Category Archives: Tech news

Autonomous Driving Starts Deals in Silicon Valley

The bursting forth of self-driving technology has initiated the two largest consecutive years of automotive supplier takeovers to happen in a decade, and more seem to be coming as parts manufacturers lose ground in the race towards technological transformation.

Automotive supplier deals in 2015 and 2016 totaled $74.4 billion according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Each of those years blew the previous average, $17.7 billion, out of the water. Considering the number of transactions valued at $500 million or higher skyrocketed to 18 last year (the last decade saw only 6 a year on average) and has already hit 11 this year, a major change is clearly occurring in the global automotive industry.

baiduMany have attributed these soaring numbers to the pressure felt by all suppliers to keep up with the industry’s shift towards autonomous driving, a transition that began about five years ago. Suppliers are now existentially reliant on their ability to stay current with the race to make vehicles aware of their environment just like a human driver would be, if not better. That means sensors, cameras, radar, and computing power to comprehend all that information are now more important than ever.

At the same time, parts are becoming cheaper than ever due to economic uncertainty and Brexit concerns.

“Automotive bankers are definitely spending more time in places like Silicon Valley,” offered Citigroup Inc.’s head of investment banking for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Christian Kames. Kames also holds the position of global co-head of automotive.

“The focus areas are electronics, communications and software. In the past, most suppliers didn’t really have that kind of technology, but they now know they need to have it to set the industry standards for the future.”

Infotainment deals are expected to weigh in for the next wave of maker adjustments, making parts makers need access to the crucial interface between the driver and vehicle. The sector has become increasingly attractive due to its relatively small amount of major players and because new combinations aren’t likely to raise any concerns for competition regulators. There are a lot of companies that could be bought entirely or partially, like Harman International Industries Inc., Visteon Corp., and Delphi Automotive Plc.

“I think we’ll probably see a few more interesting deals over the next year or so,” offered Chris McNally, London-based analyst at Evercore IS.

bmwA whole mix of deals recently went through between tech and auto companies; ZF just took a 40 percent stake in radar supplier Ibeo Automotive Systems GmbH. Samsung Electronics Co. has also apparently been in the final stations of $3 billion negotiations with auto parts maker Magneti Marelli, a major player in the production line for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

“If you don’t buy now, and boost your capabilities for autonomous driving and for connected cars, there’s no second chance,” warned director of the automotive practice at PWC Dietmar Ostermann. “Because the others will.”

Axel Hoefer, managing director at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in Frankfurt, said that shifts towards EVs will also likely drive new deals.

“Put yourself in the shoes of a traditional supplier,” said Hoefer. “A gradual shift is fine. But if it’s a steep change, that will put lots of people under pressure.”

Prius Identity Crisis in the Electric Tomorrow

The Toyota Prius has long been seen as the poster child for the green car movement. From celebrities to foreign dignitaries who wanted to make an environmental statement you would see them cruising around in the Toyota Prius without fail. Over the past 3 generations of the car the Prius was mostly seen as being responsible for cementing Toyota’s place as the number one selling environmentally conscious car. This was all well and good when the Prius was in fact the more environmentally conscious option on the road, however as we all know today this is not the case. In fact the very notion of a fuel electric hybrid is incapable of getting back to that number one spot now that there are so many full electric vehicles on the road today. These include the Tesla fleet of their bread and butter model S that put electric cars on the map as a viable alternative to luxury vehicles, now they also have the Model X to be an SUV cross over that getting a lot of positive attention, and finally they are about to roll out the model 3 that will change the world in the way that they are going to be the first economic electric car that is going to come in just around the 30,000 dollar price point. Also we see people like Nissan rolling out their leaf that is pretty good little plug in as well, and finally the Chevy volt and bolt that are primarily electric vehicles that get assistance from a minimally combustion driven engine.

However despite the introduction of the Prius and their forth generation of their completely redesigned model in 2016 the Prius sales have been sluggish over the past few months. To the tune that between the months of January and now when the gen four came out Prius sales feel a whooping 11 percent when compared to the same time frame in 2015. This is in response to the fact that across their entire Hybrid sales went down by 15.5 percent in the whole nation. 

This has a lot pushing this fact, for one gas prices as we all know are really low right now, and the Prius is an efficient car but when it comes to its styling it falls flat. Its kind of an uncomfortable ride in all honesty. So where is the Prius going to be in the future you might ask, well frankly it will be dead and a relic of the past. This is probably the logical conclusion to what their mission was from the onset, still it will be a big moment in the American car buying landscape when the Prius is no longer an option. The problem is that Toyota in the minds of a lot of people is seen as the green car option. So naturally the next step in this regard is that electric is the future. However, Toyota does not have a play in this regard. In fact they are going to fall flat if they don’t step up to the plate, and soon.

Tesla Launches Two New Models Priced Lower than the S

Last Thursday, Tesla Motors announced that it would be creating two new, lower-priced versions of the Model S that could hit American roads by July of this year. The electric car and tech mogul stated that it hopes to make its vehicles more financially acceptable to more people. 

The Mosel S 60 will cost around $66,000 and the Model S 60 D will cost closer to $71,000. Both have a slightly reduced range compared to the original Model S, which was released in 2012 and costs somewhere around $76,000. 

model s3In a recent statement, Tesla put forward that owners of electric cars do save on fuel costs and that the effective price of ownership for the new Model S 60 was closer to $50,000. 

According to Tesla, the new models will be available to the public within the next six weeks, a standard lead time for the company. Individuals who place orders today can receive their cars as early as the month of July. 

The cars will have a range of 200 miles per charge and a maximum speed of 130 miles per hour. Both new models will be sold along with battery packs that have 75 kilowatt-hour capacities. In line with Tesla’s new and unique business model, the batteries will only have 60 kilowatt-hour capacities unless customers decide to pay up and unlock the battery’s full capacity. 

The decision to make hardware only fully utilizable by high-paying customers may seem like somewhat of a dick move, but Tesla has explained that its actually the company that is forced to pay extra for the model; after all, either way they’re forced to make the same hardware. It’s the Tesla customers that are given a less expensive option for the same hardware, yet another example of the electric car mogul’s attempts to make its expensive products more widely accessible to the general population. 

According to Tesla, the company plans to produce somewhere between 80,000 and 90,000 vehicles in 2016 and by 2018 hopes to launch that number up to 500,000. The company has stated that it expects most of these cars to be Model S cars. 

model s4Last year, Tesla also announced plans to create a more affordable car called the Model 3. The Model 3 retails for an affordable $35,000 and is projected to hit the market in 2017. The Model 3 has sent shock waves through Tesla and the electric car industry in general because of its immense popularity; the company has received just under 400,000 pre-orders for the car, prompting many experts to expect that Tesla will not be able to produce all the vehicles by the projected 2017 deadline. 

It’s not a bad prediction considering Tesla is still making the factories meant to make the cars. Electric vehicles and their batteries have never been made in bulk the way the 400,000 pre orders will call for, but Tesla CEO Musk has expressed confidence that bulk battery production will bring down the price of electric cars and play an instrumental role in making the technology inexpensive enough to enter the mainstream. 

Tesla shares recently plummeted as a result of Tesla’s offer to purchase Solar City. 

EV Batteries Already Cheaper than Expected

The major obstacle to incorporating eco-friendly electric vehicles into the larger market of more conventional, gas-fueled automobiles has been price. The batteries used for electric cars are often made of rare materials that are difficult to mine, and the cost of obtaining the materials generally transfers to the consumer. On top of that, batteries can be expensive to maintain in the long term, so not do consumers face a higher initial price but they also have to be prepared for pricey fixes down the road.

bats cheaperWhile the price of electric vehicles and their batteries in particular has been expected to remain a major issue for years to come, a new study published by the Climate Change section of Nature found that electric car batteries have actually decreased in price much faster than industry experts estimated. In fact, the batteries for electric vehicles already cost significantly less than what analysts believed the prices would be in 2020.

In 2013, the International Energy Agency made a famous estimate that it would take until 2020 for lithium cell batteries to sink below $300 per kilowatt-hour. However, researchers have stated that the electric car industry has already reached that goal, or at least some companies have. On an industry-wide level, costs were floating around $1,000 per kWh in 2007, but dropped to as low as $140 per kWh by 2014. The study has aslso claimed that some “market-leading firms” like Nissan, which has sold the most EV models to date and Tesla, which has hundreds of thousands of orders lined up for its much-awaited Model 3, have beaten the $300-per-kWh expectation by a long shot.

The study backed up its findings with 85 cost estimates from peer-reviewed academic publications in addition to reports from analysts, the media, and those taken from battery and car manufacturers. While the authors have done a fair amount of research, they were also quick to note that they still aren’t working with a complete body of data in that companies rarely disclose their true costs of manufacturing to the public.

tesla2The authors were also straight-forward about the fact that battery costs still need to drop a good deal further in order to attract the mass appeal of cheaper, gas-fueled cars. They stated that in the United States, for example, the costs must drop to less than $150 per kWh for electric cars to move “beyond niche applications.”

The exact threshold at which point EVs will become price-competitive with internal-combustion models remains difficult to isolate, but many guess that cells would need to run at somewhere around $100 per kWh.

Huge efforts are currently underway in terms of finding alternatives to today’s lithium-ion chemistries. Volkswagen is considering investing in the development of solid-state batteries for future electric cars, though many developments on car batteries remain purely experimental and fairly distant from actual release in the auto market.

Tesla Motors has gained a fair amount of attention for attempting to bring battery prices down by entering economies of scale. It has created an enormous “Gigafactory” in Nevada, where it hopes to create a factory large enough to realize the $35,000 base price for its Model 3 sedan.

Google Offers Federal Plan For Autonomous Car

Google wants there to be legislation on the books that is favorable to autonomous cars, and soon. They are on the cusp of being able to put something into production within the next few years, however remain hesitant given the potential threat of liability and legally ambiguity that surrounds the world of self driving cars. Google is urging Congress to establish new federal powers which would let the company under the guise of Alphabet to receive special, and expedited permission to bring a self driving car to market that for the first time would not have any streaming wheel or pedals. The proposal addresses their plain in a letter to the top transportation officials as well as the big wigs of the industry reveals their solution to a huge regulatory roadblock that persists today with the confides of an antiquated understanding of autonomous cars and tech in general. Its a kind of blue print to congress for how they should address the issue and do their job, which most of the time people have immense issue with. But in the case of Google they understand the what needs to be done and what will happen in the future more than probably anyone in the world, so in this case it is kind of warranted. The major innovation is that is the legislation as it stands now demands that someone have the ability to step in and over ride the car if need be and drive it, where as what google wants is a car that is incapble of being driven, it should be considered in the realm of a transportation machine instead of a car as we understand it and that is the biggest problem for congress to grapple with. They are locked in a relm and cannot see the shift within the existing infrastructure. nnnnnngh

An insider surround this story noted that,

“If every state is left to go its own way without a unified approach, operating self-driving cars across state boundaries would be an unworkable situation and one that will significantly hinder safety innovation, interstate commerce, national competitiveness and the eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles,” The thing is that the US need to act and act fast given implications of where we are today. When we consider that GM has invested $500 Million with Lyft to make this happen, as well as many other companies trying to bid for a piece of the pie the time is ripe that they in the United States and in many ways if the US doesn’t step up and other countries do, that is where the money will go.nnn

It is unlikely that congress will not act in some way, the only question is how quickly and how much. Given the speed of innovation in this field they need to set up laws that will allow for the continued innovation and development so that we do not run into this kind of log jam in the future where in industry is halted by state. The skills that defined safe driving will soon be unnecessary.

Eco-Friendly is the New Status Symbol

Although of course luxury cars will always have a special place in our hearts, the tides are changing and the sign of status, elitism, and education isn’t just having money anymore.

Economists claim that ostentatious displays of wealth have actually fallen out of fashion, to the point that they’re seen as crass by most people.

Instead, conspicuous donations to charity, buying second-hand clothes, collecting ‘useless’ university degrees, using politically correct language and making a point of not watching television are all the newest signs of social status.

tesla3Some attribute this change to the increased affordability of cars, foreign holidays and the buys. Now to do these things isn’t such an amazing feat in the eyes of others.

According to a spokesman for London’s Adam Smith Institute, “Rather than trying to one-up one another by buying Bentleys, Rolexes and fur coats, the modern social climber is more likely to try and show off their ‘authenticity’ by having the correct opinions on music and politics and making sure their coffee is sourced ethically.”

According to the institute’s head of research Ben Southward, “More or less everyone can afford goods that were a show of status int he 1960s and so the competition has gone and we’ve had to move on to something else. It is much harder to learn which products are Fair-trade or which kind of cashmere you should buy, which makes it a much more fertile race to run in.”

Ryan Murphy is an economist that received research on the topic. He claims that fast cars, gaudy diamonds and grand parties have fallen way out of fashion, to the point that they’re actually being seen as somewhat distasteful.

“A wife adorning herself with a fistful of diamonds perhaps could once convince herself that she wears the diamonds because they look beautiful and she loves her husband but, broadly speaking, most of her dinner companions would see it as crass,” explained Professor Murphy, who teaches at the southern Methodist University in Texas.

“In other words, most elements of Western society have moved beyond associating ostentatious displays of wealth with high status.”

The unethical, petty nature of these relatively see-through demonstrations of wealth have been commented on by artists and thinkers for decades and perhaps even centuries, but it seems the elite classes are just catching up.

“If anything, it is simply considered rude; one could say you must signal you are not signaling,” concluded Murphy.

rich person in a teslaOne major demonstration of this; useless university degrees about trendy subjects. According to Sam Bowman, the Adam Smith’s Institute’s executive director, “We all know that people with money try to show it off but focusing on flashy cars and fancy clothes actually misses that, in an era of abundance, the  new ‘aristocrats’ prefer to show off their privilege with hard-to-get retro clothes and objects, studying obscure subjects at university of even taking loud outrage-driven political positions or making conspicuous donations to sometimes wasteful charities.”

Although this spells the beginning of another form of enraging elitism, it’s likely a cultural change for the best. At least there will be more eco-friendly cars on the road.

7 Handy Tips for Drivers

Any vehicle owner can benefit from these easy tips for keeping their car running properly and looking great:

toilet plunger1. Use a toilet plunger to fix dents on your car

What? That’s right: If you plunge a car dent, you can create a vacuum that actually pulls small sections of dented metal out into their original shape. Just make sure to wash the plunger first.

2. Applying clear nail polish to windshield cracks can keep them from spreading.

It will only work as a temporary patch (the elements wear down nail polish pretty quickly), but it’s a lot better than nothing. If you need to get to work or are out on a road trip, it may just save you some time and money to patch up your cracks with nail polish until you get to a trusted mechanic.

3. Shoe organizers double as trunk organizers.

Makes sense, right? Set those bad boys up so that they hang from the back of the back seat; you’ll have a variety of see-through pouches that sort out all the supplies you need.

4. Make a cup-holder-suited tissue dispenser.

Easier than its sounds; all you have to do is remove the rolled up tissues out of a tissue box and put it inside a (clean) portable coffee cup; bust a hole in the lid and you’ve got yourself a nice little dispenser perfect for car use.

rubber band phone holder5. Hold your phone exactly where you need it (without your hands).

This one’s crazy awesome: just loop a rubber band through a couple grates in your air conditioning vent and you’ve got a rig that will mount your phone right up near the windshield. This can keep you from risking hands free tickets and is in general safer than looking down into your lap for directions.

6. Extend your car remote’s range by becoming a human antenna.

I’ve never tried this one, but apparently if you put a car remote against your head, it can then use your body as a larger, extended antennae which can then pick up and send frequencies a further range than before. If it’s true, this could definitely come in handy when you’re looking for your car in a huge parking lot.

6. Treat frozen cars with household products.

If your lock is frozen, you can effectively melt it with a generous dab of hand sanitizer. If you’re worried about your doors freezing shut, simply apply some pam cooking spray to the inner rubber before the snow sets in; those doors should open right up!

7. Reduce your blindspot.

Surprisingly, most drivers don’t understand how to adjust their mirrors to be safest and most effective. This is in part due to the fact that the mirrors are set at regulation standards by dealerships before they are sold. To minimize your blindspot, widen your side mirrors to the point that you just barely cannot see the side of your car. It would seem self-explanatory that seeing your car in the mirror does not help you remain more aware of the road, but most of us don’t even think about it.

Are Secondary Batteries Right for You?

Today’s RVs are more decked out with charge-hungry appliances than ever before; people are hauling around refrigerators, TVs, blenders, washer/dryers, and all kinds of other technological tools that never knew the nomadic lifestyle until very recently. How do they supply the necessary power for all this stuff? Originally people would sap the precious energy from their car’s starting battery, but now the needed power is so substantial that people would quickly drain the starting battery completely.

The solution? Purchase an auxiliary battery that can be charged using your car’s alternator.  Although you may have never heard of it, the alternator is the your car battery’s right hand man, and they are a package deal.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

The alternator is named in reference to the term alternating current (AC). They are generally installed near the front of the engine and are driven by the crankshaft, and create AC power through electromagnetism, which is then channeled into the battery so it can provide voltage to run your car’s electrical components.

An automotive charging system is actually made up of three major parts consisting of the battery, the alternator, and the voltage regulator. The alternator helps the battery to generate power for services like the lights in your dashboard and the power that comes from your cigarette lighter when you plug in a phone-charging adaptor.

Back to alternating currents: your car battery emits direct current (DC) power, which isn’t as powerful or far-reaching as alternating current power. The alternator uses diodes to convert AC power to DC power so that your car battery can use it.

Ok great, so how do you use it to charge your auxiliary battery? First off, you have to find the right sized auxiliary battery; generally it’s recommended to find the largest one that can fit in your engine so that it can provide the most possible power while also lasting for the longest possible time.

So you get one of those, and then you buy a battery isolator, which is a device that allows your car’s alternator to recharge the auxiliary battery while protecting your car’s starting battery from discharging. Without this, you’re likely to discharge energy from both batteries at once which can eventually leave you in a situation in which your car won’t start and you have no way to power your cell phone or any other appliance to be used in that emergency situation.

battery isolatorBattery isolators are generally made of solenoid, which is a coil wound into a tightly packed helix so that it can create a nearly uniform magnetic field. There are many ways to operate the battery isolators, and the most highly recommended tends to be the VSR (Voltage Sensitive Relay). VSR battery isolators can sense what level of voltage implies that your car is on and what level implies its off and automatically links the batteries for charging purposes when your car is on and isolates your auxiliary battery when the car is off, keeping you from accidentally draining your starting battery.

With the proper equipment, you can charge your auxiliary battery just as you drive along, and with no risk to your car’s function.

Digital Rights Rules Modified to Suit Our Times

The Library of Congress recently published new rules to replace a set of provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The Library of Congress oversees the U.S. Copyright Office.

The revised provisions were a subject of much debate. Although they were written to protect the intellectual property, advocates for digital privacy, security and civil liberties claimed that times had changed in such a way that the sanctions severely limited ordinary citizens who weren’t intending to break the law in any way.

emissionFor example, one of the limitations prohibited that any modifications be made to certain devices, even if the modifications were being made solely for the sake of security research. These laws were part of the reason that companies like VW could outfit their cars with illegal software for so long without risking liability; there were mountains of red tape that made testing the software extremely difficult.

The American Foundation for the Blind was one of many interest groups that backed the advocates for change. The AFB was frustrated that the provisions made it impossible to access electronic books without being liable.

“Our situation sort of illustrates in fully stark terms why the 1202 process needs to be fundamentally rethought,” explains EFB director of public policy Mark Richert.

Advocates were happy to see the changes finally be made.

“We’re pleased with the new exemption for jailbreaking,” said Mitch Stoltz, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The Library of Congress eliminated the arbitrary and increasingly meaningless distinction between smartphones and tablets, and gave some legal protection to users of many more kinds of mobile devices.”

According to Stoltz, the changed law had originally forced the EFF to “spend significant time and resources every three years to simply give device owners the right to use software of their choice” on their mobile phones and devices.

Managing partner at RSR Research had this to say:iphone

“The whole issue gets back to what users want. It’s been my view that Apply users want technology that works, and are willing to pay for assurances that anything they download will behave as expected and won’t crash the device. This is really the same driving force that led people to choose a Macintosh instead of a Windows PC.”

Content providers, on the other hand, were none too pleased.

“Without the protections embodied in Section 1201, many of these platforms simply would not exist,” claimed Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) spokesman Howard Gantman.

“We are pleased that today’s ruling protects against damaging expansions into space- and format-shifting, and will further encourage the development of new, legal platforms,” he continued. “While we respectfully disagree with certain of today’s rulings, such as those pertaining to Blu-ray discs and smart TVs, we are grateful to Register Pallante and her dedicated staff at the Copyright Office for the hard work that went into the recommendations to the Acting Librarian.”