Google Self-Driving Car Beta

Google Self-Driving Car Beta

Today Google announced their Self-Driving Car Beta release.  Barely more than 6 months ago, Google released a video of several volunteers testing the alpha version of the Self-Driving Car in Google’s own private test space.  Now, it appears that they are ready to begin thinking about testing for prime-time.

Google X Labs is heavily invested in the future technologies that would solve multiple problems as well as give humans the chance to use Google services without distractions.  Driving is one of those distractions.  Wouldn’t it be so much easier to read text messages and search for stuff to buy, if we weren’t distracted by the tedious task of driving?

Google Self-Driving Car alpha

As expected with projects from Google X, the new Self-Driving car isn’t just toy, it’s the beginning of a legitimate attempt to make driving better.   More than half of all traffic accidents are caused by human error.  Although we still want humans in cars, it would be nice to take that error out of the equation.  And although it might seem a bit controversial to some people, the idea has its merits.

The average driver would prefer to be driven, especially in traffic, rather than have to spend that time thinking about driving only.  One of the primary advantages of self-driving cars is that they rarely make mistakes.  According to Google testing, they’ve never made one, even after 700,000 miles.  Another advantage is that they can also react far more quickly than humans and can communicate with other autonomous vehicles.   The combination of these features, if done right, could nearly eliminate traffic congestion.   Thereby freeing up the would-be driver, now passenger, from accidents and time-delays.

Version 1.1

This latest model has an encapsulated radar module where the prior model had exposed guts.  There have also been minor improvements made  to both the interior and exterior, to give the car a more polished look.   Google also added some manual controls, as a fail-safe and to comply with California DMV laws.

When Can you Buy one?

Matthew Inman (TheOatmeal.com) has a stark interest in things electric. He owns a Tesla Model S and had the chance to ride in this latest model of the Google Self-Driving Car.  And as he notes in his article on the subject, “It’s not done and it’s not perfect”.   It would be an optimistic prediction to say that we will have self-driving cars, electric or gas by 2020.  But the advantages seem to point to that being a good thing.  Here’s to hoping that Self-Driving Cars become a reality in our lifetime.

 

 

 

Source: Google Self-Driving Car Project (Google Plus)

New Smart: Big City Car (w /Video)

Big City Car

 Big City Car

Smart is attempting some new strategies on selling the brand in the US, and one of them is the Big City Car.  Rather than just innovate, Smart has gone overboard to the point of ridiculous.

Of course it is possible to sling mud at one’s opponents, but why not just make fun of yourself?  The new Big City Car is real, at least as a prototype, but it is unreasonably large.   And it is merely a 1.5 scale model of the current Smart City car.

The videos that have been made to ridicule the concept of this mega car are truly aimed at all makers of cars that are roughly equivalent to  the Big city car.  But I’m not sure if the campaign is more functional, or just funny.

Pulling Double Duty: Via Motors Hybrid Trucks (w/ Video)

Double Duty with Via Motors

Double Duty Trucks from Via Motors

Via Motors has been around for several years now and is not unfamiliar with the idea of series hybrid electric vehicle.  But rather than making a Chevy Volt, they’re making a Chevy Volt-like Truck.

Using the Chevy Silverado, Suburban, and Express Van models, they’ve swapped out the drive train with two electric motors and a slightly smaller gas engine.  But even though it may look like a Chevy truck, underneath, it’s a whole other story.

On-Board Generator

Via Motors trucks have about 20 kWh of batteries and an power interface that is the electric equivalent of toting a gas station around.  On the side of each vehicle are several power ports.  There’s a level 2, 240 volt 30 amp plug, a 120 volt, 15 amp plug, and a few switches for control.  Plus, if the battery runs out, the gas engine can be turned on for additional power.

Double Duty

These trucks pull double duty by offering both electric and gas modes.  Where the gas engine is never connected to the drive train, it can be used to generate power, which in turn can used to drive the wheels.  But if you are looking to drive electric most of the time, the 20 kWh pack should be fine for up to 40 miles.  After that the gas generator comes on to provide roughly 30 MPG.  The gas tank is the same as you would find any of the regular gas models.

You may think that you need a Nissan Leaf for your electric and then a Suburban or Silverado for longer trips, but with Via Motors VTrux, you get both in one.  Plus the mileage after the battery has run out, is roughly double that of the gas-only models.

Price

The current price of the Via Motors VTrux is not practical for comparison to the normal use of a truck by most consumers.  And I am pretty sure that Via Motors people know this.  Even if you were to buy the most expensive hybrid Silverado and drive it 15,000 miles per year, the cost savings of a VTrux would be negative $10,000.

However, when your average annual mileage crosses over 25,000, then you start to see why the VTrux is a good idea. Hopefully, after some of the early adopters have made their purchases, we will see the price come down to something more reasonable.

Video

Mark Burdge of Via Motors gives the whole idea in one simple explanation in the video below.  Thanks to The Fast Lane Car for the video.

Ed Begley’s 2002 Toyota Rav4 EV

Ed Begley's 2002 Toyota Rav4 EV

With only three days left on the eBay auction, Ed Begley’s 2002 Toyota Rav4 EV is still available, at for a mere $10,200 as of this posting.  If you want a reliable, small, electric SUV, then you may want to consider this one.

In the  years since its purchase, Mr. Begley has racked up nearly 120 k miles on this EV, which he says was

Meticulously Maintained with some small cosmetic wear, typical of a well loved 13 year old car.

Although the batteries have been replaced once and the car did get into a minor accident shortly after its initial purchase, the vehicle appears to be in excellent condition.

Another added benefit that only electric cars have is the coveted white high-occupancy vehicles sticker.  As it is no longer possible to drive a hybrid in the diamond lane, your only option is with an EV.  And unlike many EVs this one is actually fairly affordable.

Source: Ebay Motors 

Google Self-Driving Vehicle (w/ Video)

Google Self-Driving Vehicle

Google is taking it to the next level by skipping the process of modifying an existing vehicle, but rather building their own.  I’m not even quite sure what to call this new EV, except as the Google Self-Driving Vehicle.

It’s pretty cool, if you get the chance to see one of the many Google self-driving cars around the San Francisco Bay Area.  They’re adorned with a cylindrical spinning device on the roof and are often either a Lexus RX or a Toyota Prius.  But this new little car is neither made by a major manufacturer nor is it a mock-up of some other car (although it does resemble the love child of a Smart Fortwo and Fiat 500).

These tiny EVs are capped to a maximum speed of 25 MPH to take excited visitors around a custom built track on Google’s campus.  Google needs these car to help them better develop the end-product of the true self-driving car.  While they may have logged half-a-million miles of auto-pilot miles on the streets of the SF Bay, it still needs more work. And this microcosm of the world might just do the trick.

Google plans to build a hundred prototype vehicles and test them over the next few years.

If you want to learn more about this project follow their Google+ Page