space.

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