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kottke.org posts about cars

Some odd things about self-driving cars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2015

Jan Chipchase writes about Twelve Concepts in Autonomous Mobility, aka behavioral and design considerations of self-driving vehicles. You may not have thought of some of these.

Nanny mode: vehicles that are assigned to pick up young children from school, but end up trailing them at a discreet distance because the kids prefer to walk home alone.

Car surprise: when you come across your car somewhere where you didn’t expect it to be and witness your vehicle engaging in unexpected activities e.g. pickup up flowers at the mall: the equivalent of catching your parent or kid smoking or shoplifting.

And why is Google, an advertising company, interested in self-driving cars? Perhaps this:

Trailer trashing: where dodgy looking vehicles are assigned to trail an otherwise apparent owner either as a joke or to send a message e.g. a hearse sent by a debt collection agency to scare-up payment. You’ll also see this happen with more aggressive companies who send a vehicle around to their competitors to send a message, recruit their staff or to gather intelligence. Task Rabbit or San Da ha + autonomous mobility + intent. The most obvious market for this will be straight-up advertising.

In 2015, you can follow brands on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In 2023, the brands follow you! Around town!

The Apollo lunar rover user’s manual

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2015

NASA Lunar Rover Manual

NASA Lunar Rover Manual

NASA Lunar Rover Manual

NASA Lunar Rover Manual

From NASA, the operations manual for the lunar rover. Rovers were used on the final three Apollo missions: 15, 16, and 17. (thx, daniel)

The full-sized Lego car

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2015

Raul Oaida built a full-sized car out of half-a-million Lego pieces that actually drives. The 256-cylinder engine is powered by compressed air. Top speed is 20 mph.

This is a stunning and insanely clever achievement. My favorite part, aside from that 256-cylinder engine, is the windshield built out of two dozen tiny Lego windshields. (via devour)

This pink 1971 Chevrolet Impala donk is impressive

posted by Susannah Breslin   Mar 19, 2015

This is a donk.

It can be yours for $65,000.

A farewell to the Model T

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2015

Writing for the New Yorker in 1936, E.B. White pens a farewell to the Model T, a gadget that defined the first quarter of the 20th century.

During my association with Model T’s, self-starters were not a prevalent accessory. They were expensive and under suspicion. Your car came equipped with a serviceable crank, and the first thing you learned was how to Get Results. It was a special trick, and until you learned it (usually from another Ford owner, but sometimes by a period of appalling experimentation) you might as well have been winding up an awning. The trick was to leave the ignition switch off, proceed to the animal’s head, pull the choke (which was a little wire protruding through the radiator), and give the crank two or three nonchalant upward lifts. Then, whistling as though thinking about something else, you would saunter back to the driver’s cabin, turn the ignition on, return to the crank, and this time, catching it on the down stroke, give it a quick spin with plenty of That. If this procedure was followed, the engine almost always responded — first with a few scattered explosions, then with a tumultuous gunfire, which you checked by racing around to the driver’s seat and retarding the throttle. Often, if the emergency brake hadn’t been pulled all the way back, the car advanced on you the instant the first explosion occurred and you would hold it back by leaning your weight against it. I can still feel my old Ford nuzzling me at the curb, as though looking for an apple in my pocket.

Aside from the obvious advantage of price, White details three compelling factors of the Model T, all of which still move car owners to purchase today: quickness, height, and customizability. The Model T was gloriously quick off the line, reaching its top speed of 45 mph, according to White, more quickly than other cars of the age. The driver sat high up in the car, on top of the gas tank, which must have given you the same mighty feeling as driving a huge-ass SUV or pickup truck. And as delivered, the Model T was just functional, leaving ample opportunity for people to add their own touches. For instance, the car didn’t come with a gas pedal (the throttle was hand-operated), speedometer, rear view mirror, or windshield wipers. (via @ftrain, who notes what a great tech blogger White was)

Flying car sculptures

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2014

Gerry Judah

Gerry Judah

Gerry Judah

These sculptures by Gerry Judah for the Goodwood Festival of Speed are amazing. Here’s how they made the Mercedes arch for this year’s festival. (via ministry of type)

Tesla abandons their patents

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2014

Dang, Tesla just announced they’re letting anyone use their patented technology. CEO Elon Musk:

Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

Damn good move for a damn good reason. It’s impressive to watch this company in action.

Update: I read that last line quoted above again and perhaps “abandoned” is too strong a word. Glenn Fleishman notes on Twitter:

They did not abandon their patents. They aren’t apparently even licensing them. They are stating they won’t sue except defensively. The devil is in the details. Twitter released a complete framework of their policy when they announced the same thing.

Hopefully Musk and co. will clarify what they mean by “in good faith”.

Scale Americana

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2014

Michael Paul Smith takes photographs of classic cars that evoke feelings of nostalgia for America in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. Take a look, these are about as Pleasantville as you can get:

Michael Paul Smith 01

Michael Paul Smith 02

But as you’ll discover browsing through Smith’s collection, the cars he photographs are scale models. Here’s the set-up for that second shot:

Michael Paul Smith 03

And here’s further evidence of Smith’s trickery:

Michael Paul Smith 04

No Photoshop here…all effects are done in-camera. As Smith notes, “It is the oldest trick in the special effects book: lining up a model with an appropriate background, then photographing it.” (via @osteslag)

F1 pit stop ballet

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2014

Watch Ferrari’s F1 pit crew do a pit stop in a bit over two seconds:

I wish this were in slow motion because I’ve watched this three times now and I still cannot understand how it’s done. My favorite part is how calm they all are about it. Here’s a longer video that shows the process over and over from several points of view, including from a GoPro mounted on the chest of the wheelgun man:

Watch for the guy on the front jack pirouetting out of the way. I would love to read a long piece on how F1 pit crews train and practice. There are tantalizing bits in shorter articles, like this one from Autosport.com:

With three people per wheel, two jack operators, and a handful of mechanics fulfilling other functions, each pit crew comprises nearly 20 people.

Each is trained for a specific role and teams take their preparation as seriously as drivers’, managing crewmen’s fitness and diet.

They are drilled incessantly at both the factory and during race weekends, with hundreds of pitstop practices until the process is instinctive.

Although problems such as faulty guns are rehearsed, everyone focuses on their own job — in a two-second pitstop, there is no time to see what everyone else is doing. By the time an error has been alerted, the car has often already pulled away, as was the case at the Nurburgring.

And this one from the AP:

Teams now spend huge sums to design their own equipment and improve the fitness of their teams who also work as mechanics. McLaren is working with the English Institute of Sport to hone their 24-member team’s technique while Williams has partnered with Olympic champion Michael Johnson’s Performance Center to work on everything from diet to eye-hand coordination to core strength.

Training has also been ramped up. Most teams have rigs to practice on in the factory and pit stops are practiced as many as 70 times over a typical race weekend. Each stop is timed and videotaped for later review.

“When you had to go from 3.5 seconds down to a lower number, then you really need to be very specific and accurate on how you train because everything needs to be very synchronized to achieve that level of fast time and consistency,” said Williams’ chief race engineer Xevi Pujolar, whose team had its fastest pit stop this season in Spain after making changes to its crew but still is almost a second behind the top teams.

“There still a lot of room for improvement and we are working hard to catch up to these guys that do close to two seconds,” Pujolar said. “If you look at video of pit crew and how they move during pit stop, everything is so well coordinated. To achieve this level of coordination on every pits stop requires a lot of training.”

As well as this series about pit stops by Williams on YouTube. (via digg)

And Bloomberg said let there be bike lanes

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 07, 2014

This collection of before-and-after photos of NYC’s streets shows how much the Bloomberg administration and former Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan transformed the city’s streets.

NYC streets, before/after

Constructing our cities around cars is one of the biggest mistakes of the 20th century and we’re still paying for it. As Kaj Pindal cleverly depicted in his 1966 Oscar-nominated short film What On Earth!, it often seems like cars and not people are the Earth’s dominant life form.

(via @anildash)

On Google’s self-driving car

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 26, 2013

Burkhard Bilger got inside the secretive Google X lab and reports back on the search giant’s effort to build a self-driving car.

The Google car has now driven more than half a million miles without causing an accident-about twice as far as the average American driver goes before crashing. Of course, the computer has always had a human driver to take over in tight spots. Left to its own devices, Thrun says, it could go only about fifty thousand miles on freeways without a major mistake. Google calls this the dog-food stage: not quite fit for human consumption. “The risk is too high,” Thrun says. “You would never accept it.” The car has trouble in the rain, for instance, when its lasers bounce off shiny surfaces. (The first drops call forth a small icon of a cloud onscreen and a voice warning that auto-drive will soon disengage.) It can’t tell wet concrete from dry or fresh asphalt from firm. It can’t hear a traffic cop’s whistle or follow hand signals.

And yet, for each of its failings, the car has a corresponding strength. It never gets drowsy or distracted, never wonders who has the right-of-way. It knows every turn, tree, and streetlight ahead in precise, three-dimensional detail. Dolgov was riding through a wooded area one night when the car suddenly slowed to a crawl. “I was thinking, What the hell? It must be a bug,” he told me. “Then we noticed the deer walking along the shoulder.” The car, unlike its riders, could see in the dark. Within a year, Thrun added, it should be safe for a hundred thousand miles.

America’s legal system will make it difficult for self-driving cars to be accepted here…while not a legal kerfuffle yet, see Tesla’s current difficulties w/r/t fire risk in electric cars for a taste of what’s to come with self-driving cars. Europe is more likely…someplace like Holland or Denmark. They take their public and personal transportation seriously over there.

From One Second To The Next

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 09, 2013

Leave it to Werner Herzog to take the driver safety video to new heights. From One Second To The Next is a 35-minute documentary film by Herzog on the dangers of texting while driving.

Powerful stuff. Don’t text while you’re driving, okay? (via @brillhart)

Posters of famous movie cars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2013

The CarsAndFilms Etsy shop sells posters featuring famous cars from films.

Cars And Films

(via cup of jo)

Changing a flat while driving

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2013

Changing a tire on a car while driving on two wheels is apparently a bit of a thing in Saudi Arabia. Here are a couple of examples:

If you want to try this at home (don’t), here’s how you get a car up on two wheels (don’t).

How the Tesla Model S is made

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2013

A nice video from Wired that shows how Tesla’s sedan is made.

Tesla got the factory for a song from Toyota in 2010, spent about a year or so setting up tooling and started producing the Model S sedan in mid-2012. The automaker brings in raw materials by the truckload, including the massive rolls of aluminum that are bent, pressed, and formed to create the car. Those lightweight components are assembled by swarm of red robots in an intricate ballet that is mesmerizing to behold.

(via ★interesting)

Trailer for season two of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2013

People love Jerry Seinfeld so much that we will watch him driving cars and drinking coffee with other comedians. Wait, that actually sounds fantastic!

All the season one episodes are available on YouTube, featuring Ricky Gervais, Alec Baldwin, Michael Richards, and Larry David. (via devour)

VW Beetle sphere

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2013

Indonesian artist Ichwan Noor made this amazing thing, a 1953 Volkswagen Beetle formed into a sphere:

VW sphere

Make intersections safer by removing stoplights

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2013

Cars were moving too fast through an intersection in the town of Poynton in England, so they took out the stoplights & walk signals and replaced the intersection with an unusual double roundel design. The result is a mixed-use space with slower moving car traffic and safer pedestrian traffic.

(via digg)

How a differential gear works

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 03, 2013

I’ve posted this before, but it’s so good, here it is again: a super-simple explanation of why differential gears are necessary in cars and how they work.

(via @stevenstrogatz)

Crouching government, hidden compartment

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2013

Alfred Anaya was really good at putting secret compartments into cars and he thought he was in the clear if he didn’t know what his customers were putting in these compartments. He was wrong.

Alfred Anaya took pride in his generous service guarantee. Though his stereo installation business, Valley Custom Audio Fanatics, was just a one-man operation based out of his San Fernando, California, home, he offered all of his clients a lifetime warranty: If there was ever any problem with his handiwork, he would fix it for the cost of parts alone-no questions asked.

Anaya’s customers typically took advantage of this deal when their fiendishly loud subwoofers blew out or their fiberglass speaker boxes developed hairline cracks. But in late January 2009, a man whom Anaya knew only as Esteban called for help with a more exotic product: a hidden compartment that Anaya had installed in his Ford F-150 pickup truck. Over the years, these secret stash spots-or traps, as they’re known in automotive slang-have become a popular luxury item among the wealthy and shady alike. This particular compartment was located behind the truck’s backseat, which Anaya had rigged with a set of hydraulic cylinders linked to the vehicle’s electrical system. The only way to make the seat slide forward and reveal its secret was by pressing and holding four switches simultaneously: two for the power door locks and two for the windows.

Esteban said the seat was no longer responding to the switch combination and that no amount of jiggling could make it budge. He pleaded with Anaya to take a look.

Anaya was unsettled by this request, for he had suspicions about the nature of Esteban’s work. There is nothing intrinsically illegal about building traps, which are commonly used to hide everything from pricey jewelry to legal handguns. But the activity runs afoul of California law if an installer knows for certain that his compartment will be used to transport drugs. The maximum penalty is three years in prison. Anaya thus thought it wise to deviate from his standard no-questions-asked policy before agreeing to honor his warranty. “There’s nothing in there I shouldn’t know about, is there?” he asked. Esteban assured him that he needn’t worry.

Read all the way to the end for author Brendan Koerner’s conclusions about our government’s position of the moral neutrality of technology.

Apple’s halo car

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2013

I really enjoyed this piece by John Siracusa about why Apple should continue to make a high-end personal computer (like the Mac Pro) even though it’s not a big seller or hugely profitable. Basically, the Mac Pro is Apple’s halo car:

In the automobile industry, there’s what’s known as a “halo car.” Though you may not know the term, you surely know a few examples. The Corvette is GM’s halo car. Chrysler has the Viper.

The vast, vast majority of people who buy a Chrysler car get something other than a Viper. The same goes for GM buyers and the Corvette. These cars are expensive to develop and maintain. Due to the low sales volumes, most halo cars do not make money for car makers. When Chrysler was recovering from bankruptcy in 2010, it considered selling the Viper product line.

But car companies continue to make halo cars in part because they are great cars, or at least have the potential to be great cars, and when a car company stops caring about making great cars, they lose their identity and credibility…with consumers, with employees, with investors, and with competitors. Halo cars are the difference between being a car company and being a company that sells cars.

Normally I’m not a big fan of advice like “do what big car companies do”, but what Siracusa’s piece demontrates is one of the things that’s problematic about data: there are important things about business and success that you can’t measure. And I would go so far as to say that these unmeasurables are the most important things, the stuff that makes or breaks a business or product or, hell, even a relationship, stuff that you just can’t measure quantitatively, no matter how Big your Data is. (via df)

Tesla Model S wins 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2012

Motor Trend chose the Tesla Model S as its 2013 Car of the Year, the first time their top prize has gone to an electric car.

The 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year is one of the quickest American four-doors ever built. It drives like a sports car, eager and agile and instantly responsive. But it’s also as smoothly effortless as a Rolls-Royce, can carry almost as much stuff as a Chevy Equinox, and is more efficient than a Toyota Prius. Oh, and it’ll sashay up to the valet at a luxury hotel like a supermodel working a Paris catwalk. By any measure, the Tesla Model S is a truly remarkable automobile, perhaps the most accomplished all-new luxury car since the original Lexus LS 400. That’s why it’s our 2013 Car of the Year.

The magazine went on to say that “the Tesla Model S is simply a damned good car you happen to plug in to refuel”. This is how environmentally friendly products win, by being better than the less green products they replace.

Robocars, whistlecars, and robotaxis, oh my

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2012

Brad Templeton imagines how the design of cars and other transportation systems might change with widespread use of driverless cars. I especially like the robocar used as a mobile office or a place to get a good night’s sleep as you travel from one place to the other.

The in-car environment will become more of a work and entertainment space than just a travel space. Passengers will expect things like a screen, a keyboard, and a desk. Passengers may wish to face one another (though not all are comfortable riding backwards.)

Quiet will be a very important consideration, though passengers will be allowed to wear headphones if desired, unlike drivers today.

The smooth ride (especially on the highway) of a robocar may generate demand for cars for night-travel, while the passengers sleep. Such vehicles might aim to make a trip last 8 hours rather than make the fastest possible trip, and as such would be much more energy efficient for such trips.

(This also requires a very low crash rate, as seat belts don’t work as well on flat beds.)

My guess is that the first big market for driverless cars will not be the US but somewhere smaller, more urban, and more used to experimentation with alternate modes of transportation. (via the atlantic)

Formula One cars are fast. Like super fast.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2012

Speaking of what fast looks like, here’s a pair of synced videos that show just how fast F1 cars are. On the left are drivers participating in a track day, that is, normal folks who want to drive their cars fast on a real race course. A couple of them look like actual GT cars and are moving pretty quick. On the right, you’ve got F1 cars on the same track. It’s not even close:

Here’s an overlaid version and you can also see how much faster F1 cars are than just 25 years ago…the 2011 F1 car beats the 1986 F1 car by an amazing 22 seconds over a total time of a minute and a half. (via @coreyh)

Update: In a speed test, an F1 car starts 40 seconds after a Mercedes sports car and 25 seconds after a V8 Supercar (essentially an Australian NASCAR) and still catches them by the end of the first lap.

Intersections in the age of driverless cars

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2012

Driverless cars is the type of innovation that may have unanticipated consequences. Sure, you can read Twitter while you’re being spirited around by your robotic car, but driverless cars may also end private car ownership. And what will intersections look like when used exclusively by driverless cars? Perhaps a little like this:

“There would be an intersection manager,” Stone says, “an autonomous agent directing traffic at a much finer-grain scale than just a red light for one direction and a green light for another direction.”

Because of this, we won’t need traffic lights at all (or stop signs, for that matter). Traffic will constantly flow, and at a rate that would probably unnerve the average human driver.

I wonder how people will abuse or have fun with driverless cars. Driver- and passenger-less car joyrides? Will they be hackable and if so, dangerous?

Driverless cars will redefine public transportation

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2011

In a short essay about The Unintended Effects of Driverless Cars (like the kind being tested by Google), Koushik Dutta guesses at what they might mean for the future of transportation.

Currently, a car spends 96% of its time idle. Compare that with planes which spend almost their entire lifetime in operation/airborne. Idle planes aren’t making money, and they need to recoup their hefty $120M price tag. There is an unforgiving economic incentive to make sure it is always in use.

The proliferation of driverless cars will have a similar effect. Cars will spend less time idle: why would a household buy 2 (or even 3) cars, when they only need 1? Ride to work, then send the car home to your spouse. Need to go grocery shopping, but your kid also needs a ride to a soccer game? No problem, a driverless car can handle that.

Most people don’t need cars most of the time but pay for the convenience of having one nearby when they do. Schedule-able on-demand driverless cars could eliminate that need, with the added bonus of expanding effortlessly to fit current capacity (e.g. imagine a family of four needing to go in four different directions at four different times…just schedule four Hertz Driverless pickups from your phone). Of course, people said similarish things about the Segway

The twilight of the free-running car

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2011

I posted about Chris Burden’s Metropolis II a few months ago. The artist is almost set to deliver the piece to Los Angeles County Museum of Art and there’s a proper preview for it:

My favorite line of the interview with Burden that runs over the video:

The idea that a car runs free, those days are about to close.

(via sippey)

Chris Burden’s latest project “a portrait of LA”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2010

For a piece called Metropolis II, artist Chris Burden is building a huge track and put 1200 Hot Wheels cars on it…the noise is deafening when they’re all circulating.

It includes 1,200 custom-designed cars and 18 lanes; 13 toy trains and tracks; and, dotting the landscape, buildings made of wood block, tiles, Legos and Lincoln Logs. The crew is still at work on the installation. In “Metropolis II,” by his calculation, “every hour 100,000 cars circulate through the city,” Mr. Burden said. “It has an audio quality to it. When you have 1,200 cars circulating it mimics a real freeway. It’s quite intense.”

(thx, aaron)

Crazy car driving skills

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2010

This is Ken Block practicing a sport called gymkhana, which is sort of the Mario Kart version of rodeo barrel racing.

The build-up is way too long…the good stuff starts at about 1:10 and the crazy-ass shit starts at 3:00. The move right at three minutes in is just absolutely fantastic as is the 360 sliding thing he does through a building. (via clusterflock)

Wee Fiat 1970s concept car

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2010

Fiat City Car

Isn’t that the cutest little thing? The City Car was a concept car with an electric engine designed by Fiat in 1972. I say build the sucker…what a beautiful machine. They could call it the Fiat Squee!!