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Automated cars still ancestor to autonomous

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A tragedy involving an Tesla S car was as much a warning as a sign of things to come, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, pointing to the Volvo XC90 as the current state of the automated art.

The very latest technology available in cars today is not the culmination of 130 years of vehicle evolution, but the beginning of the next era in that evolution. The most high-tech cars on the road today can be described as the ancestors of the next generation of self-driving vehicles.

It may strange to describe the very latest in terms we usually reserve for the distant past. However, this is the inescapable conclusion from a fatal car accident involving an automated Tesla S in May this year, and the features available in cutting edge cars right now.

Tesla’s own description of the accident tells us much about the current state of automated technology: “What we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S. Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.”

The Tesla Model S

The Tesla Model S

The fact is that the Tesla S technology is more about auto-pilot than self-driving, meaning it is still a rudimentary form of self-driving. The motor industry understands this, and there have been few protests about the technology that “caused” the accident from that quarter. The media response, on the other hand, has been close to hysteria, with the normally sober Wall Street Journal declaring: “Scant Oversight of Self-Driving Technology”.

However, the fact that there is one single death from an auto-piloted vehicle can hardly be described as a setback for the evolution of self-driving cars, when autonomous vehicle technology is being researched, developed and evolved continually. The industry acknowledges that it is still at an early stage of its development.

Cockpit view of the Tesla Model S

Cockpit view of the Tesla Model S

None understand this better than Tesla itself, which warned: “When drivers activate Autopilot, the acknowledgment box explains, among other things, that Autopilot ‘is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,’ and that ‘you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle’ while using it.”

One of the key consequences of the incident is that such warnings will become more heavily emphasised. Law enforcement will also probably step in, taking action against drivers who don’t have hands on wheels.

However, this misses a key issue.

We have evidence day after day, hour after hour, that human-driven cars are not safe. More than 35 000 people died in the USA last year as a result of being in accidents caused by human-driven cars. Not a mention of banning humans from driving cars.

We will see autopilot type functions increasingly built into cars. The technology will keep evolving and keep improving.

For example, right now, the Volvo XC90 car being sold in South Africa offers automated functions like Pilot Assist, which maintains a set speed or distance to the car in front, and Queue Assist, which controls acceleration, braking and steering while one is following the vehicle in front in slow-moving queues. One wouldn’t rely on ether of these to take over the driving, merely to assist with a smoother and safer ride.

Volvo XC90

Volvo XC90

Next year, Volvo will begin tests with select XC90 drivers using its IntelliSafe Autopilot technology, which is equivalent to Tesla’s Autopilot . The tests will at first be limited to Sweden, on roads with no pedestrians and clear separation between lanes.

Meanwhile, the current XC90 available in South Africa – the country’s Car of the Year for 2016 – is a showcase of the state of mainstream vehicle automation.

Interior of the Volvo XC90

Interior of the Volvo XC90

The City Safety collision avoidance system scans the road ahead for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. During testing by this writer, a momentary distraction that resulted in a suddenly reduced following distance activated an audible alarm that prevented a collision. Had there been no reaction, autobraking would have been applied to avoid or minimise impact.

A Lane Departure Warning System causes the steering wheel to vibrate if the vehicle beings to stray out of its lane without the indicator being activated. A Blind Spot Information System uses radar sensors to alert one to to traffic around the vehicle if one does plan to change lanes.

Driver Alert Control picks up drowsy or inattentive driving through comparing current driving with usual driving and prompts the driver to take a break.

A Road Sign Information system even warns, for example, when one ignores No Overtaking, speed limit reduction and No entry signs. The warnings appear in a heads-up display that is projected unobtrusively onto the windscreen in front of the driver.

All of these are futuristic experiences that will one day be standard in most vehicles, the way safety belts and airbags are today. Volvo’s target is that, by 2020, there will be no serious injuries or fatalities in a Volvo car. That, coincidentally, is also the target date for most manufacturers putting self-driving cars on the road.

Meanwhile, the technology from the future that we are using today comes with one overriding safety instruction: the driver still bears ultimate responsibility for safe driving.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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SAFTA awards get first streaming video nominees

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The 2019 nominations for The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) were announced late last week, and for the first time in the 13-year history of the awards, a TV series produced for a video-on-demand service was in contention. The result was a surprise boost to streaming service Showmax.

The comedy series Tali’s Wedding Diary, which premiered in December 2017, represented a major step for the then two-year old streaming service. It was the debut Showmax Original, the first time Showmax ventured into producing its own content. The gamble paid off, with the show becoming the most watched of any series on its first day on Showmax, and now Tali’s Wedding Diary has been further recognised with seven SAFTA nominations, making it this year’s most nominated comedy.

“When we first floated the idea of Tali’s Wedding Diary, we joked about winning awards,” says Candice Fangueiro, Showmax’s head of content. “At that point, just getting our first Showmax Original off the ground was already a major challenge and it was more than we could hope for to actually hit it out of the park. I was stunned when I heard the news about the nominations – it’s amazing to be considered in the same company as these other shows and thanks to this we’re already seeing a fresh spike in Tali views.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary was also a first for co-creator and star Julia Anastasopoulos, who until then was best known as YouTube star SuzelleDIY. “I am so thrilled about the SAFTA nominations for Tali’s Wedding Diary,” says Julia, who is up for Best Actress – TV Comedy and Best Achievement in Scriptwriting – TV Comedy, along with her husband Ari Kruger and Daniel Zimbler. 

“It was such a big and daunting step to create a full TV comedy series and intro a brand-new character. I really didn’t know how it would be received and am so happy to have received such positive feedback for the show and the Tali Babes character, along with the nominations. It feels so good to be recognised for something we poured our hearts into. None of it would have been possible, of course, without the incredible hard work and vision of my husband Ari and the incredible team, cast and crew that were part of the show. And a huge thank you to Showmax of course for making it all possible. Congratulations and best of luck to the entire team and to all the other nominees.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary is a mockumentary that follows Tali, a self-obsessed Joburg princess who’s moved to Cape Town and is planning her wedding to property-agent fiancé Darren (Anton Taylor). The series was inspired by Julia’s own wedding to Ari, her SuzelleDIY and Tali’s Wedding Diary co-creator, who is also up for Best Achievement In Directing – TV Comedy.  

In addition to Julia and Ari’s nominations, Tali’s Wedding Diary is up for Best TV Comedy, Art Direction (Keren Setton),  Cinematography (James Adey), and Editing (Richard Starkey). Winners will be announced on 2 March 2019 at Sun City Superbowl.

Following the success of Tali’s Wedding Diary, the second Showmax Original, The Girl From St Agnes, was released earlier this month. A third Showmax Original, Trippin With Skhumba, is slated for release at the end of February.

“With three Showmax Originals now under our belt and more on the way, we’d like to think this is the start of many more SAFTA nominations for shows from a streaming service,” concludes Candice.

South African content currently on Showmax has 110 nominations and includes the most nominated movie (Five Fingers With Marseilles), telenovela (The River), drama (Lockdown) and soap (Isibaya), with more SAFTA nominees scheduled for the coming months.

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Ford begins production of high-tech Ranger in SA

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Ford’s Silverton Assembly Plant in Pretoria has officially commenced production of the new Ford Ranger, bringing a raft of product upgrades and refinements to one of South Africa’s best-selling vehicles and export models.

“Following the investment of over R3-billion in our local operations and extensive upgrades to our plants over the past 18 months, we are delighted to see the first of the new Ford Ranger models coming off our production line,” says Neale Hill, managing director for Ford Motor Company Sub-Saharan Africa Region.

“This is an extremely important and exciting year for the Ford Ranger, which will also see the launch of the first Ranger Raptor that is undoubtedly one of this year’s most highly anticipated new models,” says Hill.

“The 2019 Ford Ranger will deliver more power, greater fuel efficiency, enhanced refinement, and additional advanced technologies when it goes on sale in the coming months, and we are confident it will once again set the benchmark in the extremely competitive pickup segment.”

Selected range-topping models, including the Ranger Raptor, will be powered by the all-new 2.0 Bi-Turbo diesel engine assembled at Ford’s Struandale Engine Plant in Port Elizabeth. This unit produces 157kW and 500Nm of torque – up by 10kW and 30Nm compared with the current 3.2 TDCi – and delivers up to a nine percent improvement in fuel efficiency when combined with the advanced new 10-speed automatic transmission.

Certain derivatives will feature a 2.0 Single Turbo version of this engine, producing 132kW and 420Nm of torque, mated to the same 10-speed transmission. Various other models in the line-up will retain the proven 2.2 and 3.2-litre Duratorq TDCi engines and existing gearbox options – thus giving customers the widest choice yet in this category. As usual, the line-up includes Single Cab, Super Cab and Double Cab body styles to suit customer requirements.

Along with freshened design cues, range-topping Ranger models will raise the bar once again with industry-defining safety features on the Wildtrak such as Pre-Collision Assist and Active Park Assist. SYNC 3® with Navigation remains one of the Ranger’s technology highlights as a fully featured infotainment system with intuitive voice control.

Following the launch of the ‘standard’ new Ford Ranger models, the attention will be shifted to the locally assembled Ranger Raptor that is set to create an entirely new segment in the pickup market when it makes its eagerly anticipated debut.

“There is a lot of excitement and hype around the Ranger Raptor, and this exhilarating new model will occupy a white space in the pickup market when it goes on sale in the second quarter of this year, creating a much-needed performance model in this crucial segment,” Hill states.

“We can’t wait to get the Ranger Raptor to market, enabling our customers to experience unrivalled off-road performance, cutting-edge technologies and the most muscular design yet seen in this class.”

Some of the defining features of the Ranger Raptor include Position Sensitive Damping (PSD) shock absorbers exclusively manufactured by FOX, and an advanced Terrain Management System (TMS) that includes an exciting Baja mode for fast off-road driving. It also boasts a toughened reinforced chassis, powerful all-disc braking system and specially developed BF Goodrich tyres.

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