Driverless Cars Tested in Canadian Town

Joshua Voth 

Without a doubt, driverless cars are slowly becoming the talk of many towns — specifically Stratford, Ontario. Stratford has quite a blossoming love for technology and this can most notably be seen in its implementation of secure, private, city-wide Wi-Fi installed in 2012. It is also the home to the University of Waterloo’s digital media campus. With the development of autonomous vehicles, cities around the world are slowly showing interest in implementing testing systems within city limits.

 Currently, the testing of these self-driving cars is confined to test courses which are usually indoor or under rigid controls for the testing benefit of universities and vehicle manufacturers. Doing tests on courses and tracks can only provide limited feedback however, while getting these cars on the roads provides an enormous leap in testing possibilities as these cars are made safer for us to eventually use.

 Stratford has been chosen as the testing city or ‘petri dish’ for this next step in the process of getting autonomous cars off paper and onto the roads. It also makes sense that Stratford would be chosen for this change as it already has the infrastructure to handle vehicle tracking, relay of data, etc. and in addition, is home to auto parts supplies for car companies like Toyota, which has assembly plants in the surrounding cities of Cambridge and Woodstock. 

The testing of driverless vehicles was scheduled for January 1st, 2016, so it shouldn’t be too long before we hear more news about the testing which is currently taking place. Currently, California, Michigan, and Ontario are the three leading hubs of this developing technology. Ford, GM, and Blackberry have announced partnerships and are already working together to develop this driverless car technology. Blackberry has developed software that will allow vehicles to interact with other vehicles to share information and prevent collisions on open roads.

The Volkswagen Emissions Scandal

Joshua Voth

Most, if not all, of us have heard something regarding the atrocious news surrounding the emissions scandal involving the Volkswagen Group, a famous and well-loved German automobile manufacturer. This article will dispel all lies and rumors and will keep you up-to-date with the goings on at VW.

On the 18th of September, 2015 German automobile manufacturer VW was issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The Clear Air Act is a federal law enacted by the United States of America. It was created to control air pollution on a national level and it also strictly outlines and dictates the air quality laws for the rest of the world.

After extensive testing of Volkswagen automobiles (which was, in part, performed by the West Virginia University), it was found that diesel vehicles manufactured between 2009 and 2015 had been directly and systematically programmed to evade emissions testing. The extensive testing performed on vehicles found the erred results in the TDI (turbocharged direct injection) engines.  The programmed electronics were engineered specifically to evade emissions controls tests; basically the cars were engineered to lie, giving false information to owners, drivers, mechanics and dealerships.

This was a huge error on Volkswagen’s behalf, resulting in economic and environmental repercussions. The ethics then in question are quite troubling, as the emissions given off do in fact have large-scale effects on our planet’s well-being as well as negatively affecting human health. Peer-reviewed studies published by ERL (Environmental Research Letters) estimated that approximately 59 premature deaths will and have been caused by excess pollution between 2008 and 2015. These are directly linked to vehicles with what are now called “defeat devices” installed; they produce inaccurate results, satisfying standards while being egregiously inaccurate.

With the release of this awful news, CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned and the automobile manufacturer announced plans to make amends by spending $7.3 Billion to fix the estimated 11 million cars which had the defeat devices installed.

But how was the data falsified? After all, Volkswagen is not the first to have been caught doing this. Suffice it to say that the TDI Jetta exceeded U.S. emissions limits by a factor of 15 to 35, and the TDI Passat had exceeded them by a factor of 5 to 20.  Emission standards show that both of these emission factors greatly outweigh safe and legal limits for emissions in both the United States of America and Europe.

It is unfortunate and perhaps sad to see such a profitable and trusted brand such as VW fall into deceit.  Deutsche Welle, a German broadcaster, said that this scandal has dealt a blow to the country’s psyche and the famous “Made in Germany” branding. However, Volkswagen has committed to fixing their issue.  It is purported that in January 2016, vehicles will be recalled and fixed, and new vehicles will be installed with proper hardware, without any defeat devices.  They are also issuing vouchers to current owners so that they can fix their vehicles free of cost — that, however, will be up to the owner (unless governmental legislation in the USA requires all TDI 2008 through 2015 to have their cars fixed).  It has also been reported that one quarter of these vehicles have already been deprived of their defeat device.

Popular tech figure and CEO of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, was asked to comment on this emissions scandal. His response was quite positive when he said, “What Volkswagen is really showing is that we’ve reached the limit of what’s possible with diesel and gasoline. The time has come to move to a new generation of technology.”

Whether this was shameless self-promotion or an honest effort to encourage ethical behaviour, we do need to remember that our decisions have a huge impact on those around us, whether it be the machinery we create or the ones we operate. After promising to make amends, Volkswagen hopes to rebuild its customers’ trust as it continues to manufacture high-quality, trustworthy vehicles that are safe for our families and our planet.

Giving Our Cars More Control

Joshua Voth 

Self-driving cars have long been conceptualized and dreamed about by scientists, writers, and artists.  We have seen them in movies — Batman, 1989, Minority Report, 2002, and I, Robot, 2004 — and with technologies being made available to us, we are seeing this sci-fi hype being turned into reality. 

 On October 14, 2015, Tesla launched a software update for its Tesla Model S all-electric car.  Tesla claims this update is an “incremental introduction of self-driving technology”, and gives the driver of the Model S the ability to autonomously steer within a lane, change lanes with the tap of a finger, manage speed, and of course engages traffic-awareness cruise control to maintain safety while performing the aforementioned tasks. This level of automation control puts the Tesla Model S at a ‘Level 2’ of automation as defined by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), while a Level 0 is defined as: “driver completely controls the vehicle at all times.”

Tesla_Model_S_on_CW-S5_Matte_Black_Machined_Face_cropped.jpg

So just HOW well does this new level of automation perform? To start, Tesla spokesperson Khobi Brooklyn states in an email, “Similar to the autopilot function in airplanes, drivers need to maintain control and responsibility of their vehicle while enjoying the convenience of Autopilot in Model S.” Elon Musk has also warned that this autopilot is not synonymous with full automation and drivers should exercise caution and control while using the new autopilot features. 

 This new autopilot feature is still being developed, and is by no means market ready. It’s constantly being altered and changed so that it can deliver a faster, safer automation for vehicle patrons. This new autopilot feature does not deny the driver the ability to drive and control the vehicle independently. Demonstrated in YouTube videos uploaded by enthusiastic Tesla owners, at any given moment the driver can correct the computer’s automated decisions — which subsequently provides the Tesla developers with information on where problems occurred and how to fix them. So to answer the question of performance in short — no, the Tesla’s autopilot is not even near perfect, and giving the Model S a higher level of automation while it can only perform at a Level 2 could result in fatalities.

To sum all this up, it would be fair to say the there is more hype surrounding this new feature in the Tesla vehicles than is warranted by the reality of how early it is in development. It’s very fascinating to see this new automobile technology (and arguably an emerging service) and how it could one day provide us with a safer commute. I will note that for car enthusiasts like myself, automation takes away the thrill, fun and freedom of driving — others, however, will find this feature attractive and essential, and of course some will fear it. What do you think? Is autopilot — like we see in Tesla’s cars — a good idea to continue pursuing?

Interested in seeing Tesla’s new Autopilot in action? Use this QR Code to watch the YouTube Video!

#Chipgate: Has Apple Goofed Again?

Joshua Voth

The short answer to the question asked in this article’s title is a distinct “No,” and here’s why.  Earlier this month, the hashtag ‘chipgate’ blew up on Twitter after a Reddit user discovered some mischief under the pretty screens of the all-new Apple iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.  This new term is actually the second ‘gate’ scandal for Apple, the first being ‘bendgate’ after the iPhone 6 had been found to bend in user’s pockets. Although the new 6s and 6s Plus now no longer bend, a new issue has surfaced and has more people in a panic, mostly because it affects the performance of the phone — something that can’t be remedied by the user.  This troubling issue is over the fact that is has been discovered that there are two different A9 chips in the 6s and 6s Plus. 

With no solid reasoning apart from volume by demand, both Samsung and TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd.) make these chips for Apple’s iPhone — yes you read that correctly, Samsung, a direct competitor of Apple, manufactures its new CPU. After all, Apple is not a manufacturing company.  The problem regarding these two chips is that they perform differently.

Using the application Geekbench, users have stress-tested these different CPUs to discover if either one affects battery-life and processing speed.  The performance difference between the TSMC and Samsung chips were almost nil, while the battery life of the iPhone containing the TSMC chip was twenty-percent better than the iPhone with the Samsung chip.  There is also a size difference between these two chips; the TSMC uses a 16 nanometer die and is 104.5 millimeters in length, while the Samsung chip uses a 14 nanometer die and is 96 millimeters in length. However, this doesn’t upset users quite as much.

 So how does this affect you, the iPhone owner? Well, coming full circle — it doesn’t.  The Geekbench stress-test is actually an egregiously inaccurate simulation of ‘real-world-use’ and produces results which fit a worst case scenario class of results.  The stress test puts the phone at 100% (or close) usage which is never achieved when used normally (ie. web browsing, emailing, or multi-tasking).  This means that the difference in battery life when performing in real-world cases is only around 2-3%, which will most likely go unnoticed by the user.  If you are concerned about that two percent, make sure you bring a lightning cable for charging.

Interested in knowing if you have either the Samsung or TSMC chip in your phone? Download and install a free application called Lirium. Happy Inspection!!


Wearable Tech: Practical or Gratuitous?

Josh Voth 

Laptops, smartphones, cameras: we own them, we use them, we love them. The twenty-first century has seen huge advances in technology and likewise a huge decrease in the price of silicon (used to make computer chips).  This gives way not only to fast, flashy phones and cameras with pixel densities undetectable to the human eye, but we also see new technologies emerge, the most recent being wearable tech — the smartwatch being the most notable.

Pros:  In an article titled, “Why Wearable Tech Will Be As Big As Smartphones” on wired.com, Dan Goldman writes, “Data will not help you if you can’t see it when you need it.” and to an extent this is very true. Not only do these smartwatches connect you to your social world, they also retrieve important pieces of data which many people will undoubtedly take advantage of.  Competitive swimmers, bikers, and runners have already found that using such devices to track performance has been an undeniably important tool. Sensors in smartwatches map performance and replay data to the user for his or her benefit sometimes in real time. This is huge. 

Another “pro” for smartwatches is the seamless integration of fashion and tech in a familiar way. Although smartphones saw a pretty fast adoption-rate, size, price, and brand became variables which seem to never change and which alter what we buy and how we integrate them in our lives try fitting a six-inch phone in your pocket: easier said than done.  However, a smartwatch doesn’t add any new variables to our complicated lives. Most of us wear watches and so wearing a 'smart' one doesn’t really shatter any worlds. Their size doesn’t change, their base service (telling time) doesn’t change, and we are already familiar with their presence.

I will also briefly touch on the fact that the smartwatch and wearable tech for that matter, helps us connect faster with our online and social lives; something that is very attractive to people of any age. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram these are all services we use and now we don’t even need to pull our phones out of our pockets.  While some see this as our humanity becoming increasingly stupid and/or lazy, we cannot deny that this is something many are attracted to, and which may become a solid reason (at least for them) to buy such products.

Cons.  Google’s engineering director David Singleton has been quoted saying that smartwatches allow users to be “more present with people around them.”  but the reality is that it certainly does not. Just like with phones, tablets, and e-readers, we naturally become attached and immersed in our own little worlds behind the glowing screens of our tech. We should be attempting to remain vigilant as we slowly begin to alienate ourselves from our peers and families, which are being replaced by the likes of Farmville.

Another con and perhaps an obvious one is price. These wearables can be priced at anywhere from 350 to 17,000 dollars! Yes, three zeros.  Wearable technology is still in it’s early-adoption stage and although popular companies like Apple, Samsung, Motorola, and Pebble have already seen quite a bit of revenue from this new tech, it still has far to go.

Final Thoughts.  Like any technology, prices in the beginning are steep, but we do see an equilibrium swing as the tech becomes more embraced.  We must also realize that technology, which we are familiar with, is extremely attractive to a generation of people who seek highly customizable and personal experiences. We’re constantly using social media, search engines, blogs, merchandise vendors, email; the list goes on and on. Undoubtedly, we will see a move from smartphones to smartwatches as instant notification becomes a high priority for tech-users.

Smartwatches are just another method of delivering such content to users but at a price. This tool tracks health and performance, and these are tasks which our phones are not capable of doing. This may be a point in their favour, but to fork out hard-earned money for something which your smartphone can do ie. Twitter and Facebook you may want to reconsider. Big vendors like Apple and Google will keep delivering new technology into our hands, and we must use wisdom in discerning whether purchasing such products adds real value to our lives. If not, perhaps settling with what we haveis the better alternative.

  If my article has not dissuaded you or you are simply a tech enthusiast with some money to spend, here are some suggestions for smartwatches to buy: Pebble $200+, Moto 360 $300, Samsung Gear S $300, Apple Watch $700+.