Category Archives: Cars

There Are No Blindspots With This Real-Time 3D View Of Your Car

There are already countless vehicles that use multiple tiny cameras to give the driver an overhead view of what objects or obstacles are around their car while parking. But SPTek has developed a system that’s able to show a driver what’s around their vehicle while on the road, completely eliminating the blindspot that’s responsible for so many accidents.

The 3D-AVMS system uses four 190-degree wide-angle lens cameras hidden on the sides, front, and back of a vehicle. Those cameras feed 100 megapixels worth of digital imagery to an on-board computer that generates a real-time omnidirectional view around a 3D representation of the car. So drivers are not only not limited to just an overhead view of what’s around their vehicle, they can see what’s going on in all directions and from almost any angle.

The 3D-AVMS system has already been installed on a tour bus, notoriously difficult to navigate in crowded downtown areas of a city. But SPTek plans to fully commercialize the technology beginning in August of this year which means it just might show up as an option when it’s time to get a new car in a couple of years. [SPTek via Nikkei Technology]


They Drove Cross-Country In An Autonomous Minivan Without GPS. In 1995.

By Dr. Todd Jochem

They Drove Cross-Country In An Autonomous Minivan Without GPS. In 1995.

(Think Delphi’s cross-country voyage in an autonomous Audi SQ5 is impressive? Try doing it with 90s tech, without GPS navigation, and in a salvaged Pontiac minivan. That’s what Carnegie Mellon research scientist Dean Pomerleau and then-Ph.D. student Todd Jochem did in 1995. Here’s the story of their journey as it appeared on Robotics Trends. — PG)

For the past several years, self-driving cars have been prominently featured in mainstream media outlets. Great technology and future plans from organizations such as Stanford University, Google, various car manufacturers, and more recently Uber and Delphi, have been showcased.

It is with great intellectual interest, pride, perspective, and a fair bit of humor that I have read about these recent “firsts” for autonomous vehicles.

They Drove Cross-Country In An Autonomous Minivan Without GPS. In 1995.

Why? Because July 23, 2015, will be the 20th anniversary of “No Hands Across America,” the first long-duration field test of a self-driving car. I was fortunate to be part of the ragtag team from Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute that built the car and was a passenger on the cross-country trip from Washington, D.C., to San Diego, Calif.

After two decades of technology development and societal acclimatization in the area of robotics and self-driving cars, it’s amazing how much has changed—and, really, how much has stayed the same.

I thought it might be interesting to share some comments on that time, our trip across the country, and what has and hasn’t changed between then and now.

Today’s self-driving cars are so stylish

I’m jealous of the stylishness and integration of the most recent self-driving cars—luxury brands and cool little special-purpose cars. We used a minivan that had plastic side panels and cloth seats. But it was better than nothing.

We owe a huge thanks to Ashok Ramaswamy—a visionary engineering manager at Delco (predecessor to Delphi)—who cut through monumental red tape and salvaged a Pontiac Transport minivan from the junk heap and “donated” it to us to use as we saw fit.

We built the vehicle and software over about a four-month time frame for under $20,000. We had one computer, the equivalent of a 486DX2 (look that one up), a 640×480 color camera, a GPS receiver, and a fiber-optic gyro.

They Drove Cross-Country In An Autonomous Minivan Without GPS. In 1995.

It’s funny to think that we didn’t use the GPS for position, but rather to determine speed.

In those days, GPS Selective Availability was still on, meaning you couldn’t get high-accuracy positioning cheaply. And if you could, there were no maps to use it with! But, GPS speed was better than nothing, and it meant we didn’t have to wire anything to the car hardware, so we used it.

Software challenges

In late 1994, Dean Pomerleau had pushed his ALVINN neural network lane tracking software about as far as it could go, but there were limitations with training speed and performance that he felt prevented it from getting to the next level—superior performance across all road types in all weather and lighting conditions.

They Drove Cross-Country In An Autonomous Minivan Without GPS. In 1995.

As the vehicle moves along, a video camera mounted just below the rearview mirror reads the roadway, imaging information including lane markings, oil spots, curbs, and even ruts made in snow by car wheels. The camera sends the image to a portable computer between the car’s front seats that processes the data and instructs an electric motor on the steering wheel to turn right or left.

The driving system runs on the PANS (Portable Advanced Navigation Support) hardware platform. The platform provides a computing base and input/output functions for the system, as well as position estimation, steering wheel control, and safety monitoring. It’s powered from the vehicle’s cigarette lighter and is completely portable.

But inspiration hit Pomerleau on how to go forward while he and Chuck Thorpe were driving down the Rocky Mountains in a snowstorm after a DARPA “meeting.” The insight, which is still proprietary, was enough to make him junk ALVINN immediately and start over.

From around January 1995 to April or May 1995, he built a new system called RALPH (Rapidly Adapting Lateral Position Handler) that quickly equaled ALVINN’s performance—at least on local roads.

But to truly test the system, more roads were needed. And that was when the plan to drive across the U.S. was hatched. Quickly dubbed “No Hands Across America”—mainly because it was a nice play on the “Hands Across America” movement to combat hunger and poverty—the plan was to drive I-70 from Washington, D.C., to I-15 in Utah, then south to San Diego.

From May until when we left on July 23, 1995, time was spent refining the technology, planning the stops along the route, getting approval (I think) from CMU’s board of trustees, and getting sponsorships and fundraising to pay the tab.

Since there was no real sponsor for the trip (no one in their right mind would pay for something this crazy), we had to supplement the little money we got from CMU’s discretionary accounts with free equipment.

As noted above, Delco provided the car, while the computer, GPS, and gyro were all donated to us in exchange for a sticker on the side of the minivan. For gas and spending money, we sold trip T-shirts. I’m not kidding. They were $10 apiece and helped pay for food and hotels. Seriously.

Not sure if the NASCAR model of fundraising (car decals and T-shirts) has been used since then for robotics.

They Drove Cross-Country In An Autonomous Minivan Without GPS. In 1995.

You can read the trip journal for more details, but suffice it to say that we learned more on that seven day trip than the entire research community may have learned in seven years. We also had a ton of fun. From renewing marriage vows in Las Vegas in a self-driving car, to seeing a six-legged cow at Prairie Dog Town, to driving across Hoover Dam autonomously, to meeting Jay Leno, it was a trip for the ages.

And perhaps the highlight was when Otis Port, a writer for Business Week who was doing a story on the trip (read the story here), was pulled over by a Kansas State Trooper—as we sped by with our hands off the wheel.

While I’ll admit to a strong bias, I think Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh was the center of technical excellence in self-driving cars. Beginning in the 1980s and 90s with the NavLabproject, CMU has led the development or trained the people who have been at the forefront of this technology.

Initially, it was Kanade, Whitaker, Thorpe, and Pomerleau. Under those pioneers in the field, the next generation of technology and thought leaders like Sebastian Thrun (Stanford), J.O. Urmson, and Astro Teller (Google) were trained.

They Drove Cross-Country In An Autonomous Minivan Without GPS. In 1995.

And it’s clear that CMU remains at the center of the self-driving car universe even now, withUber’s decision to locate self-driving car research in Pittsburgh and to essentially in-house CMU’s brainpower, and finally, Delphi’s drive across the country powered by—you guessed it—a CMU spin-out company called Ottomatika that is based in Pittsburgh.

I was lucky to be at the right place, at the right time, with the right people. It’s not often in life that the right circumstances are in place to do something that no one had ever done before. When we did the trip, the field was about discovery and expanding technical frontiers.

I think it still is now, but unfortunately, it’s now also about patent fights, liability concerns, and state laws. (If you’re ever in doubt about your patent, just assume it was done at CMU between 1985-1997 – you’ll save a lot of money!)

Those were the good old days, I guess!

This article first appeared on Robotics Trends, and its text and photos have been republished here with permission.

Click here for more information about “No Hands Across America,” including the trip journal, pictures, and description of the vehicle.

Dr. Jochem is a robotics, unmanned systems, and technology professional interested in entrepreneurship and technology creation in robotics and related business sectors. He is currently a consultant to small technology businesses. Before his business career, Jochem was a systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute and a 1997 recipient of CMU’s Allan Newell Award for Research Excellence.

This Is What It’s Like To Get Shot At By An AK-47 In An Armored Mercedes

This Is What It's Like To Get Shot At By An AK-47 In An Armored Mercedes

Our friends at San Antonio-based Texas Armoring Corporation take their jobs very seriously. So seriously that they’re willing to put their lives in the line to test their own products. Would you sit in a car while someone shot at you with an AK-47?

Maybe you would if you were TAC President and CEO Trent Kimball, and you had total, 100 percent confidence in the quality of your company’s armored cars. Even so, I think there’s a huge degree of trust that goes with it, or at least the assurance of a really good medical plan and/or life insurance policy.

In TAC’s latest video, Kimball gets behind the wheel of one of their latest armored Mercedes-Benz SUVs while an employee (I’m assuming this isn’t a job they give to interns) fires on the windshield with the AK-47. But it holds up just fine.

“That was frigging amazing,” Kimball says at the end. “It could have taken a lot more!”

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Crazy Racist Alaskan Lady Goes On Amazing Racist Roadrage Rant

Damn, lady, this is one fine-ass racist run you went on here. Started off strong with, “If I had a gun, I would shoot you dead. … I’m going to kill your kids and your goddamn mother. I’ve got people who will do it,” and rolled right into Muslims blowing up school bus children because they’re atheists. Then you just tried to run this guy holding the camera.

Sure, we don’t quite know what this guy did in traffic, but everyone seems OK. Anyway, we missed this last week, but you should watch it anyway.

[Addicting Info via Shrill]

America’s Century-Old Love Affair With the Automobile In a Single Image

America's Century-Old Love Affair With the Automobile In a Single Image

The auto industry spans across the globe, but America has a particular passion for pistons. Pop Chart Lab’s latest print rounds up some of the best, most beautiful, and downright Americanest vehicles ever produced in this great land, from 1895 right up through 2014.

With classics like the original Ford Mustang, timeless chariots like the Lincoln Continental, and legendary flops like the Edsel Citation, Pop Chart Lab’s Collection of Classic American Automobiles puts 108 of the U.S. auto industry’s finest on your walls. The simple, elegant renderings are instantly recognizable, whether you’re a Corvette fan, a Viper lover, or an incurable AMC Pacer aficionado (you magnificent weirdo).

Finally, you can put a Thunderbird, an El Dorado, a Superbird, and a GT-40 on your wall—without making your house look like a 13-year-old’s bedroom. [Pop Chart Lab]



Used Car Buyer Surprised To Find Vehicle Comes With A Free Boa Constrictor In The Trunk


Not the boa in question. Just another snake guy. (frankieleon)

A free dashboard dongle and a windshield scraper tossed in the back? That’s a pretty good score when buying a used car. Even bigger, and perhaps less ah, desirable? A free boa constrictor hanging out in the trunk.

A woman tells The Daily Mirror across ye olde ponde in the United Kingdom that she hadn’t realized a three-foot boa constrictor was in the used Volkswagen car she’ bought for a few hundred pounds.

At first, she thought it was a rubber toy in the car’s boot — you know, the delightful name the Brits have for a trunk. Isn’t it funny how we all speak English but have DIFFERENT WORDS FOR THE SAME THINGS?!?

Anyway, then it flicked its tongue.

“It’s huge and scary. We screamed and slammed the boot,” she explained.

She and a buddy managed to wrap Mr. Wiggles up in a towel and take him to a nearby reptile rescue facility. Then it was time to talk to the car’s previous owner and figure out why the heck there was a snake in the deal.

He said he’d lost the three-year-old pet two months ago, when he was moving it in a cage to a friend’s place. He searched high and low, and couldn’t find it.

“I checked everywhere. I had ripped that car to pieces,” he said. “I thought it must have got out. I wouldn’t leave it.”

There we go. Happy endings for everyone — one couple gets a snake-free car, and someone else gets a snake back.

”There’s a boa in my boot!” Woman’s terrifying discovery in second hand car bought online [The Daily Mirror]

Philadelphia, Where They’ll Ticket You Before You Even Leave The Car

By  August 4, 2014

(Taber Andrew Bain)

This is Reason #516 why I don’t have a car… While we understand why Parking Authority agents have to be coldhearted when someone comes rushing up to an expired meter, crying, “Please don’t ticket me! I was just coming out to put in more money…” we also think there has to be a few seconds of grace period between pulling up to a parking meter and being ticketed. But apparently not here in Philadelphia.

The Daily News has the story of a driver who says he was ticketed before he even had the chance to get out of his car and feed the meter.

“I pull up, take off my sunglasses, turn off the ignition and reach for a roll of quarters,” he tells the News. But by the time he got out of his car and walked the few feet to the meter, the PPA agent had already begun writing up the $36 ticket.

He says the officer asked him where he came from.

“From the driver’s seat,” responded the driver. “I assume you’re not giving me a ticket.”

To which, he claims, the officer answered, “Your meter has expired.”

The driver explained that he had just pulled into the spot, but the PPA officer told him, “Well, I’ve already processed the ticket,” and the only thing that could be done is for him to plead his case at a hearing.

When the Daily News contacted the PPA, the agency’s executive director said he’d never heard of a ticket being written so quickly.

“I don’t have anyone that is that quick,” he says, explaining that the PPA’s training includes looking to see if someone is in the car first. The director also says this particular officer, a 14-year vet, had no history of being too fast on the draw when it came to ticketing cars.

Like in a number of other cities, PPA tickets are now written electronically on wireless devices that automatically enter them into the system. Officers can cancel a ticket up until the last element is added on the form, but after that it’s apparently out of the officer’s hands.

The exec. director tells the Daily News that if the officer agrees after the fact that the ticket shouldn’t have been written, the driver can request a letter from PPA customer service.

From the archives, here’s reason #273 for my decision to be carless in Philadelphia.

This Heads-Up Display Puts the App Info You Need On Your Windshield

Andrew LiszewskiThis Heads-Up Display Puts the App Info You Need On Your Windshield

Using your smartphone or tablet while driving is not only illegal in most sane states, it’s also just a dangerously stupid thing to do behind the wheel. But since access to your device can make your travels easier, the dashboard-mounted Navdy provides a heads-up display that shares info from your devices, and lets you interact with them through voice and gesture commands.

Using a compact projector and a 5.1-inch transparent display that sits on the dashboard in front of a driver, the Navdy shares specific information from your favorite apps on your iOS or Android smartphone, instead of just mirroring the device’s own display and UI. By only sharing selective details, the information that’s displayed on the Navdy is less distracting, but still lets the driver keep in touch.

In the event of an incoming call or text message, the driver can use voice commands or simple hand gestures to ignore it or respond. And in lieu of a keyboard, emails and other text-based messages can be composed through dictation. Exactly how much functionality you want while driving, or what messages you want delivered while in the car, can be configured with the Navdy’s accompanying app. So if Twitter and Facebook aren’t your biggest priority while driving, you can simply opt to leave out those updates.

This Heads-Up Display Puts the App Info You Need On Your Windshield

The Navdy’s creators are hoping to raise $60,000 through a private fundraising campaign to put the device into production, which means you can pre-order one now at a discounted price of $300, with delivery sometime in early 2015 if everything goes well. As with all crowdfunded projects, that’s a big if.

The Navdy isn’t the first device that attempts to keep a driver’s eyes on the road by projecting their various digital distractions on the windshield in front of them, but it would be the first to work with pretty much any vehicle and iPhones and Android handsets alike. And the fact that it goes the extra mile to allow you to respond to messages and answer calls without taking your eyes off the road should definitely help improve driver safety. The use of gestures might take a little practice for some drivers, but most people on the road are already highly skilled at using hand gestures while driving. [Navdy]

This Stealthy Mercedes Is Actually A Bomb-Resistant Armored Tank


This Stealthy Mercedes Is Actually A Bomb-Resistant Armored Tank

The Mercedes-Benz S600 Guard is a V12 powerhouse armored to VR9 spec, meaning they can shoot at it, blow it up or throw nasty gas canisters around it all day long and you’ll be fine inside, with a glass of champagne at hand.

I love how a certain part of the press release is about how discreet the S600 Guard is on the move, looking almost identical to the standard S600. Right! That’s very practical indeed, making sure the guy with the RPG doesn’t know which black Merc to shoot at, but as far as I can tell, the people who buy these aren’t necessarily European diplomats and a black S600 will stand out in a third world country anyway. Also, if you travel in a convoy of three, they’ll most likely shoot at all of them.

Go further by putting golden wheels on it, and Mercedes’ effort to hide you gets thrown out of the window. The car will still work though.

The latest armored S600 comes with plates covering almost the entire underbody and extra tough steel integrated into the cavities between the body structure and the outer skin at the bodyshell stage, with Aramide and PE components providing additional splinter protection. And I wasn’t kidding about having a drink either:

This Stealthy Mercedes Is Actually A Bomb-Resistant Armored Tank

While enjoying a glass of the good stuff, you can also relax knowing that the windscreen and side windows are heated (hello Russia!) and coated with polycarbonate on the inside to be just as tough as the metal parts. The car also uses hydraulic power to move the heavy windows, while in the trunk there’s a fire extinguisher system with automatic activation and an emergency fresh air system plugged into their own power sources.

This Stealthy Mercedes Is Actually A Bomb-Resistant Armored Tank

The rest is pretty standard S600 stuff with a V12 producing 530 horsepower and 612 foot pound of torque, an air suspension and a top speed limited to 130 mph for weight reasons. Mercedes claims this much power means you don’t need to worry about the danger zone:

“The S-Guard combines lower fuel consumption with impressive acceleration for a rapid escape from the danger zone when under threat.”

Excellent news indeed.

This Stealthy Mercedes Is Actually A Bomb-Resistant Armored Tank

This Stealthy Mercedes Is Actually A Bomb-Resistant Armored Tank

This Stealthy Mercedes Is Actually A Bomb-Resistant Armored Tank

This Stealthy Mercedes Is Actually A Bomb-Resistant Armored Tank

This Stealthy Mercedes Is Actually A Bomb-Resistant Armored Tank

This Stealthy Mercedes Is Actually A Bomb-Resistant Armored Tank




Why buy a beat up van to ruggedize for the apocalypse when you pick up a new ride right off the showroom floor? While it’s unlikely to appear at dealerships anytime soon, the Hyundai Zombie Survival Machine ($TBA) is certainly ready for any undead action that comes its way. Based on the Elantra Coupe, it features a custom zombie plow — complete with spikes — out in front, armored window coverings, a roof hatch, a trunkfull of weaponry, floodlights in the front and back, spiked all-terrain tires, wheels with spikes for clipping nearby walkers, and an all-important CB radio system. After all, you don’t really expect your cell phone to work during the end times, do you?

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