Category Archives: cars

Google will score big by entertaining in robot cars

Google self-driving car

If there was one takeaway from the video Google released last week of its self-driving cars – besides the fact that, you know, they drive themselves – it’s how boring the typical commute could soon be.

Sure, the people in the video are completely amazed at being chauffeured around by a machine, but of course they would be. It’s a freakin’ robot, after all. But what happens when the novelty wears off?

Google’s first effort is minimalistically sparse on bells and whistles – the cars only have a start/stop button and a screen that shows occupants the route they’re taking – and understandably so. The company wants to make sure the main functions work perfectly before adding accoutrements. In the meantime, there’s zilch for those passengers to do except stare out the window and ponder how increasingly useless they’re becoming.

It’s only when those extras are considered that it starts to become clearer just how big these cars are going to be for Google. After all, people are going to need to do something while they’re being driven around. We are an easily bored species, after all. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on June 3, 2014 in apple, cars, Google, robots


Car tech priority should be to keep it simple

BMW's dashboard-mounted tweeter makes for some sweet driving sounds.

BMW’s dashboard-mounted tweeter makes for some sweet driving sounds.

It has often been said that the car is the perfect piece of technology – you just stick your key into it and it works. Yet, with automobiles quickly becoming the next tech battleground – both in terms of the extra functionality manufacturers are cramming into them, and in regards to their inexorable march toward full automation – that long-held simplicity is looking like a frail thing indeed.

The fact was driven home for me the other day when I test drove a fully loaded 2014 BMW 750xi Sedan. The $136,000 car was tricked out with just about every technological addition on the market today: a rear-view camera (including night vision), electric rear and side shades, satellite radio, active blind spot detection, a steering wheel that rumbles if you change lanes without signalling, a touch-knob-controlled heads-up-display with GPS and a high-end Bang & Olufson sound system complete with dashboard-mounted tweeter. Truth be told, I felt a little lost. In fact, even the old truism about key simplicity no longer holds in this particular BMW, where the ignition is started by pushing a button on the dash. Its “keys” are just a fob used to unlock the doors.

My regular car is a 2003 Toyota Corolla, which might as well have been manufactured before the internet existed. Friends marvel and sometimes snicker at the fact that I still have to manually roll down the windows. About the most technologically advanced thing about it is the fact that it’s black, which helps snow melt off it faster when the sun is out. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on April 16, 2014 in cars, video games


Robot cars and the need for human judges

stanleycar1Chris Urmson, the head of Google’s robot car project, made some impressive claims about the company’s autonomous vehicles at a robotics conference in Silicon Valley on Friday. He told attendees the cars are safer than those driven by humans, based on thousands of hours of test driving in California and Nevada.

“We’re spending less time in near-collision states,” he said. “Our car is driving more smoothly and more safely than our trained professional drivers.”

The professionally trained drivers used as a control during Google’s experiments were found to speed up and slow down more abruptly than their autonomous counterparts. Robots also tended to maintain safer distances from the vehicles ahead of them, according to the data. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on October 28, 2013 in cars, Google, law, robots


Cellular cars could be mainstream by 2017

qnx-carLast week, I had the chance to sit down with Sebastien Marineau-Mes, BlackBerry’s senior vice-president of software, to talk about the company’s present and future. The meat of that conversation, which can be found here, naturally centered around BlackBerry and its road map beyond the current Z10 and Q10 phones.

But, toward the end of our chat, we ventured into an intriguing area: the connection of cars to the internet. BlackBerry’s subsidiary QNX, which is where Marineau-Mes comes from, is after all very active in infotainment operating systems for automobiles. The company actually has 60 per cent of the market, he says.

I asked him, half joking, when cars will finally all get SIM cards, and was surprised that he actually had a serious answer. It’s already happening in some high-end cars, but what’s more surprising is that there’s a general feeling among involved parties that the majority of vehicles will have built-in modems by 2017, he said. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on May 1, 2013 in cars, RIM


2013: The race for robot cars picks up speed

Who'd have ever thought this would almost be reality?

Who’d have ever thought this would almost be reality?

It’s unlikely that robot cars will become commercially available in 2013, but it’s a certainty that they will take big steps forward. So far, Google has been pushing forward with the development of self-driving vehicles, but the search company is not alone. Toyota is the latest to officially join the fray.

The Japanese car maker will be showing off its “active safety research vehicle, Intelligent Transport Systems and 2013 Lexus LS – equipped with the world’s most advanced pre-collision safety system” – at the Consumer Electronics Show this week. I’ll be checking it out and speaking with Toyota executives, so I’ll hopefully have more on this next week.

Robot cars for Google make a strange sort of sense. With the company counting on much of its future advertising to come from location-aware devices, having cars in its arsenal sort of works with that. Plus, it’s a great vanity project that makes the company look bold and innovative. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on January 8, 2013 in cars, Google, robots


Better Place electric cars need better business plan

Better Place electric cars cost about $30,000, but that doesn’t include the battery.

Better Place has to be Israel’s boldest and most ambitious technology startup – it’s just too bad it’s not working out.

Started by serial entrepreneur Shai Agassi, the electric-car company seeks to improve the world by weaning it off of oil. So far, though, such vehicles have come with a long list of problems: they’re too expensive, they don’t have very good range, it’s hard to charge them when you’re away from home and the charge-up takes too long. Better Place, however, thinks it has innovative ways around each of those issues.

On the cost front, the company has been able to lower the price of its cars – built by Renault-Nissan – to about $30,000. That’s still a little pricey for the average buyer, but it’s way cheaper than most electric cars because the purchase doesn’t include the vehicle’s most expensive part: the battery. The company actually owns it and, like a cellphone provider that discounts a phone in exchange for a long-term contract, the buyer signs up to a monthly service plan to offset other costs.

The plan includes the installation of a charging station at the buyer’s home, as well as much electricity as needed, based on a tiered service that depends on how much you want to drive. With Israel having some of the highest gas prices in the world, owing to the enmity of most of its neighbours, Better Place says customers can cut their montly gas bill by about 30 per cent through going electric. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on October 25, 2012 in cars, israel


Parko’s crowd-sourcing parking app holds promise

Between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I visited and spoke with a dozen Israeli tech startups last week. One of the highlights was certainly Parko, a parking-assistant app launching in Tel Aviv in the next few weeks and, with any luck, in a number of big U.S. cities by the end of the year. I’m crossing my fingers that Parko makes it here to Toronto because, as TomTom’s recent congestion index indicated, we need all kinds of help when it comes to traffic and parking.

Parko is essentially a crowd-sourcing app that connects users looking for parking spots. When you first launch the app, you register the make, model and colour of your car. From there, you can tell the app that you’re either looking for a parking spot or just about to leave one. Depending on which end you’re on, you’ll get a notification that a nearby user is either leaving or looking, at which point you can choose to make the transaction or not.

Transaction is actually an appropriate word because the app doesn’t just rely on the kindness of strangers to work. Users are incentivized to volunteer their parking status with rewards of virtual coins. If you want to take advantage of Parko and actually secure one of those about-to-be-vacated spots, you have to – you guessed it – spend some of those coins. (They can also be purchased for real money, naturally). Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in cars, israel