The fact cars have become rolling computers is yesterday’s news and automakers are far from being done implementing sophisticated software into their vehicles. It’s even happening post-purchase as more and more companies are announcing support for over-the-air updates. Excluding Tesla, Porsche is among the first to plan OTA revisions for its cars, kicking off with the Taycan.
The early electric sedans built during the 2020 model year with the updated software applied have quicker acceleration for the Turbo S, improved charging functionality, and the Smartlift function for the models fitted with air suspension. While more future OTA updates are on the agenda, Taycan director Robert Meier says Porsches won’t follow the strategy used by smartphone makers that frequently push out new software to their devices.
The traditional formula of launching a next-generation car then giving it a mid-cycle facelift approximately four years later will remain in place. By embedding support for OTA updates, Porsche will be able to bundle more equipment into its cars from the get-go and put it behind a paywall. Functions on Demand is what it’s called, allowing Taycan owners to get over-the-air updates to unlock features like Active Lane Keep Assist by getting a monthly subscription.
Robert Meier told Autocar the Taycan and future models supporting OTA updates will remain first and foremost cars rather than turning into smartphone-like devices: “We don’t plan to really go with many, many updates like on a smartphone. It’s not a smartphone: it’s a car that you have to drive safely. In my eyes, we won’t see these [updates] as frequently as you have it on a phone.”
Following the Taycan / Taycan Cross Turismo, the next Porsche model to support OTA updates will likely be the all-new Macan. It’s being developed exclusively as an EV and will be the first model from the VW Group to ride on the PPE platform the Zuffenhausen brand is developing with Audi. The Four Rings are coming out with an equivalent Q6 E-Tron, with both planned for a 2022 release.
Porsche and Tesla are not the only automakers to work on over-the-air updates as Ford is doing the same for the Mustang Mach-E and F-150. In addition, VW will update the ID.3 and ID.4 sooner rather than later, while Mercedes has actually been rolling out OTA updates in the United States since 2013. The Jaguar I-Pace got 12 miles of extra range at the end of 2019 through a software revision, and Volvo is also improving its cars on the fly.
Tesla refutes Elon Musk’s timeline on ‘full self-driving’
What Tesla CEO Elon Musk says publicly about the company’s progress on a fully autonomous driving system doesn’t match up with “engineering reality,” according to a memo that summarizes a meeting between California regulators and employees at the automaker.
The memo, which transparency site Plainsite obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request and subsequently released, shows that Musk has inflated the capabilities of the Autopilot advanced driver assistance system in Tesla vehicles, as well the company’s ability to deliver fully autonomous features by the end of the year.
Tesla vehicles come standard with a driver assistance system branded as Autopilot. For an additional $10,000, owners can buy “full self-driving,” or FSD — a feature that Musk promises will one day deliver full autonomous driving capabilities. FSD, which has steadily increased in price and capability, has been available as an option for years. However, Tesla vehicles are not self-driving. FSD includes the parking feature Summon as well as Navigate on Autopilot, an active guidance system that navigates a car from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, including interchanges and making lane changes. Once drivers enter a destination into the navigation system, they can enable “Navigate on Autopilot” for that trip.
Tesla vehicles are far from reaching that level of autonomy, a fact confirmed by statements made by the company’s director of Autopilot software CJ Moore to California regulators, the memo shows.
“Elon’s tweet does not match engineering reality per CJ,” according to the memo summarizing the conversation between regulators with the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ autonomous vehicles branch and four Tesla employees, including Moore.
The memo, which was written by California DMV’s Miguel Acosta, states that Moore described Autopilot — and the new features being tested — as a Level 2 system. That description matters in the world of automated driving.
There are five levels of automation under standards created by SAE International. Level 2 means two primary functions — like adaptive cruise and lane keeping — are automated and still have a human driver in the loop at all times. Level 2 is an advanced driver assistance system, and has become increasingly available in new vehicles, including those produced by Tesla, GM, Volvo and Mercedes. Tesla’s Autopilot and its more capable FSD were considered the most advanced systems available to consumers. However, other automakers have started to catch up.
Level 4 means the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving in certain conditions without human intervention and is what companies like Argo AI, Aurora, Cruise, Motional, Waymo and Zoox are working on. Level 5, which is widely viewed as a distant goal, would handle all driving in all environments and conditions.
Here is an important bit via Acosta’s summarization:
DMV asked CJ to address from an engineering perspective, Elon’s messaging about L5 capability by the end of the year. Elon’s tweet does not match engineering reality per CJ. Tesla is at Level 2 currently. The ratio of driver interaction would need to be in the magnitude of 1 or 2 million miles per driver interaction to move into higher levels of automation. Tesla indicated that Elon is extrapolating on the rates of improvement when speaking about L5 capabilities. Tesla couldn’t say if the rate of improvement would make it to L5 by end of calendar year.
Portions of this commentary were redacted. However, Plainsite was able to copy and paste the redacted part, which shows up as white space on a PDF, into another document.
The comments in the memo are contrary to what Musk has said repeatedly in the public sphere.
Musk is frequently asked on Twitter and in quarterly earnings calls for progress reports on FSD, including questions about when it will be rolled out via software updates to owners who have purchased the option. In a January earnings call, Musk said he was “highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of a human this year.” In April 2021, during the company’s first quarter earnings call, Musk said “it’s really quite, quite tricky. But I am highly confident that we will get this done.”
The memo released this week provided other insights into Tesla’s push to test and eventually unlock greater levels of autonomy, including the number of vehicles testing a beta version of “Navigate on Autopilot on City Streets,” a feature that is meant to handle driving in urban areas and not just highways. Regulators also asked the Tesla employees if and how participants were being trained to test this feature, and how the sales team ensures that messaging about the vehicle capabilities and limitations are communicated.
As of the March meeting, there were 824 vehicles in a pilot program testing a beta version of “city streets.” About 750 of those vehicles were being driven by employees and 71 by non-employees. Pilot participants are located across 37 states, with the majority of participants in California. As of March 2021, pilot participants have driven more than 153,000 miles using the City Streets feature, the memo states. The memo noted that Tesla planned to expand this pool of participants to approximately 1,600 later that month.
Tesla told the DMV that it is working on developing a video for the participants and that the next group of participants will include referrals from existing participants. “The new participants will be vetted by Tesla by looking at insurance telematics based on the VINs registered to that participant,” according to the memo.
Tesla also told the DMV that it is able to track when there are failures or when the feature is deactivated. Moore described these as “disengagements,” a term also used by companies testing and developing autonomous vehicle technology. The primary difference worth noting here is that these companies only use employees who are trained safety drivers, not the public.
Autonomous vehicle pioneers Karl Iagnemma and Chris Urmson are coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021
Long before the multimillion-dollar acquisitions and funding rounds pushed autonomous vehicles to the top of the hype cycle, Karl Iagnemma and Chris Urmson were researching and, later, developing the foundations of the technology.
These pioneers — Iagnemma coming from MIT, Urmson from Carnegie Mellon University — would eventually go on to launch their own autonomous vehicle startups in an aim to finally bring years of R&D to the public.
That task isn’t over quite yet. Urmson, who is co-founder and CEO of Aurora, and Iagnemma, who is president and CEO of Motional, are still working on unlocking the technical and business problems that stand in the way of commercialization.
TechCrunch is excited to announce that Urmson and Iagnemma will be joining us on the virtual stage of TC Sessions: Mobility 2021. The one-day event, scheduled for June 9, is bringing together engineers and founders, investors and CEOs who are working on all the present and future ways people and packages will get from Point A to Point B. Iagnemma and Urmson will come to discuss the past, the present challenges and what both aim to do in the future. We’ll tackle questions about the technical problems that remain to be solved, the war over talent, the best business models and applications of autonomous vehicles and maybe even hear a few stories from the early days of testing and launching a startup.
Both guests have a long list of accolades and accomplishments — and too many to cover them all here.
Urmson has been working on AVs for more than 15 years. He earned his BSc in computer engineering from the University of Manitoba in 1998 and his PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University in 2005. He was a faculty member of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, where he worked with house-sized trucks, drove robots in the desert and was the technical director of the DARPA Urban and Grand Challenge teams. Urmson has authored more than 60 patents and 50 publications.
He left CMU and was one of the founding members of Google’s self-driving program, serving as its CTO. In 2017, Urmson co-founded Aurora with Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell.
Iagnemma is also considered an authority on robotics and driverless vehicles. He was the director of the Robotic Mobility Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where his research resulted in more than 150 technical publications, 50 issued or filed patents and numerous edited volumes, including books on the DARPA Grand Challenge and Urban Challenge autonomous vehicle competitions. He holds a BS from the University of Michigan, where he graduated first in his class, and MS and PhD degrees from MIT, where he was a National Science Foundation fellow.
In 2013, Iagnemma co-founded autonomous vehicle startup nuTonomy, one of the first to launch ride-hailing pilots. The company was acquired by Aptiv in late 2017. Aptiv and Hyundai formed the joint venture, which he now heads, in 2020.
Iagnemma and Urmson are two of the many best and brightest minds in transportation who will be joining us on our virtual stage in June. Among the growing list of speakers are GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.
Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event. Early Bird sales end tonight, May 7 at 11:59 pm PT. Be sure to book your tickets ASAP and save $100.
TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 early-bird price extended for one more day
“I feel the need — the need for speed.” That could be the official mobility startup founder credo, amirite? Speed and agility are important, but don’t move so quickly that you miss the chance to save $100 on a pass to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 on June 9.
We’ve extended our early-bird price for just one more day. Slow your EV roll, reroute your autonomous vehicle or dock your scooter just long enough to buy a pass before the extended deadline expires on May 7, at 11:59 pm (PT).
TC Sessions: Mobility is where you’ll learn about the latest trends and tech advancements across the mobility spectrum — autonomous trucks, AI, EVs, the future of flight, regulatory issues, micromobility, robotics and more — from the brightest minds, makers and investors around the world.
Don’t just take our word for it. Here are what past attendees shared with us about their TC Sessions: Mobility experience:
“The virtual dynamic gave the conference a relaxed, conversational vibe. The speakers and TechCrunch editors were more accessible, and that was a welcome surprise.” — Rachael Wilcox, creative producer, Volvo Cars.
“People want to be around what’s interesting and learn what trends and issues they need to pay attention to. Even large companies like GM and Ford were there, because they’re starting to see the trend move toward mobility. They want to learn from the experts, and TC Sessions: Mobility has all the experts.” — Melika Jahangiri, vice president at Wunder Mobility.
Did someone say experts? Here are just a few of the leading voices in the mobility ecosystem who will offer their invaluable insight and advice:
- Kameale Terry, co-founder and CEO at ChargerHelp! Inc.
- Ahti Heinla, co-founder, CEO and CTO at Starship Technologies
- Clara Brenner, co-founder and managing partner at Urban Innovation Fund
Check the event agenda and start planning your schedule now. Your pass includes both livestream and video-on-demand, so you won’t miss a minute of startup action.
TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place on June 9, and you have just one last shot to save $100 on the price of admission. Buy your pass before the price goes up and the savings disappear on May 7, at 11:59 pm (PT).
Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.
Elon Musk says SpaceX might refly Starship after historic landing
Update: CEO Elon Musk says that SpaceX “might try to refly SN15 soon” after it became the first Starship to ace a high-altitude launch and survive the landing. In other words, SpaceX might be about to kick off what’s bound to be a long and fruitful future of Starship reusability.
Less than six months after high-altitude flight testing began, SpaceX has successfully landed a full-size Starship prototype in one piece, giving the company its first real opportunity to inspect a flown vehicle with flaps, a nose, and three Raptor engines.
That spectacular success will simultaneously give SpaceX a wealth of data from any onboard cameras and data recorders, as well as the physical condition of Starship itself – including three Raptor engines with several minutes of flight time. While SpaceX likely already managed to determine a great deal from over-the-air telemetry and wreckage taken from Starships SN8 through SN11, it now has a virtually unharmed, full-scale, full-fidelity prototype to truly compare and contrast with more theoretical engineering and flight performance models.
Perhaps most importantly, though, SN15’s success also raises the question: what’s next for SpaceX and its Starship program?
The reality is that things could go any number of directions depending on Starship SN15’s condition and just how successful SpaceX determines the flight really was. If Starship SN15 and its tanks, flaps, and Raptors are all in impeccable condition, it’s not impossible to imagine that SpaceX could do what it did after Starship SN8’s near-total success and scrap Starship prototypes SN17, SN18, and SN19 before work really begins. While unlikely, SN15 could even fly a second time in that scenario.
Starship SN16 is already more or less complete could easily be ready to roll to the launch pad within the next week. Odds are good that SpaceX will use SN16 to (hopefully) replicate Starship SN15’s spectacular success and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the vehicle’s current design has fixed the issues that doomed SN8 through SN11. With SpaceX’s Starship program, though, just about anything is possible – especially at a point that CEO Elon Musk appears to be seriously considering a giant tower with arms as a replacement for landing legs.
Meanwhile, Musk himself confirmed that SpaceX is working towards a goal of launching Starship into orbit for the first time by July 2021. Beginning with Starship SN20, those initial orbital flight tests will use Starship prototypes with still more upgrades beyond the “hundreds of improvements” present of SN15. It’s unclear how significant the upgrades needed to move from SN15’s design to an orbit-capable Starship are but at minimum, SpaceX will need to outfit orbital ships with a full heat shield and three new vacuum-optimized Raptors on top of the three sea-level engines already flown on SN8 through SN15.
Musk has implied that recovering a Starship prototype from orbit could take several failed attempts before the first success. Along those lines, SpaceX has its work cut out for it given that Starship will be the heaviest orbital spacecraft ever launched by a large margin. Unlike the ~100 metric ton (220,000 lb) Space Shuttle orbiter, though, SpaceX won’t be gambling the lives of astronauts on Starship’s initial orbital flight tests, leaving far more room for uncertainty and risk-taking.
Beyond Starship itself, SpaceX has yet to complete or test a flightworthy Super Heavy booster prototype and the company’s orbital-class Starship launch facilities are far from complete. Many parts of Super Heavy boosters BN2 and BN3 have been completed and are waiting for integration to begin and SpaceX has made a huge amount of progress on said orbital launch site over the last six months, but months of work almost certainly remain before either crucial component will be ready for orbital launch attempts.
For now, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to Starship SN15 and SN16.
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