Self-driving car prototype has no steering wheel, brake or accelerator pedals. So how safe is it, and what is it like on the road?
Google unveiled a brand new self-driving car prototype on Tuesday; the first company to build a car with no a steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal.
The car’s arrival marks the next stage in Google’s self-driving car project, which was born from the Darpa Grand Challenges for robotic vehicles in the early 2000s. Google kickstarted its own self-driving car project in 2008, and it has been rumbling on ever since, first with modified Toyota Prius and then with customised Lexus SUVs, which took the car’s existing sensors, such as the cruise-control cameras, and added a spinning laser scanner on the top.
What is it?
It is the first truly driverless electric car prototype built by Google to test the next stage of its five-year-old self-driving car project. It looks like a cross between a Smart car and a Nissan Micra, with two seats and room enough for a small amount of luggage.
It is the first real physical incarnation of Google’s vision of what a self-driving car of the near future could be.
Where is it?
It operates in and around California, primarily around the Mountain View area where Google has its headquarters.
What does it do?
It ferries two people from one place to another without any user interaction. The car is summoned by a smartphone for pick up at the user’s location with the destination set. There is no steering wheel or manual control, simply a start button and a big red emergency stop button. In front of the passengers there is a small screen showing the weather, the current speed and a small countdown animation to launch.
Once the journey is done, the small screen displays a message to remind you to take your personal belongings – reinforcing that this is not aiming to be a substitute for your personal car at the moment, but more as a replacement for the taxi without the human driver.
What’s it like?
Very few people outside of Google have been allowed to ride in the new car. Most of the people depicted in Google’s promotional videos for the new car described the experience as “smooth” and “nothing that feels the least bit threatening”.
Kara Swisher and Liz Gannes from technology site Recode were one of the few independent test riders, who described the car as having “ample” room despite being small, likely due to the lack of the normal controls taking up space in the cabin, and “that this felt a lot like a theme park ride”.
Who built it?
Google has designed the car from scratch, starting with the sensors and a frame to interconnect them, then adding a cabin that does not block any of the sensors or create blind spots and eventually the body shell. The manufacturing of the 100 or so prototype cars will be done by a firm in the Detroit area, but Google declined to comment on which.
How does it work?
Powered by an electric motor with around a 100 mile range, the car uses a combination of sensors and software to locate itself in the real world combined with highly accurate digital maps. A GPS is used, just like the satellite navigation systems in most cars, to get a rough location of the car, at which point radar, lasers and cameras take over to monitor the world around the car, 360-degrees.
The software can recognise objects, people, cars, road marking, signs and traffic lights, obeying the rules of the road and allowing for multiple unpredictable hazards, including cyclists. It can even detect road works and safely navigate around them.
The new prototype has more sensors fitted to it that can see further (up to 600 feet in all directions) and in greater detail than the ones available on the previous repurposed Lexus and Toyota vehicles.
How safe is it?
The new car is the next evolution of Google’s self-driving car. While the new frame is untested, the company’s previous versions have clocked up over 700,000 miles of testing on public roads, mainly around California, including over 1,000 miles of driving in the most complex situations and cities like San Francisco’s hills and busy streets.
The car itself is limited to 25 mph, which restricts it to certain roads, but also minimises the kinetic energy it could carry into a crash if one should happen. The front of the car is also made to be as kind to pedestrians as possible with a foam bumper and a flexible windscreen that is designed to absorb energy from an impact with a person’s body.
Seat belts are also provided – a safety requirement for vehicles on the road – while the car has redundant systems, a “fault-tolerant architecture” as Google calls it, for both steering and braking, should the primary systems fails; plus that emergency stop button that passengers can hit at any time.
Google has also taken the data and behaviours it learned from its previous vehicles to create a defensive, considerate driving style that is meant to protect both the passengers and other road users. For instance, the car will wait a second after the traffic lights turn green before it moves off, although this could incur the anger of drivers stuck behind it.
Google also says that making it drive in a natural and predictable way has been one of the key goals, so that it behaves in a familiar way on the road for other drivers.
Google says it has gone as far as it can with the current customised vehicles and that a new platform is needed to take the project and technology to the next step and closer to a product people can actually use.
For instance, the previous generation Lexus vehicle had blind spots right up against the car where the sensors couldn’t see, something that needs to be eliminated in any vehicle open to the public.
The cars will first be used to test the software driving the car and push its capabilities. Google says at some point, when it deems its software safe, it will start putting real people into the cars beyond Google engineers. It will use the cars in a similar manner to the company’s Google Glass explorer programme, analysing how people use them and what works and what doesn’t.
Why do damn cute?
The car’s cute looks and friendly “face” were created intentionally to be “very Googley” according to its designers, to put both other road users and passengers at ease with the new technology. The shell is also designed to give the sensors the best view of the surroundings.
Why does it still look like a car on the inside?
The new car has two traditional car seats, primarily because in this iteration passengers have to be strapped in like they would in any other car to meet safety regulations, which means using standard seat belts. It also provides a more familiar passenger experience, which at this stage is likely important to aid adoption.
Is this something I’m going to be able to buy?
Google’s vision for this kind of self-driving car isn’t an exact replacement for the one parked outside your home. They are designed to be more like shared vehicles, possibly within a family or more likely as a replacement for taxis.
These cars are still very much in the early prototype stage still, and Google is still trying to figure out how to make a product out of the technology, how much it is likely to cost and when it will be available.
Apparently it will not have ads according to Google, although whether it’ll eventually have a small screen like some taxis now that plays video adverts, who knows. That will likely be up to the operator rather than Google.
Who will build it for me?
Google is proving the technology, but it is unlikely to make the cars for sale once that technology is ready for the mass market. It has said in the past that it is actively seeking car manufacturing partners, which means we could see a Toyota, Ford or Fiat-made Google car in the future, but that is all very much still up in the air.
When can I get one?
Google says the cars should be road-ready by early next year, but that testing would take more than two years. At that point the technology will be ready for the next stage, which is likely to be greater pilot testing.
Current expectations are that these self-driving cars are at least five years away from being mature enough to create a real, non-prototype product, but it may be far longer until you can buy or hire one for personal use.
What about legislation?
One of the biggest hold-ups to the progression of the technology onto the open road of Britain, the US, Australia and the rest of the world will be legislation.
A law was passed in California over a year ago that made the testing and operation of self-driving vehicles on roads possible, as long as they had manual override controls. The Department of Motor Vehicles in California is expected to issue regulations on the operation of self-driving cars soon, after which self-driving cars may become a bit more common place.
However, there is still much to work out, primarily revolving around what a passenger in a self-driving car and can’t do – will they have to be able to take control at any moment, for instance – as well as questions around what happens when an accident happens, who is at fault and who pays.
72% OF GLOBAL 5G SMARTPHONE REVENUE COMES FROM CHINA
Counterpoint Research reported that in the second quarter of 2020, 5G smartphone shipments increased, accounting for 10% of global smartphone shipments.
REVENUE AND ASP OF 5G SMARTPHONE
In the second quarter of this year, 5G smartphone revenue accounted for 20% of global smartphone revenue. Among them, China is the largest contributor to 5G smartphone sales. It is reported that 72% of global 5G smartphone revenue comes from China. Most of them comes from 5G smartphones released by Huawei. In addition, the average selling price of the Chinese smartphone market also increased by 12% year-on-year.
According to the report, the Asia-Pacific region, China, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, North America and other regions contributed 10% of the overall growth rate in the average sales price in the second quarter of 2020. However, Latin America is the only country where average sales prices have fallen 5% year-on-year. Although the new coronavirus has had an impact on the entire market, the high-end segment has not fallen sharply. Compared with the overall market decline, it only faces a year-on-year decline of 8%.
The report also shows that in the second quarter of 2020, the average selling price (ASP) of the global smartphone market increased by 10% year-on-year. With the exception of Latin America, average selling prices increased in all regions. This is because many 5G phones sold well in the second quarter. The increasing demand for education, work, games, and entertainment is also a factor in users’ preference for high-end smartphones.
Overall, due to the economic impact and the closure of offline retail stores, the market’s demand for low-priced devices has decreased. Coupled with the resilience of the high-end market and the growth of 5G smartphone sales (especially in China), this quarter’s increase in the average selling price of smartphones.
THE BOTTOM LINE
At the same time, smartphone shipments fell 23% year-on-year, reaching a record high. Although most OEM’s smartphone shipments declined in the second quarter of 2020, Apple’s shipments increased by 3% year-on-year, while iPhone revenue increased by 2% year-on-year. But we should also point out that Apple still has no 5G iPhone. The first models will come to the market only this year. Once this happens, and 5G appears on lower models, it will be quite interesting to see how the proportion changes.
Former Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime announces new game company
Two years after stepping down as CEO at Blizzard, the game company he co-founded in 1991, Mike Morhaime is back with his next venture. It’s called Dreamhaven, and it’s a combination of a publisher and developer, with “a common goal to empower creators, help bring their ideas to life, and create original gaming experiences that foster meaningful connections between players.”
As part of the announcement, Dreamhaven also revealed its first two internal studios: Moonshot Games and Secret Door. Moonshot is headed by a trio of Blizzard veterans, including former Hearthstone lead Jason Chayes, StarCraft II director Dustin Browder, and Hearthstone creative director Ben Thompson. “Though it’s very early days, when we think about Moonshot, we imagine a studio that celebrates curiosity and courage,” Chayes said in a statement. “We aspire to be bold in our approach, and we think the best way to do that is to create a culture centered around trust.”
Secret Door, meanwhile, is similarly led by a team of former Blizzard developers, including Chris Sigaty (executive producer on Hearthstone), Alan Dabiri (technical director on Warcraft III and StarCraft II), and Eric Dodds (designer on World of Warcraft and Starcraft). No projects have been announced for either studio.
Morhaime stepped down as CEO of Blizzard in 2018, though he stayed on in a consultancy role until last year. In an interview with The Washington Post, he said that one of the goals of the new company was to build an environment focused on creators — something that was likely a challenge under Activision, which became Blizzard’s parent company in 2008.
“We’ve learned a ton about what goes into creating an environment that allows creators to do their best work, and we were very successful doing that for many years at Blizzard,” Morhaime told the Post. “We reached a crossroads where we reassessed what we want to do with the rest of our lives.”
Apple Loop: Shock iPhone 12 Details, Massive iOS 14 Problems, Macbook Pro Delay
Taking a look back at another week of news and headlines from Cupertino, this week’s Apple Loop includes surprising iPhone 12 benchmarks, big problems with iOS 14, two new iPads, Apple ignores MacOS, the “good/better/best” of the Apple Watch, the controversy around Apple One, and the Macs’ never changing system System Preferences.
Apple Loop is here to remind you of a few of the very many discussions that have happened around Apple over the last seven days (and you can read my weekly digest of Android news here on Forbes).
Just How Fast Is Your Next iPhone?
We might not have seen the iPhone 12 family as part of Apple’s virtual September launch event this week, but we have seen the benchmarks pop up on the AnTuTu website. That gives us a raw comparison of the numbers from last year’s iPhone to this year’s. Philip Michaels reports some pretty shocking numbers:
“Leaked benchmarks from Antutu, purportedly showing off an iPhone 12 Pro Max’s performance, may help fill in some of the blanks. MySmartPrice spotted the leaked numbers, which claim to show off a device with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage running iOS 14.1.
“According to the leaks, the iPhone 12 Pro Max tallied a score of 572,333 on Antutu’s test, which is a 9% gain over the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s 524,436 result on the same test. MySmartPrice says the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s reported tally would be the highest score ever posted by an iPhone, which you’d hope given that it’s a new model.
The Big Problem With iOS 14
Apple may not have announced a release date for the iPhone, but it did announce the release date of iOS 14. And that has caused problems. Normally Apple will provide a week’s worth of ‘heads up’ time to Developers so they can ensure their apps are ready for the jump up to the next major version of iOS. Not this year… developers had less than a days notice, and they are not happy. Matt Binder reports:
““Gone are the hopes of being on the store by the time users install the new iOS 14 and are looking for new apps. Gone is the chance to get some last-minute fixes into your existing apps to make sure they don’t stop working outright by the time users get to upgrade their OS,” explained Steve [Troughton-Smith from High Caffeine Content.”
““There are some developers who have spent all summer working on something new, using the latest technologies, hoping to be there on day one and participate in the excitement (and press coverage) of the new iOS,” he continued. “For many of them, they’ll be incredibly upset to have it end like this instead of a triumphant launch, and it can dramatically decrease the amount of coverage or sales they receive.””
Take Two Tablets And Call Your iPhone In The Morning
Taking the flagship spot away from the ‘missing presumed having a good time’ iPhone 12 was Apple’s new iPad Air. Beating the smartphone as the first device with Apple’s new A14 ARM-based processor. Samuel Axon and Jim Salter report for Ars Technica:
“The iPad Air gets the new A14 Bionic CPU, built on 5nm process technology. It’s a six-core CPU with two high-performance cores and four lower-power, more efficient cores for simpler background tasks. The A14 Bionic offers a 30 percent GPU performance boost compared to previous generations, and Apple says it puts up double the graphics performance of typical laptops.”
As well as the increased power, 2020’s iPad Air has a new design; USB-C has been added, the bezels have been trimmed away, the home button has been removed, and TouchID has been integrated into the power button. It;s not the only new iPad, as the entry-level iPad moves up rom the A10 to the A12 Bionic processor. Benjamin Mayo reports:
“The jump from A10 to A12 means Apple’s cheapest iPad will feature the Neural Engine for the first time. Apple says the A12 chip offers more than twice the performance of the top selling Windows laptop, 6x faster than the top-selling Android tablet and 6x faster than the best-selling Chromebook.
“The 8th-generation iPad keeps the same price as the 7th-gen: that’s $329 for general sale and $299 for education.”
Will Mac Owners Be Satisfied With Safari After macOS Delay?
If you were waiting for MmcOS Big Sur to drop for your Mac or MacBook, then you are out of luck. Apple’s event saw updates to iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and watchOS… but macOS has been delayed. The ‘Big Sur’ release is still in the future, but a small crumb (perhaps from a cookie) has been handed to Mac fans in the form of Safari 14, presumably to offer cross-OS support with other devices. Juli Clover reports:
“Safari 14 brings improved performance, customizable start pages, a Privacy Report to see which cross-site trackers are being blocked, and a new tab bar design that provides tab previews so you can see what you have open at a glance. Today’s update also removes Adobe Flash.”
The Apple Watch Strikes Three
Two new Apple Watch models were launched, and as the Apple Watch Series 3 remains, there is now a low-, a mid-, and a high-level smartwatch in the classic triplet that Apple was once famous for. Todd Haselton looks over the Series 6 Apple Watch for CNBC, including the headline ‘wellness’ features:
“The Series 6 also has Apple’s most advanced sensors. You can run the ECG app for an electrocardiogram, for example, a feature that’s not on the Apple Watch SE or Series 3. It’s also the only model with the new blood-oxygen app. I tried that and it told me my blood oxygen was 96%, which seems good.
“…Apple is careful to explain that this isn’t a medical device. You can use it if you’re curious about your blood oxygen when you’re hiking at high altitudes, but Apple isn’t making any promises about detecting low oxygen should you fall ill with coronavirus.”
Meanwhile, Apple has brought the ‘SE’ brand to the Apple Watch, again with the promise of a cheaper ‘mid-range’ slice of hardware that still delivers the core Apple experience. Chris Velazco has spent some time with the wearable to try and work out where it fits into the portfolio:
“For one, the SE uses the same S5 system-in-package (or SIP) that we got in last year’s Series 5, which in turn contains the same dual-core processor as the Series 4. Meanwhile, Apple has confirmed that the SE has the same compass and always-on altimeter as the Series 6, along with a very similar screen.
“From what I can tell, it’s the same bigger display we got in the Series 5, just without the always-on functionality enabled. And while the Series 4 was the first Apple Watch to come with heart-sensing ECG support, you simply don’t get that here. Ditto for the Series 6’s new blood oxygen measurement features.”
Bouquets and Brickbats For Apple One
Also announced alongside Apple’s hardware, and perhaps an indication of where Apple wishes to focus on the future, were new options for the various subscription services offered by Cupertino. Apple One takes the popular options and bundles them together while offering a discount. Brian Heater reports:
“It’s not quite mix and match yet, but there are three pricing tiers. Individual offers Apple Music, TV+, Arcade and iCloud for $15 a month. The Family version will get you those four services for $20 a month. For the hardcore, there’s the $30 a month Premier tier, which bundles iCloud, Music, TV+, Arcade, News+ and [the new service] Fitness+.“
“For those who have been putting off a given Apple subscription, such a bundle could certainly sweeten the pot — and make it even harder for users to escape the pull of the Apple software ecosystem.”
More at TechCrunch. Given Apple’s market position, using one service to pptentiallybolster another through a bundle has drawn the eye of the competition. Spotify – which has already filed an anti-trust complaint with the European Commission against Apple – drew attention to the issue shortly ager the end of the event.
“Once again, Apple is using its dominant position and unfair practices to disadvantage competitors and deprive consumers by favoring its own services. We call on competition authorities to act urgently to restrict Apple’s anti-competitive behavior, which if left unchecked, will cause irreparable harm to the developer community and threaten our collective freedoms to listen, learn, create, and connect.”
The look of the MacOS user interface has evolved since OSX was announced in 2000. One area has stayed relatively contestant, but the small changes highlight the thinking behind the OS over the years.
“The interface started glassy and skeuomorphic, mimicking the materials used on Macs. Over the decades, it went through significant revisions. One thing that seems to have remained relatively unchanged over the years is the System Preferences screen.
“But, at a closer glance, we’ll see that this mundane part of the operating system has changed quite a bit and hides some fun easter eggs and surprises.”
Apple Loop brings you seven days worth of highlights every weekend here on Forbes. Don’t forget to follow me so you don’t miss any coverage in the future. Last week’s Apple Loop can be read here, or this week’s edition of Loop’s sister column, Android Circuit, is also available on Forbes.
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