With self-driving cars upon us, the future is now.
Tesla Inc. is leading the way with innovative technologies in the automotive industry. For years, they’ve been developing Autopilot, which is a fascinating invention that causes both hope and fear for car drivers.
Get everything you need to know right here.
What is Autopilot?
Tesla’s Autopilot is an advanced system that empowers a car to drive itself. On its own, Autopilot can stay centered in lane, change lanes, maintain distance from the next car, self-park, and summon the car from a parking spot or garage.
Tesla’s Autopilot is an example of full self-driving (FSD), which is sometimes called a driverless car or an autonomous car. Autopilot combines both hardware and software to make this possible.
Here’s a demonstration of Autopilot. Legally, there must be a person in the driver’s seat when Autopilot is on, but the person is not driving.
How Autopilot Works
Under the Federal Aviation Administration, pilots must monitor an aircraft that is on autopilot at all times. In a similar vein, Tesla mandates that drivers must monitor a car on Autopilot at all times.
Tesla equips their cars with radar coverage, cameras, and ultrasonic sensors, which give the system a 360-degree view around the vehicle. The software then uses this equipment to discern surroundings.
The equipment is able to distinguish other vehicles, road signs, obstacles, and lane markings. This system can even detect other cars and pedestrians through fog, dust, and heavy rain. The hardware processes this information at 200 frames per second.
With this constant influx of information, the software is programmed to make the proper moves and adjust speed to the surroundings.
Anytime a new software update is released, a car with Autopilot receives the update wirelessly.
A Brief History of Autopilot
Autopilot has developed over the years in a series of updates and adjustments to both their software and hardware. This section will touch on some of the notable advancements of Autopilot.
In 2013, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said, “Autopilot is a good thing to have in planes, and we should have it in cars.” The theory was simple: if we use autopilot on planes, we can and should use it on cars.
In late 2014, Tesla offered customers Autopilot for the first time. The Model S and Model X came with a tech package upgrade: a windshield-mounted camera, frontside radar, and sensors on the front and back bumpers.
Together this was known as Autopilot, which offered semi-autonomous driving. Tesla refers to this tech package as Hardware 1. This allowed drivers to do limited hands-free driving.
In October 2015, Tesla customers experienced the next step in Autopilot development with the release of software enabling Autopilot, which was packaged with Tesla’s version 7.0. This added a few features.
However, Tesla later released version 7.1, which removed a few features in 7.0. Tesla announced this was an effort to discourage risky behaviors. Version 7.1 did add a remote parking feature, which could be used without a driver in the vehicle.
In August 2016, Tesla announced Autopilot 8.0, which made a significant shift in software. Instead of using cameras as the primary sensor, Autopilot would now use radar. A November update added two notable safety features:
- Autopilot requires the driver to touch the wheel more often.
- Whenever Autopilot is activated, there is now a more noticeable indication that it’s engaged.
In November 2016, Autopilot had been used to drive over 300 million miles.
On October 19, 2016, Tesla announced that all their cars would now be made with full self-driving. Their vehicles would now come with better computing and sensing equipment, which they call Hardware Version 2 (HW2).
This allowed Autopilot to change lanes without needing driver input, transition between freeways, and exit a highway near the driver’s destination.
In February 2017, Autopilot became available for HW2 cars. They included auto-steering on local roads and divided highways, as well as adaptive cruise control. In June of the same year, version 8.1 arrived, which added the features of parallel parking and full-speed breaking.
Later updates made riders smoother by making acceleration and deceleration less jerky.
In July 2017, Hardware Version 2.5 was released. And as of 2019, Tesla continues to evolve Autopilot with developing Hardware Version 3.
Public opinions on Autopilot
As with all new technologies, many questions have been raised over the years by industry experts and concerned citizens.
Some have voiced concerns over the legality of full self-driving. Many question if Tesla drivers using Autopilot are even driving legally. Autopilot seemingly conflicts with the current best practices in driving, such as keeping both hands on the wheel or keeping one foot on a pedal.
Earlier, in the demonstration video, the driver is doing neither.
Tesla spokesman Alexis Georgeson said there is “nothing in our autopilot system that is in conflict with current regulations.” She went on to clarify a misconception about Autopilot, saying:
“We’re not getting rid of the pilot. This is about releasing the driver from tedious tasks so they can focus and provide better input.”
Despite Tesla’s safety measures, some still ask if self-driving cars inherently promote irresponsible driving.
Another recurring debate revolves around fault in the case of an accident caused by full self-driving. If Autopilot makes a mistake and there is a car wreck, who is responsible?
Drivers are expected to monitor Autopilot, but this complicates investigations and court proceedings. At what point is a driver responsible vs. the program and can a company like Tesla be liable?
Individuals, manufacturers, and insurance companies will likely fight a lot in the following years to work out liability issues with self-driving cars.
In the years developing and using Tesla’s Autopilot, there have been a few accidents and deaths recorded involving Autopilot. This article will note a few of the more recent incidents at the time of writing.
May 11, 2018 at South Jordan, Utah
During the evening, a Tesla Model S crashed into a fire truck that was stopped at a red light. Autopilot was engaged at the time and traveling at about 60 miles per hour during the time of impact. The Tesla driver survived with a broken foot.
According to witnesses, the Tesla car did not appear to avoid the impact or attempt to brake prior to the collision. Telemetry data revealed the driver did not touch the wheel 80 seconds preceding the crash and did not brake until milliseconds before impact.
The driver later admitted she was on her phone at the time. Police cited her for “failure to keep proper lookout.”
March 1, 2019 at Delray Beach, Florida
During the morning, a Tesla Model 3 hit a semi-truck on a highway and under rode the trailer. The driver did not survive. The dispatched investigators that analyzed the scene did not fault or cite the driver of the semi-truck.
Ten seconds prior to the collision, the Tesla driver activated Autopilot. And in May 2019, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that neither the Autopilot or the driver attempted evasive maneuver prior to impact.
Preliminary telemetry showed that the driver’s hands were not on the wheels for approximately 8 seconds leading up to the crash.
August 10, 2019 at Moscow, Russia
During the night, a Tesla Model 3 ran into a parked tow truck, then caught on fire. At the time, Autopilot was activated and was driving at the maximum speed limit (100 km/h).
Fortunately, the driver and his children exited the vehicle in time and escaped with survivable injuries. The driver had a broken leg and the children suffered bruising.
The driver claimed he was holding the wheel at the time of the crash, but was not paying attention.
Positive incidents with Autopilot
A noteworthy incident that puts a positive light on Autopilot occurred on July of 2016, in Washington D.C. While driving his Tesla Model X, Joshua Neally experienced pulmonary embolism, which made it impossible for him to drive.
Neally was able to drive most of the way to a hospital using Autopilot, which possibly saved his life.
On July 21, 2016, Elon Musk tweeted that Autopilot saved the life of a pedestrian in D.C., or at least prevented serious injury. The driver reported that a pedestrian stepped out in front of his vehicle while he was distracted. Autopilot instantly braked and prevented the car from hitting the pedestrian.
Musk confirmed this by looking at the vehicle’s logs.
The Future of Autopilot
Autopilot will unquestioningly impact greater society in the future. Tesla has repeatedly stated and demonstrated a commitment to developing a safe, legal, effective Autopilot system.
And they’re not the only ones interested in the technology. Google is also developing a self-driving car under their program Waymo.
While Tesla has made significant progress in recent years, it seems there are still technological and legal barriers they need to overcome.
Here’s Elon Musk on the future of Autopilot: “Full autonomy is really a software limitation. The hardware exists to create full autonomy. So it’s really about developing advanced narrow AI for the car to operate on.”
This astounding statement reveals how close we are to a world full of self-driving cars. The hardware already exists. We just have to write better software.
Are you ready for self-driving cars?
Volkswagen Goes Electric, Are you Missing Out?
Volkswagen plans to be the leader of electric cars by 2025.
They announced a new vision called TOGETHER 2025+, which promises electric cars and a digital network by 2025. Their stated goal is to make automobiles that are “clean, quiet, intelligent, and safe.” And ultimately be “part of the solution when it comes to climate and environmental protection.”
This massive project tells us a lot about the future of the auto industry.
What Are Electric Cars?
As their name suggests, electric cars are automobiles that run on electricity, rather than gasoline. They use an electric motor, which is powered by rechargeable batteries.
Some cars use both sources of power, which are called hybrids.
To manufacture electric cars, Volkswagen will have to repurpose their factories, implement new technologies, and use different designs.
A few factors prompted Volkswagen to take this direction, but their emissions-cheating scandal was probably the biggest influence.
In 2015, The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accused Volkswagen of creating cars that cheated emission standards.
Specifically, Volkswagen created software that detected when their cars were analyzed by emissions testing. The software would enable emission controls to “pass” the testing.
But during normal driving conditions, the software would shut off. This gave cars more power and fuel economy, but resulted in more pollution than the law allowed.
Since then, Volkswagen admitted to installing the software in about 11 million cars and publicly apologized for the practice. However, the day after the news broke, their stock price declined 20%, then fell another 17% the following day.
In 2017, Volkswagen pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $4.3 billion in penalties. A week later, executives were charged.
In response to their scandal, Volkswagen changed their logo to a white variation on June 5, 2019. In a TV commercial, Volkswagen acknowledged their mistake and announced their launch into electric vehicles.
Their PR strategy is to demonstrate a dramatic change for the good, using the tagline “In the darkness, we found the light.”
Volkswagen’s Announces the I.D. Series
In 2016, brand chief Herbert Diess said, “By 2025, we plan to sell 1 million electric cars per year, and by then we also want to be the global market leader in electromobility. Going forward, our electric cars will be the hallmark of Volkswagen.”
Volkswagen announced their plans to launch a generation of electric cars beginning in 2020. They call this series of cars the I.D. family. This line of cars will reinvent their previous vehicles as electric versions.
The first models, debuting in 2020, will be the I.D. and the I.D. Crozz. In 2021, the ID. Roomzz model will be released, which will be a zero-emission SUV.
By 2022, the public can buy the I.D. Buzz, the I.D. Buzz Cargo, and the I.D. Vizzion. However, some models will be restricted to Europe. In addition to cars, Volkswagen also plans to create a charging network.
In a press release on August 8, 2019, Volkswagen announced plans to install 4,000 charging stations at their German sites by 2025. Beyond Germany, Volkswagen Group is working to provide over 36,000 charging points throughout Europe. The project cost is estimated at 250 million Euros.
The Future of Volkswagen
Analysts believe it’s only a matter of time before automakers ditch petrol cars in favor of electric cars, which many consider the next technological step for the auto industry. However, there are still challenges companies like Volkswagen face.
As mentioned earlier, electric cars require charging stations. Not only does Volkswagen have to create a new generation of cars, but they also have to update infrastructure. To make electric cars a reality, drivers need a network of charging points.
Nevertheless, Volkswagen is moving forward with their initiative. With auto giants like Volkswagen going electric, it’s only a matter of time before other car companies follow suit.
As the world demands higher environmental standards, companies are responding with greener initiatives. Volkswagen’s TOGETHER 2025+ project indicates that electric cars will be commonplace in the future.
How to Buy a Car With Low Insurance
If you’re car shopping, you need to factor in auto insurance.
Before buying a car, always call your insurance company for a quote. You don’t want to get stuck with an insurance bill as high as your car payment.
If you’re a money-saver, you may be wondering how to pick a car with a low insurance quote.
A lot of factors affect your insurance premium:
• Accident history
• Credit score
• Where you live
• Who’s on your policy
This post will look at one factor in particular: the kind of car you’re buying.
If you’re trying to pick out a car with cheap insurance, you’re looking for three things. You want to buy a safe, inexpensive, and old car.
1. Buy a safe car
The chief concern of insurance is managing risk.
What are the odds a driver will be in an accident? Do they have a history of accidents and traffic violations?
They analyze the driver. They also analyze the car.
Insurance companies collect data on makes and models. Do certain cars have bad track records?
Let’s say a particular sports car is in a lot of high-speed crashes per year. Insurance companies note this and they raise insurance costs on that specific make and model.
Let’s say a 4-door car with safety features is in significantly fewer accidents a year. The insurance company will see that as a safer vehicle and lower the insurance costs.
Airbags and seatbelts are givens. But here are other common safety features:
• Shatter-resistant glass.
• Anti-lock braking systems.
• Four-wheel steering for better control.
• Good bumpers to protect the body from minor bumps.
• Mirrors to see blind spots.
• Excellent headlights for driving at night or in the rain.
Also, 4-door vehicles typically have lower insurance rates than 2-door vehicles.
2. Buy an inexpensive car
The more a car costs, the higher the insurance costs.
For one, expensive cars are statistically more likely to be stolen.
Another factor insurance companies consider when insuring your car is the repair cost. If the car is damaged, how much would it cost to replace the parts?
If the car parts are expensive then the vehicle will have a higher premium. If it’s cheap to repair the car then the vehicle will have a lower premium.
In some cases, you don’t even have to guess which car will cost more to repair. Let’s say there’s a Honda Civic on your left and a Mercedes-Benz on your right.
Which do you think costs more to insure?
However, it’s not always obvious which car costs more to repair. There are cars that are cheap, but their parts are expensive to get.
For example, some foreign cars need parts from far away countries. That might raise the repair costs. In turn, that jacks up the insurance premium.
Always call your insurance company before purchasing a vehicle to get an insurance quote.
But generally speaking, you want to look at less expensive cars. They normally have lower insurance rates.
3. Buy an older car
Older cars usually have lower insurance rates than newer cars.
There are exceptions. If it’s a classic car or rare model, it may be more expensive than a new make and model.
There are a few reasons why older cars are cheaper to insure.
As mentioned in the previous section, car price matters. Newer cars cost more and have a higher market value.
That means it’ll be expensive to repair them if they’re damaged.
Newer cars also tend to have more add-ons:
• Built-in computer screens
• Roadside assistance
The more bells and whistles a car has, the more the insurance company needs to cover.
Also, older cars have been around for a while. Therefore insurance companies have more data on these makes and models.
Let’s say an older model has a below-average accident rate. The insurance knows this from years of collecting data.
So the company gives the model a lower premium.
When a new model hits the market, an insurance company isn’t sure how safe it is. It may perform poorly in years to come.
The uncertainty may force the company to aim higher on premiums.
Always get an insurance quote
Those are the three things to keep in mind when shopping for a car with cheap insurance. You’re looking for a safe, inexpensive, and older car.
Keep in mind that there are exceptions to the rules. Don’t skip the step of calling your insurance company and asking for a quote.
But these three factors are a good place to start. Keep them in mind to narrow your search for a car.
They’ll give you a general direction when choosing a car. And they’ll save you money in the future.
Car Buying 101: When to Buy vs When to Lease
“But if I buy it, it’s mine…I own it!” Sounds familiar, right? Except for one thing; an automobile is the only asset whose depreciation we accept! If your home (barring acts of God and banking) dropped in value, would you be OK with that? Yet, we’re good with cars…But what to do? Guy’s gotta drive, right? Absolutely, only there are smarter ways to go about it. Unless you pay cash for a solid used car (highly recommended), we’re always going to have a car payment of some kind.
Let’s start with the simple part first. Leasing a car can be less expensive alternative to buying a car. There are some stipulations. Most leases come with yearly limits on their contracts, usually between 12,000 and 18,000 miles a year, although you can buy “mileage packages.” In a three year term, any miles over that limit gets charged roughly 25-30 cents a mile when you turn the car in. Sometimes, the dealer may give you a break if you decide to buy the car, which you can do for the market, or Kelly Blue Book, price, depending on how good your negotiating skills are. Go get ‘em! You’re not getting the invite to Thanksgiving dinner anyway.
It is highly recommended that your commute should be miniscule; when I lived in Los Angeles, I averaged 40-50,000 miles a year doing things that most folks do. Depending on where you live and how far you drive to work, a lease may be an excellent option. The money due at the lease signing can be lower than a down payment, or even waived with excellent credit. Moreover, you can get a snazzier car than you’d buy for yourself. Last year, a friend of mine successfully traded in his Navigator for a four year lease on an insane Maserati and his monthly payment is $50 less a month. He does work from home, though. So there’s that.
It is amazing how much the new car drops in value as soon as you hit the street, off of the showroom floor. A good rule of thumb in owning is buying a car that’s a couple of years old, with roughly 20-30,000 miles on it. Many brands offer “Certified Pre-Owned” cars that can be great deals. Beware that interest on used cars can sometimes be higher so you have to do the math; will the one or two points on the loan outweigh the $30,000 I just saved on this BMW?
— ChicagoAutoAppraisal (@CAautoappraiser) July 18, 2017
In buying new, you have to really know the resale value. The chances are good that you’ll sell it and you want to get as much back as you can. If you compare a two year old used car to the newer model, how much more is the new car? Say you look at a 2015 Nissan Pathfinder S at roughly $20,000 with 24,000 miles on it. The 2017 version is roughly $30,000. You do save $10,000! Remember what I said about loans being more on used cars? Say that you’re paying an extra $80 a month because you’re paying 2% more on the loan? Well, $80 a month more, multiplied by five years is $4,800 more so you still save $5,200! Plus, the used $20,000 car can be sold for around $15,000 with 10,000 more miles. If you pay $30,000 guess what you can sell it for? Right…
Final point here, when you’re ready to sell; don’t trade it in. Sell it yourself, or find a car broker. Dealers will not give you Kelly Blue Book.
Don’t get crazy…
I’m a fan of cars and I get that you want what you want, but know what you want! For example, the Lexus RX350 is the exact same car as the Nissan Rogue…exactly. The interior is a tad more fancy pants but it’s the same body, windows…even the sport packages are the same! What’s not the same is the $50,000 price tag compared to roughly $30,000 for the Rogue with the exact same options. Why pay $20, 000 for an “L?” I’ll sell you an “L” for $300! Oh, and they’re both made by Nissan. Maybe I shouldn’t say these things but they forgot to invite me over for Thanksgiving…
Figure out what your needs are, then figure out the best options to meet those needs. In the end, it’s a decision you have to make for yourself, but remember that every decision comes with consequences — and when money is on the line, those consequences can affect your for the rest of your life. So choose wisely!
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