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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top 10 EV News Items of 2016

2016 was a turning-point in plug-in vehicle history. These turning points, big and small, happen until, eventually, we hit a tipping point and massive change occurs.

The biggest electric vehicle news of 2016:

#1 Chevrolet Bolt

The release of the Chevy Bolt is number one on the list. No counting down to the biggest item, we're starting with #1. This is a first EV with more than 200 miles of range for less than $40,000. This is a milestone in automotive history. Strides like this will allow EV sales to continue to grow and reach wider markets. GM started their roll-out in California and Oregon in 2016 and is working hard to meet the demand. This one car could double the 2017 sales of plug-in cars.

#2 Tesla Model 3 Reservations 

Tesla hasn't started shipping the Model 3 yet and it has already rocked the auto world. They are only taking reservations at this point. Taking reservations is not generally newsworthy, but in the case of the Model 3, things were different.

More than 375,000 people put down $1000 to reserve a Tesla Model 3. This was a wake-up call to the auto industry. There's a big demand for EVs! The few holdouts that were clinging to hydrogen fuel cells were shook from their H2 induced delusion and announced electric vehicle programs. Daimler, Porche, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, McLaren, Maserati, and many others announced that they are increasing their investments into electric vehicles.

#3 President-elect Donald Trump 

Donald Trump has not been an electric vehicle supporter. Love him or hate him, his election could have a dramatic impact on the adoption rate of plug-in vehicles. Elon Musk was invited and did attend Trump's high-tech leaders meeting, so there is a chance that there will be some support from his administrations. We'll see in 2017. 

#4 Dieselgate

In the wake of the diesel emissions cheating scandal, Volkswagen has said that they will offer a 370-mile EV in 2020 at the price of a diesel Golf. VW has had timid support for EVs, the silver lining to this incident might be that it caused them to accelerate their EV development. 

#5 Tesla Supercharging

Tesla's Supercharging network grew dramatically in 2016. At one point near the end of the year, they unveiled 7 new Supercharger locations in 7 days, in 7 cities and they announced that they will have a V3 Supercharger that will make the current fast chargers look like "children's toys." The new V3 stations will have solar panels and on-site storage. Charging from on-site storage frees the system up from grid limitation rates and allows for much faster rates of charging than standard 3-phase would allow. A vast fast-charging infrastructure is vital to the expansion of electric transportation.

#6 Autonomous Driving   

Autonomous Driving made big strides in 2016. In 2015 most predictions were that full autonomous driving was 20 or 30 years away. Just a year later and most predictions see this as just 5 years away. 

Google launched their self-driving car efforts as a new company (under the Alphabet umbrella) called Wamyo. Tesla greatly improved their Autopilot feature with the released SW 8.0 that enabled the forward look looking radar. Additionally, Tesla released Autopilot hardware 2.0. It has more cameras and better sonar. Tesla claims that, once the SW is ready, cars with this HW will be capable of full autonomy. Delphi, Bosch, Intel, Uber, Comma, Apple, and others all have autonomous vehicle programs in active development. 

#7 EV Startup Frenzy 

2016 birthed many new electric car startups. Atieva, Lucid Motors, Faraday Future, NextEV, Fisker (again) and other EV startups have been coming out of the woodwork. It's estimated that $1.9B was invested in EV-related startup companies in 2016. This is more than twice the 2015 investment and six times the 2014 level of investment.

#8 Toyota's About-Face On EVs 

In 2016, Toyota announced plans to support EVs. As a bellwether of the industry and a company that has been a fervent supporter of fuel cell vehicles. As mentioned in item 2 above, many carmakers have announced plans for EVs but Toyota has been adamant in their PR that EVs are a very limited niche market, this change in direction is a big deal for the company and the entire industry. 

#9 Growing EV Sales Hit 1%

In 2016, for the first time, US plug-in vehicle sales surpassed 1%. This is a small milestone, but an important one on the path of disruptive technologies. With over 140,000 new plug-in vehicles placed on US roadways in 2016, EV sales grew 33% year over year. This pushed the total number of vehicles on US roads over the half million mark and it is on track to have 1 million by 2018 (as we predicted 1 year ago). 

#10 Electric Haulers (Garbage, People, or Hay Bales)

Passenger vehicles are a large and important market, but there are many other types of vehicles on the road. In 2016 vehicle electrification branched out. Electric garbage trucks, buses, and farm tractors saw their first steps to becoming a market reality in 2016. Proterra, Complete Coach Works, BYD, John Deere, Wrightspeed and others have products under development to move these loud diesel belchers to quiet electric drive systems. Tesla's Master Plan Part Deux promises that the automaker will have trucks, semis, and people movers (buses reimagined) at some future date. They might find that they have some competition waiting for them when they get there. And that's good for all of us.

This concludes our to ten of 2016. What stories would you add to the list? 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Supercharger Powered Roadtrip

Executive summary: 500-mile round trip from Portland Oregon to Grants Pass in the SW Oregon mountain range and back in a Tesla Model X 90D. Covers trip planing, supercharging, and mountain pass driving. Trip is compared and contrasted to Nissan Leaf EV treks. 

Our Tesla Model X arrived in October and it has been my daily driver ever since. This December we took our first road trip. We traveled from our home in the Portland Oregon area to Grants Pass to meet my wife's parents and help her grandfather move into an assisted living facility.

One way, the trip is about 250 miles. Our Model X has a 257-mile rating. Given this, I thought we'd be able to drive there with a single full charge. That was not the case. The second half of the drive is through the Western Cascades with significant elevation changes. This lowers the vehicle efficiency or, if you prefer, you can think of elevation changes as adding to the effective distance.

Putting the destination address in Tesla's navigation system showed that there are three Supercharger locations (Woodburn, Springfield, & Grants Pass) along our route. The nav software also determined that we only needed to stop at the Springfield station for 25 minutes to recharge. The nav showed us the time we'd be at the waypoint and the expected battery charge when we arrived.

On our previous electric road trips in our Nissan Leaf EV, figuring out where to charge and how long to charge was an engineering exercise. Tesla has made this much simpler.

We left in the afternoon and hit the crawl of traffic on I-5 south of Portland. Things cleared up as we passed Wilsonville, then it was clear sailing. We zoomed passed the Woodburn Supercharge and continuing south we crossed the 45th Parallel (half way between the Equator and the North Pole). The miles ticked by and we arrived at the Springfield Supercharger in the hometown of the Simpsons. We had traveled 111 miles using 44 kWhs.

We plugged in and the Tesla navigation system did something I didn't expect. It showed how much charge we needed to make it to our destination and it estimated that we'd have 13% charge left when we arrived in Grants Pass.

The Supercharger hummed and the batteries were sucking up juice as fast as they could. As you can see below, the car was charging at a rate of over 300-miles of range per hour.

Tesla Model X Supercharging

Twenty minutes later we received the notice below.

It also showed that we were 20 minutes from a full charge. We didn't need a full charge to gets to Grants Pass and batteries charge slowest during that last 20%; there was no need for us to waste our time. Unplugging, we piled back into the car and after a stop for dinner, we continued south.

Charging to just what you need for your next stop (with a little cushion) is the best method. It values your time and maximizes the infrastructure availability. This is the Lagom charging method that we've recommended and Tesla's software lets you do this with confidence.

When the Tesla navigation system knows where you are traveling, it can recommend the needed charge.

From here I-5 enters the Western Cascades (home of Crater Lake); the road goes up and down hills, there's fog, curves... It was a cold December night and we had the heat on. As we traveled that 13% battery reserve that the navigation predicted, began to drop. Going up a steep hill it dropped to 6% and a warning popped up. "Unless you maintain a speed of 65 MPH or below, you may not make it to your destination." That was clear direction; "Slow Down or Plan on Calling AAA," is what I heard.

Again, comparing this to earlier road trips in other EVs, we didn't get this type of mid-course correction. We were only 40 miles into the 140 miles of this leg. Heeding the warning, we settled in behind semi truck going 60. The Autopilot locked in and it was easy cruising.

As we sat behind the trundling semi for the next 20 minutes or so our estimated-arrival-charge ticked up from 6%. When it reached 12%, I was confident that we'd make it. We passed the semi and accelerated up to something around the speed limit.

Instead of heading directly to grandpa's house, we stopped at the Grants Pass Supercharger to grab a few kWhrs for running errands the next day. We had traveled 140 miles using 58 kWh. After 10 minutes of charging, we headed to grandpa's.

We arrived to a warm greeting as my in-laws were concerned that a battery-powered car would not be able to make the trip and that we were stranded on the side of the road somewhere.

Grants Pass, Oregon in winter "It's The Climate"
In part 2 of this tale, we'll cover using the Model X to transport Grandpa and his belongings.

Lessons Learned on an Electric Road Trip

We've made several family road trips. This was by far the longest EV-trip we've taken and the easiest. Comparing this to road trips we've taken in the Leaf, several factors made this Tesla trip a breeze:
  1. The Supercharger stations were easy to find. They were near the freeway. The West Coast Electric Highway stations, such as Castle Rock's, are occasionally too much of a detour. 
  2. There were plenty of open spots to charge. During the round trip, we stopped 4 times at Superchargers and only saw 2 other cars. This meant there was no waiting. By having 6 or 8 bays at each charging site, you're not likely to have to wait. In contrast, at CHAdeMO and CCS stations there's generally only one fast charger and if it is occupied, you're waiting. There's been some Supercharger congestion in parts of California, but everywhere else Tesla has managed to stay ahead of the demand.  
  3. The Superchargers were all operational. If you drive an EV that uses CHAdeMO and you are making a trip, you better check PlugShare or something like it to see if the stations that you are going to need are operational. Since there is often only one CHAdeMO station at a site, if it's broken down, then what was planned as a 30 minute DCFC stop is turned into a 2+ hour Level 2 stop. 
  4. Having a long range (257 miles in this case) made this trip much easier. We arrived at our Springfield charge stop with a 41% state of charge (nowhere near empty). This meant that we didn't have to charge for long to continue. Batteries charge slowest in their top 20%; this means that if you can avoid using this zone for a mid-trek recharges, you'll be able to charge much faster. Bigger batteries make everything (except the purchase price) easier. You can charge less often and you can charge faster. 
  5. No membership cards. With CHAdeMO and CCS vehicles, you have to join charging networks. There's Blink, ChargePoint, nrg, SemaConnect, OpConnect... the list goes on and on and the local networks are different in different regions. With a Tesla, you don't have to worry about any of this. You pull in, you plug in. There's no card to find and no card reader that may or many not be working. Tesla has the right charging model and other automakers don't seem to even understand the problem yet.  
The Jungle of Charge Cards is no concern with a Tesla

Wrap Up 

Tesla's navigation app makes trip planning a breeze. I didn't have to pull out my protractor even once to determine if we'd make it to our next hop. The Tesla Supercharging network is robust, reliable, and fast. With other EV-treks I've taken, I've had backup plans and I usually charged more than I needed to just to be sure we'd make it. With the Tesla stations, I have no concerns that they'll be offline.

We traveled ~500 miles round trip from NW Oregon to the Rogue Valley in SW Oregon. Other than ~20 minutes when we had to slow down a little, the trip was uneventful. The Tesla performed admirably through mountain passes, fog, and cold weather. The vehicle had the potence and wherewithal to do the job even with freeway speeds, heater usage, and elevation changes.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Scope Of Toyota's About-Face On EVs Is A Big Deal

Toyota's recent announcement about launching electric vehicles in 2020 is more than just another press release, it heralds a shift in the market.

Toyota recently made an announcement that they were appointing their president to lead their newly formed electric car division. Several automakers have made similar announcements with plans to develop electric cars and this might seem like just another one. This is so much more.

Toyota was one of the major supporters of Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCV) and they have been stern in their claims that electric vehicles (EV) will only have a niche market. In their Vision 2050 document (released in 2015) Toyota foresaw that the vehicle make-up in 2050 will be primary hybrid vehicles (HEV and PHEV). With FCVs a growing market to eventually replace HEVs. While EVs would be relegated to short-range 3-wheelers and little urban runabouts.

The view that EVs would have a very limited market was not just the view of a few at Toyota; their long-term strategy, the company's future, was based on it. This belief pervaded the company corporate culture at Toyota. Their executives and engineers openly talked about their disdain for EVs with the press (see below).

Deliveries of the Toyota Mirai began in 2015 and it was squarely in competition with Tesla, the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, and other plug-in vehicles. Toyota's marketing went on the attack. Anyone that questioned the viability of FCVs was labeled a 'handbrake' and someone that was holding back the future. Toyota's culture of bashing EVs clearly came out in their marketing with campaigns that said "No charging means more driving" and labeled EV parking spots with the slogan "Reserved for someone with 4 hours to kill."

This was not the high-road, our product is great on its own merits, marketing approach, it was mudslinging. To illustrate how anti-EV Toyota was, here are a few of the things their executives and engineers have said to the press in recent years:
  • Electric vehicles have a fundamental physics problem.
  • No one will buy a second Tesla. They'll return to Lexus.
  • Battery-powered electric vehicles don't have a practical future as a long-range alternative to conventional cars even if technological breakthroughs allow them to be charged quickly. 
  • EVs should only be used for short distances during the day.
  • Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are a more a promising zero-emission alternative [than EVs] to conventional cars because they offer a similar driving range and refueling time. 
  • Fast charging totally goes against the need to stabilize electricity use on the grid.
  • The lithium battery has tremendous shortcomings for cars and there’s nothing promising beyond the lithium battery on the horizon.
  • I don’t expect the battery car to get dramatically better, the internal combustion engine is getting phenomenally better. ~Bill Reinert
  • The cruising distance is so short for EVs, and the charging time is so long. At the current level of technology, somebody needs to invent a Nobel Prize-winning battery.
  • Batteries are good in short-range vehicles… But for long-range travel and primary vehicles, we feel there are better alternatives, such as hybrids and plug-in hybrids, and tomorrow with fuel cells.
  • We don’t see any battery technology that would allow us to…give customers a comparable driving experience at a reasonable price.
  • Nobody makes more batteries than Toyota. We’ve been doing batteries longer than anyone in the automotive business. Which is why we’re so bullish on fuel cells.
To see a news report from the company that said all of the above that reads "Toyota Motor Corp is looking at mass-producing long-range electric vehicles that would hit the market around 2020," is a major change in direction.

It can be nearly impossible to change the direction of a large organization the size of Toyota. They may need to 'invite' a few senior executives to retire. They may need to have management at all levels drive EVs. They may need to have internal training on the joys and benefits of EV ownership. We'll see if Toyota really can put this anti-EV attitude behind them and create exciting long-range EVs. They have taken the first step; I hope they can do it. The world will be watching.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Supercharger Loitering

Elon Musk responded to a tweet complaining that the San Mateo Supercharger was "always full with idiots who leave their Tesla for hours even if already charged."

Musk's response acknowledged the problem and promised, "Will take action." Notably, he does not object to some Tesla owners being referred to as idiots. Is this due to the 140 character limit, or does he think a few bad apples are causing a problem and the name is deserved (for this small population)?

What do you think this "action" will be?

The recent change to the end of unlimited free Supercharging is certainly the first move to reduce unnecessary use of the Superchargers. The new program limits free Supercharging to 400kWh per year. Once a car at a Supercharger is full it is, of course, no longer using Watt-hours, so it is free to loiter and the problem that @loic points out will still be there. What could Tesla do to encourage cars to move along after they are full?

Would they have some fees continue even after the charging is done? If so, would there be a grace period before the fees begin?

Above is a shot of McDonald's loitering policy. Tesla's could read "While Consuming Electrons Only."

Tesla generally tries to put the charging stations near interesting places (shopping, dining...), so it's not surprising that many people enjoy the nearby attractions while charging.

Here are a couple ideas that could help:
  • Give owners contact cards to put in their windshields (too low tech?)
  • Add a feature on the app that lets one owner ping another to let them know they need a spot
  • Have a "queue depth" feature that lets drivers know how many people are waiting 
  • Whenever someone logins as queued (automagically by driving into a full Supercharger area), all owners of full cars at that Supercharger are notified
What are your ideas? Do any of them include the charging snake, self-driving, valets, or tow trucks, or mace? Let me know. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Tesla's Cabin Overheat Protection Could Prevent The Worst Day of Your Life

One of the great features of Tesla vehicles is that they get over-the-air software updates. These updates fix bugs, add features, and occasionally improve zero-to-60 times. Recently, there was a major upgrade to the software in Tesla's vehicles. This update was version 8.0.

Many new things were introduced in v8.0. For this story, we are going to focus on just one of them, the "Cabin Overheat Protection" feature.

Cabin Overheat Protection first introduced in Tesla SW 8.0
This feature is designed to keep the temperature in the cabin at a level where children or pets accidentally left in the car do not die.

If the temperature in the cabin is over 105F/40C, then the overheat protection activates to reduce the temp. The system will ventilate the cabin and (if needed) turn on the air conditioning to keep the temp below 105F.

It should be stressed that this a fail-safe feature; it is intended as a precaution only. It is *not* meant so that now you can intentionally leave your children or pets in the car unattended. The feature only works if there is adequate charge in the battery pack.

Cabin Overheat is Not for Horrible People

Mike Wehner wrote a story at the Daily Dot that was titled "Tesla's Cabin Overheat Protection is Designed for Sh*tty people". The title was later changed to "Tesla just added a feature specifically for horrible people".

This seems like an obvious attempt to cast anything from Tesla in a negative light. Wehner's own article admits "if this feature manages to save the life of a child—or a family pet—it's worth Tesla's time to implement," but that is not how the story's clickbait, anti-Tesla title(s) is/was worded.

Wehner is right about one thing, this feature could save lives. In 2015, I was working at a major high tech firm and they had (and still have) charging stations in the employee parking lot. This is where our little EV community would occasionally meet for lunch and discuss our cars and the latest EV happenings. These were my friends, my coworkers, my fellow EV drivers. On a warm spring day in 2015, a tragic and unintentional accident happened near that little corner of the parking lot where we occasionally gathered.

One morning, a father was supposed to take his 6-month-old daughter to daycare after a doctor’s appointment. She fell quietly asleep as they drove and he forgot that she was in the car. The father drove past the daycare, drove to work, parked near "our corner," and went about his normal workday. He stayed at work the entire day without realizing that he had left his baby girl in the backseat.

At 5 p.m., his wife called to arrange daycare pickup when he realized what had happened. He raced out of the building. When he reached the car, the baby didn’t appear to be breathing and her lips were blue. He called 911, attempts at resuscitation were unsuccessful. Police later estimated the temperature inside the vehicle was 116F.

Notes about the above story. All of the above information is from public news sources; I don't have any inside information. I didn't know the father. Second, the vehicle that the baby was in was not an EV. It does not particularly matter what type of vehicle the baby was in, no vehicle at that time had overheat protection. I only mention this because rereading my comments above about "our corner" of the parking lot made it sound like the baby was in an EV. The vehicle just happened to be parked near the charging area.

I don't often charge at work, but I have often wondered if I had happened to have plugged in on that day, would I have seen something or if we'd had one of our EV lunch gatherings that day, might it have turned out differently. To this day, if I am walking through a parking lot and I see a baby seat, I look in the car, just to make sure that little seat is unoccupied.

This was not the only tragic death like this one in that year or this year. Wehner's article quotes a Pediatrics study that says 693 children have died of vehicular heatstroke since 1998, with 32 of those deaths occurring as of their publishing in 2016.

Over Heat Protection Should Be In Any Vehicle That Can Support It 

Wehner's solution seems to be to simply tell people to not leave babies or pets in cars. Or if you do, to revert to name-calling. This is not a solution. What Tesla is offering is a solution. I hope that as more manufacturers add larger battery packs to their vehicles that they all offer this safety feature. The Chevy Bolt is coming to market soon. GM could and should add this feature if they haven't already. Tesla has not patented overheat protection and they are not trying to prevent other automakers from using it.

Every vehicle with more than 200 miles of electric range should have cabin overheat protection.

Wehner and I agree that if this feature manages to save the life of a child—or a family pet—it was worth Tesla's time to implement. We don't agree that it is just a feature for horrible people. Mistakes happen. Some people are absent-minded or others have stresses that can cause lapses to occur.

The father in the above story is a perfect example. He had no malicious intent. After an investigation, no charges were brought against him. If more cars had overheat protection, lives would be saved. If his car had overheat protection on that day, he would have had a horrible scare and would have found a cranky baby in his back seat. What was undoubtedly the worst day of his life, could have instead turned into a diaper change and maybe a trip to the hospital for dehydration treatment.

Sidebar - Cabin Overheat Really Works, I Inadvertently Tried It

Given the tragic event discussed above, this sidebar is just about a different and comparatively mundane event. I include it only to demonstrate that I've played with the overheat feature.

Recently, I inadvertently enabled overheat protection, no children or pets were involved.

On a cold rainy day this fall, I had the windows of my new Tesla tinted. After the installers were done, they said I could not roll down the windows until the tinting film had cured to the glass. Since it was a cold wet day, they recommended that when I arrived home and the car was in the garage, that I should run the heater on high to accelerate the curing. (Not something they could recommend with a gas car, well at least not the 'in the garage part'.)

I drove home with the heat on and when I was home, I parked, went in the house, grabbed my smartphone, launched the Tesla app, and turned the heat on high. With the windows up, the temp quickly shot up to 109F. I turned off the heat, thinking this would keep the cabin warm for hours.

A few minutes later, I grabbed my phone and it showed a cabin temp of 80F. What happened? I knew about the overheat feature, but I assumed that would only cool it down to 105F. Well, not exactly. The feature is designed to keep it below 105F. In this case, there was cool night air around the car. This allowed the system to quickly vent the warm air from the cabin and draw cool ambient air into the car. This quickly brought the temp down from a blistering 109F to a comfortable 80F.

So I turned the heater back on high but this time I turned it off at 95F. The tinting film cured and the windows look great.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Centaur Driving - Semi-Autonomous and the Quest for Level 5

In 1997, IBM's Deep Blue defeated chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov. After this defeat, Kasparov started a new class of chess competition; one where humans and computers co-operate as a team, instead of contending with each other.

These human-computer chess teams are called cyborgs or centaurs.

Humans and computers use very different methods to play chess. When combined, these methods are highly complementary. This means that centaurs play at a level that neither a computer nor human alone can achieve. Centaur teams have achieved new heights never before seen in chess. These games have both highly tactical plays and the beauty of strategic plans.

As part of a centaur, average chess players have, occasionally, played at the level of human grandmasters. The computer gives the team a list of select moves from a massive list of possible moves. When several moves all have equal mathematical value, the human can use experience, intuition, or psychology to determine the best of the otherwise equal value moves. Additionally, the computer can show the probable outcomes of human suggested moves. This takes lapse-in-concentration mistakes out of the game, while keeping the creativity of unorthodox moves a possibility.

Centaur human-computer teams have taken chess to a level of play never seen before.

Automated Driving

How could this human-computer collaboration apply to driving?

The SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have a six-level [level 0 through level 5] automated vehicle scale.

If you are interested in the details of each level, you can look them up. I'll just give a quick overview here.

Level 0: no automation. No cruise control, no traction control, no anti-lock brakes. Good luck finding a vehicle at this level on the road today.

Level 1 - 3: Each level has increasing automation functions, from cruise control and self-park up to traffic awareness and automated steering. In all of these levels, the driver is expected to be ready to take over should the automatic systems encounter an obstacle or situation it doesn't understand.

Johnny Cab from Total Recall (1990)
Level 5: This is the highest level. Other than setting the destination and starting the system, no human intervention is required. The automatic system can drive to any location where it is legal to drive. This is full self-driving autonomy. Vehicles at this level do not require a human driver interface (steering wheel, pedals...) and it could operate when the vehicle is unoccupied. Think Johnny Cab.

Level 4: This is just like level 5, but it has a limited operating area. E.g., Airport shuttle, bus route, downtown area only...

Centaur Driving 

Level 5 may be the highest, but it's boring. The human is simply a passenger. You get in, tell it where you want to go and sit back. This is the direction the technology is headed, and when it arrives, it will be hailed as a great victory. It will allow the elderly, those under the influence, and people with disabilities safe mobility options but we are still years from full autonomy. Legislation alone ensures this is years away. Level 3/4, semi-autonomous driving, is happening today, it is a needed step to get to level 5 since humans will effectively be training the system, and it is far more interesting.

With semi-autonomous driving the human driver and the vehicle automation system work together to control the car. The vehicle can drive itself in many situations, but the human driver is required to be there and to be attentive; ready to take over if/when needed. This is the level most like the Centaur chess teams above. The strengths of both the human and the computer are brought to bear to move your car down the road.

The vehicle has situational awareness. It understands when it can manage the driving tasks, and when it should pass control to the human half of the team. Similarly, when the human is driving, the automated system is watching and can alert you if the vehicle is too far from the center of the lane and take over control of the brakes if an impact is imminent. Completely eliminating driver distraction isn't possible, but having an ever-alert computer co-pilot that can warn the driver when things are potentially dangerous, is a great improvement.

An ever-alert computer co-pilot can focus the driver when things are potentially dangerous.

As autonomous driving technologies (such as computer vision, sensory information, machine learning...) improve, the amount of required human driver intervention will decrease. As billions of miles of driving data are collected and analyzed, the database of driving situations the automated system can handle grows.

Here are some of the things a Centaur driving system currently offer, could offer, or soon will offer:
  • Route selection - With real-time traffic information the vehicle would offer alternatives routes to save you time (smartphone navigation apps offer this feature today).
  • Lane departure warning via haptic feedback virtual rumble strips - rumble strips are used to alerts drowsy or distracted drivers that they have drifted out of their lane. An automated system could simulate this by vibrating the driver's seat when it detects that the vehicle has drifted from its lane.
  • Reading signage - Ever had this happen, you wonder 'What is the speed limit on this street?' You missed the last speed limit sign and you don't see one ahead on the road. In a Tesla (with the right options), you can glance down at the driver's console and see a graphical representation of the sign. This is a simple and handy driver assist.
  • Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) or Traffic Aware Cruise Control (TACC) - These systems let you set a speed and the car will slow down when there is traffic slowing on the road ahead. This is great on the freeway when there is little to no traffic and it is even better in stop and go traffic. Stop and go traffic can be frustrating and mind-numbing. A cruise control system that watches the car in front of you allows you divert your attention to a phone call or the song on the radio.
  • Watching for the green - have you ever been behind a car waiting at red light. The light turns green, but the car in front of you doesn't move, you wait 15-20 seconds, they are still sitting there, looking through their back window you see they are on their phone. You give them a gentle tap on the horn. They look up and finally notice the light has changed. This problem is only getting worse. Well, if your car had a forward-looking camera, the car could play a happy little chime when it sees that the light has turned green. This would allow the driver to divert their attention when they are sitting at a red light. Since they are doing this anyway, I would love to see more cars with this feature. In this situation, the human driver is in full control of the vehicle, but the centaur driver more aware than a human alone.  
  • Display of surrounding vehicles - With Tesla Autopilot HW 1.0 (their latest vehicles have AP HW 2.0), the driver's display shows you the vehicles ahead of you that the car's sensor system detects. There are also object indicators on the sides. This does not replace looking before you change lanes, but a quick glance there can tell you about the vehicles around you on the road. These systems are vital when Autopilot is controlling the vehicle. However, when the human is controlling the vehicle, much like the item above, this system increases the driver's awareness of the surrounding environment. 
  • Seeing the invisible - With the vision systems the cars use, they are able to see things that the driver cannot. They are able to bounce radar under the car directly in front of you and to 'see' the car in front of them. The 2 cars ahead car could be completely blocked from the driver's view. Since the automated system can respond to the 2 cars ahead car, it would be able to brake or slow down when they do. This could prevent a rear end collision by the two cars in front of you from becoming a 3+ car pile up. 
Several of these features are offered in driver assistance systems such as Tesla's Autopilot and others. The systems will continue to improve, cameras and sensors will get better, the software will improve greatly. If they are not already there, these systems are coming to a vehicle near you soon.

Just as the centaur chess teams raised the level of play to the highest that we've ever seen, these cyborg driving teams could make our roads safer than they have ever been.


Related Posts:
How Self-Driving Cars Will Change The Way We Ride
What is Up With You and Centaurs?
Your Car Will Drift To Save Your Life

Pedantic Footnotes: 
Automated driving, autonomous driving, driverless car, ADAS, ... all have distinct definitions. In some cases the differences are subtle, in other cases, they are significant. I was not as strict with these terms as I could have been. And since I'm on this topic, I don't like the term semi-autonomous. To me, this is like saying "a little unique". Either something is unique, or it is not. When someone writes "a little unique", they might mean "rare" or the like. Similarly, "autonomous" generally does not have degrees. There can be levels of automation until the vehicles achieve the "autonomous" level. But this term semi-autonomous allows the vehicle to be autonomous in some situations or locations and not autonomous in other cases. Because of this, plus the fact that the term generally used in the auto press, I've conceeded to used it too.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Who killed the hydrogen car? Nothing except time, overhyped expectations and the viability of electric vehicles - Salon.com


"The hydrogen car is like your dream of learning to play the guitar or writing the Great American Novel — you still hope, but as time goes by you can’t help but lose faith. After all, it’s been 50 years since General Motors unveiled the first iteration in this automotive frontier, billed as environmentally safe. It’s been 38 years since Jack Nicholson stuck his face against the tailpipe of a hydrogen vehicle for a non-toxic steam facial on national TV. And it’s been nine years since Brad Pitt showed up to the premiere of “Ocean’s Thirteen” in the BMW Hydrogen 7. If celebrity approval and avant-garde appeal were any kind of bellwether, the highways would be full of H-cars by now."

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The American Conservative Case for Electric Vehicles (5 Reasons That Are Not The Environment)

Given the recent election results, it's very likely that there will be sweeping legislative changes in the areas of energy and environmental regulation. Regarding electric cars, it's important to make sure the baby is not tossed out with the bathwater.

The Conservative Case Against EVs (don't stop reading here)

Electric vehicles (EVs) are often touted as eco-friendly cars. This immediately casts them into the political realm of the environmentalists. This opens the door to question the actual environmental impact of "coal powered" cars with "landfill batteries." From there it is easy to dismiss EVs. They have questionable value to an environmental cause, for which a conservative might have little to no support. When government subsidies for both the cars and the infrastructure are placed on this brittle foundation, it appears to be simple government folly.

Given the above, eliminating EV subsidies seems to be a simple way to cut government spending. Simply stop funding them with tax dollars. If EVs are able to stand on their own, in a free market, that's fine, but my tax dollars should not fund them. Especially when most EV-drivers have six-figure incomes.

This reasoning above is clear and self-consistent, but reasonable minds can disagree on the environmental impacts of EVs. However, regardless of whether EVs are better, equal, or worse for the environment, they're still the right way to go (and for better reasons). So let's set the environment argument aside, and discuss the other reasons to support EVs. The reasons that conservatives support EVs.

It's not about the environment; there are plenty of reasons EVs are great for America.

A little about me: I served 6 years in the U.S. military, including a tour in the middle east.

In this post, I plan to show:
  • EVs are great for America.
  • EVs have incredible performance.
  • EVs improve our national security.
  • EVs will keep gasoline prices low.
  • EV fueling money goes to your local community.

EVs are patriotically fueled

EVs are usually filled up at home, in the garage, overnight, from the electrical grid. The local power plant there in your community is the is the source of that energy. That means that the money that you pay to fill up an EV are dollars that are paid to a local business. This money goes to your local utility. It pays the salary for the person that reads your meter and the person repairs your power lines when a winter storm knocks the power out. These are your friends and community members. And the money you spend here gives them jobs and allows them to be productive members of your community.

Fueling an EV puts money in your local economy, not a foreign country's banks.

Since your electricity is locally generated, communities can make their own choices of what is important to them. Should they burn coal, should they have wind turbines leased on local farms, should they put solar panels on their roofs? These are choices that local communities can make for themselves.

EVs are fueled by the local grid with power plants that reflects the community's values.

EVs support American innovation

When you look at electric car makers, the clear leader is Tesla Motors. They are a Fremont, California company and they are driving innovation throughout the entire industry. They are ahead of the Germans and Japanese in internet-connected cars, self-driving, fast charging, battery technology, and battery manufacturing. Tesla designs and builds these innovative cars here in America and they are shipped around the world.

American companies are outpacing the Germans and Japanese in electric vehicle technology.

There is a growing worldwide market for these vehicles. It is important that American companies are not left behind in this shift.

EVs support free market choice

Before the current generation of EVs, there were few choices to fuel your personal transportation. The options were gasoline or diesel. If you were a tinkerer, you could modify a car to run on veggie oil or build your own battery powered car. For most people, converting their own car is not an option. Most people buy the car they want and drive it as it rolls off the lot.

Plug-in cars put more options on the sales floor. You can buy gas, diesel, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or battery electric. And if the car does plug in, you can choose where you want that electricity to come from. Free market choice and personal freedom.

Depending on your local electricity cost, fueling with electricity is equivalent to about $1 per gallon. As some people move to EVs, that is fewer people buying gas, reducing the demand and allowing the remaining supply to last longer and cost less for those of us still using it.

EVs support national security

With nearly all of our transportation fuel coming from oil, we are vulnerable to attacks on supply. When pipelines are hit in Nigeria or rebels attack tankers in the Strait Of Hormuz, our oil prices here at home spike.

The electricity grid, on the other hand, is powered by coal plants, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar. If there are fluctuations in the any of these source fuel supplies, the mix can change to take up the slack.

The grid has had outages, but it is a redundant system. This makes it resilient to many forms of attack. When our transportation fuel is domestic, events halfway around the world will not change how much you pay to commute to work.

EVs are fun

It is called the EV grin. Often when people are behind the wheel of an EV, they get a broad smile. EVs are smooth and quiet. It's magical to be moving without the vibration and noise.

EVs have incredible performance. Electric motors have a digital response time, there's no rev up time before they go. This makes them quick off the line and these peppy cars are fun to drive. If you have not been behind the wheel of one, you should try it for this experience alone.

EVs are a kick to drive. No matter what side of the aisle you are on, you should try it.

EVs should have incentives (if they are the right type)

Today, there is a $7,500 federal tax incentive for new EV sales. It is important to understand that this is not a governmental largesse, it's a tax credit. This means that it can only reduce the amount of taxes that you pay. Many of us feel overtaxed. And for the taxes that we do pay, we're not sure that this money will be spent in ways that we'd approve. Well, the EV incentive is a tax credit. A non-refundable, no carryover tax credit. This means it allows you to keep more of your own money; money that you have earned. It does not, however, entitle you to a payment of money from other taxpayers. Tax credits like this are good things and we need more ways to allow people to keep their own money while advancing our economy and national interests.

The infrastructure programs that are in place are public-private partnerships. This allows the market to get a foothold and then for private businesses to own and operate the network after that. As long as this is done in such a way that the private sector is allowed to make sound investments, it can be successful. Federal infrastructure spending too often gets bogged down in mismanagement and cost overruns. So the government's role must be limited to setting goals and funding such as loan guarantees. The government cannot be involved in the project management. This avoids the problem of the projects getting stuck in the political quagmire.

The point of government EV infrastructure spending is to accelerate private deployment, not to have a government-owned national network.


There are many reasons, other than the environment, to support EVs. Environmentalists might be supporting EVs for the wrong reasons, but that alone does not make them the wrong choice.

Domestic fueling, domestic design, and domestic manufacturing support the American economy. 

If you are concerned with national security, energy, and/or economic growth, then EVs are a crucial component of all of these issues. This topic is as bipartisan as they come, and there is no longer any excuse not to support it. And if they happen to keep our cities' air pure along the way, that's a free bonus.

Footnote: This post was inspired by ideas from "How to Reach Across the Political Divide" by Robb Willer 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Toyota, in about-face, may mass-produce long-range electric cars

Toyota has been one of the biggest proponents of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. They may have seen the light (or should I say spark) and realized that there is no market for H2 vehicles.

"Toyota Motor Corp is looking at mass-producing long-range electric vehicles (EVs) that would hit the market around 2020, the Nikkei newspaper reported"

"the lack of hydrogen fuelling stations poses a major hurdle for mass consumption"

Toyota, in about-face, may mass-produce long-range electric cars: Nikkei | Reuters:

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Gas Companies Give Up on Hydrogen

We have discussed hydrogen fuel cell vehicles here many times. The technology fails the basic tests for first principals analysis.

If seems that the oil companies have come to the same conclusion. Hydrogen will not be the fuel of the future.
"Chevron, Exxon, Shell and BP have all backed out of the Fuel Cell Partnership, a joint government-industry group that promotes hydrogen cars."

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

EV Charging Tips and Tricks

In an earlier post, we covered the basics of public EV charging. That article covered the types of charge ports, charging networks, and how to find public charging spots. In this post, we'll dive into the next stage of EV charging in the wild.

Public charging infrastructure is an all too rare commodity. When you are charging at a public station, the first rule is to be considerate of your fellow plug-in vehicle drivers. You must understand that you are in a shared space and you should be careful not to abuse it.

Don't be an ICEhole (or an EVhole)

If you want to upset the EV community, just park in a charging spot and don't plug in. If you park an internal combustion engine (ICE) car in a charging spot, you are an ICEhole. Similarly, if you are driving an EV and 'forget' to plug in, wait hours after the car is full before you move it, or otherwise abuse this precious commodity, then you may be labeled an EVhole. There are facebook pages dedicated to shaming ICEholes and EVholes.

Tesla community was outraged after Model X spotted occupying three Supercharger stalls
To avoid appearing on these pages, only park in charging spots when you are actively charging.

If you are charging for less than 30 minutes, try to stay with your car so you can unplug and move along quickly to free up that space for someone else.

If you do need to leave the vehicle, put an EV Card on the dash. This will let people know if they can unplug your car or not and how to contact you if they need you to move your car. Be a part of the community.

Lagom Charging Method

When you take a gas powered car to the gas station, you are likely to fill'er-up. EV charging is a different paradigm. When you are charging at home, there is no one waiting for your charging spot and you are in your home, eating dinner, sleeping, and doing whatever else it is that you do. When you are charging in a public charging station, it's not like a gas station, your goal is not to fill'er up. Instead, your goal should be "Lagom".

Lagom is a Swedish word that means "just the right amount". The Lagom charging method means, when you are at a public charging station, that you charge enough to get to your next destination plus a little extra cushion so you can get there comfortably if you have to take a detour. This has multiple advantages. EVs charge slower as the batteries approach full. If you don't need the range, there is no need to tolerate the slower rate. This means that you are not spending more of your time parked than you need to. It means that you clear up the spot for someone else.

Know Where Your Next Outlet Is

If your next destination is home, you know you have a place to charge waiting for you. However, if your next stop is another public charging spot, well, some of them are more reliable than others. After you have been using public charging for awhile, you learn which stations are more likely to be busted. You don't want to learn this by pulling up to a station just as your battery hits E to find it broken down.

To help avoid this, use the PlugShare smartphone app and look at the recent check-ins. If the station was successfully used recently, it is likely working fine.

Some places, like Electric Avenue, have multiple charging stations. If one is out-of-order, or occupied, you can just go to the next stall and charge up there. However, if the place you are heading is not your house and it only has one fast charger, you'll want to have a plan B. So even if you are Lagom charging, make sure you have enough to get to a plan B charging location.

And now that you have PlugShare on your phone, when you are charging up, be sure to check-in and let others know the state of the charging station you're using.

The 14th Amendment for Charging 

All plug-in vehicles have the right to use the plug-in infrastructure. You may occasionally find someone that thinks that you should move your car because they deserve it more than you. Like the image on the right, they think that a plug-in hybrid should move for a battery electric, or that a long range EV, like a Tesla, should move for a shorter range EV.

I disagree with this idea. If you have a car that plugs in and you joined the charging network, you have a right to use the network. If you have a plug-in hybrid, but you prefer to charge up and drive on electricity, rather than gas, you have the right to charge up.

Now, if you are in a plug-in hybrid and someone in an EV asks you nicely to let them charge up because they need to charge up to get home, feel free to let them have the spot. But don't think you have to move because they have more of a right to it than you do.

Don't Be Entitled 

If you are driving an EV, you are not single-handedly saving the world. Yes, you are doing a good thing but this does not entitle you to park in ADA access ramp zones.

Illegally parked EV
Occasionally, you might need to get creative to find a way to charge up. When you do, make sure you are not creating a menace. If you have to park unusually, make sure you do it without blocking foot-traffic. If you have to run an extension cord, make sure you don't create a tripping hazard. If the extension cord has to cross a sidewalk, make sure you have a non-slip safety rug to lay over it. You can pick one up at Home Depot for less than $10.


Part 1 talked about joining a network and finding charging stations. In this, part 2 post, we covered being a positive part of the EV community. I hope you found this useful. If you know someone that has recently joined our EV community, please share this with them.

Monday, July 11, 2016

How Model 3 Success Forced Tesla to Buy SolarCity Now

Tesla Model 3 via Motor Trend
Elon Musk has made it clear that Tesla's mission is "to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport." Notice that it's not just "sell Tesla vehicles" or even "sell electric cars".  Sustainable is the keyword in this sentence. Sustainable transportation must to be fueled by renewable energy.*

The overwhelming success of the Tesla Model 3 launch was a surprise to all but the most optimistic fans. Tesla received about 380,000 preorders in the first week, whereas they expected only one quarter as many. When electric vehicles breakout, go viral, hit the tipping-point,... it is important that they are fueled by renewable energy.

As we have discussed before, solar energy and electric vehicles have a large overlap in customers. People buying electric cars today are the perfect potential solar customers. These are the conantur, the matutine cognitia. They see what is coming and they want to be part of the solution. Many of them own their own homes. Meaning that in addition to a garage (with a charging station), they also have a roof. Additionally, these are people in the new car market, so many of them have the income, or means, to consider other products such as Powerwall or solar.

Awareness, will, and means results in action. In this case, that action is to buy and EV and fuel it with solar energy generated from their own roofs.

Awareness, will, and means results in action.

The move to buy SolarCity has been decried by many reservation holders as a distraction from all the work that must be done to bring the Model 3 to market. If Tesla had planned on the their next generation of vehicles to be their mainstream breakout car, then they could have waited to start selling renewable energy, but it appears that Model 3 is the start of the hockey stick curve.

This means that Tesla has to be able to offer solar to people as they order and become Model 3 drivers. If Tesla cannot offer this service, then they are not delivering on the sustainable transport mission that they have had since founding the company. Or if they wait a year after Model 3 is shipping, that is hundreds of thousands of potential solar customers that they let slip past. And it is not just the number of people. These are exactly the people that are the right people to inspire their friends, family, and neighbors. These are the people that ordered a Model 3 before they ever touched one, sat in it, or drove it. They are the early adopters and their enthusiasm will inspire the early majority.

Before they ever delivered their first car, this was the vision. If it disappoints you that they are taking steps to fulfill it, then you don't understand Tesla's vision, goals, or mission.

* You could argue that nuclear is sustainable and CO2-free (Pandora's Promise), but let's not get off-topic.