America, Properly Defined By German Automotive Engineering

In this time of discord about what makes America great, this 30 second ad spot (yay capitalism?) could be the greatest, most significant message about what the USA is. It is fitting that it was designed around and relies upon the Olympics.
Not surprisingly, it is a view from the outside that looks in to tell us the truth about ourselves. Thanks BMW.

The Drill Down 437: All In The Family

On this week’s Drill Down podcast, we ask whether the Russians hacked the DNC, and discussed how Instagram is out-Snapchatting Snapchat. We also get into how Uber exited China, Oracle's acquisition of NetSuite, how Tesla sealed deal with Solar City, and whether we should be concerned that all three mergers were between family members. 

We also go into the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, a real-world tribute to Pikachu, and ask the question: Who’s the most tech-savvy Presidential candidate?

That and more this week on #TheDrillDown

Apple and the Autonomous Car

I was catching up on a news backlog and came across this interesting piece on the Project Titan, the code word for the autonomous electric vehicle that Apple seems to be making. Max at Appcessories brings us up to speed with history and findings from his recent research. 

One thing struck out to me in particular:


"Apple seems to have hit a bump when BMW politely excused itself from the future partnership. The German automaker, Daimler, also refused to join up with Apple for its project."

Apple, Inc. is a different company than it was in 2005, but it's worth remembering that Steve Job's Apple Computer, Inc teamed up with Motorola to create the first mobile device, a phone called the ROKR, that could connect to iTunes. At the time Motorola was at the top of hte mobile space, with a series of devices that had great performance and style, like the conversation piece, I owned, the Moto V70, the standard, practical flip, the Moto V60, and the gold standard of mobile device design at the time, the Moto RAZR.

Motorola was exactly where BMW and Diamler are now-- at the top of their industry. They worked with Apple to get the ROKR device out, but Apple was either distracted by the imminent release of their iPod Nano, which was smaller than the phone and could hold far more song's than the Motorola's arificially capped 100 song limit.

The disruption was complete two years later when Apple unveiled the iPhone, a device with more speed, more storage, a dazzling interface, and a music app. Motorola would never regain its spot as the top mobile phone maker again.

No- Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs but the lesson here is that BMW and Daimler, both of whom are working on both autonomy and advanced drive vehicles,  would do well to innovate on their own-- grabbing talent where they can, lest a relationship with Apple lead to a vehicle that completely devours their core audience.

Facebook's Hardware Lab

From the AP and picked up by CBS News: Facebook's got some ambitions for hardware. But it's not much about designing and creating the next Facebook Phone... 

The lab will be a space for engineers to design energy-efficient servers for Facebook data centers, test new laser mounts and drone propellers and perfect a prototype 360-degree video camera that Facebook unveiled at a conference in April.

I'm excited about what we'll see coming out of this space-- an island of physical creativity in a facility that's nearly completely dedicated to virtual space.

Moon Express is slated for a 2017 Trip to... the moon.

Mike Wall, writing for Space.com, reveals that "For the first time ever, a private company has permission to land on the moon."

It's a great idea and long overdue. As much as I'm excited for development of the moon, I od have one concern and that's a worry about changing the face of the moon that we all see at night. If there's anything that all humans have in common (external to their anatomy), it's the idea that we've all looked at the same moon whenever it was present, for the countless generations we've been around. That heritage is important to save. The face of the satellite that's exposed to Earth should remain relatively unchanged for as long as possible. 

Why am I concerned? As awesome as the whole endeavour is, this promotional video, a marketing sizzle reel, makes Moon Express look like a company that's not very used to showing restraint.

Fear the Robot Revolution: Dallas

The "Robot" used in the Police Killing of an armed and dangerous Dallas man, suspected in killing five DPD officers and wounding seven more was, to be sure, a rolling drone, somewhat modified, rather than some autonomous homunculus on a mission to kill a man. 

Still, it's a disquieting moment when devices like this remote controlled unit, designed to investigate and possibly remove bombs, was used to deliver one that was meant to detonate.

Top of mind is the detachment and ease with which this state-sanctioned killing took place. Still, one has to wonder whether the use of the robotic device was at least as detached and easy as a man fuelled by hate, pointing a high-powered rifle at unsuspecting law men and women, and then pulling the trigger to the effect of hitting 12 people. Horrifying.

CNN describes how the situation took place here (story and video) and ZDnet discusses the controversy of death by government robot here. It's important to give some thought to these issues as we move toward a world where our technology penetrates every facet of our civil life.

An Economic Hybrid Drivetrain

Billy Steele, writing for Engadget on Honda's new hybrid motor, which they built in collaboration with Daido Steel:

The new motor doesn't use heavy rare earth metals like dysprosium and terbium, instead relying on magnets from Daido Steel that cost 10 percent less and weigh 8 percent lighter than the previous components.

Hybrids are going to be an ever-important step toward auto's step to electrification, since large batteries still cost a lot and developing nations have more access to petroleum based fuels than they do steady electricity supplies. reducing dependence on Rare Earth metals goes a long way into bringing the cost of these devices down.

Steele also mentions that without the need for these metals, Honda doesn't have to negotiate with China, which holds most of the rare earth metal reserves. A positive political externality for Japan, perhaps, but an even more positive externality for the price of these metals, which should become more accessible as the price diminishes.

Tesla Motors under investigation by the SEC

Last week, the story broke that on May 7th, Tesla driver Joshua Brown lost his life as his 2015 Model S drove beneath a tractor trailer and was destroyed. It was the first fatality in an autonomous car and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration  ("NHTSA") is investigating the crash. New this week, Jean Eaglesham, Mike Spektor, and Susan Pulliam of the Wall Street Journal collaborated on a report which reveals that in addition to the NHTSA investigation, the Security and Exchange Commission is investigating whether or not Tesla Motors breached securities laws by not properly disclosing the details of the fatal May 7th crash to their investors. 

"Tesla did alert NHTSA to the crash but it's unclear, what, if any notifications they sent to their investors aside from a discussion about how their technology, if caught malfunctioning, could affect their brand image."

For context, while Tesla's Autopilot reminds drivers to pay attention to the road, the May 7th crash was the first in which a human died while their vehicle was in autonomous mode. That's a tragic, but important moment in automotive history, especially for Tesla, which has built its brand on ushering in a new era of not only attractive and efficient cars, but of smarter cars, in the vein of smartphones, which can be updated and upgraded with new skills. Autopilot is probably the highest profile of those skills and has become the company's flagship feature. The fact that someone died while the functionality was in use would be of keen interest to investors as the NHTSA investigation, and the possibility that regulations or restrictions can come down on autonomous driving technologies or Tesla Motors as a company, could change the outlook for shareholders significantly, leading them to change how they planned on supporting, or not supporting the company with investment. To put it simply, this crash presents non-experts and experts alike uncertainty about the future of autonomous cars and the SEC wants to know whether Tesla communicated that effectively with its shareholders.

In addition to how shareholders would react, it’s important to note that Tesla recently raised money by selling more than $2 billion in stock, $598m of which belonged to Elon Musk. Would investors have purchased this stock if they knew about this fatal crash on 7 May? Maybe. Maybe not.

The issue here is whether the automaker did the proper thing with respect to disclosures of this issue. Certainly automakers do not report every fatal crash that takes place in their cars every quarter to their shareholders, so the question is asked, why would Tesla? That's usually a stat automakers leave to organizations like NHTSA and SAE International, the worldwide auto-association of engineers, which compile stats on this sort of thing.

What we do know is that Tesla Motors did add new language to the 10Q form they filed with the SEC on May 10th, just three days after the autopilot fatality-- language that alludes to knowledge of the potential impact of the May 7th crash and the press surrounding the NHTSA of Tesla and their autopilot feature. It reads:

“Claims related to any misuse or failures of new technologies that we are pioneering, including autopilot...could generate substantial negative publicity about our products and business...and would have material adverse effect on our brand business, prospects and operating results. We self-insure against the risk.”

Eight days later, on May 18th, Tesla sold $1.4 billion in stock. On the same day, Elon Musk sold $598 million in stock.

The question the SEC has is: With the potential damage to Tesla’s brand and perhaps their operations based on the May 7th crash and investigation, was their sale of stock in good faith? Did they make sure that buyers of that stock fully understood the risks that may threaten Tesla Motors’ future viability?

Only time will tell.

"Facebook Decides Which Killings We’re Allowed to See"

Joseph Cox and Kason Koebler writing for Motherboard:

A video of the aftermath of a fatal shooting of a black man by a police officer was temporarily removed from Facebook. The company has said the removal was due to a “technical glitch.”

“We're very sorry that the video was inaccessible,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Telegraph. “It was down to a technical glitch and restored as soon as we were able to investigate.”

They go on to say:

The video has since been restored, but with a “Warning—Graphic Video,” disclaimer.

“Videos that contain graphic content can shock, offend and upset. Are you sure you want to see this?” the disclaimer continues.

Judging by the timestamps on tweets, the video was restored within around an hour of being removed.

Facebook did not respond to a series of questions about the apparent glitch, or if the video was flagged by a user or by Facebook itself.

This is problematic. Just last week, Facebook announced that they were going to change their news feed algorithms to favour content generated and uploaded by users rather than news sites like Upworthy and CNN. Here we have someone attempting to make sure the world sees the injustice she believes that her lover and her are facing and Facebook essentially silences her for a time.

Now it could be that of the millions of users who viewed the video, thousands or tens of thousands flagged the content as inappropriate. If that's the case, then they should just say so. 

Given the aforementioned algorithm change and the recent kerfuffle about the Trending News suffering from liberal editorial bias, Facebook is in jeopardy of losing the trust that it's re-gained over the last several years after multiple privacy issues. 

The bottom line is that while the social media giant is clearly a private company with its own processes, Facebook needs to come up with a clear set of guidelines for those within and without to work with. That would cease this confusion, as well as build and maintain trust.

Password Sharing Is a Federal Crime, Appeals Court Rules

Jason Koebler, writing for Motherboard:

One of the nation’s most powerful appeals courts ruled Wednesday that sharing passwords can be a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a catch-all “hacking” law that has been widely used to prosecute behavior that bears no resemblance to hacking.

In this particular instance, the conviction of David Nosal, a former employee of Korn/Ferry International research firm, was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who said that Nosal’s use of a former coworker’s password to access one of the firm’s databases was an “unauthorized” use of a computer system under the CFAA.

The decision is a nightmare scenario for civil liberties groups, who say that such a broad interpretation of the CFAA means that millions of Americans are unwittingly violating federal law by sharing accounts on things like Netflix, HBO, Spotify, and Facebook. Stephen Reinhardt, the dissenting judge in the case, noted that the decision “threatens to criminalize all sorts of innocuous conduct engaged in daily by ordinary citizens.”

This is going to ruffle a lot of feathers.

The Despair of Anthropogenic Climate Change

Two stories about the our destruction of the environment that caught my attention. 

While I understand that the headline of the first story; "It's almost too late to save our planet from catastrophic climate change;" is trying to do the clickbait thing, but it's problematic in that it somewhat posits that it's too late to do anything about climate change. I can't see how anyone on the fence about the issue would be willing to read it.

The second one is more encouraging. Getting old vehicles off of the streets is the sort of thing that cities and governments have to do, thought I don't know how older people on fixed incomes could afford to just abandon the functionality of a vehicle. This is the sort of thing that the US GOP uses to promote the idea that Climate Change is  hoax invented for a government takeover.

Fun with Geeks of Doom

I've been having some fun popping little stories and ideas off over at Geeks of Doom, where The Drill Down podcast lives. It's a fun little hobbyist/enthusiast site to pop around in if you have the chance.

While there, you can check out these snippets I've posted:

‘Ghostbusters’ Theme Song Gets Japanese Pop Remix

Two Doctors, One Time Lord: Samantha Bee Brings Geeks To The Brexit

'Game Of Thrones’: The (Not So) Great Houses Of Westeros

‘Game Of Thrones’ Geek Discussion: About That Jon Snow Reveal…

HBO Clears Up Jon Snow Confusion With Infographic (should be my byline/not sure what happened.

The Drill Down 432: Ten Laws of Robotics?

This week, the tech world responds to BREXITMicrosoft revises Asimov’s laws of robotics, Facebook and YouTube use AI to filter out extremist content, and Facebook wants you to see more of your loved ones’s content rather than upworthy shares. Also, we show you why the car in that ad may not be what you think it is, and Boston Dynamics brings a robot to the home, so keep those bananas around

Find the episode on iTunesStitcher, or on Geeks of Doom.

The Americas are doing Incredible Things with Cars

While Germany has long been the place for auto innovation, it's clear that over the last decade, there's been a resurgence in US auto engineering. Unfortuneately, the Big 3 aren't leading the charge, but being dragged by Tesla, Google and even Apple these days.

Germany's big 3 are being dragged as well, but today it's interesting to see how it's not just the US that's making waves. As Alina Selyukh reports for NPR, a 24 year old Columbian man just used 3D printing techniques to create a cheap, autonomous minibus-- the sort of thing that could be made incredibly quickly, cheaply, and, in its capacity as a part of public transportation, take cars off of the road, rather than chasing a consumer play that inevitably leads to more traffic.

It's impressive. Click or tap on this blog post's title for the link that'll get you the images of this adorable minibus, it's inventor and the full story.

Fear the Robot Revolution

So here's the headline, from Luke Dormehl for Digital Trends, which was published in all caps:
THIS ROBOT SALAMANDER CAN SWIM AND CRAWL, JUST LIKE A REAL AMPHIBIAN

And here's the video:

 

We spoke about Asimov's three laws of robotics this week on The Drill Down, along with another ten "musts" that MS CEO Satya Nadella is promoting. These ideas are becoming less and less abstract by the month. The idea of some advanced model of this slithering thing coming up behind you is terrifying. Terrifying.

Driver Distraction Casts Doubt on Autopilot as the Culprit

Sam Levin and Nicki Wolf writing for The Guardian:

“The truck driver, Frank Baressi, 62, told the Associated Press that the Tesla driver Joshua Brown, 40, was “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen” during the collision and was driving so fast that “he went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him”.”

If this is the case, then the details of this matter become both disturbing and absurd, while moving away from mechanical failure, and into an indictment of our screen-addicted and screen-distracted society.

"Baressi, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment, said the Harry Potter movie “was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road”. He told the AP, however, that he heard the movie but didn’t see it."

Aside from the social implications, if this account is true, we can expect that the victim's loved one will have an exceedingly difficult time processing their loss. 

NPR regarding the Tesla AutoPilot Crash

Sonari Glinton, reporting for NPR's Morning Edition:

"Well, the company put out a statement saying that Brown, who was an advocate of Tesla's, that, saying, quote, that "he was a friend to Tesla and the broader EV community." And earlier in the statement, though, the company points out that this was the first accident. And then when drivers - and also they say that when drivers activate autopilot, they have to acknowledge that, among other things, it's an assist feature and it requires you to keep your hands on the wheel and steering at all times.
You have to remain in control. And before you engage, it pops up and says that. And but - and also, in a way, this accident seems inevitable because, you know, I have watched many, many videos on YouTube of Tesla drivers engaging the autopilot feature and, you know, not behaving responsibly."

A note on the media-- the announcer, Steve Inskeep, stated that the vehicle in question was a self-driving car. It's not, and while Glinton clears this up in his quote, it's important to realise that by setting the stage with his opening comments, and that makes the story harder to understand for people not in the know about Tesla, autopilot, and the other key bits of this situation.

Tesla Autopilot Implicated in Death of Model S Driver

Autopilot, the series of technologies used in conjunction that allow a Tesla Model S drive semi-autonomously, was in use when one 2015 Model S crashed, killing the driver. 

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration ("NHTSA") is looking into the crash and thus, looking into Autopilot.

Tesla remarked on the situation on their blog:

We learned yesterday evening that NHTSA is opening a preliminary evaluation into the performance of Autopilot during a recent fatal crash that occurred in a Model S. This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles. It is important to emphasize that the NHTSA action is simply a preliminary evaluation to determine whether the system worked according to expectations.

It's heartbreaking to think that someone thought their car was taking care of the driving and then, presumably all of a sudden, they end up in a crash that takes their life. Autopilot thought it may be called, Tesla expects people keep their eyes open and their hands on the wheel when using the feature. Still, there's no way to tell right now exactly what happened. 

Regardless of fault, we can expect some for some draft regulations around autonomous vehicles to come out of this inquiry.

Netflix Sued over Price Increase

Netflix offers extraordinary value to US consumers for the money they expect. I'm happy to pay a bit more-- especially since I understand that prices for the IP they stream are going up.

Still, it wouldn't be America without a little litigious love, as a man who thought he was locked into the $8/mo price was outraged when his bill came in at $10/mo.

"For a period of time, Netflix solicited persons to subscribe to Netflix's streaming service by guaranteeing that Netflix would not increase monthly subscription prices as long as the subscribers maintained the subscription service continuously," states the complaint. "Netflix has broken its contract with these subscribers by unilaterally raising monthly subscription prices."

Google's Mobile Maps Get Even BETTER with multi-stop

Jillian D'Onfro, writing for Business Insider:

"The feature has long been available on the desktop version, which made its absence on the app even more annoying for those of us (like me) who like to plan roadtrips on a computer but rely on a phone for navigation. Not being able to add multiple stops on the app was incredibly frustrating."

What's similarlly interesting, is that Waze, a mobile navigation app which Google has owned since 2013, has had this same functionality for at least a couple of years now-- even allowing passengers of moving cars to insert a stop into an established route. I really wonder what took so long.