Archive for January, 2016

Autonomous self driving cars? I wouldn’t hold your breath.

The CES (consumer electronics show) was recently held in Las Vegas, showing lots of cool consumer electronics.  One that always makes the news is the new car stuff.  Cars are becoming platforms for their infotainment systems vs. a vehicle to get you from point A to point B.  Tesla, Infiniti, Mercedes Benz, and BMW all have some level of “hands off” self driving cars.  While these still require your hands to be at least occasionally on the steering wheel, they’re not without flaws and they sometimes try to send the car into traffic or off the road!  The reason why is because they can’t possibly see all the conditions and anticipate things as well as a human.

Here’s a test: do you see a cat or a dog below?

A computer couldn’t tell you if that’s a cat or a dog!  Computers are good at quickly calculating things with 99.99999% accuracy, but they don’t have any common sense.  It wasn’t until last year, that someone developed a computer program that can tell the difference between a cat and a dog, but only AFTER a human has programmed and taught it what’s a cat and what’s a dog.  NPR 2014  While this sounds like a simple problem, it’s actually a major breakthrough.  The guy who wrote it was quickly hired by Facebook as head of AI.  So far, it’s the only thing that has come close to solving this common sense problem.

Audi recently tested their autonomous RS7 racing car…if you don’t trust a self driving car on the road, would you trust it at 140 mph?  Even though the car will race on a track better than your average person, it still needed to be “trained” what the left and right boundaries of the track are, and even still, couldn’t race as well as a professional, because there are limitations on adapting like a human.  For example, if a deer runs out onto the track, you get smashed deer.  What if another car spins out or rubber track marbles get thrown into the computer’s camera?  The result: a blind car moving at deadly speeds.

The point is that computers can do extremely difficult tasks, as long as it’s within strict parameters, and taught by a human what to look for.  There are simply too many variables and unknowns for a computer to deal with, to safely drive on the public roads….for now.  I’m sure someone will solve it but it’s much farther off than the recent demos at the CES would suggest.

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Porsche will soon be a competitor to Tesla

Porsche has released some interesting electric concept cars and their North American CEO, Klaus Zellmer, has commented that they can do it better than Tesla in an interview with Fortune magazine.  Their timeline for an all electric car is by the end of this decade.  He also quoted research that says the combustion engine will start to be displaced by full electric cars and plug-ins around 2027.  While that seems like a big number, that’s only 11 years away!  With gas prices at record lows, is there enough momentum to develop this technology?

Tesla cars sell great but it’s a niche market due to the price and limitations of an all electric car.  I could see Porsche being a viable contender to Tesla though.  Porsche usually go for $60-150k, depending on the model and options.  Tesla also go for $60k AFTER incentives like tax credits ($75k before), and up to about $110k for their loaded model (more power, better range).  So they occupy the same price bracket.  Now Porsche only needs to make a car!

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VW’s new smartphone-like infotainment system uses Apple Carplay and Andriod Auto

Volkswagen will offer one of the world’s first compact cars with gesture control functionality; new infotainment system has a configurable 9.2-inch home screen

• New infotainment system with gesture control to be launched in compact cars
• Configurable home screen with interactive tiles enables driver-selectable preferences
• Tiles can be configured for any of ten different functions (e.g. Music, Phone)
• “Electronic voice amplification” allows easy communication with back-seat passengers
• Personalization settings can be saved to the cloud for access in other Volkswagen models

Las Vegas, January 2016 — Volkswagen returns to CES 2016 with two ground-breaking, zero-emissions vehicles: the BUDD-e concept and the e-Golf Touch. BUDD-e is a concept vehicle that will take CES attendees on a quick time-hop to the year 2019. In contrast, the e-Golf Touch, with its next-generation infotainment system, shows that technologies showcased at CES 2015 are close to production.

Additionally, Volkswagen will introduce numerous electronic innovations at CES 2016, to debut in the very near future. These developments illustrate how cars are currently undergoing immense transformations via electronics. New innovations control drive functions, allow driver assistance features to react faster, and increase connectivity by bringing the Internet into the car. Other technologies will transform instruments, displays and controls allowing for a new level of functionality.

Interactive Human Machine Interface (HMI) functions make new communication channels between humans and cars possible—and natural. Devices such as smartphones, tablets, smart watches and cameras have become omnipresent in our everyday lives, and are being integrated into the car in new ways. This fusion is accelerated by more powerful computers and increasingly intelligent software, resulting in evolutionary leaps that are destined to transform the automobile.

Bringing gesture control to mass production cars

The Golf R Touch concept car that was shown at CES 2015 was the first production-based Volkswagen to feature a gesture control system. With the introduction of the e-Golf Touch, Volkswagen presents a more advanced generation of the Modular Infotainment Toolkit (MIB) and for the first time, an early series-production preview of this new intuitive control technology. The e-Golf Touch features the latest version of MIB with a 9.2- inch high-resolution display (1280 x 640 pixels). All functions and displays are embedded in a sophisticated, clear glass surface.

Facing the driver are four touch-sensitive buttons (Menu, Home, Car, App) and a push-rotary switch. The system’s 8.2-inch wide and 4.1-inch high home screen consists of a large main area as well as two configurable tiles on the right of the home screen. Each tile area, sized 1.7 inches high and 2.4 inches wide, can be assigned any of ten different functions. They can include Media (including cover art) or phone (including photo caller ID). It is also possible to drag the main area out to fill the entire home screen, displaying the full navigation map or smartphone integration platforms such as MirrorLinkTM, Android AutoTM or Apple CarPlay®, through Volkswagen’s Car-Net® App-Connect interface.

The e-Golf Touch also marks the debut of Volkswagen’s latest generation voice control technology. This system offers significantly improved controls, as voice commands are displayed on the screen to accompany the request. This new version of the voice control system will be launched in the early summer of 2016 in Europe.

Volkswagen will also be the first manufacturer to present a new “Keyword Activation” voice recognition function in the e-Golf Touch. This feature allows the driver to start voice recognition simply by saying “Hello Volkswagen”, or similar, to the system. This eliminates the need for physical activation.

Wireless Charging

In the context of electric cars, we typically think of inductive charging as related to the car’s battery. But in the case of the e-Golf Touch, this process refers to smartphones and similar devices, as Volkswagen has integrated an inductive charging system into the mobile phone tray, under the infotainment system. For the first time on a Volkswagen model, it is also possible to wirelessly charge smartphones in the back seats, via the rear armrests. The e-Golf Touch is equipped with a new USB Type C port, permitting high-speed USB data transfer while simultaneously charging the phone. This feature drastically reduces the time it takes to recharge.

Electronic Voice Amplification

The electronic voice amplification used in the e-Golf Touch improves in-car acoustics, making it easier for the driver and front-seat passenger to talk to back-seat passengers. The system uses the hands-free microphone in conjunction with the rear speakers. The volume of the electronic voice amplification is also automatically adjusted to suit the speed of the vehicle. If the music volume is very high, the volume of the electronic voice amplification is reduced.

Next-generation connectivity

The range of functionality for the Exit Screen will increase considerably with this new infotainment system. For the first time, the exit screen will offer personalized, simplified access (one touch) to functions relevant to the real world, in real time. This makes it possible, for example, to program the auxiliary heating system within a matter of seconds, as the infotainment system displays the predefined settings for a predetermined length of time. Volkswagen will offer the Exit screen functionality in all future generations of vehicles. An individually configurable entry screen is also currently under development.

Personalization 2.0: The number of convenience and assistance systems and the associated range of configurability increases with every new vehicle generation. Many of these systems are individually adjusted, and used by different drivers of the same car. Invariably, this means that settings have to be constantly reset. Volkswagen conceived Personalization 2.0 to solve this challenge. This allows individual settings for one driver to be saved in a user account, then saved to the cloud via Volkswagen Car-Net ID.

If that driver then gets into another compatible Volkswagen, they can simply load his or her Car-Net ID settings in the infotainment system, activating them in the new vehicle. This effectively means that drivers will always have their own individual settings with them, which is especially handy for use in rentals, company cars, or even within families. Using the Volkswagen Car-Net ID app also makes it possible to change your settings in your user account and save the updates to the cloud. The app can be used to familiarize users with a new Volkswagen in advance. All user data is protected against unauthorized access by utilizing advanced third-party encryption and can be deleted quickly by accessing the app.

Media Control, Generation 3.0: Volkswagen Media Control is the rear-seat entertainment system of the future. The app allows control of almost all infotainment functions through a tablet device. Simply connect a tablet via the vehicle’s WiFi hotspot, and passengers are able to control various features such as the radio, all media sources (USB, CD, DVD, hard drive, online song search) and factory-installed navigation. This third generation of Media Control will launch this summer in Europe, and adds several additional features, including:

• Video streaming between tablets.

• Remote control of the media that is playing on tablets via the infotainment system. This makes it possible to play a film simultaneously on two separate tablets in the back, which a great feature for traveling with children.

• Audio streaming a playlist via tablet or smartphone to the infotainment system (synchronized audio playback via the vehicle’s speakers). The current playlist can be customized by all in-car users of the app, via compatible devices.

Car-Net® App Connect and WiFi: Volkswagen Car-Net® App Connect is the brand’s advanced smartphone integration platform that allows for seamless integration from your device to the vehicle. When linked to the infotainment system, the Telephone app can be used—via the system’s touchscreen—with a graphic interface that mirrors that of the smartphone being used. Similarly, the voice control which is available on several smartphone operating systems, map or music apps can also be used in the same manner. Through Car-Net® App Connect and the MirrorLinkTM, Android AutoTM and Apple CarPlay® integrated platforms, the system is compatible with most available smartphones currently available. Previously it was necessary to connect the smartphone to the infotainment system via a cable. With Volkswagen’s introduction of the second-generation ofCar-Net®AppConnect&WiFi,userscantakeadvantageofwirelesssmartphoneintegration. Oncethe function has been configured, the smartphone can be left in the user’s handbag or jacket pocket. On longer journeys it is, of course, advisable to put the smartphone in the Volkswagen’s wireless inductive charging cradle to supply it with constant power.

Volkswagen Car-Net® Updates: The various online services offered by Volkswagen Car-Net® include the Guide & Inform, Security & Service, App Connect and e-Remote packages. At CES 2016, Volkswagen is showing a number of new programs and add-on features for Volkswagen Car-Net.

• Car-Net App Features. The e-Remote feature, developed for Volkswagen’s plug-in hybrid and electric cars, will be reconfigured, and will soon be available for other VW models. As part of this process, the app’s functions are being expanded to be integrated into existing Car-Net® app functions. One of the app’s new functions is named Calendar Import. When information about a destination is imported from your smartphone, the data can be transferred to the navigation system’s Frequent Routes menu, if so desired. From there, the data can be integrated directly into the route guidance. Another new extension is Intelligent Route Planning, where the app calculates an optimal route to several selected POIs. The driver can enter several different stores as POIs in a certain order—for example a dry cleaner, jeweler and a supermarket. The Volkswagen Car-Net App will then automatically suggest the best and most efficient route and sends it directly to the infotainment system.

• New app for MirrorLinkTM. An extremely useful new program for MirrorLinkTM users is called My Rules. My Rules helps to complete important tasks, through a simple, logical “if this, then that” approach. Examples of this functionality include programing the app with requests like “Take me to the nearest gas station, as soon as my reserve indicator lights up”, “Play the song ‘Summer in the City’ when it is a clear, warm day”, or “message me to remember shopping I need to do this weekend.”

The focus of feature add-ons for Volkswagen includes the service aspect. The new Service assistant can recommend switching to winter tires after experiencing persistently low temperatures. The Charging assistant for electric cars shows charging stations within range and indicates how long it will take to charge. The Accident Note app helps to record all necessary information in case the worst should happen. Parking Position displays where the car is parked on its owner’s smartphone and can display walking directions through Google Street View. The Route Info app suggests charging stations that are along a planned route, and provides information on the applicable road traffic rules when you cross a national border. The Calendar assistant can be used to manage the availability of a shared company car online with your colleagues.

Smartphone Notifications: Volkswagen has come up with a solution that allows drivers to stay informed, legally and without being distracted, through smartphone notifications. If the driver wants to know more, the notification can be read out fully. At speeds below 3 mph the whole notification is displayed. Above 4 mph this function is deactivated for safety reasons, in which case only the headlines or the first few words of the message are displayed.

• Social media notifications. Volkswagen presents a two-stage extension of smartphone notifications, which will not only allow the driver to have social media notifications from Facebook and Twitter displayed, but to reply to them immediately:

Step 1: The driver can reply to Facebook and Twitter updates displayed as pop-up messages, using a reply option. Reply options correspond to common social network interactions, such as retweeting. In the near future, it will also be possible to reply via voice command. While stationary, it is possible to enter free text using a keyboard.

Step 2: In the second stage of the extension, the car will be given its own identity, as well as a Twitter account. The car can then post messages itself, though the driver will still be required to approve them. If the vehicle’s speed falls below 12 mph for a predetermined length of time, the car could, for example, tweet “Wow, traffic is bad! Sorry guys, I’m going to be late. I’m at a crawl.” If the temperature falls below freezing and the car’s stability control system is active, the message could be: “Hey guys, drive carefully. It’s freezing here and getting slippery! #Thanks, ESC.” This allows friends and family who “follow” the car to stay informed about the state of the vehicle and the surrounding road conditions.

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