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BRAKING NEWS: Driverless vehicles still need some work

A weekly round-up of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird.
driverless car
A recent video shows a driverless Tesla moving through the Richmond Centre’s parking lot. screenshot Richmond News

A weekly round-up of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird.

Driverless Tesla puzzles onlookers in Richmond

Some of the bigger news this month came from video captured of a white Tesla Model 3 cruising around a parking lot in Richmond, occasionally driving in the wrong lane, with apparently no one inside. The car moved at a walking pace, with plenty of stops and starts, and generally behaved like the kind of person you always get stuck behind in a parking lot.

Odds are, the Model 3 was using Tesla’s new “Smart Summon” feature, which it rolled out to Canadian owners on Oct. 10. The feature lets a Tesla owner summon their car to come to their location from a 60-metre radius. It’s a feature that might lead to a brave new world where people can jump out at the curb, then send their car off to park itself.

That’s the theory, anyway. Unfortunately, Tesla is known for considering its owners to be willing beta testers in shaking down features that are sometimes far from ready for prime time. In the case of Smart Summon, there have been a number of cases where the cars have driven themselves into curbs or garage doors.

Here, it appears that the owner was in the wrong parking lot. I’m sure that, as is requested by the app,  they were being responsible, and weren’t simply playing around with their car like a 2,000-kilogram remote control car. Absolutely sure of it.

While there don’t seem to be any written rules about the use of features like this on B.C. roads, ICBC is indicating that any collision caused by a Model 3 operated in this manner would not be covered. If you’ve got a Tesla, maybe let somebody else be the beta tester on this one.

Uber involved in fatal collision was not designed to consider jaywalkers

Around one year ago, one of Uber’s experimental “self-driving” cars struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz. The car, which carried a single safety driver meant to take over in event of systems failure, did not appear to detect the pedestrian, who was not crossing at a crosswalk.

Now, the National Transportation Safety Board has released a report that suggests the software aboard the autonomous test vehicles, “did not include a consideration for jaywalking pedestrians.”

It’s worth noting that the pedestrian, Elaine Herzberg, was walking a bicycle across the street. From the footage, any human driver with even mild reflexes would have been capable of stopping in time. Uber’s policies, including only a single fail-safe driver behind the wheel, have come under fire.

And yet, prosecutors have not decided to press criminal charges against Uber. The company continues to test self-driving cars in some areas, albeit with safety methods they claim have been adjusted based on this collision.

Self-driving cars are key to Uber’s long-term business plan, as there would be no driver to pay. As with many features of our modern lives, convenience comes with a price.

Ford partners with Webasto batteries to build electric-swapped Mustang

Here’s a glimpse of the future that doesn’t seem quite so dystopian. At this year’s annual SEMA show, the place where the aftermarket gathers to show their wares, Ford has teamed up with an electric tech company to build an all-electric Mustang. It has 900 horsepower – and a manual transmission.

Sadly, this is just a proof-of-concept, albeit a running and driving one. From the exterior, the Lithium Mustang (so it is known), looks much like any other tuned-up show-’stang.

Underneath, however, is an 800-volt battery system with enhanced cooling so that it can be discharged faster, for greater power. There’s no firm word on range, or anything sensible like that.

Still, it’s nice to see the aftermarket crowd embracing the EV lifestyle. Electric-swapped powertrains are bound to become a trend over the next few years.

Roger Penske surveys the scene at the 2017 Indianapolis 500. photo Wikimedia Commons/Zach Catanzareti

Roger Penske buys Indy

Lastly, let’s touch on how the future can rely heavily on a genuine past. Roger Penske is a giant in Indycar racing, with multiple championships, and the respect of everyone. He’s a pillar of Indycar, and now he’s just bought it.

Yes, that includes the Indy 500. One of the oldest races on the planet is now in the capable hands of somebody who loves Indycar racing more than anything.

Penske is no spring chicken, but at 82, he’s still sharp as ever. It’s hard to see how his typical determination and drive won’t start Indy down a road of transformation towards a healthy future.

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