Self-Driving Cars May Be Here Sooner than you Think

Tesla logoThe self-driving car. It’s the dream of daily commuters and crosstown drivers alike. What would you do with all of the time you could save by not having to pay attention to the road during your trip to work? Or how about those occasions when you just don’t have time to drive the kids to the mall (again)? Self-driving cars have made a lot of news over the last few years with much of the focus being placed on Google’s autonomous automobile research. But high-end electric car manufacturer Tesla may have lapped Google in the self-driving car race.

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla just announced that his company will be introducing autonomous vehicle technology as early as this summer. What’s even more remarkable is that these futuristic features won’t come by way of hardware retrofits. But rather, Tesla Model S sedans will gain autonomy thru a software update. The new software will allow these vehicles to operate in a hands-free “autopilot” mode which will initially only be available on major roads such as highways.

Other car manufacturers have already implemented some limited self-driving features in their own cars. But even in automatic mode, those vehicles still require a driver’s hands to be placed on the steering wheels. The Model S is likely to be the first truly self-driving car on American roads.

And while it is a serious accomplishment for Tesla, don’t run out to the nearest Model S dealer just yet. There is still much debate and speculation as to whether or not self-driving cars are even street legal in most parts of the country. Still, there is some good news for Model S owners who don’t want to wait for the government to work out the legalese around self-driving cars. On private property, Model S owners will be able to summon their cars using a smartphone app. Also, these cars will be able to park themselves in a driveway or inside a garage.

And even tho the dream of autonomous driving is now closer than ever, the base model for a Tesla Model S sedan will set you back just shy of $70,000. So if you were really hoping to impress your friends by showing off your car that can park itself in the garage, you may want to start saving up now and/or take out a second mortgage.

Monitor Tyre Pressures with FOBO Tire

Fobo LogoIn-car tyre pressure monitoring is a valuable safety tool, alerting the driver to a potential problem as soon as the pressure drops. Depending on the cost of the car, the alert can be a single red warning light on the dash through to wheel-by-wheel pressure levels. Usually the feature has to be installed by the manufacturer but Fobo Tire is an after-market solution that can be easily fitted to any vehicle, both cars and bikes. Jamie and Nick take to the road with Kevin Tan from Fobo.

Fobo Tire is Bluetooth-based tyre pressure monitoring system, consisting of four sensors that screw onto the tyre’s pressure valve, replacing the dust caps. The sensors transmit data via Bluetooth both to a small monitoring unit that can remain in the vehicle and also to the owner’s smartphone or tablet. The smartphone app works with both iOS and Android, and the app can track up to 19 cars (4 x 19 sensors), so it’s good for multi-car families or small business.

Fobo Tire costs $179 for four sensors and the in-car monitoring unit, and Fobo Bike is $79 for only two sensors. Available now from Fobo’s on-line store.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly and Nick DiMeo of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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The Automotive Future by Valeo

Valeo LogoFew outside of the automotive industry will have heard of Valeo but the company is one of the world’s leading suppliers to car manufacturers, with over 78,000 employees in 29 countries and nearly $14 billion in sales. Customers include Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, Hyundai and Aston Martin, to name but a few. Jamie chats with Guillaume Devauchelle, VP Valeo, to understand the automotive industry’s direction of travel.

While autonomous cars are stealing the headlines on nearly a daily basis, the reality is that a self-driving car isn’t going to be bought off the dealer forecourt overnight. It’s going to be a gradual introduction of technology over time, each taking a step towards the final goal. Cruise control has been standard for years, and adaptive cruise control with lane departure warning is available on high-end vehicles now. Imagine the next step will be autonomous driving on freeways to prove the technology. Then the self-drive will work with two way traffic, pedestrians and cyclists, and in a final leap, driverless cars will be permitted.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly for the TechPodcast Network.

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AAMP of America Auto Upgrades

Aamp of AmericaTechnology moves on quickly and while most people get a new smartphone every other year, buying a new car doesn’t happen nearly as frequently. As a result, in-car technology can get out of date quickly, particularly with respect to entertainment and communication. Fortunately, AAMP of America can help out with this; Todd talks with Jeff Smith to find out what’s hot in auto upgrades.

With over 4,000 dealers, AAMP provide a wide range of after-market upgrades, with rear-view cameras and parking assistance being very popular, including dynamic parking lines. To keep up with manufacturer offerings AAMP does its own design and development to make sure its own products match or exceed the OEM products. Watch the video to learn more about AAMP and their approach to innovation.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Powerocks with New Battery Products at CES

Powerocks LogoUSB power packs for charging smartphones and tablets are ubiquitous and companies are striving hard to find their niche in a market that’s full of products from both established names and up-and-coming specialists. Todd talks with Craig Miller from Powerocks about how they’re going to set themselves apart.

Powerocks has adopted a two pronged approach. In its established market for mobile devices, it’s taking USB battery packs and giving them a lifestyle makeover, in this case a leather covering, to make them more appealing to a wider audience and sold in mainstream stores.

Secondly, Powerocks is using its battery expertise to be build products that aren’t only smartphone chargers but still have a battery at the core. The Jump Starter vehicle emergency unit includes a 10,000 mAh battery, USB charging ports, an LED signal light, a torch, a distress alarm, a steel break-glass and a car jump-starter all in one unit. Seriously!

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Velodyne LiDAR at CES

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Lidar is a version of radar that uses laser light rather than radio waves to measure distance and although it may seem like a new technology, it’s been around since the 60s. It’s come to greater prominence recently as it’s been used as one of the sensing technologies both for 3D mapping and driverless vehicles. Jamie and Todd find out more about lidar from Wolfgang Juchmann, Director of Sales and Marketing at Velodyne LiDAR.

Velodyne LiDAR has been one of the leading companies developing lidar technology, bringing down both the size and price of the lidar units over the past ten years. What previously was the size of a dustbin, costing $80,000, is now the size of a large food tin and costs $8,000. As sizes and prices fall, the cost and practicality of autonomous vehicles becomes more feasible, with lidar building high resolution 3D maps of the world around the car. The on-board computer can use the 3D information to tell the difference between cyclists and buildings, and drive the car on the road avoiding other road users.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Test Driving a Tesla

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Imagine if the government had bailed out the horse-drawn carriage business in 1910. How much longer would it have been before the personal transportation industry advanced to the point that everyone could have an automobile? Perhaps the government shouldn’t have bailed out conventional gasoline-powered cars. Maybe it’s time to let the evolution of the automobile take another step forward. Telsa is leading the way for this new horizon and if you ever get a chance to drive one, you’ll quickly learn that you’ll never want to drive a gas vehicle again.

During a recent trip to San Francisco, I spent a day with some friends who were shopping for a new car. We went to dealer after dealer, studying prices and shapes and colors and of course gas mileage. We saw some pretty nice cars. And of course they wanted something affordable and reasonable, but not hideous or unsafe. At the end of the day they went home and I stopped at ONE more place – the Tesla dealership in Burlingame.  I asked to take a test drive and the friendly staff set me up in the Tesla Model S P85, which is the top of the three-car line-up in the Telsa fleet.

First of all, I’m not really a car guy. But that doesn’t matter. There were so many moments while driving this thing, where I found myself saying, “This is just so cool.”

The company is owned by Elon Musk, who also owns Space X, and this makes perfect sense when you climb aboard this space rocket of a car. As the salesman approached the car, it started automatically, sensing the key in his pocket. The door handles which were flush against the door, popped out and I couldn’t help but feel like they really wanted to make something efficient and powerful but, as I mentioned, really cool too.

The first thing I noticed when I sat down in the cockpit of this future car, was the massive 17” touch screen in the middle console. This is your control panel for music, navigation, internet, backup camera and phone.  No more dinking around with your tiny smart phone for that Pandora app, or Google map, this beast of a monitor makes access to these things extremely simple. One of the most important features the computer brings up, are all the Tesla Supercharger stations across the country and even the world. It shows how many are currently in existence but also how many are scheduled to be in place in the next year – which is considerably a lot more. Charging is free at any Tesla shop, and they’re currently spaced out appropriately across the US, so in theory, you could drive across the country for free. The car can also be charged at other non-Tesla chargers but a fee may be required.

After a quick lesson in where all the knobs and buttons were and a demo of the control panel screen, we were off. This car has power. Lots of power. A little acceleration goes a long way, and when you want to slow down (which ideally, you don’t) just letting up on the pedal slows the car down to a point where you may not even need to use the brake. This regenerative braking system is by design to save power. The amount the car slows down when not accelerating, can be adjusted via the control panel as per the driver’s preference.  The P85 is stocked with an 85 kWh battery giving it a range of 265 miles per charge. The 85 has the same battery while the base model 60 has a 60 kWh battery giving it a range of 208 miles per charge.

One of the next things I noticed was how smooth it was, but also how SILENT it was. Even when I was encouraged to give it a little more acceleration, there was no sound. The P85 can do 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds. I’m not sure I got it to that on the side roads but it made merging into traffic on the freeway, feel just fantastic. I was told the test car is limited to a mere 80 mph cap but if I had my own, I could get it to 130 mph. In Bay Area traffic, good luck getting anywhere at those speeds. But speaking of traffic – which tends to be a lot of stop and go – the Tesla will give your ankle a break from going back and forth on pedals, thanks to the regenerative braking.

During the drive we hit a rather bumpy road. I immediately noticed that this was no problem at all for the car, and this is due to its Smart Air Suspension. The system automatically adjusts and levels itself out as needed. This system can also be accessed through the control panel to raise or lower the rest of the vehicle if needed for an incline, snow driving or loading/unloading.

The tech of the Tesla S is state-of-the art. And the price tag reflects that. You’re looking at somewhere around $70k for this baby, but it IS a luxury vehicle. A very, very cool luxury vehicle. But if you feel like getting one, all you have to do is head over to teslamotors.com and build yourself a custom car. There is currently somewhere around a three-month wait on the S.

I found myself wanting to drive fast but was also conflicted as I didn’t want to be done with it too quickly either. After driving this car, I really felt like I was getting into a horse-drawn carriage when I finally had to return to my boring old gasoline car. Maybe it’s time to let those “analog” cars die and embrace the future of electric vehicles. If the future is Tesla, you’re going to love it.

ViperSmart car security and a lot more

viper logoViperSmart stopped by TPN recently to discuss SmartStart, which can start, lock, unlock and monitor your car from anywhere. Those controls can all be handled from a smartphone app — either Android, iPhone or Blackberry. In fact the company president demonstrated that he could unlock his car, located in California while sitting in Las Vegas.

The app also receives trouble codes from the engine and alerts you to these, essentially monitoring your vehicles health, including if your battery is running low. It will alert you if your doors are unlocked or if your trunk is open, locate your car and monitor the speed of travel (in case your teen borrows it).

The plan is on a per-car basis, not a per driver and it runs about $3 per month, though the charge is actually annual. Some features are separate and can add a bit to the price. The app itself is free. Users will need to install the system in their car and the entry level version is $299.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net and Daniel J Lewis of  Audacity to Podcast

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Ford C-MAX Hybrid Review – First Drive Impressions


I had the chance to drive the New 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid in sunny Los Angeles along with Jeffery Powers from Geekazine.

My first impression of the car is that is a very nice looking vehicle. It defiantly has a Ford family resemblance. From the Grill and headlights on back, you can tell it’s a new Ford. The C-MAX is a name plate that has been used by Ford since 2003 in Europe and late this year, they are bringing it to the US. Totally redesigned for 2013, the C-MAX is built on the global chassis that the Ford Focus is based on, and will be built in Wayne Michigan for the Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid (Energi) versions.

Our drive started off in West Hollywood California towards the coast and up the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu. We drove in a good mix of Highway, City, and Mountains. In the 100 or so miles we put on the car, it averaged 38MPG according to the on-board readout. The EPA Estimates that the C-MAX Hybrid will get 47mpg highway and 47mpg city if driven conservatively.

The C-MAX has 50 more horsepower than the Prius V, which is a similar sized vehicle, and gets 7 more MPG. I did get a chance to drive the Prius V as a comparison and in the Mountains, the C-MAX definitely didn’t seem to be working as hard to climb the hills. I could really feel that extra 50hp!

The C-MAX Hybrid will be hitting the Ford showrooms sometime later this year at a price of around $25k.

If I were in the market for a small car (Hybrid or not) the C-MAX would be high on my list.

For more information about the C-MAX check out http://www.ford.com/cars/cmax/

Worst Car Ever

Car hire is always a bit of a lottery. You never know exactly what make or model of vehicle awaits you, only that it will be “mid-size” or “economy”. Usually the car is from a major manufacturer but recently I had the dubious pleasure of renting a car that I had never seen before and frankly, never wish to see again.

Tata Indigo SW FrontThe car in question was a Tata Indigo. Tata is an Indian conglomerate and the Indigo seems to have been developed primarily for sale in India, but is also being sold in Europe. I’m sure it meets all the relevant legislation but it’s an awful car that pales in comparison to any other US, British, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese or Korean car I have ever driven.

How do I describe how bad it was? It was just everything….the interior trim was a sea of poorly finished grey plastic with matching grey cloth seats. The sunglasses holder didn’t stay closed. The driver’s electric window didn’t close properly. The central locking was unreliable.

The boot catch was so insubstantial that I feel it would have opened with a good pull. The boot lid itself was such thin steel that I could easily pull the corner of the lid away from the body of the car. To be fair, the boot was a good size, getting three 20 kg suitcases in there without too much trouble.

Tata Indigo SW RearThe engine was uninspiring, an underpowered 1.2 litre engine, and overtaking on anything other than half a mile of clear road would be a mistake. The tyres (on steel wheels) were narrow in comparison to most modern cars and I’m sure would have made road-holding on a wet and twisty road somewhat challenging. Fortunately, it never rained and the roads weren’t that twisty.

The steering was adequate: the car would go round corners as directed but the power steering didn’t give much feedback to the driver. On the plus side, the brakes seemed to work fine, though I never had to really stamp on them. I was always too scared about having an accident to go very fast.

Apparently a top of the range model costs around 600,000 Indian rupees, which converts to US $10,000. Still too expensive.

Overall, it was simply a terrible car and the luggage space was the only redeeming feature. Top tip to car rental companies – don’t expect your customers to be repeat customers if you have the Tata Indigo in your fleet.

Photos courtesy of Michge.