Nannytech

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Doug Newcomb at PCMag¬†gushes about “nannytech” – autonomous driver assistance systems that help prevent vehicle accidents without taking over the car completely.

I don’t love the term “nannytech”, but Newcomb’s enthusiasm makes me think he’s on to something:

“But the best thing about the [Audi] Q7’s large collection of driver-assist technologies is the remarkable amount of control the driver has over the systems’ warnings.”

It’s not clear from Newcomb’s piece if the driver control aspect is great because it’s such an improvement of previous systems (think of the incessant seatbelt-warning bells), or because it’s so much better than the fear of turning over the whole car to a computerized driver.

But it’s something to chew on, and it would be interesting to see some stats on just how much safer various “nannytech” technologies make human drivers.

Tesla and The Price of Gas

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CNN reports that Wall Street is worried about how Tesla will weather record-low gas prices. CNN calls it “Tesla’s worst nightmare”.

Color me unconvinced.

Tesla, even with the Model 3, is not competing on price. They’ve succeeded in building a car that competes on quality and technology and brand.

At the margin they’ll certainly lose a few customers due to a higher total cost of ownership, but I hardly see this as Tesla’s worst nightmare. I think gas could go to $0 and Tesla would still sell a ton of cars.

Google Cars Heading to Washington

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Washington state, that is. For “bad weather” driving experience. As anyone who has been to Seattle knows, they get a lot of rain there.

This seems like a smaller and more natural leap that snow driving. My guess is that snow is relatively rare as a fraction of total miles driven, although certainly not negligible. Rain is common everywhere.

Western Washington state also has mountains with snow a relatively short drive from the Seattle area, so that’s not out of the question, either.

Notably, Washington governor Jay Inslee is welcoming the move, in contrast to California DMV officials who have been notably more cautious about self-driving cars. Federalism in action.

nuTonomy

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Self-driving cars are really expensive to develop, which is one reason the major companies in the space are large existing firms. Think Google, Ford, Continental.

There are relatively few startups, and the ones that do exist often focus on edge cases – self-driving factory robots, for example.

But a startup just got funding to tackle the self-driving car problem head-on.

Spun out of MIT, Nutonomy is developing self-driving cars with a focus on the Singapore market, of all places.

They’re small now – 22 people – but keep an eye on them.

Porsche Is Not Into Self-Driving Cars

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Porsche’s CEO has no plans to build a self-driving car.

“One wants to drive a Porsche by oneself,” says Oliver Blume, CEO of the performance car company.

All of this is according to BGR, by the way.

There’s a certain amount of logic to this. People get excited about driving a Porsche because of how fun it is to drive a Porsche, not how fun it is to ride in one. Or at least that is what I’m told (I’ve never driven a Porsche, although I’ve ridden in one).

I’m trying to think of analogies, and coming up a little bit blank.

People still go camping, even though hotels exist? People cook their own food, even though restaurants exist?

The best analogy I can find comes out of the auto industry, appropriately enough.

People still drive manual transmissions, even though automatic transmissions exist. I really like manual transmissions, in fact.

Porsche is only a moderate-volume car maker to begin with, but I will be interested to see whether they can maintain that position in the face of self-driving cars, or whether they will become more a luxury niche brand, more akin to Lamborghini or Rolls-Royce.