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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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Nintendo announces Stranger Things 3 game

The Netflix Original show is set to launch a retro-style game on the Nintendo Switch.

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In collaboration with Netflix, developer BonusXP has created Stranger Things 3: The Game. It is the official companion game to Season 3 of the hit original series. The game and latest season are expected to launch on US Independence Day, the 4th of July, a date that will, of course, stick in American gamers’ memories.

This adventure game blends a distinctively retro 16-bit art style, reminiscent of games from the time when the series was set. It is claimed to have modern gameplay mechanics to deliver nostalgic fun with a fresh new twist. Players will be able to experience their favourite show through a mix of exploration, puzzles, and combat.

Just ad in the show, teamwork is at the heart of Stranger Things 3: The Game. Players can team up in a two-player local co-operative, or in single player mode alongside an AI partner. Players can choose to play as one of twelve characters from the show, each with different abilities and attributes. Together, they’ll play through familiar events from the series, while also uncovering never-before-seen Stranger Things secrets, ensuring a fun experience for those new to the world of Stranger Things as well as for those familiar with the series.

Key Features:

  • Experience the show in a new way, exploring the eerie world of Hawkins to uncover new mysteries beyond what’s seen in Season 3.
  • Jump right into the action of this pick-up-and-play adventure: gameplay mechanics that allow players from beginner to advanced skill levels to get in on the fun.
  • Take your game to a higher level by trying out different character combinations and collecting all the secrets the expansive world of Hawkins has to offer.
  • Team up with a friend, leveraging drop-in/drop-out local co-op to take on the mysterious monsters of Hawkins together. While playing solo, use a collection of “buddy commands” to control both characters and still experience all the fun.
  • Choose from 12 playable characters, each with their own unique talents and stats.

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New AirPods and iMac in iStore this weekend

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iStore has announced availability of the new second generation AirPods and iMac, unveiled this week, in store this weekend.

The AirPods are priced from R2 899 and the new iMac from R23 499. Customers can also order these new products from iStore’s website.

“AirPods revolutionised the wireless audio experience with a breakthrough design and the new AirPods build on the magical experience customers love,” said iStore in its announcement. “The new Apple-designed H1 chip, developed specifically for headphones, delivers performance efficiencies, faster connect times, more talk time and the convenience of hands-free ‘Hey Siri’.”

AirPods come with either a standard charging case or a new wireless charging case that works with Qi standard chargers. The wireless charging case can be ordered for R3 699. The case can be used with the first or second generation AirPods.

The iMac line now has up to 8-core Intel 9th-generation processors and powerful Vega graphics options, delivering dramatic increases in both compute and graphics performance. The new iMac is faster for everyday tasks, up to demanding pro workloads. It includes retina display, all-in-one design, quiet operation, fast storage and memory, modern connectivity and macOS Mojave.

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