Tesla to build self-driving tech into all cars

SAN FRANCISCO: Tesla will build self-driving technology into all the electric cars it makes, running it in “shadow” mode to gather data on whether it is safer than having people in control.
Tesla to build self-driving tech into all cars”Every car that Tesla produces from here on out will have the full autonomy capability,” said Tesla co-founder and chief executive Elon Musk.

A new onboard computer with 40 times the processing power of the previous generation will run a new “neural net” for vision, sonar and radar sensors, he said. During a conference call with reporters, Musk referred to the hardware as “basically a super-computer in a car,” different from auto-pilot technology to date.

It will be up to regulators and the public as to when the self-driving capabilities will actually be put to use on roads, according to Musk. Meanwhile, the system will run in “shadow mode” to gather data regarding when it might have avoided or caused accidents if it was in command.

Musk hoped that Tesla would one day be able to impress regulators with a statistically significant amount of data showing the autonomous driving technology would avoid crashes and save lives. “Then we are at a point where we can allow it to take action,” Musk said of amassing data showing the system’s merits.

Hardware update

Upgrading existing cars with the autonomous driving hardware was not practical, according to Tesla. “It would be like giving someone a spinal cord transplant; not advisable,” Musk said on the call.

Tesla planned to calibrate the system using feedback from millions of miles of real-world driving before enabling the new hardware.

In the meantime, Teslas with the first-generation Autopilot technology will lack some standard safety features such as automatic breaking and collision warnings. As features are validated, they will be enabled with over-the-air software updated.

The United States last month unveiled a sweeping new regulatory framework for the unexpectedly rapid rise of self-driving automobile technology, just days after Uber broke ground with its first driverless taxis.

US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the federal government intends to set the safety standards for cars of the future where no human is involved in the driving, even while individual states still regulate cars with humans behind the wheel.

Announcing a 15-point safety assessment for driverless car systems, Foxx stressed that the government wants to work with developers – which include most large automakers as well as tech giants such as Uber and Alphabet (Google) – without stifling their efforts.

A Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets boasts founding members including Ford, Google, Lyft, Uber and Volvo. The coalition supports guidelines that standardise self-driving regulations across the country, avoiding confusion and lost industry momentum.

System under scrutiny

Meanwhile, Germany wants Tesla to stop advertising the “autopilot” function on its cars because it leads to false customer expectations, as the system comes under scrutiny following two fatal crashes.

Transport regulator KBA has written to the company, telling it: “In order to prevent misunderstandings and false expectations from clients, we are asking that the misleading term ‘Autopilot’ no longer be used in advertisements for the system.” The KBA letter cited in Bild am Sonntag was confirmed to AFP by the transport ministry.

Germany has been conducting an investigation into the autopilot system in vehicles made by electric carmaker Tesla, which has been available with its Model S series since October 2015.

Local Toyota car owners to be affected by recall

South African owners of Toyota cars will be affected by the Japanese manufacturer’s latest massive global recall of vehicles to fix faults in key components. However, Toyota SA said it would only know the full scope of the local recall on Thursday.
Toyota Motor Corporation headquarters. Image via
Toyota Motor Corporation headquarters. Image via Wikimedia
Toyota Motor Corp announced on Wednesday that 3.37-million cars needed checking for possible cracks in airbags and exhaust emission-control units. The airbag defect could cause units to inflate partially and suddenly, while the emission-control problem could cause fuel leaks. The company said no injuries had been reported from either problem but there had been several incidents of airbags inflating in parked cars.

It said certain Prius hybrid car models suffered from both the airbag and emissions unit defect. Other vehicles potentially affected by the latter included Auris and Corolla cars built between 2006 and 2015. The airbag issue extended to Toyota’s luxury Lexus brand – specifically CT200h models produced from 2010 to 2012.

Reports from Japan said the faulty airbags were supplied by a Swedish company, Autoliv, which had won Toyota business after an earlier airbag recall involving Japanese supplier Takata.

Toyota SA said some SA customers would certainly be affected and that it would release a statement with details. While Auris, Prius and Lexus cars are all imported, the Corolla is manufactured at Toyota SA’s Durban assembly plant and some components are sourced from local suppliers.

Standard practice

Safety-related vehicle recalls have become standard practice among nearly all manufacturers, sometimes in response to reported faults and sometimes as a pre-emptive move. Huge financial penalties for not reporting issues have persuaded companies not to take risks. In 2014, Toyota paid a $1.2bn fine, the biggest yet, for not owning up to problems with accelerator pedals, and General Motors later had to cough up R900m for not sorting out faulty ignition switches. Both issues were blamed for multiple deaths.

US transportation authorities report that in 2015, 51.26-million vehicles were recalled throughout the world. Takata, which supplied airbags to several manufacturers, was involved in more than 17-million. Its products have been linked to at least eight deaths and up to 100 injuries after they deployed with excessive force, firing metal scraps into the car interior.

Lagos wears a new look

Lagos, Nigeria’s populous megacity, is undergoing a transformation. Massive infrastructural development and efficient social services have changed the city’s image.
Lagos, Nigeria
Lagos, Nigeria
An oft-told tale of Lagos’s once-notorious traffic jams is that of a taxi passenger stuck in a snarl-up who left the vehicle, wandered into a roadside restaurant to eat, drank a beer, took a nap and returned to the vehicle that had not moved an inch. He reached his destination several hours later.

First-time visitors to Lagos about 10 years ago were warned, ‘this is Lagos’. That meant that you should not expect help from anyone — but brace up for hard times ahead.

Fast-forward to 2016 and the traffic congestion, high crime rate, clogged gutters and roads filled with garbage could soon become just a bad dream. These days Lagosians still regale each other with anecdotes of the dystopian city even as positive changes can be seen in Africa’s most populous city, with 21 million people. These days the greeting “Welcome to Lagos” portends better news.

Transformation foundation

The transformation of Lagos started during the tenure of Bola Tinubu, Lagos State governor from 1999 to 2007. Tinubu set forth a rescue operation that his successor, Babatunde Fashola, later continued.

There were political and economic benefits for such efforts. “Lagos is Nigeria’s richest state, producing about $90 billion a year in goods and services, making its economy bigger than that of most African countries, including Ghana and Kenya,” noted the Economist.

A fast-growing population (600,000 people added annually), without commensurate improvements in social services such as housing, water and transportation, had pushed Lagos to the cliff’s edge.

‘Manhattan’ rises offshore

There have been impressive infrastructural developments, but the plan to create a ‘new city’ at the edge of Lagos is probably the most audacious. Dubbed the “Manhattan of Africa”, Eko Atlantic on Victoria Island consists of 10 million square meters of land reclaimed from the ocean and protected by an 8.5 km seawall. Construction began in 2008, and it consists of seven districts along the oceanfront, including a business district that is expected to host major banks and insurance and oil companies, as well as the Nigerian stock exchange, once construction is fully completed.

Lagos’s government reduced crime rates by providing logistical support to the police force run by the federal government. It installed closed-circuit television in most parts of the city and established skills acquisition programmes for the “area boys”—youths, mostly jobless, who extort money from drivers and passengers. It also set up mobile courts to summarily try cases.

Oshodi market, located about five miles from Murtala Mohammed International Airport, used to represent the good, the bad and the ugly of Lagos: thousands of people to-ing and fro-ing; a cacophony of voices at the highest decibels; rickety buses meandering through a sea of human beings; pickpockets on the prowl; people fighting at one end, others dancing to loud music at the other end. Currently, most of what used to be Oshodi market has been demolished, to make way for a “world-class bus terminus,” according to government officials.

“The place [Oshodi] was harbouring criminals and a number of untoward activities,” said Steve Ayorinde, the current Lagos state commissioner for information and strategy, according to the Nigerian newspaper, Vanguard. Fashola himself regards Oshodi’s transformation as a watershed moment. During his tenure, he often reminded Lagosians that, having transformed Oshodi, there was nothing they couldn’t achieve.

Lagos is becoming a clean city. Thousands of workers can be seen late every night sweeping the roads and taking away the dirt. An efficient garbage collection service supports the cleaning efforts. More than one million tons of waste was deposited in public landfills in 2015, up from 71,000 tons in 2004. About 72% of Lagos residents currently use a government-regulated waste disposal service; in 2005 only 42% used such a service.

Nigerians are generally in disbelief regarding the new Lagos. “This is not the Lagos I used to know,” reports Sanusi Turay, who manages a private security firm in the city. The new Lagos is a bit of an anomaly, Turay explains, with a tinge of sarcasm. “But, honestly, we are very happy things are changing for the better.”

Just before Tinubu took over as governor in 1999, the BBC reported that “the realities of Lagos may thwart Mr Tinubu’s ambitious plans; the city is collapsing as fast as it grows, disappearing under a mountain of rubbish.” But after 15 years of painstaking efforts, that image of Lagos is slowly changing.

Fashola’s strategy

After Tinubu exited, Fashola’s strategy was focused on three fronts. First, he solicited citizens’ support for a new vision of Lagos. The slogan Eko o ni baje (Lagos must not spoil) rallied Lagosians against the status quo. Second, he reformed the tax system, which resulted in an increase in tax revenues to $115 million per month in 2015, up from $3.2 million in 1999. Tax compliance increased to 80%, up from about 30% in 2005. Thirdly, Fashola used the tax revenues to undertake ambitious transportation and sanitation projects, including the creation of a rail network, bus lanes and a waste collection system, as well as massive road rehabilitation.

Under the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, Lagos transportation “became faster, safer, predictable, relatively cheaper and more comfortable,” reported Vanguard. The BRT itself created jobs for 2,500 people. Most of Lagos’ notoriously old and dangerous commercial buses, called Molues, were replaced by swanky new ones that use designated bus lanes. With support of private operators, the government procured about 1,300 taxicabs to run in the city.

In addition, an ambitious multibillion-dollar light rail project that began in 2010 is set to be completed by December of this year. The project consists of seven lines, which, on completion, will further ease Lagos city traffic.

The journey is not finished

Nowadays Fashola’s efforts have won bipartisan praise, a phenomenon rarely seen in Nigeria. Nobel laureate and social critic Wole Soyinka says, “Fashola diagnoses the problems and goes at it like a skilled mechanic.”

“There is no finish line in this journey,” says Fashola, whose term expired in 2015 and who now oversees Nigeria’s federal ministries of energy, works and housing. Both he and his predecessor, Tinubu set a high bar. The jury is still out on the current governor Akinwunmi Ambode, who took the reins in May 2015. But for Lagos, the city of the late Afrobeat icon Fela Kuti and the city from which Africa’s richest person, Aliko Dangote, manages his business empire, the mantra continues to be Eko o ni baje indeed.