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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Black Friday, Cyber Monday, shot the lights out
The numbers are in, and it shows that the start of holiday season shopping in South Africa saw spectacular growth
Black Friday and Cyber Monday continues to be a hit in South Africa, with both days exceeding expectations.
“Black Friday did not disappoint,” says Solly Bellingan, head of customer relations at BankservAfrica. “Despite the tougher economy, it seems South Africans took advantage of the days’ special deals with in-store and online transaction volumes reflecting strong year-on-year growth. Both days have certainly made their mark amongst local retailers and shoppers,
South Africans shopped up a storm with the total number of Black Friday transactions processed by BankservAfrica, in-store and online, at 7,077,117 (*) in 2019 – 36% up from 2018’s 5,204,594. This translates into a total spend of R6-billion, an impressive 106% increase on 2018’s R2.9-billion.
When compared to 2018, it seems bargain hunters decided to get the best deals early with a 33% year-on-year increase in sales at midnight. The 12-hour period between 06:00 and 18:00 proved to be busiest, with similar volumes being processed each hour. The highest number of transactions processed in a 60-minute period was between 10:00 and 11:00 at a volume of 595,792.
“3D-Secure, our online card authentication service, i.e. transactions that require a one-time pin(**), showed steady growth this year with a 32% year-on-year increase on Black Friday and transaction volumes reaching a total of 534,828,” says Bellingan. The busiest shopping times were between 09:00 and 10:00 in 2019 compared to the earlier start in 2018 at 08:00 to 09:00.
“The most expensive online transaction recorded on Black Friday was for a hospitality purchase of R10,067,400 by an international company. The most uses by one card was 83. During peak, we processed 717 transactions while the average was 371 per minute for the day.”
Cyber Monday was less active than Black Friday with a 42% growth in online transactions that reached a volume of 249,908 in 2019 (up from 176,595 in 2018). However, in both years, most of the transactions took place between 10:00 and 11:00, with the most expensive being R1,997,800 and 151 uses by one card. The highest average transactions per minute was 322 at peak and 173 per minute for the day.
“This year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday data mirrors the global data of record-breaking sales – and the BankservAfrica featured figures are only a portion of the entire sales figures for both days,” says Bellingan. “It will be interesting to see if these manage to outpace festive season spend this year.”
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Amazon records biggest ecommerce day ever
Amazon has announced that Cyber Monday was once again the single biggest shopping day in the company’s history, based on the number of items ordered worldwide. Customers all around the world shopped at record levels across a wide selection, with hundreds of millions of products ordered worldwide between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, alone. Customers purchased millions more Amazon Devices compared to the same period last year in Amazon’s Stores globally and the best-selling items were Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick 4K with Alexa Voice Remote.
“We’re focused on making this holiday season more convenient than ever for our customers, especially given how short this holiday shopping season will be,” said Jeff Wilke, CEO Worldwide Consumer, Amazon. “We are thrilled that customers continue to come to Amazon in record numbers to discover what they need and want for the holidays. Thank you to our customers and employees all around the world for making this holiday shopping weekend the best yet.”
Holiday Weekend Highlights:
- Customers worldwide purchased more toys this Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined than ever before. Among the tens of millions of toys purchased during this time period, best-sellers included LEGO Star Wars Darth Vader’s Castle, Monopoly Game: Disney Frozen 2 Edition and Hasbro games such as Jenga, Guess Who and Candy Land Kingdom of Sweet Adventures.
- Cyber Monday was the single biggest shopping day for Amazon Fashion worldwide, with more items purchased than any other single day in the company’s history. Best-sellers included Carhartt Men’s Acrylic Watch Hat and Champion Men’s Powerblend Fleece Pullover Hoodie.
- Amazon customers worldwide ordered more than 25 million home items on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, combined.
- Best-sellers on Black Friday in the U.S. included Echo Dot, Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, Instant Pot Duo80 – 8 Quart, 23andMe Health + Ancestry Service: Personal Genetic DNA Test, L.O.L. Surprise! Winter Disco Bigger Surprise and iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum.
- Customers worldwide purchased more than four million beauty products this Cyber Monday compared to last year, with best-sellers including Oral-B Genius Pro 900 Electric Toothbrush, Lagunamoon Essential Oils Top 6 Gift Set and L’Oreal Paris Voluminous Makeup Lash Paradise Mascara.
- Top-selling categories worldwide include Toys, Home, Fashion and Health and Personal Care.
- The best-selling products in Amazon’s Stores on Cyber Monday in the U.S. included Echo Dot, Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, Play-Doh Sweet Shoppe Cookie Creations, Keurig K-Cafe Coffee Maker and LEGO City Ambulance Helicopter 60179 Building Kit.
- Independent third-party sellers in Amazon’s Stores — mostly small and medium-sized businesses – sold more items during Cyber Monday 2019 than any other 24-hour period in the company’s history.
- For the third year in a row, Whole Foods Market broke its all-time record of turkeys sold during the Thanksgiving season.
- Amazon delivered millions of grocery items to Prime members in the U.S. through the five days between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. Best sellers from Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market delivery included Honeycrisp apples, lemons and avocados.
- Top selling items at Amazon Books and Amazon 4-star stores over the holiday weekend included the Amazon Smart Plug, Echo Dot and All-New Echo Dot Smart Speaker with Clock, L.O.L. Surprise! Dolls, Wrecking Ball (Diary of a Wimpy Kid Book 14), and the Wyze Cam 1080p HD Indoor Wireless Smart Home Camera with Night Vision.
Record-Breaking Weekend for Devices
- Shoppers purchased a record number of Amazon Devices globally this holiday weekend.
- Amazon customers worldwide purchased millions more Amazon Devices, compared to the same period last year in Amazon’s Stores globally, including Echo devices, Fire TV devices, Kindle devices, and Fire tablets.
- It was a record-breaking holiday shopping weekend for smart home devices in Amazon’s Stores globally with shoppers purchasing millions of smart home devices, including iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum, Furbo Dog Camera, and Wemo Mini Smart Plug.
- The best-selling products in Amazon’s Stores globally were Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick 4K with Alexa Voice Remote.