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July 28 Weekly Open Thread--It's a(n Urban) Jungle Out There

"Welcome to the jungle, it gets worse here everyday/Learn to live like an animal in the jungle where we play...."That driverless car revolution we were talking about at last week's picnic might not come as fast as some people have been predicting. MIT Technology Review reports that Google has its hands full getting its new-model autonomous cars to safely navigate the "urban jungle":

Academic experts at the conference say Google is taking on some of the hardest problems in artificial intelligence and robotics, essentially trying to replicate the ability of humans to effortlessly make sense of their environment. That’s because driving safely relies on much more than just knowing to avoid big objects, such as people or other cars, or being able to recognize symbols such as a stop sign. Humans make use of myriad “social cues” while on the road, such as establishing eye contact or making inferences about how a driver will behave based on the car’s make and model . . . . Even if a computer system can recognize something, understanding the context that gives it meaning is much more difficult . . . .

John Leonard, an MIT expert in autonomous driving who attended the conference, says that he and other academics find themselves constantly battling the assumption that all of the technology challenges associated with robotic cars have been solved, with only regulatory and legal issues remaining. “It’s hard to convey to the public how hard this is,” he says. Leonard stands by a comment that earned him some online criticism in an MIT Technology Review story last year, when he predicted that he wouldn’t see a self-driving Manhattan taxi in his lifetime , , , ,

It may take decades to "teach" computers all the things you need to know to drive safely in a complex environment. What I expect we will see more of in the short term is automated driver-assistance systems such as adaptive cruise control, lane-change warning and collision avoidance, and maybe even semi-automatic "platooning" for highway driving.  When we do get fully-robotic road vehicles in general service, I would expect the first to be long-haul robo-trucks that operate on the Interstates only.

This is the place to talk about robot cars, or any other car topic.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(The illustration is a Google Cars project promotional image.)

July 21 Weekly Open Thread--Who's Driving?

It's too nice a day to stay inside, so we're going on a picnic. Come tag along and join the conversation.

Looks yummy!Saw an article last week that I wanted to pass along to you: "17 Ways Driverless Cars Could Change America" by Dan McLaughlin in The Federalist. He writes:

Projections of the future are always uncertain, and small variations in what is technologically possible can have large impacts on what happens socially. But we know this much: in a world of driverless cars, a lot will change with the disappearance of drivers, for good and for ill. The possibilities and the risks are only beginning to dawn on us.

 The author's list of possible changes is:

1. Fewer Car Accidents
2. Revolutionizing Car Design
3. Changing The Layout of Roads and Traffic Patterns
4. Changing Who Can Drive
5: Altering the Legal and Insurance Landscape
6. Lowering The Drinking Age
7. Destroying Car Culture
8. Degrading Military Preparedness
9. Extending Telecommuting
10. Eviscerating Drive-Time Radio Ratings
11. Destroying Taxi and Driving Jobs
12. Eroding Privacy
13. Revolutionizing Law Enforcement
14. Reducing Car Theft
15. Fewer Used Cars, More Inequality
16. Increasing Vulnerability to Terrorism and Natural Disasters
17. Flying Cars?

He makes a plausible case for all of them--well, the first sixteen, anyway. I don't know about you, but I'm not really liking #7.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

Illustration obtained from Desktop Nexus.

June 2 Weekly Open Thread--Driverless Cars Update

Join us out here on the front porch for some lemonade and car talk. You can steer the conversation in any direction you would like.

This past week, there seemed to be a sudden burst of news activity concerning self-driving cars. Google unveiled its newest self-driving car project, a purpose-built electric "city car" with a 25 MPH top speed and a 100-mile range.

Prior versions of the Google Car were built for semiautomatic freeway cruising and required the driver to stay engaged and function as a co-pilot. According to MIT Technology Review,

That approach had to be scrapped after tests showed that human drivers weren’t trustworthy enough to be co-pilots to Google’s software. When people began riding in one of the vehicles, they paid close attention to what the car was doing and to activity on the road around them, which meant the hand-off between person and machine was smooth. But that interest faded to indifference over weeks and months as people became too trusting of the car’s abilities. . . . 

That convinced Google it had to give up on switching between human and machine control, says Fairfield. That also ruled out building on top of conventional car designs, because they assume a human is on hand and ready to take over in the event of an emergency.

Google is building a fleet of 100 of the new electrics for testing this summer. Under current law, those that venture out on the public roads will have to be equipped with steering wheels and other controls.

Meanwhile, over in Europe, the development of driverless Bimmers and Benzes is bumping up against a rather restrictive legal environment.

Back on our side of the pond, a company called Peloton Technology is working on a system for large trucks that combines active cruise control with short-range wireless communication to allow two big trucks to travel in a "platoon" with only thirty feet of space between them. 

This cuts down drag on both trucks--the same aerodynamic boost that geese get from flying in formation, and NASCAR drivers get from "drafting" on an opponent's back bumper--and saves fuel, as much as 10% for the good buddy in the "back door" position.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid: A Gas/Electric Game Changer

It seems there’s a lot of hybrids on the market that go so far out of their way to "make up for" being a hybrid—mileage-killing power, weight-adding features and girth, endlessly distracting luxury bells and whistles—that by the time you pick yourself up off the floor after taking a look at the financially crippling price tag, you might as well have just gotten a normal car. Because really, what’s the point of a hybrid if it’s got all the same stuff that a gas-guzzler has, costs so much more that you’ll probably die before you earn the difference back in fuel savings, and yet still only gets 35 mpg? Here's a spoiler: the new Honda Accord Hybrid is not that car.
DSC_0512

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The Cars of Templar Motors 1917-1924

The Templar Motor Car Corporation, located in Lakewood, Ohio, was one of the 57 locally owned automobile companies that operated in the greater Cleveland area between ninety and a hundred years ago.

Templar: the Superfine Small CarThough Templar went bust in 1924, its 300,000 square foot three-story factory still stands. After Templar's demise, the building was the home of Lake Erie Screw, a maker of threaded fasteners, for many years, and now serves as "Templar Industrial Park," a business incubator for smaller companies, studio space for local artists, and a banquet hall. It's also the home of the largest concentration of Templar automobiles in the civilized world.

The assembly hall display.Templar built 6,500 or so vehicles during its automotive career, of which there are 37 known survivors. Eight of these are displayed in the third-floor assembly hall of the old Templar plant--the room where they were originally bolted together--and another is displayed on the second floor where Templar's engines were once manufactured.

David Buehler and Mr. Templar's TemplarThe curator of Lakewood's Templar collection is David Buehler, a lifelong resident who has had a lifelong fascination with his hometown's only indigenous auto company. David owns the cars in the third-floor display, and has five more Templars of his own at home--and he knows where every one of the other 24 survivors are. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Templar, from company history to minute mechanical details, and a personal collection of Templar artifacts ranging from employee ID badges to blueprints to the only known example of a Templar children's pedal car. Over Thanksgiving weekend, he gave me the full guided tour of the old Templar factory.

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December 9 Weekly Open Thread, Current Events Edition: Electric Car Sticker Shock

Come in out of the cold, grab some hot chocolate, sit down by the fireplace, and let's talk cars.

Just in time for Christmas, General Motors announced the 2014 Cadillac ELR Saks Fifth Avenue Edition, in a limited production run of just 100 vehicles, with an MSRP of $89,900.

*Bling!*

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Car Lust Classic: 1963 Chrysler Turbine

Editor's note: Since this is the 50th anniversary week of JFK's assasination, we are re-running a few of our posts having to do with cars from that year and also directly with JFK himself. This was the very first Car Lust post I did way back in 2008. They say that if you really want to learn something about a subject, teach a class in it. Very true. In the last five years of writing here I've learned more about the history of automobiles than from all of the books and magazines and television programs I'd ever read up to that point. And learned a lot from my fellow conspirators contributors about cars that I never gave a second glance to. Please enjoy my first foray into Car Lust, hopefully as much as I enjoyed writing it.
 
by Anthony Cagle on August 12, 2008

As odd as it may sound, the Chrysler Turbine was not just a concept car but a limited-production model; 50 were actually produced and placed with Chrysler customers for real-world testing. Consequently, this was closer to actual production than your average concept car.63turbinf

The idea of using a turbine engine in automobiles has been around for a while and the concept continues to be batted around and appears every few years in popular technology magazines. A turbine engine works by first compressing air, heating it up either directly or indirectly by burning fuel, and using the expanding air in a turbine which results in work which is used to both further compress incoming air and also provide either rotational energy or thrust, depending on the application. Regular aircraft engines are too large and emit too much heat to simply be placed in a car, so Chrysler's research focused on reducing the size of the engine and developing a regenerator to recycle hot exhaust gas back into the combustion chamber--thus increasing gas mileage and reducing the output temperature of the exhaust gases.

To read the original post, click here.

Citroën DS

The idiom "outside the box" or "thinking outside the box" is (over)used so much these days that the meaning has become diluted. It's reached the point where something's referred to as being "outside the box" when it's no more than mildly atypical.

Not so the topic of today's discussion. It's atypical, but there's nothing mild about it. It's so far outside the box that you can't see the box from there. It's something from an alternate universe, a bizarro world where boxes have been outlawed, where Ryan Leaf has been voted into the Hall of Fame, lobsters grow on trees, and mountain lions can teleport.

A 1956 DS at the Autostadt Museum in Wolfsburg, Germany

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"Do you know where I am?" The Cell Phone Turns 30.

From the decade of the 1980s -- those heady times that brought us such luminaries as the Fiero, the DeLorean, the Cimarron, and the unforgettable RAMPAGE! -- comes something else that we all love to hate. . . and love: the cellular telephone.

Today, October 13, 2013, is the thirtieth anniversary of the cell phone. Now, some may quibble about the date and argue that the true birth of the cellular telephone came at least a decade earlier, on April 3, 1973 when Martin Cooper made a call from a Manhattan street corner using an incipient cellular network. However, that call was "Muffy, I'm on my way to pick up the BMW......"made from a prototype phone on a prototype network, and the technology was not commercially viable for another ten years. It wasn't until 1983 that the first commercial phone call was made on equipment and a network that was then ready for market.

Love it, hate it, denigrate it, celebrate it: it's here to stay. Cell phones enhance, structure, provide entertainment for, and some would say rule, our lives these days--even among those who have yet to embrace the technology--and many if not most of us now wonder how we ever got along without them.

But what does this have to do with Car Lust? A couple of things, actually. For one, the earliest cell phones were primarily used in cars as the automobile provided a handy power source and a place to put the equipment necessary for receiving, sending, and processing calls. Telephones in cars weren't entirely unknown prior to that time, but they were exceptionally rare and confined mostly to the very wealthy and/or powerful. And second, that first call was made from a perennial (if somewhat underserved) Car Lust favorite, which will be revealed later.

I aim here not to provide an extensive history of the cell phone, nor even a detailed timeline of car phones, though both subjects will be touched on. Rather, I hope the reader will indulge me for a bit while I look back a bit to see what life was like before we were able to be in constant contact 24/7/365, often whether we like it or not, and how this has changed the motoring landscape. And maybe do a little cultural and automotive reminiscing along the way.

Can you hear me now?

Continue reading ""Do you know where I am?" The Cell Phone Turns 30." »

September 30 Weekly Open Thread: A Simple Car Ad Trick

Many years ago, a very successful artist friend of mine taught me about airbrushing, shadowing, overlaying, and other graphic arts methods of the day. Many of these tricks were either done by hand or clever applications of everyday darkroom enlargers and other equipment. Of course, now we have these amazing computers that do the same work much easier and faster. And anybody with an imagination can do it.

But one trick he taught me, especially from the 1960s, was how the automakers would stretch an image to make a car look longer... you know, have more rear overhang for a perceived larger trunk, and other styling elements that are frowned upon today. This was usually used on large cars to make them even larger. And l don't know if this image below has been altered, but was the rear overhang on these cars really so long?

1965 Cadillac Prestige-10-11

I've been wanting to "play" with an image I found a while back to see how far the illusion might be taken. This image is "unique," and I stretched it a mere 15 per cent... just enough for extra elongation, but not enough for exagerration (I hope). So presenting here, in full color even, is the result:

Continue reading "September 30 Weekly Open Thread: A Simple Car Ad Trick" »

Pictured above: This is a forlorn Chevy Vega photographed by reader Gary Sinar. (Share yours)

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