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Motor Racing meets Machine Learning

The futuristic car technology of tomorrow is being built today in both racing cars and
toys, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The car of tomorrow, most of us imagine, is being built by the great automobile manufacturers of the world. More and more, however, we are seeing information technology companies joining the race to power the autonomous vehicle future.

Last year, chip-maker Intel paid $15.3-billion to acquire Israeli company Mobileye, a leader in computer vision for autonomous driving technology. Google’s autonomous taxi division, Waymo, has been valued at $45-billion.

Now there’s a new name to add to the roster of technology giants driving the future.

DeepRacer on the inside

Amazon Web Services, the world’s biggest cloud computing service and a subsidiary of Amazon.com,  last month unveiled a scale model autonomous racing car for developers to build new artificial intelligence applications. Almost in the same breath, at its annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, it showcased the work being done with machine learning in Formula 1 racing.

AWS DeepRacer is a 1/18th scale fully autonomous race car, designed to incorporate the features and behaviour of a full-sized vehicle. It boasts all-wheel drive, monster truck tires, an HD video camera, and on-board computing power. In short, everything a kid would want of a self-driving toy car.

But then, it also adds everything a developer would need to make the car autonomous in ways that, for now, can only be imagined. It uses a new form of machine learning (ML), the technology that allows computer systems to improve their functions progressively as they receive feedback from their activities. ML is at the heart of artificial intelligence (AI), and will be core to autonomous, self-driving vehicles.

AWS has taken ML a step further, with an approach called reinforcement learning. This allows for quicker development of ML models and applications, and DeepRacer is designed to allow developers to experiment with and hone their skill in this area. It is built on top of another AWS platform, called Amazon SageMaker, which enables developers and data scientists to build, train, and deploy machine learning quickly and easily.

Along with DeepRacer, AWS also announced the DeepRacer League, the world’s first global autonomous racing league, open to anyone who orders the scale model from AWS.

DeepRacer on the outside

As if to prove that DeepRacer is not just a quirky entry into the world of motor racing, AWS also showcased the work it is doing with the Formula One Group. Ross Brawn, Formula 1’s managing director of Motor Sports, joined AWS CEO Andy Jassy during the keynote address at the re:Invent conference, to demonstrate how motor racing meets machine learning.

“More than a million data points a second are transmitted between car and team during a Formula 1 race,” he said. “From this data, we can make predictions about what we expect to happen in a wheel-to-wheel situation, overtaking advantage, and pit stop advantage. ML can help us apply a proper analysis of a situation, and also bring it to fans.

“Formula 1 is a complete team contest. If you look at a video of tyre-changing in a pit stop – it takes 1.6 seconds to change four wheels and tyres – blink and you will miss it. Imagine the training that goes into it? It’s also a contest of innovative minds.”

AWS CEO Andy Jassy unveils DeepRacer

Formula 1 racing has more than 500 million global fans and generated $1.8 billion in revenue in 2017. As a result, there are massive demands on performance, analysis and information. 

During a race, up to 120 sensors on each car generate up to 3GB of data and 1 500 data points – every second. It is impossible to analyse this data on the fly without an ML platform like Amazon SageMaker. It has a further advantage: the data scientists are able to incorporate 65 years of historical race data to compare performance, make predictions, and provide insights into the teams’ and drivers’ split-second decisions and strategies.

This means Formula 1 can pinpoint how a driver is performing and whether or not drivers have pushed themselves over the limit.

“By leveraging Amazon SageMaker and AWS’s machine-learning services, we are able to deliver these powerful insights and predictions to fans in real time,” said Pete Samara, director of innovation and digital technology at Formula 1.

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

Cars

Cape Town not so calm – if you’re a driver

Cape Town drivers lose on average 162 hours a year to traffic jams, so will need some tech and a few tips to stay calm

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Cape Town drivers lose, on average, 162 hours a year stuck in traffic jams, and the city is ranked 95th out of around 200 cities, across 38 countries surveyed globally, in terms of congestion issues.

That’s according to the latest INRIX 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, which is an annual analysis of mobility and congestion trends. The study provides a data-rich evaluation of information collected during peak (slowest) travel times, and inter peak (fastest point between morning and afternoon commutes) travel times. Together they provide a holistic account of congestion throughout the day, delivering in-depth insights for vehicle drivers and policy-makers to make better decisions regarding urban travel and traffic health.

Of the further five South African cities surveyed:

  • Pretoria drivers lose, on average, 143 hours a year stuck in traffic jams, ranking as the 64thmost congested city
  • Johannesburg drivers lose an average of 119 hours annually, ranking 61st
  • Durban drivers lose 72 hours, ranking 141st
  • Port Elizabeth drivers lose 71 hours, ranking 75th
  • And Bloemfontein drivers lose 62 hours, ranking 165th

If these hours sound horrific, spare a thought for the poor drivers in Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá who lose, on average, a whopping 272 hours a year stuck in traffic jams!

On average, drivers’ commutes increase by roughly 30% during peak versus inter-peak hours. And the reality is that congestion issues aren’t going away anytime soon. Not here in SA, or anywhere else in the world. So what can we, as drivers, do to make the situation easier to cope with on our daily commute?

Change of mindset

Stressing about the unavoidable, the inevitable, and all the things that are out of our control – like congestion caused by accidents, faulty street lights, or bad weather – is a waste of energy. We should try finding ways of using that time in our cars more productively, to create a less tense, more positive experience. Learning to change our perspective about this challenging time, and associating it with something enjoyable, can drastically alter our reaction to and engagement with it. Rather than expending all our energy on futile anger and frustration, we can channel our focus on things that relax or energise us instead.

Just one more chapter

Being stuck in traffic usually aggravates us because it feels like a huge waste of valuable time. But like a wise man once said, time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. Listening to a podcast or audiobook can not only be entertaining, but also educational, which is a brilliant use of your time. Ifyou think of your car as a ‘learning lab’, a mobile university of sorts, and your time spent inside as away to exercise your brain and grow intellectually, you may even find yourself wishing for bad traffic so you have an excuse to carry on listening to your podcast or audiobook.

Tame your inner Hulk

Pulling up a playlist of your favourite, feel-good songs can do wonders to combat stress levels. Downbeat music has been proven to have a mellowing effect on drivers. Making a quick switch to downbeat music shows measurable physiological improvements, with drivers calming down much sooner, and making fewer driving mistakes. So the next time you feel your inner Hulk emerging, crank up the volume on your favourite tunes.

The power of ‘caromatherapy’

There are numerous studies on aromas and their impact on human emotion, behaviour, and performance. Researchers have found that peppermint can enhance mental and athletic performance and cognitive functioning, while cinnamon may improve tasks related to attentional processes and visual-motor response speed. A study from Kyoto University in Japan revealed that participants reported significantly lower hostility and depression scores, and felt more relaxed after awalk through a pine forest. It makes sense then, to incorporate some ‘caromatherapy’ into our lives. There are plenty of off-the-shelf car diffusers available, or you could add a few drops of essential oil to DIY felt air fresheners. Citrus scents like orange or lemon can provide a boost of energy, while rosemary can relieve stress and anxiety. Take care not to hang anything that might obstruct your field of vision though, and always make sure to test out essential oils at home first, in case a scent makes you dizzy or overly relaxed, which could affect driving focus.

Contemplate your navel

The mind is a powerful thing, and simply willing yourself to relax might be the most effective method of all. While we don’t recommend meditating while driving due to safety reasons, breathing exercises can help you stay focused and feeling calm. One useful practice is the one-to-one technique – breathing in and out for the same count with the same intensity. Deep, measured breaths facilitate full oxygen exchange, helping to slow down the rate of your heartbeat and stabilise blood pressure, as opposed to shallow breathing, which doesn’t send enough air to the lowest part of your lungs, causing you to feel anxious and short of breath. Just always keep your eyes on the road, and take care to ensure you’re not so busy counting breaths that your concentration is compromised.

Not all those who wander are lost

Some of our best ideas come in those moments where we’re alone with our own thoughts, able to really reflect on the ideas we have without having something immediate that needs our attention. Allow your mind to wander, and do a little brainstorming. Alternatively, use the time to simply day dream. Remember, downtime is not dead time. It is both necessary, and important for your mental health. Use this time as an opportunity to take care of yourself.

In-built vehicle tech

“As we spend more and more time commuting, cars are being designed to accommodate longer periods behind the wheel,” says Kuda Takura, smart mobility specialist at Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa. “Ford uses human-centric design to deliver vehicles that are inviting, accommodating, and intuitive. For example, our SYNCT infotainment system offers nifty, hands-free functions, like allowing drivers to listen to their texts, change music or climate settings, and make phone calls easily with voice control. Our range of driver-assist technologies, like Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection and Semi-Auto Active Park Assist, are also designed to take some of the stress off city driving. If our lifestyle means that we might be spending more time in our cars than we do on holiday, then we should make sure we make the most of that time.”

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Nissan takes ICE out of ice-cream

On Clean Air Day on Thursday, the car-maker demonstrated a cool ‘Sky-to-Scoop’ strategy for cutting diesel emissions.

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Nissan has taken the ICE (internal combustion engine) out of the ice cream van, creating an all-electric, zero-emission concept for ‘Clean Air Day’ in the UK on June 20.

Nissan partnered with Mackie’s of Scotland, an ice cream producer powering its family-owned dairy farm by renewable wind and solar energy. The project demonstrates how a ‘Sky to Scoop’ approach can remove carbon dependence at every stage of the ice cream journey.

Most ice cream vans, particularly older models, have diesel engines which are kept running to operate the refrigeration equipment. These motors are criticised for producing harmful emissions, including black carbon, when left idling. Some UK towns and cities are now looking to ban or fine these vehicles. Nissan’s concept presents a potential solution for vendors looking to reduce their carbon footprint, and offer customers a better experience.

The prototype van is based on the e-NV200, Nissan’s 100% electric LCV (light commercial vehicle). The concept is a working demonstration of Nissan’s Electric Ecosystem, combining a zero-emission drivetrain, second-life battery storage and renewable solar energy generation.

“Ice cream is enjoyed the world over, but consumers are increasingly mindful of the environmental impact of how we produce such treats, and the ‘last mile’ of how they reach us,” said Kalyana Sivagnanam, managing director, Nissan Motor (GB) Ltd.

“This project is a perfect demonstration of Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility strategy, applying more than a decade of EV experience and progress in battery technology to create cleaner solutions for power on the go – in ways customers might not expect.

“By eliminating harmful tailpipe emissions, and increasing our use of renewable energy, we can help make this a better world for everyone.”

Whilst the van’s motor is driven by a 40kWh battery, the on-board ice cream equipment, including a soft-serve machine, freezer drawer and drinks fridge, are powered by the newly unveiled Nissan Energy ROAM, which goes on sale later in 2019.

Designed for both professional and leisure applications, ROAM is a portable power pack that uses lithium-ion cells recovered from early first-generation Nissan electric vehicles (produced from 2010 onwards). This provides a sustainable second-life for Nissan EV batteries.

“We’re delighted to have worked with Nissan on this project as it’s the perfect complement to our own vision of becoming self-sustainable in renewable energy – and eliminating carbon in the journey from ‘Sky to Scoop’,” said Karin Hayhow, marketing director at Mackie’s of Scotland.

“At Mackie’s we’ve already shifted our dependence from fossil-fuels on to clean renewable power. We now export 4.5 times more energy to the national grid than we consume. This year we will make further progress towards our vision with the installation of an innovative new low-carbon refrigeration system. We’re proud to be a ‘climate positive’ ice cream maker.”

Chris Large, Senior Partner, Global Action Plan, added; “The Clean Air Day campaign is here to celebrate innovation and accelerate action. We welcome Nissan’s efforts to make ice cream vans that serve up toxic fumes a thing of the past. Schoolchildren campaigning for the Clean Van Commitment sent a video message to all van fleets encouraging them to get millions more electric vans on to UK roads in place of diesels. I think those children would love this project.”

Nissan e-NV200 Ice Cream Van: Detail

The e-NV200 has an all-electric driving range of up to 124-miles (WLTP Combined)* between charges. The two Nissan Energy ROAM units have a combined storage capacity of 1.4kWh and can each output power at up to 1kW. They can be recharged either from a 230v mains supply (a full recharge takes about an hour), or the solar panel array on the van’s roof (a full recharge in 2-4 hours**).

The concept takes a number of new approaches to the ice cream van. Ice cream is served from a hatch that opens in the side of the vehicle, with the vendor dispensing ice cream standing next to the van – a customer-facing experience instead of being separated by an elevated counter.

Payment can be by cash, but also contactless bank card and smartphones via a ‘tap-to-pay’ panel mounted on the side of the van.

Instead of a jingle to attract customers – not always popular with parents – the concept has a smart button that generates a tweet of the van’s precise location using the global addressing service What3Words. What3Words divides the world into 3m x 3m locations, each with a unique three word address, e.g. ///trendy.angel.define is a spot on Brighton & Hove’s seafront in the UK. Customers can easily find the van in a park or seafront location where normal street addressing would not apply.

Thanks to the e-NV200’s bi-directional charging capability, owners could even income through the winter – when the van is less frequently used. Through a V2G (Vehicle-to-Grid) charger, the e-NV200’s battery can be used to store surplus energy from the national grid (for example renewable wind and solar energy), and then provide it back to the grid when needed. This technology can help balance out the peaks in national energy demands, as well as providing EV owners with additional revenue from their vehicle when it’s not being driven.

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