Sunday, September 24, 2017

Tesla Developing Proprietary Chip For Autonomous Driving Use

When Tesla CEO Elon Musk gets an idea into his head, he is like a dog with a bone. “Single minded” does not begin to describe his determination to get what he wants. Sometimes, that narrow focus can be draining for those working with him.

Musk made a promise earlier this year that Tesla automobiles would be fully autonomous within two years. Shortly thereafter, Chris Lattner, a former superstar tech guru at Apple, severed his relationship with the company. Lattner had been in charge of the autonomous driving program since Sterling Anderson left the company at the end of 2016.
In a statement, Lattner said, “In the end, Elon and I agreed that he and I did not work well together and that I should leave, so I did.” He went on to say that the Autopilot team was involved in a stressful transition period and was struggling with attrition. The company began equipping all its cars with an all new collection of radar, camera, and ultrasound sensors — a package known as Hardware 2 — in October of last year.
Musk promised customers the HW 2 equipped cars would have all the self driving capabilities of older cars with the Hardware 1 package by the end of 2016. In fact, it took a lot longer than that. It was not until Consumer Reports downgraded the Model S because its emergency forward braking system was not yet fully operational that Tesla finally made good on its promise.
Now reports have surfaced that Tesla is working on designing its own proprietary computer chip for use in its autonomous driving systems. At present, it uses an advanced supercomputer from Nvidia to provide the massive amount of computing power required to make the millions of calculations per second necessary.
But Tesla is wary of outside suppliers and likes to do as many operations as possible in house, where it can control both performance, timeliness, and price itself. And the Nvidia unit is not specifically designed solely for autonomous driving duties. The chip Tesla is said to be working on what would narrowly targeted solely for such use.
The reports suggest that Tesla is collaborating with AMD on development of the new chip, but Sanjay Jha, CEO of AMD will only confirm that his company is working with several automakers on dedicated computer chips.
The AMD connection is buttressed by the fact that Jim Keller, who previously worked for AMD, has now taken over from Chris Lattner as head of the Autopilot unit at Tesla. Tesla has also hired several other AMD engineers to work with Keller, including director Ganesh Venkataramanan, principal hardware engineer Bill McGee and system circuit design lead Dan Bailey.
Elon has proclaimed that a Tesla Model  S will leave Los Angeles, drive itself to New York City, and park, all without intervention from a human driver before the end of 2017. That suggests the 50 people assigned to the Autopilot program probably aren’t going to be spending much time with their families for a while.
Adding a layer of intrigue to the story is another report that Tesla has developed yet another collection of hardware known internally as Hardware 2.5. This goes against Musk’s claim last year that cars with HW 2 would have all the sensors needed to permit full autonomous operation once regulations and software caught up with the system’s potential.
When asked about the new hardware configuration by The Verge, a Tesla spokesperson said, “The internal name HW 2.5 is an overstatement, and instead it should be called something more like HW 2.1. This hardware set has some added computing and wiring redundancy, which very slightly improves reliability, but it does not have an additional Pascal GPU.”
The person went on to say that cars with the existing HW 2 package would be upgrade at no cost to the customer if the new configuration proved more capable in real world testing. One of the features of Tesla is that is continues to improve its cars continuously and incorporates those improvements into production cars as soon as possible, rather than waiting for annual model changes the way traditional car companies do.
Elon Musk continues to overpromise and underdeliver. In theory, that is just the opposite of how a successful company is built. But he always gets there eventually and those who maintain their faith in him are amply rewarded with some of the safest, most innovative cars available.
In the grand scheme of things, whether a Tesla drives itself cross country this year or next won’t be significant. What will be significant is that a Tesla will have done it first. Every one knows the name of the first person to walk on the moon. Few know the name of the second person to do it. Elon Musk definitely knows the importance of being firstest with the mostest.
Source: CNBC

Saturday, September 23, 2017

New York Announces Plan To Install Up To 1,000 EV Fast Charging Stations By 2020

When it comes to electric vehicles, New York mayor Bill De Blasio gets it. “The easier we make it for electric vehicles, the more manufacturers will build and the more prices will go down,” he says. “The future is electric.” And De Blasio is willing to put his money where his mouth is. On September 22, he announced that the city plans to spend $10 million to install 50 fast charging hubs in the city’s five boroughs by 2020. Each hub will have up to 20 fast charging stations.
Charging infrastructure in metropolitan areas is a matter of vital concern to city dwellers, many of whom have no access to private chargers they can use to charge their cars overnight. Tesla has recently announced a new style charger that operates on lower power (72 kW) than its traditional Supercharger equipment (125 kW) but is more compact, making it more suitable for urban installations.

The mayor managed to take a swipe at the President while announcing the new program. “New York will continue to invest in the new technologies we need to reduce our emissions, especially in the face of Trump’s abdication of leadership on climate. By helping develop the infrastructure necessary for electric vehicles, we’re going to make it easier than ever for New Yorkers to switch. This is another step towards aligning our action on climate change with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree stretch goal.”
At the present time there are only 16 fast chargers available for public use in New York. There are over 600 Level 2 chargers, but they require up to 8 hours to complete their task. New York officials are now working with utility company ConEdison to select the best location in each borough for the first fast charging hub to be constructed.
The New York initiative is laudable, but it also allows traditional car makers to snicker up their sleeves as they wait for tax payers to foot the bill for doing what Tesla has done on its own. Sadly, this sends a signal to the auto industry that if they wait long enough and drag their feet, someone else will do the heavy lifting for them. Leadership is something the traditional car companies all seem to avoid like The Plague.
Source: Inhabitat

Mercedes Expands Its Electric Car Plans For US And Chinese Markets

Mercedes is boosting its electric car investments in America and in China, reports Fortune. In the US, it builds the GLE and GLS SUV models and the GLE coupe at a factory near Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Earlier this year, it announced it would spend $1.3 billion to expand and modernize that facility, which built 310,000 vehicles in 2016.

Now Mercedes says it will invest a further $1 billion to make the Tuscaloosa plant ready to build electric cars and to build a battery factory nearby. The one million square foot battery manufacturing facility will be the fifth constructed by Mercedes worldwide. The plan is to begin the battery plant in 2018 with a target date for the start of production in 2020. The company says the expansion will create 600 new jobs in the area.
Manufacturing of electric cars, which will be sold under the EQ brand, is not expected to begin until 2021 at the earliest. While the new investment in America can be seen as a response to the growing demand for Tesla automobiles, the California company says it will have its own midsize electric SUV — the Model Y — on sale by 2020. Mercedes will begin producing its first electric SUV, the EQC, at its factory in Bremen, Germany, in 2019. Mercedes says all its cars will have an electric motor by 2022 — although, that statement includes hybrid and plug-in hybrid models as well as battery electric vehicles.
At the same time, Mercedes and BYD are looking to expand their partnership, which builds electric cars for the Chinese market under the Denza brand according to a report by Bloomberg. The two companies have been working together since 2012. BYD, partially backed by Warren Buffett, is currently China’s electric car sales leader. It has delivered nearly 50,000 EVs so far this year while General Motors has delivered fewer than 1,000.
China is pushing hard to convert its fleet of automobiles to electrics by 2030. It currently has the most rigorous EV quota system in the world. While the automakers all agree that China’s timetable for going all electric is far too aggressive, the fact is that China’s new car market — at nearly 25 million vehicles a year — is simply too large and too lucrative to give up on.
As China goes, so will the rest of the world go. Carmakers will need to spread the development costs of electric cars across all markets in order to continue being profitable in the future when electric cars go mainstream.