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How Long Does It Take To Charge An EV?

I guess we’ve all noticed by now that EVs (either hybrids or full-time electric vehicles) are getting common on the roads.  Maybe you’re considering getting one for your next car.  Charging stations for EVs are popping up left, right and centre.  This is because the battery in an EV, just like the battery in any other device powered by electricity, needs to be recharged.  It’s kind of like charging your phone or your laptop.

Most, if not all, of us have had some experience with charging up things with batteries and know that it can take some time.  This raises a rather important question about EVs: how long does it take to charge one?  We’ve mostly become familiar with how to fuel up an internal combustion engine (ICE) car: you pull up to the bowser, you open the fuel cap, you fill up with the liquid fuel of your choice, then you nip in and pay for it, possibly picking up a packet of peanuts or a coffee while you’re at it.  It doesn’t take too long – maybe 10 mins max, depending on how long the queue at the checkout is, how big your fuel tank is and how empty it was when you started.  But what about an EV?  There’s nothing physical going into the tank and we all know that it can take a while for a battery to recharge (I usually give my rechargeable AA batteries about 4 hours, the laptop takes 2 hours and the amount of time for the phone varies depending on who else needs the charger and whether I need the phone!).

The good news is that on average, it takes 20–30 mins to get to 80% when charging an EV, especially if you’re using one of the public charge points around town.  This means that most of us might have to plan a charging session into our days – during lunchtime, maybe, or while picking up groceries.

There’s a certain strategy to ensuring that your EV has the charge it needs to keep ticking on around town.  I’m assuming here that you are based in the city and do most of your driving in the city.  If you’re in a rural area and do a lot of open road running, things will be a bit different and given the range of what’s currently on the EV market, you might either consider sticking with an ICE vehicle or at least a hybrid, or you’ll have to try another strategy.  Anyway, for the typical suburban driver, the best strategy is to use the public charging points around town for top-up charging, and you do the full charge to 100% overnight at home if possible.

The reason why it might not be best to try charging your EV to 100% charge at one of the public points is because charging an EV isn’t like filling up a petrol or diesel vehicle. With the ICE, you pump in the fuel at a steady constant rate and if you graphed it, it would make a straight line – as long as your grip on the pump is nice and steady.  However, the graph for charging time is more like one of those curved lines related to quadratic equations – you know, the ones we all struggled through at high school and couldn’t see the point of.  Charging starts with a hiss and a roar and you can get to 80% charge pretty quickly.  It’s the final 20% needed to get to full charge that seems to take forever.  It’s more like pumping iron at the gym than pumping gas – you do the first round of sets and reps quickly, but those last few when you’re getting tired tend to be a bit slower.  This is why charging to 100% is best left for overnight charging sessions at home.

The good news about overnight charging is that night rates for electricity are often lower than daytime rates.  This is because all the commercial users of electricity – factories, shops, heavy industry – don’t put as much demand on the power grid outside working hours, so there is plenty of power for everybody else.  Whether this will remain the case when EVs are adopted more widely is uncertain – let’s hope that lower overnight rates remain a thing.

Of course, the exact time of charging will depend on the individual EV and it also depends on the type of charger that you’re connecting your car up to.  Chargers come in three types: Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3.  Levels 1 and 2 use AC current but Level 3 uses DC current.  Level 3 DC chargers generally are only compatible with Tesla models, which is ironic, given that Nikola Tesla specialised in AC current.  Level 1 chargers just plug into a typical 10-V socket and are best kept for emergency top-ups, as they charge pretty slowly.  What you will generally come across both at home (if you install one) or around town are Level 2 chargers.  Level 2 chargers have a charging rate of 15–100 km/hr, meaning that in one hour they give your vehicle enough charge to take it 15–100 km.  The low-power Level 2s installed at home tend to be towards the 15 km/hr end and the public ones are at the other end.

The different levels are not the same as the plug types, which are known as (predictably) Types.  There are four types: Type 1 (J1772), Type 2 (Mennekes), Type 3 (Scame) and Type 4 (CHAdeMO).  Tesla, being a posh marque, has its very own type of charging plug, rather like Apple, although it’s based on the Type 2 Mennekes.  Type 3 is also pretty rare in Australia.  There’s also a combo plug (known as a Combined Charge System or CCS) that combines either the Type 1 or Type 2 (it varies depending on the marque) with a pair of DC connectors.  Charging stations generally have CHAdeMO and CCS to make thing simpler.  The different plug types are quite a lot to wrap your head, so I might have to explain all this in another post.

Anyway, in a nutshell, here’s the basics you need to know:

  • The average time needed to charge to 80% is half an hour although this depends on the level of charger.
  • Charge time isn’t linear – the first 80% is fairly quick but the final 20% is slower.
  • Full charging to 100% is best done at home overnight.
  • Around-town chargers are best kept for topping up to 80%
  • Slower chargers (Level 1 and Level 2) use AC current but the fast ones use DC.
  • Nikola Tesla, who was the pioneer of AC electricity, would be spitting mad that the cars with his name use DC current. Just as well he never got around to inventing that death ray…

 

 

Hypercars: Basic Fact Cheat Sheet For Sounding Like An Expert

We’ve all heard of supercars.  Now supercars can move over, as there’s a new category on the block: hypercars.  However, they won’t be on the block for long – in fact, they’ll be several blocks away almost before you can blink because these cars are seriously, seriously fast.

In a nutshell, a hypercar is defined as a road-legal production car that’s super-fast and usually super-luxurious.  They tend to be limited edition items produced by the high-end manufacturers – and are priced accordingly.  One writer has compared them to diamonds: rare, dazzling and extremely expensive.  Let’s just say that they’re probably beyond the budget of the typical Australian driver, although we can dream and drool!

Hypercars differ from Formula 1 vehicles and those things that look like rockets that scream around the salt flats of Utah trying to break the land speed record.  Firstly, all of the hypercars are actually road legal, even if it isn’t legal to drive the speeds that they’re capable of under normal driving conditions (you need to head to the track to do that).  Secondly, they tend to be a lot prettier and more comfortable than the racers and the land speed record holders.  You could easily put a hypercar on a poster – in fact, quite a lot of people do, especially teenage boys.  They’ve got the curves that are pleasing to the eye as well as reducing drag, the array of LED headlights and beautiful gleaming paint.

Hypercars tend to come in colours that have a visceral punch and tell our basic instincts that here is danger and power as well as beauty: red, yellow and black – with a combination of red and black being the most common. However, touches of dark grey and orange have crept in here, just to add a bit of variety to the calendars that feature them, I guess!

You already know the names of the classic hypercar manufacturers: Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Aston Martin and Bugatti (sorry, Rolls-Royce, your vehicles are too sedate to be considered hypercars; Porsche and Jaguar , you’re too common!).  However, there are a number of new players on the hypercar track.  We all got rather interested back at the turn of the century or thereabouts when Swedish manufacturer Koenigsegg came onto the scene and then picked up the record for the fastest production car in 2005 with the CCR – and things have just accelerated in more ways than one from there, with Bugatti and Koenigsegg battling it out for the title fastest production car, top acceleration, etc. Another name to keep an eye on is Hennessey, which put out the Venom F5.

There is also a player in the world of hypercars: Corbellati.  Corbellati hopes that its new Missile (the prototype debuted at this year’s Geneva Motor Show) will be the one to take the title of fastest production car when it actually finishes the production process some time in 2019.  It’s certainly got the specs to make it a serious contender: a 9-L V8 biturbo that has a legion of horses under the somewhat retro-styled bonnet (1800 hp) and so much torque that I looked twice and in several places to make sure that I hadn’t missed a decimal point: 2350 Nm.  Honestly, that’s more than a very good farm tractor produces, and when this is applied to something styled for low drag and has the weight reduced thanks to aluminium, carbon fibre and titanium, we’re talking about serious speed: over 500 km/h is what it’s tipped to do. Have a good drool at the official website  if you want!

In the world of hypercars, speed limiters do not exist.  Top speeds over 400 km/h are common.  And forget about 0–100 sprint times: some of these hypercars brag about their 0–300 km/h times: the Hennessey Venom F5 can do it in under 10 seconds.

At the time of writing, the hypercars have a tendency to make you think that concepts like “peak oil” and “carbon footprint” and “fuel economy” don’t exist or at least aren’t a problem.  However, if the trend on the racetrack is anything to do by – and if Tesla decides to go upmarket rather than downmarket from its supercars – then this will change.  Koenigsegg have a hybrid hypercar in production in the form of the Regera, and some of their models (e.g. the Trevita) have biofuel variants.

Every car enthusiast has his or her favourite hypercar, even if we will never get the chance to drive them in real life and will have to make do with computer games.  Being a sucker for Swedish cars as well as admiring their token gesture towards sustainability, I’m a fan of Koenigsegg.  However, some of those Bugatti models look pretty hot…

If you have been lucky enough to ride or even drive in a hypercar, please share your experience in the comments – we’d love to hear all about it!

Coping With Car Clutter

You might be scrupulous about washing the outside of your car, and possibly waxing it as well, but what about the inside of the car? If you’re the typical Aussie driver, whether you’re doing the daily commute or the school run, or if you’re a tradie, consultant or sales rep who’s always on the road, it’s all too easy to let the inside of your vehicle get a bit on the cluttered side.

In-car clutter takes a range of forms, from obvious mess and rubbish that you’re going to get around to cleaning up one of these days, through to that spare jumper or raincoat you stashed in the luggage compartment of your hatchback (and another spare raincoat and a puffer jacket and…). And there’s everything else that you’ve put in the glovebox or the centre console because it might be useful at some point.

Clutter in your car is a problem for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s visually annoying and it doesn’t make for a very pleasant journey if you have to spend a long time in a car that’s full of stuff. Secondly, having a large number of loose objects rolling around in your car can be something of a safety hazard in the situation of an emergency stop. Thirdly, you end up having trouble finding what you want in a hurry if your car is full of all sorts of odds and ends (I know I had that change for the parking meter in here somewhere…). Fourthly, all those little things add up and you could be carting about a kilo or even more of useless junk that shouldn’t be in your car, and this will decrease your fuel efficiency, even if only by a tiny bit.

So how do you go about decluttering and organising your car so that you have the useful bits you need in the car for emergencies but don’t have too much? The good news is that decluttering a car is a lot easier than decluttering your garage (we won’t go there!), as it’s not a huge space. OK, decluttering a little Mini  is going to be quicker than decluttering a Range Rover ! However, from a small city hatch through to a big bush-bashing seven-seater 4×4, the basic principles are the same. (Here, I’ve got to do a shout-out to US clutter-free guru Kathi Lipp  for the outline of the basic principles and stages of decluttering anything).

  1. Get it all out. Pull everything out of your car. Everything. Including the mats, as there could be something underneath them that needs to go.
  2. Sort it. Here, the most efficient system seems to be the “Three Boxes, Two Bags” method (thank you, Ms Lipp!). The three boxes take items that are fall into the categories “Put It Back”, “Give It Away” and “Put It Away Somewhere Else”; the two bags are for rubbish and recycling. Of course, you don’t need to get too hung up on whether you’re using a bag or a box! Put some music on while you sort and don’t stop to read anything or put anything away just yet. Stick to the job and concentrate on what you’re doing. It’s best if you don’t enlist help from your nearest and dearest at this stage, as this could lead to arguments about how many CDs or aux cords need to live in the car. Call them in at later stages.
  3. Clean it. Now that you’ve got everything out of your car, this is a good moment to grab the vacuum cleaner and maybe a rag and some cleaning spray of your choice, and give the interior of your vehicle a good going-over. You probably don’t need to polish the leather seats or shine up the chrome – unless you’ve got lots of time set aside for this job.
  4. Put it back. The first set of stuff that you’ve taken out of your car that you will deal with will be the “Put It Back” items. Exactly what you will put back in your car will vary from person to person, but for me, the items to be put back would always include the manual, a first aid kit, a phone charger, hand sanitiser, some tissues (which can be used to clean the inside of the windscreen as well as to blow your nose), an old-school paper map for when you’re out of reception or when Google Maps has decided to send you round the long way, the logbook (I use my vehicle for business purposes and have to track this) and a pen. Spare change for parking meters also doesn’t go amiss, and nor does a packet of nibbles such as rice crackers or almonds for those moments when you’re stuck in traffic and getting hangry. These days, it can be wise to keep your reusable shopping bags in the car as well so you don’t forget them. Other things that may be best kept in your car include jumper leads, ropes suitable for towing, fuses, and a blankets for chilly mornings when the heater is sulking and/or impromptu picnics (and for first aid).
  5. Put it away. All those jerseys, toys, coffee mugs, etc. that really belong in the house go into the house right now. You probably want to drop them off in the dishwasher or kitchen sink, or the laundry as appropriate, as they’ll probably be grubby after a stint in the car.
  6. Throw it away. The recycling and the rubbish – you know what to do with it.
  7. Give it away. These are the items that you don’t use or need any more, such as the charger or aux cable for a phone or MP3 player that you no longer own, the cardie that’s been sitting in the back for so long that the child it belongs to has outgrown it and… oh yes. The bags of stuff that you were going to take down to the nearest charity shop next time you were out. No more procrastinating! As soon as you’ve finished all the other steps, get in the car, start your engine and off you go to get rid of them RIGHT NOW. If this really isn’t practical (you live in the country and the nearest charity store or bin is half an hour’s drive away, for example) then make a reminder for yourself so that you don’t forget those bags of old clothes sitting in the boot yet again!

Now enjoy having a nice clean car and make a commitment to yourself to keep it that way – or at least try to!

Women and Auto Design

Honda/Acura NSX

The chances are your car was designed by a man, but with more women becoming involved in the automotive industry we might well wonder whether our car was designed by a man or a woman?  This is an interesting question that many of us have likely never given much thought to.  We all love a nice looking, nice driving car, so I wonder how many women are involved in the automotive design industry that we don’t know about.  Really, there are very few clues that would reveal a car designer’s gender.

There’s no doubt that the automotive industry is still dominated by men, but women are beginning to make important inroads.  The vast majority of female car designers are employed doing textile jobs where they select seat fabrics, choose exterior colours, and oversee the interior design and styling.

Exterior design, which is considered to be the choice job in automotive design, is led by men.  It’s not that automakers are wilfully trying to keep women out of the top design jobs.  Indeed, Motor Trend’s spokesperson MacKenzie thinks that “If there was a woman designer who was talented, a hard worker and competitive, which is what this job demands, the car companies would knock each other out of the way and rush to hire her.”  Maybe the early years of a person’s life, and there exposure to certain things, has more to do with what type of work will interest them later in life.  The stereotypical one kind of toy for boys when they’re young and another kind of toy for girls might have more influence on the shaping of their career choices than first thought.  MacKenzie says that the majority of students who come to the design school were smitten at some point in their lives by the look and performance of vehicles – and not just cars but things with wings or things that zip down rails.

This is fascinating stuff and begs the question that perhaps dolls and tea parties aren’t the only thing small girls might be interested in.  Definitely, I found our daughter, as a child, often played with cars and blocks as well as playing rugby with her older brother.  She also had dolls to play with, too.  Her passion for rugby still continues to this day as well as her love for Jeeps.  She is just about to finish high school and attend university to study physiotherapy.

Michelle Christensen and the NSX

2018 has provided us with some wonderful new car designs, and one of the raciest and best looking super car designs has to be that of the beautiful Honda NSX.  This gorgeous design was, in fact, designed by Michelle Christensen, the Acura NSX exterior design lead.  How did she get there?  Michelle Christensen is the first woman to lead design on a supercar.  She directed the eight-person team responsible for Acura’s (Honda’s) resurrection of the NSX, which ended production in 2005.  In her words: “They wanted an emotional, 3-D kind of feeling,” Christensen says. “My priority was to keep that.”  Prior to designing the NSX, Michelle worked on Acura’s RLX sedan and its now-discontinued ZDX crossover.  She grew up working on muscle cars with her father in their San Jose, Calif. garage and got her design chops at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design.  There’s that childhood input again.  The fact that Acura chose Michelle Christensen as the lead for the awesome NSX’s exterior speaks volumes about the inroads women are finally making at the upper ranks of automotive design.  Awesome!

Did you know that the once GM’s leading artist-engineer H.J. Earl (Harley) saw into the the future and drew input from his group of talented women designers, and they came alongside his “all-male” car designers.  His women automotive designers of the 1950s proved to be ground-breaking, controversial and extremely successful.

In 2004 Volvo Cars unveiled a concept car that, till then, had never been attempted in the more than 100 years of automotive manufacturing: the first car designed and developed almost exclusively by women.  Unveiled at the New York Auto Show, the car, though created from a woman’s perspective, included features appealing to both sexes — including easier maintenance, intelligent storage solutions, a better line of vision, computer-aided parking and a bold, yet elegant, exterior.

The car included features not typically found in man-made cars: no hood; no gas cap; easy-clean paint; head restraints with room for ponytails; numerous exchangeable seat covers of various colours and materials (linen, leather, felt, etc.); compartments for handbags; gull-wing doors that make it easier to load and unload larger items and children; computerized assistance for parallel parking; and improved sight lines.  Owners carrying large items were able to set the doors to open automatically when they reach the doors.  At the point-of-purchase, retailers can conduct a body scan of the driver measuring height and length of arms and legs.  The data is stored in the vehicle’s key, and the car recommends a seat position for the driver that provides her or him an optimal line of vision and reach.  The car also electronically notifies the owners chosen service centre when maintenance is due, and the service technician contacts the owner to book the appointment.  Do any of these ideas/features that these women thought of sound familiar in any of our brand new cars today?  The answer is definitely yes – the automatic door and boot rings a bell!

Bridget Hamblin and Honda

Bridget Hamblin, a Honda Civic engineer, led the car dynamics team responsible for the performance of the 2016 Honda Civic, the brand’s most important car and winner of the prestigious North American Car of the Year award.  Hamblin earned degrees in mechanical engineering at Penn State and the University of Dayton before joining Honda as an engineer working on vehicle suspension and steering in the research and development department.  She says that: “Rather than having sought out the automotive industry, it found me.  My education in mechanical engineering proved to be a perfect fit in vehicle development.”  An Automotive research and development engineer with nine years of experience and a strong background in vehicle dynamics, objective vehicle testing, vehicle handling metric development and passenger car development has gotten her along way ahead in automotive design.

Before joining the Civic project, Hamblin helped develop the Honda Odyssey.  “Because it was my responsibility to lead the development of Civic’s vehicle dynamics, I find a lot of pride in the car’s steering, ride, handling and stability, which is truly impressive.  We really pushed the envelope by benchmarking the Civic, an entry-level vehicle, against European luxury competitors like the Audi A3. And it shows. Being awarded the North American Car of the Year was the icing on top.”

Anna Gallagher, a senior launch manager for Jaguar Sports and Lifestyle cars, held several positions at Jaguar Land Rover, including global brand manager for the new Jaguar F-PACE SUV, before being promoted to senior launch manager for Jaguar Sports and Lifestyle cars.  She was also responsible for the launches of the Jaguar XJ and XJR sedans.  Gallagher says. “I found that I can also give a different perspective so we end up with a more balanced discussion or even solutions we wouldn’t have found with an all-male team.”  The stylish Jaguar F-PACE is the only Jaguar that has always had a female marketing manager heading up the program.  “We needed to protect the coupe-like design, but I also knew that a reason for rejecting cars, particularly from women, in this segment is rear visibility.  Our target customer would have children in the rear so we had to ensure as many children as possible can see out of the windows.”

Women purchase about half of all cars on the market and influence the vast majority of car sales, yet for a century men have made most of the decisions in the design, development and production of a car.  Let’s see a greater shift in these traits!

Got A Frosty Windscreen?

During winter, frost is one of those annoyances that face drivers after a cold, clear night. OK, we don’t get frosts anywhere as near as hard as they do in, say Canada or Norway, but we still get them here a bit in the southern bits of Australia (OK, you lucky Queenslanders and Northern Territorials, you can feel smug and go off to read something else).  Frost isn’t just a hazard on the roads but it’s a real pain all over your windscreen.  If you’ve had to leave your car out overnight, or if you were parked on the street during that late-night party, then you can come back to a sparkly windscreen that won’t let you see anything except glitter.  Not safe for driving, especially in icy conditions.

So how are you going to get that ice off your windscreen?  It’s all very well to stay that prevention is better than the cure and that you should have garaged your car overnight or at least tried the old trick of putting a cover over the windscreen to keep the frost off (e.g. a tarpaulin or even a flattened-out cardboard box – and those sunshades can do the job, too, giving them a job over winter as well as during summer).  Your windscreen is iced up and you need to get the kids to school on time or get home from the party, and everybody’s sitting there with chilly fingers and wanting you to hurry up.

  • Starting the car and giving it full blast with the heaters. This does the trick but it does take a long time. Glass is pretty slow to warm up, so if you’re trying to heat it up enough to melt the ice from the inside, you’re going to have a long wait, and you may have to have the engine running and/or drain your battery a lot. It’s not the quickest and certainly isn’t the most economical way to do it. This method will, however, work for those odd little corners and the back windows once you’ve managed to clear off the windscreen and can see your way to start driving.  Your passengers will also appreciate the warmth!
  • Scraping off the ice. If you do this, you have to be sure to scrape the ice off most of the windscreen, not just a little patch giving you a tiny glimpse of the road.  You’re going to need good visibility.  You have to choose the right thing to scrape off the ice.  Metal scrapers of the sort you use to remove stickers from the glass are a real no-no, as they can easily leave a nasty and permanent scratch on the windscreen.  Besides, who’s got one of those handy when you need to remove the ice from the windscreen?  Having something plastic is better – a friend of mine once used the edge of a credit card to do the job.  A squeegee doesn’t usually work, as the edge is too soft.  A plastic spatula would work – unleash your inner MacGyver and see what you can find.  Wear gloves if you can while scraping off the ice, as you’re going to get the crystals all over your hands.
  • Commercial de-icing sprays. Again, who actually has these handy when you need them, unless you live in Canada or the like?  You can make your own out of two parts of isopropyl alcohol or any other strong spirits (vodka, for example) and one part of water, with a bit of detergent thrown in for good measure.  You spray it on then get the wipers going, and maybe finish with a bit of scraping.  The smell of alcohol will dissipate soon but if you get any on yourself, this may take a bit of explaining if you’re stopped by the local cops.  (No really, officer, I only used vodka as a de-icing spray and that’s why there’s an empty bottle sitting on the front seat, honestly…).
  • Warm water. The best solution of all.  It’s quick and does the whole windscreen at once. If you have a big enough bucket of warm water, you can also de-ice the door windows for even better visibility.  All you do is grab a decent amount of water (i.e. a bucket, a saucepan or a jug, not a coffee cup), slosh it over the windscreen and turn on the windscreen wipers.  Job done.  There are two important things to remember, though.  The first and the most important is to use warm water, not hot water.  Don’t grab the kettle that’s just boiled and use that.  If glass heats up too quickly, it will shatter.  All too many people have made this mistake and ended up with no windscreen as a result.  However, warm water – warm enough to stick your hand in comfortably – will be fine and will melt the ice without risking your windscreen.  The second is that you need to take care not to slosh the water over yourself or to stand too close when the windscreen wipers are working or you get wet, which really isn’t nice when the temperatures are low.

And don’t forget to take extra care on the road once you start driving!

EVs, Power Bills and Emissions

How do we change a system employed by government?  If we went cold turkey on many of our traditional national policies the flow on effects throughout the public and business sectors would be ruinous.  If you believe the headlines which state that traditional motor vehicles are heading for a cliff edge where there will be no more fossil fuels available to power them, and that the environment will be so much the better without vehicles that are powered by conventional fossil fuels, then things look pretty dismal.  But is this actually so?

There are numerous countries around the world that have their special governmental team of policymakers pushing for electric vehicles (EVs) to be subsidised and made easier for those who can afford an expensive EV to buy one.  Across the ditch the New Zealand Labour/Green government are creating a fast track for EV purchase in the hopes to lessen greenhouse emissions and keep NZ green.  And in America they have recently brought in policy that reduces the initial purchase price of an EV by up to $7500 USD.  Of course, the subsidizing is paid for by the tax payer.  Those who cannot afford to buy a new electric vehicle pay for the privileges that the wealthier EV owners enjoy – like free use of public charging stations and preferential access to carpool lanes.  What about the grand schemes and plans of making some American States totally EV and thus pronouncing the ban of all internal combustion vehicles by 2040 (California).  Is this really fair?

Could this thinking and ideology be the motivation behind EVs in Australia?  How could the typical Australian on an average wage manage a law that states that you must drive a new and expensive EV by 2040?  By the way, we’ll also use your current taxes to help the wealthy buy an EV quickly (and enjoy its benefits) while you struggle to put the food on the table, let alone by an EV!

Let’s also remember that most of Australia’s electricity is made by coal and other natural resource plants.  A large fleet of EVs across Australia will draw down on the current available power supplies very heavily.  But wait, I know, we could use people’s current taxes to build more expensive cleaner power plants and provide bigger, better power networks!  That will make Australia a better place.  Power companies will enjoy the profits and will be sure to put the price of power up once electricity comes in short supply.

Hang on!  Are electric vehicles really as great as they claim to be?  Supporters of the EV suggest that EVs will reduce air pollution and tackle climate change.  But will they?  (Climate change is another issue – and one that many can make plenty of money, too)  It’s evident that a new vehicle powered by the modern conventional internal combustion engine is, in fact, way more pollutant-free than one might tend to think.  Extracting Lithium and other materials for batteries has an environmental impact of its own.

The appropriate comparison at governmental levels for evaluating the benefits of all those new electric vehicle subsidies, mandates and ideologies should be the difference between an electric car and a new petrol-or-diesel-car.  New internal combustion engines are very clean and emit only about 1 percent of the pollution that older vehicles did back in the 1960s.  New innovations on internal combustion engines continue to improve these engines and their efficiency and cleanliness.

When we consider EVs, and their large appetite for electricity, the energy to power them has to come from somewhere.  Cars are charged from the nation’s electrical grid, which will mean that they’re only as “clean” as Australia’s mix of power sources.  An environmental impact in the mining of the lithium, cobalt, and nickel that go into car batteries is evident.  Extracting Lithium is actually not so bad; most of it is extracted from brines that are evaporated by the sun, but it has a sizeable carbon and physical footprint.  We have a long, long way to go before the production of electricity for the main grid looks as green and as clean as an EV appears.

What’s the inexpensive answer?

The Most Frustrating Driving Habits

It would be so much easier if we all drove perfectly all the time, but not even a robot (aka an autonomous car) can do that.  The best that most of us can do is to try to avoid mistakes and try to be considerate of other people.  However, there are some people out there on our roads who have the most tooth-grindingly annoying bad habits behind the wheel, and I don’t mean that they pick their noses at red lights.  Not only are these habits annoying to other drivers (and pedestrians and cyclists and motorcyclists and…), they’re also a bit dangerous.

Here’s a list of some of the habits that really get up people’s noses.  Which of these get your blood boiling – and which ones are you guilty of and need to stop?

  1. Not indicating. This one’s my pet hate.  Quite frankly, I’d prefer to be behind a driver who indicates when going around a sharp bend than anywhere near one who doesn’t indicate.  Not indicating is particularly annoying and dangerous at intersections, especially roundabouts.  There’s always that one person who comes up to the roundabout where you have to give way, doesn’t indicate but turns left.  By the time they’ve made their move, you’ve stopped to give way and lost your chance to enter the intersection.  Even worse is the person who comes up to the roundabout, indicates left and then goes straight ahead – now, that’s an accident waiting to happen.
  2. Schizophrenic speed. This one gets my husband’s blood boiling every time. Schizophrenic speed happens when a driver goes very slowly around bends and the like.  Nothing wrong with that and it’s probably a safe thing to do.  However, these people let a long line of cars build up behind them and never pull over when they have a chance. In fact, when they get to a straight bit or even a bit of road with a passing lane, they speed up full bore and even pass the speed limit, meaning that you’re going to have to take all kinds of risks to overtake them… and they don’t want to be overtaken.  If you’re a slow and steady type who doesn’t like to corner fast, fine, but stay comparatively slow when the straights come so others can overtake you safely.
  3. Phone addicts. Come on, we all know that it’s illegal to use a handheld phone when you’re driving, but how many people do you see driving around with a phone clamped to their ear with one hand.  Get a handsfree kit, for goodness’ sake!  Even worse are the ones who have just a little look at that wee text that just came in because it might be important.  We’ve all had those close calls with phone addict drivers.  JUST LEAVE THE PHONE ALONE!
  4. Tailgating. Emergency stops happen. You never know when a cat or a kid will run out on the road ahead.  Driving too close to the car ahead is crazy, as you might miss their brake lights going on and not jam your own brakes on in time.  Even worse, if it’s rainy or if the road is slippery, then even if you hit the brakes in time, you’ll still ding the person ahead.  Honestly, dropping back to a decent following distance won’t make you late for work!
  5. Red light running and failing to give way. There are no excuses for running a red light or ploughing through a Stop sign unless you’ve got flashing lights and a siren on your vehicle – and even then you have to be careful at intersections just in case.
  6. Parking where you shouldn’t. We’ve all seen perfectly healthy people walking out of cars parked in the disabled parks, and we’ve probably also all seen cars parked over driveways, on yellow lines, in bus stops… If this is you, what makes you think that the rules can be bent for you?  It’s illegal, folks, even if you’re just nipping in for a loaf of bread or to post a few letters.
  7. Look at my lights! This one mostly gets seen on rural roads at night, but can also be found around town at times.  This sort of driver wants to see the road ahead when its dark and only dips the lights at the last moment… by which time, the oncoming drivers are blinking and blinded.  The other variations on this theme are the driver who takes the headlights off dip a fraction of a second too soon, and the driver who doesn’t dip the lights for pedestrians and cyclists… who still get dazzled like other people.
  8. Ignoring things with fewer wheels. Motorbikes, bikes and horses are all legitimate and legal road users, and have as much right to be on the road as you do, even if they are smaller, have fewer wheels and a smaller engine.  This means that you have to give them the same courtesy and consideration that you’d give another car.  This means not cutting them off, not opening doors suddenly and not getting mad when they have to get in front of you because they want to turn right at the next intersection.  Pedestrians also have the right to cross the road, although they do have to give way to you… except at a pedestrian crossing, where you have to give way.  You have to give way to them for the whole time that they’re crossing the road, with no waiting until they’ve got to nearly halfway, then going.  Wait until the pedestrian has got to the other side or to a traffic island before you go on.  And you did check that pedestrian crossing ahead to see that nobody was waiting, didn’t you?
  9. Open top trailers. I don’t know how many chips in the windscreen we’ve picked up thanks to things flying off the trailer ahead of us and whacking the windscreen.  The trailer in question may be hooked to a truck or to a smaller vehicle, but the end result is still annoying. Even if it’s not a stone flying off and chipping windscreens, other debris getting off a trailer is hazardous and annoying (lawn clippings, leaves, dust…).  If you’re a gardening contractor or if you’re taking a load of garden rubbish to the tip, then cover that load or at least put it in a bag so it doesn’t blow everywhere.
  10. Merging morons.  When two lanes merge into one, the idea is that Car A, which is in the right-hand lane and is slightly ahead goes into the merged lane first, then Car B, which is in the left-hand lane.  Then Car C, which was immediately behind Car A in the right-hand lane gets to go in.  If Car C is a merging moron, then he/she will push ahead and force Car B over to one side out of the stream of traffic until someone sensible(Car D in the right lane) comes along.  Car B can also sometimes be a moron, racing ahead to try to get to the merged lane ahead of Car A.  In all these scenarios, be Car D – the one that’s courteous and keeps an eye out for other drivers rather than having a Me First attitude.
  11. Litterbugs.  Technically, you shouldn’t dispose of any rubbish out of the window of a car.  However, I’m willing to wink at organic rubbish that will feed wildlife and break down naturally or grow a new tree, such as apple cores, banana peels and apricot stones.  Hey, in 10 years’ time, a forager for wild fruit might thank you!  However, there’s an art to chucking biodegradable fruit bits out of the window, the most important part of which is to wait until (a) there’s nobody behind you and (b) your apple core will land in long grass.  There is no excuse for throwing out drink cans, papers, plastic bits, or fast food packaging.  Cigarette stubs – which are less common these days, thank goodness – are even worse, as they can set fire to dry grass in summer or burn that cyclist you didn’t see (I’ve been the cyclist in this situation).

Any terrible driving habits that enrage you that I’ve missed?  And which ones are your pet peeves?  Have a good rant in the comments about them!

Is Your Car Winter-Ready?

Lake Mountain Road, Vic.

It might not quite be winter yet, but we have passed the autumn Equinox, which means that the time when the sun is up is shorter than the time when it’s down. This means that it’s time to think ahead and get your car ready for winter. Because there’s no point in getting ready for something if it’s already come and too late, right?

One thing we can be thankful for is that we don’t have to go through quite so extensive preparations for winter as they do in, say, Sweden or Canada… especially if you live in the northern bits of Australia when winter comes as welcome relief from the intense summer heat. However, the southern states and territories can get problems with frost and snow from time to time, and everybody gets things wetter and rainier (except in the very far north in places like Darwin, who have their rainy monsoon period during the summer).

As things are going to get wetter, the most important thing you need to do to get your car winter-ready is to check your tyres.  First of all, they need to have plenty of tread on them, as it’s the tread that channels out the water so you still get plenty of grip.  When it comes to tyre styles, there’s a bit of a trade-off, as having lots and lots of channels means that you can pump lots of water out – and a tyre needs to shift about 6 litres per second in average rainfall at open road speeds – but the problem is that lots of little raised bits wear out more quickly when it’s dry… and nobody wants the hassle of changing tyres every time the weather goes from wet to dry and back again.  The best tyres for driving in the wet are the ones with the directional treads (lots of stacked V shapes) and asymmetrical tyres, although you can’t rotate asymmetrical tyres like you can with the directional ones.  Directional ones look nicer, too!

Tyre pressure is also important to check when the weather goes from hot to cold. This is because air temperature affects tyre pressure, so when the mercury goes down, a tyre that was just right may now be underinflated.  If you remember your high school physics, the hotter a gas gets, the more it expands and the greater the pressure. When the gas cools, then the gas contracts and the pressure decreases.  It’s important to check your tyre pressure at all times, but if the temperature’s changed (or if we’ve had a cold snap), then it pays to check.

The next thing that’s important to deal with is to check the windscreen wipers.  Winter means more rain for everybody except the far north folk, and this means that your wipers are going to see a lot of action. They won’t shift the water and keep your visibility decent if they are in bad condition.  New wiper blades don’t cost the earth and changing them is a job that you can easily do yourself, so there’s no excuses.

While you’re looking at the windscreen and the wipers, this might be a good time to ensure that your windscreen is nice and clean. The angle of the sun will be that little bit lower in the evenings and the mornings, especially the further south you go, so sunstrike and glare can be a problem, especially if your windscreen is filthy. Give it a good clean and top up the fluid for your window wiper fluid.

The next thing is your lights. It’s going to be darker, especially if your state does the Daylight Savings thing (and consider yourself lucky if it doesn’t because it’s a pain). Make sure that all of your lights are working well, including the fog lights. Check that the angles of your headlights on dip and on full beam are angled correctly.

The last thing to get the car mechanically ready for winter is to check the battery.  Your battery is going to get more of a workout, what with the extra demands of heating and lighting.  Top it up with distilled water if needed (tap water is often chlorinated or have other minerals that don’t play nicely with battery acid, so don’t use this).  Check the terminals for corrosion and clean off any greenish bits around the terminals caused by the acid. The best way to do this is with baking soda (which neutralises the acid and will fizz), an old toothbrush and rubber gloves to protect your hands, followed by a good rinse with warm water.  If your battery is getting on the ancient side, then change it. Few things are as miserable as waiting in a freezing cold car on a nasty day for the breakdown guys to come and jump-start your battery.

These steps will help keep your car winter-ready, but don’t forget you and your passengers when preparing your car for winter.  Having the right items stashed away can make a real difference, especially if you have to wait in a parked car for ages for any reason on a nasty cold day, or if some idiot who DIDN’T check their tyre condition skids into your rear end, meaning you have to wait for the breakdown team.  Most modern cars have plenty of useful storage space for all sorts of odds and ends – one particularly useful one is found on the Skoda Superb , which has a special compartment for an umbrella that allows it to drain when wet.  If you own one of these sedans, make the most of this feature!

Here’s the list of things that I’d have in my car to make sure that I can cope, even when the weather swings wildly or gets nasty and cold (on top of other staples like hand sanitiser, snacks and a first aid kit).

  • A chamois leather or microfibre cloth for wiping down the inside of the windscreen. Sometimes, the demister just doesn’t work fast enough or there’s grime on the inside of the windscreen that is causing visibility problems with the lower angle of the sun. Rather than using your sleeve and getting wet (which I have done in emergencies), use a nice soft cloth kept for the purpose.
  • Something to keep the rain off. This could be an umbrella or a raincoat – you can get some nice little compact ones that tuck away in a little bag. This stops you getting all soggy if a downpour decides to descend just as you’re pulling up at the petrol pump and there’s no shelter between your car, the pump and/or where you have to pay (been there, done that).
  • It can take the heaters a while to get going on a cold morning, as they use excess engine heat to heat the cabin. Cold fingers are stiffer and less responsive, so keep your little pinkies warm until the heater sorts its life out.  The obvious place to keep them is… the glovebox.
  • A polar fleece or jumper. It was a nice day when you started out but a southerly buster has roared in.  Or you have to turn the heaters off thanks to that flat battery (or to avoid flattening it).  Keeping half your wardrobe in your car like my husband did when I first met him probably isn’t ideal, but having something to pull on often comes in handy.
  • A blanket or throw. If you have to take kids or passengers who have to wear thinner clothes (formal gowns, dance gear) or who are a bit damp (after sports practice) and cranking up the heater would make things far too hot for you even with a dual-zone climate control, then having a blanket handy for bare knees or off-the-shoulder tops is a nice touch.  A blanket is also more easily washed than your car upholstery in the case of muddy people.  Plus you can use it for impromptu picnics.

Safe and happy driving, no matter what the weather is!

 

The Top Seven Things Autonomous Cars Can’t Handle

 

My  last post had some rather grim news to do with autonomous cars (aka driverless cars) not quite doing what they are supposed to do.  That was an example of things going badly wrong with the sensor systems that are supposed to make driverless cars so much safer and better than real live humans.  However, on a slightly lighter note, there are quite a few things that most of us drivers handle sometimes daily without much fuss that send autonomous cars into a full-on wobbly.

 

#1. Kangaroos

OK, so the design teams working with Volvo’s autonomous cars in Sweden had it all sorted for the sort of large animals that are likely to hang around on roads in Scandinavia.  The sensors can handle moose, elk and deer, detecting the beasties and stopping the car in time. However, it’s a different story down here in Australia.  The system just can’t cope with kangaroos, which are large animals that we’re likely to get on country roads – they’re certainly the large animals involved in most animal-related crashes.  You see, the system doesn’t see an animal, recognise it and estimate the distance and take appropriate action the way a human does.  The system uses the ground as a reference point to estimate the distance between the animal and the machine… and roos don’t stay on the ground when they’re on the move.  The sensors also have trouble recognizing a kangaroo as a kangaroo because from the perspective of a computer, a kangaroo in motion and a roo resting quietly beside the road are completely different shapes and look like totally different things.  Then you’ve got the problem with roos that human drivers have to cope with: the fact that they can get a top speed of 70 km/h and can seemingly explode out of nowhere right into your path.  If the roo has been behind a bush or something, then the sensors can’t see it and you can’t see it, so you’d better have roo bars fitted.

#2 Car Washes

Some people get a little bit phobic about those automated car washes, although others enjoy them.  There’s always that little moment when you see the big whirling brushes descend and you hope like mad that the sensors telling them when to stop aren’t going to fail, crushing the top of your vehicle, shattering your windscreen and thrashing you with hundreds of little rubber whips.  But what happens when an automatic car wash meets an autonomous car?

Well, an autonomous car can get into the car wash without any problems.  However, the vigorous action of the washer plus all the soapy foam don’t agree well with the sensors, so getting out of the car wash and driving on may be another story.  You see, the sensors have to be clear of any grime or debris to work properly and if there’s soap left on them, they can’t see.  And there is soap left on them afterwards.  At worst, the car wash knocks the sensors off or damages them, which makes for a very, very expensive fix.

You have to take your pick: is washing your car by hand every time worth the convenience of a car that drives itself?

#3 Bad Weather

Self-driving tech works nicely in fine, sunny weather.  However, put it in heavy rain, snow or ice and it throws a very, very big wobbly.  Humans know – or ought to know – that when it’s raining, you take it nice and slow around the corners, watch out for pools of water that could get you aquaplaning and to keep the speed down.  Now, you’d think that because we have rain-sensing wipers, an autonomous car should be able to recognise that it’s raining and adjust itself accordingly.  Unfortunately, it can’t.  It probably can’t tell the difference between a light shower and a tropical monsoon.  Google hasn’t even put its self-driving cars through tests in heavy rains yet, but they already know that snow is a big problem for autonomous cars because they can’t see the road markings that help them stay in their lanes and get around corners.  As for ice, they have problems detecting this as well.  Even if humans have trouble spotting black ice and frost on the road, we know that on a nippy day when you have to put on a nice woolly jersey, there’s likely to be a bit of ice on that corner there where the trees cast a shadow on the road all day.

#4 Potholes

Apparently, the only holes in the road that a self-driving car can detect are the big ones made by your local road repair crew that have cones around them.  The little blips that are hard on your tyres and suspension aren’t picked up – they are below the surface of the road and they’re not on any of the mapping systems that these cars use.  So an autonomous car won’t dodge potholes.  Ouch.

#5 Newly Altered Road Layouts

Self-driving cars, especially the ones being worked on by Google, rely on really good maps to know (a) where in the world they are and (b) what the road is supposed to look like.  Don’t underestimate the latter bit – this is one way that driverless cars can pick obstacles: some systems scan the area around them and compare this with an image of what the road and its surroundings usually look like (letterboxes, lamp posts, etc.) and reacts accordingly.  However, if they don’t have these detailed maps, then things get a bit fun.  As happened recently in Arizona, if the local supermarket has decided to change the layout of the carpark with its entrances and exits, a driverless car might still think that the best way to get out is via what is now a new set of stairs.  Self-drive vehicles also go to pieces with new subdivisions and places where massive road works and new road layouts are going on: drivers from Christchurch, New Zealand, report that your common or garden GPS throws a wobbly about all the new roads and other bits resulting from the post-earthquake reconstruction.

#6 Shared Areas

Shared areas – places where pedestrians can go on the road at the same time as cars – are touted as being a way forward for cities of the future.  The trouble is that driverless cars are very rule-based, and when it comes to shared areas, there are no set rules.  Each interaction between driver and pedestrian, or between driver and driver, is a new situation.  Nobody’s got official right of way, so we use our social knowledge to ensure that everyone gets where they want to go without anyone getting hurt.  A human driver can see that the pair of pedestrians chatting with coffee in hand staring at each other aren’t about to try crossing the road.  A robot/computer/self-driving car just sees human shapes and can’t see what they’re doing or predict what they’re about to do.  Similarly, there are tons and tons of ways that drivers and pedestrians go through the whole “After you” “No, after you,” exchange.  How we conduct these wordless conversations can be anything from a large Italian-style gesticulation to a simple jerk of the head or a raised eyebrow.  It involves hands, arms, heads, facial expressions and mouthing words on the part of both parties – or just the driver, if he/she spots a mum struggling with a pram and a cantankerous toddler plus a bunch of shopping bags.  Our gestures and our decisions depend on how we’re feeling, our stress levels, the other party involved (the puzzled looking tourist versus the businessperson talking on the phone while striding forward in a rush versus the bunch of teenage girls fooling around).  And in some places, a human driver can recognise a familiar face, stop, wind down the window and have a wee chat.  And all these variables are simply too complex, too individual and too unpredictable to be programmed into a machine.

#7 Pesky Human Beings

As an old road safety campaign stated, humans are unpredictable (and so are some animals, like the idiot dogs who stand there all dopey in the middle of the road staring at you as you brake and yell at them).  A computer system relies on the situations and courses of appropriate action that have been programmed into it.  The trouble is that not everything that people do goes according to the rules – and don’t we just know it!

Here are a few examples of pesky human behaviours and situations – all of which a human driver can recognise and deal with – that would throw a driverless car:

  • A cop on point duty directing traffic because of an accident on the road ahead or similar – a person standing there waving arms is not something a computer system is used to
  • A ball bouncing out into the road: if a human sees this, he/she knows that some child might dash onto the road to retrieve it, but a computer sensor can’t tell a ball from a plastic bag flying loose and won’t react… it certainly won’t start keeping an extra look out for kids.
  • Kids coming out from school: they’re supposed to be sensible on the roads and not do anything silly, but there’s that occasional child who rushes across the road shouting “Mummy!” unexpectedly. Most of us should know that one should slow down and keep an extra lookout at certain times around schools.
  • Hitchhikers: We know what the backpack, the extended thumb and the cardboard sign reading “Gold Coast” means, and we can also make split-second decisions regarding how dodgy the hitchhiker looks, how much space we’ve got in the car, where we’re going and how urgent our journey is, and use all this to decide whether or not to pick up the hitchhiker.
  • Situational ethics: it doesn’t happen very often, but what about when you’ve got a choice between two evils?  This comes down to morals, ethics and the value of life.  Sometimes, for a human, the choice is comparatively easy: in a choice between hitting Granny and hitting the stray dog, most of us would swerve to take the dog out.  Similarly, if you have to negotiate a flock of sheep, the farmer and his/her sheepdog, we know that if things get really bad, you avoid the dog and the farmer at all costs but you can hit the sheep.  At the moment, sensors have trouble getting beyond “Obstacle A” versus “Obstacle B”.  Even if they can tell people from animals, can they go further?  Can they distinguish one human from another?  And if so, how do they decide who not to hit?

 

Driverless Car Causes Fatal Accident In Arizona

Photo courtesy of Reuters

On 18th March – that’s just over a week ago – driverless car technology received a major blow.  The horrible truth is that the blow struck to the technology by this particular vehicle being road-tested by the Uber taxi service wasn’t as nasty as the blow it delivered to a 49-year-old Arizona woman named Elaine Herzberg who was crossing the road one evening, like you do.  The car hit her and killed her.  Dashcam on the autonomous car captured the moment before the car ran her down.  I’ve decided not to embed it in this post in case you’ve got autoplay or something on, because it’s decidedly disturbing.  Find it online yourself if you must, but personally, I’d rather not watch the tragic and completely avoidable death of a woman about my age who probably has a partner and children and friends who thought she was great fun – someone just like me and you.

The reaction has been exactly what you would expect: Arizona has called a halt to on-road real-life testing of autonomous cars, Uber and a few other companies like Toyota have stopped all testing in North America, and shares in companies that have been investing heavily into driverless car technology such as Tesla have dropped.  In addition, Ms Herzberg’s family have been coping with the shock and loss of losing a mother, daughter, sister, wife, cousin…  There’s also one Uber driver who trusted the technology to take care of things the way they told her it would who is going to live with a lifetime of questions and guilt, and who is probably in the hands of a good therapist right now – or at least ought to be.

We can ask the same questions as that Uber driver and the Herzberg family are probably asking over and over again: why did this happen? What went wrong? Aren’t driverless cars supposed to get rid of the human error factor that is responsible for the majority of fatal accidents?

Without actually looking at the chilling dashcam footage personally and based on other people’s reports, it appears that what happened was this.  The Uber vehicle was cruising along a road on a normal spring night in Tempe, Arizona, on a Sunday night.  It was dark and the driver, who was probably on a tight schedule and having to manage half a billion things at once – like you do – looked away from the road for about five seconds.  The car was in autonomous mode and it had the full fleet of sensors that are available in even regular cars that aren’t driverless cars, such as automatic braking, pedestrian detection, cross-traffic detection and collision avoidance mode.  The driver thought that all would be well – after all, the car was supposed to take care of itself most of the time, wasn’t it?

Then along came Ms Herzberg, wheeling her bicycle.  Probably she was a bit too careless and didn’t pick a big enough gap in the traffic to cross in – but haven’t we all done that when trying to cross a busy road when there’s no pedestrian crossing or traffic lights in sight?  Most of us take it for granted that the humans behind the wheels don’t want to hit us and they’ll slow down a fraction if we’re cutting it a bit fine (this is something that I don’t assume – call me paranoid but maybe it’s an assumption we need to start questioning).  To make matters worse, Ms Herzberg was wearing black at night, which would have made her hard to see even if the driver hadn’t looked away.

The sensors and the system didn’t see or recognize Ms Herzberg, so the collision avoidance systems weren’t triggered.  The vehicle kept going straight ahead at normal road speeds.  The driver, trusting the autonomous system, didn’t see her either until the last moment when the car ploughed full-speed into her and there was no time for the human driver to do anything to stop it.  Ms Herzberg died later that night in hospital.

This is the first time that a driverless car has been involved in a fatal accident involving a pedestrian – hang on, let’s call a spade a spade.  The car wasn’t just “involved”: it knocked her down and killed her.

Naturally, all the tech companies and car manufacturers involved are properly horrified and are wondering what on earth went wrong.  The sensors were supposed to work without being “distracted” like a human driver could be.  They were supposed to be able to see in the dark, so to speak, and therefore be better than a human driver would be.  Autonomous systems are supposed to be so much safer because they don’t get drunk, tired or distracted, but stay focussed and on the job all the time. So what went wrong?  Why didn’t the car see Ms. Herzberg and brake in time?

Naturally, as the questions are still being answered and the accident only happened about a week ago, they don’t have answers yet.  A few fingers are being pointed, especially as different companies make different bits of the tech.  Did the Lidar sensor plus artificial intelligence system fail to distinguish the pedestrian with a bicycle from a power pole or a bush? (These systems do have trouble with this – in Australia, they have real trouble recognizing how close kangaroos on the road actually are, because the jumping motion of a roo fools the sensor into thinking that there’s more road between the car and the roo than there really is.)  Robotic systems and computers follow the rules and keep to the rules no matter what – and something unexpected that’s out of the box and not included in the rules really throws them.  Possibly, someone crossing the road with a bike without looking properly or allowing a big enough gap is a novel concept for them.

I guess that at this early stage, there are a few lessons that all of us can learn from this tragedy:

  • Driver assistance packages and sensors are there to help you be a better driver, not do it all for you. As a driver, you need to stay alert and do the job of driving at all times, whether you’ve got a back-to-basics trade vehicle like a Great Wall , or a luxury sedan or SUV with all the safety gadgets like a Mercedes  or Volvo .
  • A lot can happen in a few seconds, so keep your eyes on the road as much as possible. No checking texts, changing the radio station or fiddling with the air con.
  • Be careful when crossing the road. These days, you can’t assume that drivers are looking ahead of them because there are idiots who insist on checking their phones while driving, and in the future, you might not even be able to assume that there’s a human with a heart in control of the wheel.  The stop, look and listen rule still applies – so take those headphones out of your ear.
  • Wearing black at night when crossing the road always has been and still is a dumb idea.
  • People are unpredictable, so keep your eyes open for them when you’re driving.

And I hope we do learn these lessons.  After all, nobody really grieves for a car that gets written off.  However, real live humans have friends and families who will always miss them if they die – and that’s something that a computer or robot system can’t fully understand or experience.