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Weekly Open Threads

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.

July 7 Weekly Open Thread

It's the height of summertime, so we've closed the Car Lust Garage early and loaded up the lemonade and sandwiches and gone on a picnic.

A perfect day to open the sunroof....Come join us at the park for potato salad and friendly conversation.

(Photo from the SDC Forum, contributed by user "62champ.")

June 30 Weekly Open Thread

It's that top-down time of year.

Night Convertible (SWF Jim 68cuda)

Here's the place to discuss your favorite summer driving topic.

(Photo from the Station Wagon Forum, contributed by forum member "Jim68Cuda.")

June 16 Weekly Open Thread: Car Lust Crowd-Sourced Data Collection Project

This week I present Car Lust readers with a challenge and a request: Science!

There's a little project I've been pondering for a while now that combines automobiles and evolutionary theory. In fact, cars are often used to illustrate various aspects of evolution, both cultural and natural. DataCarWe note that many stylistic cues on cars -- like the utterly useless VentiPorts on many Buicks after 1949 -- tend to come and go with a certain regularity, while certain other purely functional attributes -- round, rubber tubeless tires, for example -- become 'fixed' in the population, much like natural selection fixes certain traits in animals. 

What I'm interested in, and I'll be a little obtuse here so I don't give it away, is measuring the sizes of particular models over time. I realize that size has many potential components  -- length, width, interior volume, for example -- but I'm going to simplify things somewhat and use only a few attributes. Then I shall use the data to see what trends are present and when. 

So, what I would like to invite readers to do is this: find the specs on a particular model over a period of time, record them in a spreadsheet, and send them to us here at Car Lust (email is to the right). Use 'Data Collection' in the subject line so we can sift through them more easily. Try to get as many data points as possible on a model. Say, for example, all Mustangs from 1965 to the present day. Or Ford F150s through as many years as possible. Or Camaros. Or even a particular Studebaker. As long as it seems like a relatively continuous model line. Try to restrict it to the same configuration as well, say, all 4-doors or all coupes. As long as what you're recording seems to be comparable. 

As for the variables, let's just go for these:

Make/Model; Year; Overall Length; Overall Width; Weight; Height; Wheelbase. Use Inches and Pounds, please. Europeans are certainly welcome, as the broader the database the better; just make sure you note that and make the appropriate measurement conversions. 

Just stick those into a spreadsheet, enter as much data as you can find, and send it in. And please put in another column for the source you derived the data from. If it's a web site, just pop in the URL. If it's a book, just put in the author and title. Just so we can spot check some of them to make sure we're getting accurate data. This is Science after all! Here's a (hopefully) example:

Make/Model Year Length Width Weight Height Wheelbase Source
Ford Mustang 1965 181.6 68.2 2556 51.1 108 http://www.thehenryford.org/exhibits/showroom/1965/specs.html

So go for it, indulge your inner nerd or OCD. In a few weeks, I'll 'analyze the data' as they say, and present it in another post. Send along your name or moniker as well, and I'll make sure to provide proper credit. 

And feel free to talk about anything else vaguely auto-related.

Photo is from this site

June 9 Weekly Open Thread: Youth, the Gift That Keeps on Giving

Which is, at least in some cases, not a good thing.

I direct your attention this week to an article over at The Truth About Cars: I Flunked Driver's Ed: BabyDriver

It’s true. I write about and review cars and the first time that I took driver’s ed I flunked. How’s that for irony? Now I’m not like that Korean lady who spent a fortune repeatedly failing her driver’s test before finally passing on the 950th try. The next time I took it, I passed, then passed my road test, got my license and never had a problem on the road. 

Good article and worth a read. But this is the quote that struck me:

When I was seven and we were at my aunt’s house. I was playing in the car in the driveway, pulled it out of gear and managed to turn it right into a parked car as gravity took over and I couldn’t reach the brakes.

I'm going to go a bit Oprah now and make a bit of a confession. When I was a wee lad of maybe three or four years, I managed to make my way into my parents' car, put it into Neutral, and proceed to coast back down the driveway and into the street. Fortunately, I didn't hit anything except maybe the curb on the opposite side of the street. I do, however, recall madly (and vainly) trying to stop it by pushing down on the brakes, but my little legs just weren't strong enough to fully depress the brake pedal. Or perhaps I was hitting the clutch or the gas, I don't know. Recall that back in the 1960s (when this happened) a big ol' American land yacht with no power brakes would have been a bear to stop anyway, even if you weren't using itty-bitty 3-year old legs. Either way, what I was doing wasn't working and I do remember being in a mad panic. 

And to this day I still have the occasional dream/nightmare where I am in a car and it's moving and no matter how hard I stomp on the brakes, it just won't stop. Matter of fact, I thought of this post not only becaue of the TTAC post but also because I had another occurence of this dream just a few days ago. In fact, it was only a few years ago that I made the connection between that event and the dreams. It actually happened, by the way, it's not a false memory that I made up as an explanation. My mother till brings it up on occasion. 

I find it somewhat amazing that an experience from my childhood almost a half century ago (Did I just type that?) still affects me to this day. 

So what about you, faithful readers? Do you ever get a similar dream? Are there any particularly memorable/terrifying/exhilarating automotive experiences from your youth? Keep it clean, please. And discuss anything else automobile-related that you wish. 

Credit: I got the above photo from this article at The Age regarding a Hyundai ad that was actually pulled: "The Advertising Standards Bureau requested that Hyundai pull the ad in February this year after receiving more than 80 complaints - many from parents who feared their children would attempt to emulate the ad's nappy-clad stars." 

I think we have successfuly demonstrated that you don't need some stupid TV ad to make kids do stupid things. 

Which I shall reproduce here just to stick it to the censors (below the fold):

Continue reading "June 9 Weekly Open Thread: Youth, the Gift That Keeps on Giving" »

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

May 26 Weekly Open Thread--Wagons, Ho!

The school year is ending, and the summer is upon us. This is the season for the traditional family vacation, in the form of a long car trip in a station wagon.

According to folklore, the legendary Captain Obvious was born here.Any plans for a long car trip this summer?  Anything else automotive that you want to discuss?  This is the place to discuss it.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(Photo obtained from the Station Wagon Forum.)

May 19 Weekly Open Thread--Cars as "Positional Goods"

Stutz D'ItaliaI was reading an op-ed article the other day which brought up the economic concept of "positional goods." As the author explained:

A positional good is a good that people acquire to signalise where they stand in a social hierarchy; it is acquired in order to set oneself apart from others. Positional goods therefore have a peculiar property: the utility their consumers derive from them is inversely related to the number of people who can access them.

Positionality is not a property of the good itself, it is a matter of the consumer’s motivations. I may buy an exquisite variety of wine because I genuinely enjoy the taste, or acquire a degree from a reputable university because I genuinely appreciate what that university has to offer. But my motivation could also be to set myself apart from others, to present myself as more sophisticated or smarter....

If I value those goods for their intrinsic qualities, their increasing popularity will not trouble me at all....But if you see me moaning that the winemakers/the university have ‘sold out’, if you see me whinging about those ignoramuses who do not deserve the product because they (unlike me, of course) do not really appreciate it, you can safely conclude that for me, this good is a positional good. (Or was, before everybody else discovered it.)

So what has this got to do with cars? It's obvious that certain cars are pitched to the consumer as positional goods. One example is the 1970s "revival-era" Stutz: between 25 and 50 or so were sold in each year during the peak of its production. Like the seats at the cool kids' table in the junior high cafeteria, there were only so many to go around, so getting one put you in an exclusive club.

There's another phenomenon that seems to attach to particular cars: whether intended by their owners as "positional goods" or not, they become cultural markers for a particular (stereotyped) subculture. The 3-series BMW was a cultural marker for yuppies in the 1980s; the VW Type 2 Microbus was the same thing for hippies and assorted Bohemians in the 1960s and '70s; Subarus have been strongly associated with the "granola" lifestyle for several decades.

Please share your thoughts on this, or any other automotive topic, in the comments box below.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

The photo of several textbook examples of positional goods--polo ponies, a fur coat, and a Stutz D'Italia--came from Peter Madle's Stutz history website.

May 12 Weekly Open Thread--Street Shark

Presented for your amusement, a photo from the parking lot at the Great Meadow Field Events Center in northern Virginia, taken at Saturday's Team America Rocketry Challenge national fly-off.

[Insert theme music from "Jaws" here.]As always, this is the place to talk about all things automotive.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

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

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