Tag Archives: tesla

Driverless car insurance offered with vague exclusions

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A British company claims to be the first to offer driverless car insurance. In a commendably plain english document, the Adrian Flux insurance company offers to cover autonomous car owners against hacking, bad software and the operator’s failure to assume manual control, should it become necessary.

The one thing the policy doesn’t do directly is define “driverless car”. It has definitions for all kinds of things, including what “car” means (a passenger vehicle within certain weight limits that’s not designed to carry cargo or hold more than six people). But nothing about “driverless”.

The only clue about what that might mean comes in the lengthy list of exclusions, which forbids any claims that might result from “being used in an unsafe, unroadworthy or damaged condition or without a valid MOT, Individual Approval Certificate (IAC) and Single Vehicle Approval certificate when one is needed”. In other words, they’ll leave it up to government regulators and inspectors to decide what will and won’t be allowed on the road. And up to vehicle operators to operate it safely.

Presumably, any self-driving features that make it through that process would be okay. Less clear is whether an accident like the recent one in Florida involving a Tesla running in proto-autonomous mode would be covered. Tesla insists that drivers still have to keep their hands on the wheel and their attention on the road when using what it calls Autopilot. Whether the driver in that accident was actually paying attention or, as some witnesses claim, watching a DVD – using the car in “an unsafe… condition”? – is still be determined.

Google and Apple lag behind in self-driving car development, Musk says

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A head start matters.

Google won’t be making self-driving cars, but Apple probably will, although it’s coming late to the game. That’s how Elon Musk handicaps the autonomous vehicle sweepstakes. He’s in a better position to judge than most people. His company, Tesla, already has a semi-autonomous car on the market and is trying to break out of its Silicon Valley-centric niche and into the mainstream of mass market manufacturers.

Musk talked about the steep competitive slope new entrants into the automotive business have to climb at a recent conference. According to an article in TechCrunch, Musk believes Apple got started too late

“I think they should have embarked on this project sooner,” Musk said. “I don’t know… They don’t share with me the details. I don’t think they’ll be volume production sooner than 2020. It’s a missed opportunity. There’s a dozen car companies of significance in the world, the most any company has is approximately 10% market share.”

He brushed off the idea that Google will be building autonomous vehicles itself – “they’re not a car company”, he said – but it is building the market and mainstream automakers that partner up with them will be competitive.

In other words, Apple and Google aren’t changing their core strategies. Apple appears to be leading with hardware and hoping to build a closed ecosystem around it, just as it’s done with computers, phones and other devices. Google, on the other hand, seems focused on building a platform that mass market manufacturers will adopt.

It’s far fetched to think that Google and Apple could dominate the self-driving car universe. Musk certainly isn’t bullish on that idea, and there’s no denying incumbent automakers are still the safe bet. But then again, ten years ago iOS and Android were just development projects, and the smartphone smart money was on the likes of Nokia, RIM and Palm.

Musk takes on another impossible dream

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It’s hard to bet against Elon Musk. He made a fortune as a founder of PayPal, but instead of fading into a life of one-hit wonder obscurity sitting on boards and listening to investment pitches, he doubled down by going weird: electric cars and rocket ships, old ideas with a long trail of broken genius. Each venture had “billionaire vanity project” written all over it. Now, both look likely to revolutionise transportation. We can only hope his Hyperloop daydreaming follows the same path.

Can he revive a 1990s satellite mega-constellation project? Musk has confirmed that he has a 700-satellite low earth swarm under development, a globe circling network of 100 kg birds that could deliver Internet connectivity anywhere on the planet – land, sea or air. Details are scarce, but it sounds a lot like a revival of the Teledesic project, which started out as a proposal to put 800 or 900 birds in orbit, each capable of handling as much as a gigabit of throughput.

The two guys behind it – Craig McCaw and Bill Gates – had as much cred then as Musk does now. But the reality of launching what was originally a $9 billion system was too much even for them. Eventually scaled back to 288 satellites and finally to nothing, Teledesic fell victim to the reality of physics and economics: cutting costs means reducing mass which decreases available power which equals less bandwidth. Scarce capacity is expensive capacity – eventually the billions add up to real money – making it the bandwidth of last resort. It’s hard to make a business model work on that basis.

Gates and McCaw thought so, anyway. Teledesic was shelved along with several other grand satellite plans of that era. But Musk seems ready to make another try. It’s hard to think of anything that’s changed significantly: technology is a lot better but bandwidth demand and expectations are even higher. But if it was easy to think of, someone would have figured it out already. Musk isn’t just someone. So it’s worth paying attention.

Six Californias initiative on ice, but Draper hasn’t conceded yet

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California’s secretary of state, Debra Bowen, says that a petition drive aimed at splitting California into six new states didn’t qualify for the November 2016 ballot – not enough of the 1.3 million signatures gathered were valid. It’s dead, but the principal backer of the initiative, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper, could spend a few million dollars more to try to resurrect it, either by challenging Bowen’s decision or starting a second signature gathering campaign.

In an interview on VentureBeat’s What to Think podcast on Thursday, Draper said they were first going to count the signatures themselves to see if Bowen’s decision was right…

This is a real blow if their count is accurate. But it’s just another example of why California is operating as though it was in the 1940s. In order to get a signature, we need people to sign a 14 by 17 sheet of paper with certain fonts, and it has to be handwritten. It’s a system that is so far gone, I mean, the idea that we don’t accept digital signatures for this kind of petition is sort of ludicrous.

He didn’t say what his second step might be, but Draper is not letting go of the problems with Californian government that he wants to fix…

Our infrastructure is falling apart. We have problems with water, problems with traffic. All of these problems because infrastructure spending has gone from forty years ago when it was 26% of our budget to now 3% of our budget. We have a real problem. We have in effect a monopoly provider that provides whatever service they feel they need to for as high a price as they can justify.

California is simply too big, Draper believes. Actions taken on a statewide basis wash out local concerns. He pointed to the decision by Tesla – a company he invested in – to build a battery plant in Nevada…

Those jobs that went to Nevada from Tesla almost certainly would have ended up in central California if central California had self government. There’s no way that California was looking out for the best of interest of central Californians when they decided to go ahead and let that Tesla factory go.

However, they were looking out for the best interests of all Californians, and so what may have been better for all Californians was not as good for the people of central California. And there’s huge unemployment in central California. They would have loved to have a Tesla plant in Fresno.

Draper wants to solve important problems. Whether or not breaking up the state is the right way to do it – FWIW, I don’t think so – is beside the point. If we want to find the solution, we need to start talking about it. I hope Draper pushes on.