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Category Archives: Autos

For highway/road related material.


Now this is cool! A website in a similar vein as Expedia or Kayak that let’s you find the best rates for freight shipping. It’s called FreightOS. It actually looks very well done. Freight shipping is an awkward and clumsy process for the one-off shipment… for instance when I shipped some of my belongings from the US to the UAE. I had to rely on a shipper who kept a lot of the details and pricing very opaque.

Hopefully a competitive bidding site like this will encourage more transparency and shippers being up front with hidden charges and costs. Perhaps not though… on Kayak and Expedia the prices you find are before taxes and fees.

Still a cool idea.

Profit for Tesla

This is great news!

Tesla said it sold more than 4,750 Model S sedans in the first quarter, up from the prior forecast of 4,500.

“There have been many car startups over the past several decades, but profitability is what makes a company real. Tesla is here to stay and keep fighting for the electric car revolution,” CEO Elon Musk said in a statement Sunday.

But this is kind of disappointing:

Instead, the few customers that ordered the 40 kWh version will receive a car with the next level up (60 kWh), but it will be “software limited” to the lower level. Those customers or future owners of the car can pay to upgrade to the longer-range battery option.

For some reason this just doesn’t sit well with me. Seems like a waste…

Internal Combusion Engine Efficiency

This article is almost (but not quite) saying that increased fuel efficiency in internal combustion engines is a bad thing because it reduces the appeal of alternative fuels and electric cars.

In the view of Mr. Lyons, the former E.P.A. official, the government can promote fledgling alternatives but not make them popular if the underlying technology is too expensive or inadequate to consumers’ needs. And among the technologies making strides are gasoline engines that are getting smaller, lighter and much more fuel efficient, he said.

I don’t see increased efficiency, for any mode of transportation, as a bad thing. Don’t get so hung up on the type of powerplant (gas engine vs. hybrid vs. hydrogen vs. all electric) that you miss the point… increased efficiency, that is ALWAYS a good thing.

LA’s Synchronized Traffic Lights

Los Angeles has synchronized every traffic light in the city:

Without synchronization, it takes an average of 20 minutes to drive five miles on Los Angeles streets; with synchronization, it has fallen to 17.2 minutes, the city says. And the average speed on the city’s streets is now 17.3 miles per hour, up from 15 m.p.h. without synchronized lights.

It doesn’t seem like much gain but these are just the average numbers. I imagine there are parts of the city that have significantly improved.

EPA Sulfur Cutting

The EPA wants to restrict the sulfur content of gasoline by two-thirds. According to refiners this cut, from 30 to 10 parts per million, will cost $10 billion in capital improvements… a cost that will be passed down to the consumer possibly raising the cost of gasoline by 6-8 cents.

The sulfur content cut will increase the effectiveness of catalytic converters on cars.

What bothers me about this change is that it has been tabled for 15 months in order to avoid the presidential campaign and election. If they feared that the regulation couldn’t survive the scrutiny of an election then perhaps it’s not worth the economic toll it may impose. I wish there was some concrete way to means-test all the regulations that come from the EPA.

Congestion and the Economy

Analyzing freight rail shipments is frequently used to ascertain the trajectory of the economy overall. The New York Times has an article on a company that tracks GPS data from various connected devices and formulates a traffic congestion index.

“People hit the road as they return to work, and businesses ship more freight as their orders increase.” The rise in the index, he said on Friday, “shows the pulse of the economy is starting to beat faster.”

Very interesting use of shared location data.

Straggling Links…

Some links I’ve had piling up to share for awhile…

ASCE Infrastructure Report Card

ASCE has just released their every-4-year Infrastructure Report Card.
Bottom line :

  • America’s Infrastructure GPA: D+
  • Estimate for Investment needed by 2020: $3.6 Trillion

The New York Times gives their synopsis.
National Review’s Reihan Salam gives his quick thoughts.

I’m downloading the iPad version now.

Mercedes 2014 Robocar

It looks like the Mercedes 2014 S-Class will be a giant leap toward automated driving. Some amazing features that are just shy of full automation similar to Google’s experiments.

The Automotive Future

It seems that, as of late, the automobile has gained a reputation as being a form of transportation we must surpass. The automobile isn’t fuel efficient on a per person basis compared to other modes and therefore tends to get viewed as wasteful. However, the level of freedom that the automobile gives to individuals is unsurpassed by any other form of transportation and for that reason I think future transportation developments will center on the automobile.

Virginia Postrel has a great article on the work being done in Silicon Valley to create “robocars” that drive themselves:

Now it finally seems to be happening. Google Inc.’s self- driving cars have covered more than 300,000 miles, most recently wowing the Texas Transportation Forum with a demonstration on the streets of Austin. “The remarkable thing was that it was a little unremarkable,” Coby Chase, director of the Texas Department of Transportation’s government and public affairs division, told the Dallas Morning News after his ride.

This is the right direction. At least it’s a better direction than pushing cycling, mass transit, and rail. These alternative modes of transportation are fine for some functions but simply do not offer the freedom of mobility that is necessary for people functioning in our economy today.

One comment made in the story by Brad Templeton gives an idea of where Google and others are going with robocars:

Today’s experiments, by contrast, put the smarts in the car itself. “The first rule of robocars is you do not change the infrastructure,” Templeton reminds a Singularity audience member who inquires about smart highways.

I do think that making the cars smart and not the infrastructure is the way to go. However, I also think there are some basic infrastructure improvements that can be made that will allow the robocars to truly optimize their function.

I imagine our automobile transportation system will look very similar to that shown in films like iRobot and Minority Report (coincidentally both Spielberg films). In these films the automobile was controlled by the driver until he ventured into a main thoroughfare/highway that had numerous other automobiles moving at high rates of speed. From there the car took over. The cars, now functioning as robocars on these highways, optimized safety and efficiency and speed was greatly increased. Imagine all the freedom of an automobile in terms of individual autonomy but with a lower risk of accident and shorter travel times… that is where we are going.

Our current interstate highways could easily be retrofitted with inert objects in the lanes, below the pavement, that the robocars would use for guidance. These would be “dumb” improvements but would give the robocars so much more to work with in terms of lane alignment. In addition, we’d have to guard the interstate right-of-ways from incursion far more carefully than we do today.

I think that stop-and-go city driving and residential neighborhood driving offer far too many variables to hand over the car to a computer. A human can identify the “child playing basketball in the yard adjacent to the street” scenario as a reason for caution in a way the computer can not… unless I’m drastically underestimating what the computers can do.