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Archive for March, 2018

The Pros and Cons of Driverless Cars

In any discussion of road safety and keeping crash-related deaths down, you’re always going to come back to the human factor. Most times, people doing silly things are what cause crashes, whether the silly thing is misjudging the speed to take a corner at in the wet, reading a text message while driving and not noticing that the car is drifting, or getting behind the wheel when a bit tiddly. Is the answer then to eliminate the human factor altogether and adopt driverless cars, much in the same way that aircraft have adopted autopilot systems?

What Google’s driverless car looks like.

There are tons of reasons why driverless cars (aka autonomous cars, self-driving cars and autonomous cars) could be a good idea, and just as many reasons why they’re not.

Arguments in favour of driverless cars include the following:

  • Robots and computer systems don’t get tired, drunk or distracted.
  • Computer systems can calculate the perfect speed to negotiate corners.
  • Autonomous cars automatically detect if they’re drifting out of a lane and correct it instantly (some cars do this already even if they’re driven by a real live human being).
  • In theory, computer systems don’t make mistakes, slip or get careless.

What we hoped driverless cars would look like.

In short, a driverless car eliminates the human factor.  After all, the proverb “to err is human” has been around since before cars were invented.  Computerised systems aren’t subject to the limitations of being human and fallible.

However, a modern twist on the old proverb says that although to err may be human, to really mess things up, use a computer. This brings us neatly to the arguments against driverless cars:

  • All new software systems are prone to teething troubles, glitches and bugs when first released. This is mildly annoying on your office computer but could be fatal at worst and expensive at best in a car.
  • We all know that electronics seem to develop a mind of their own and do weird things that we don’t expect them to unless we’re super-geeks.
  • Artificial intelligence can’t cope with really busy situations. Busy car parks and places where pedestrians and cars share the road are particularly confusing for autonomous car systems. Just think of all the ways that people indicate “After you,” in these situations – a wave of the hand(s) that can be big or small or just about any direction, a quick jerk of the head, a smile, mouthing the words… Then you’ve got all those “You idiot!” gestures. A human recognises these instantly; computers often struggle.
  • Weather can affect the sensors, especially extreme weather such as snow or heavy rain where you really need to take care.
  • Autonomous systems need very detailed up-to-date maps so they “know” the right speed for corners and the best routes. This means continual updates are needed – hello, big data bills! And what happens when something’s changed unexpectedly on the road surface, such as oil spills, debris from a crash or gravel?
  • Computers can be hacked and jammed, sometimes remotely. Anybody seen Fast and Furious 8 where this happens? (Yes, I know it’s fiction but who hasn’t had problems with viruses or experienced remote access in a desktop.  It’s plausible!)

  • People may come to rely on automatic systems so much that they might not know how to react properly if the computer systems fail (and we all know that computers crash now and again).
  • Avoiding collisions with large animals on rural roads is harder than you think. Take the example of Volvo : their system worked fine on Swedish wildlife like caribou and elk, but when they tried it out Down Under, the system didn’t recognise kangaroos as large animals to be avoided.
  • Autonomous systems probably can’t tell the difference between a dead hedgehog in the middle of the road (which you don’t mind hitting) and Mother Duck waiting for ducklings (which you want to stop for).
  • Taxi drivers and chauffeurs would be out of a job.

There are also a ton of ethical and moral issues involved with driverless cars.  If a driverless car does crash and kill someone, who’s responsible? The “driver” or the manufacturer of the computer systems and software?  How will a computer make decisions in the case of an unavoidable crash.  For example, if the algorithm is set to minimise the amount of harm or damage caused and kill the fewest people, and it detects that it’s going to hit a bus on a bridge, will it decide that the “best” option is to go off the bridge, because that will only kill the occupants of the driverless car rather than possibly all the occupants of the bus (just stop and imagine what that would be like for the driver for a moment… and what if that bus is actually empty?).

What’s more, we all know that horrible things like car bombings and jerks ramming crowds on purpose are bad enough, but at least the driver puts him/herself at some risk.  What’s to stop a terrorist loading up a driverless car up with explosives and setting the vehicle to go all by itself?

On a lighter note, a lot of people simply enjoy driving. If we want a system that allows us to sit back and relax while we get to work that also cuts down on the need for parking spaces and reduces congestion, this already exists and it’s called “public transport” or at least “car pooling”. But that still includes the human factor…

At the moment, fully driverless cars where the person in the front seat can more or less go to sleep or bury his/her head in the daily news aren’t allowed on our roads.  At the moment, even the most automated systems still require a driver who’s alert and ready to take over if things get hairy, much like what happens in aircraft.  But who knows which way things will go in the future?

Nissan X-Trail ST-L Petrol 7 Seater & TL Diesel 5 Seater AWD.

Twin Peaks.
Nissan is in the midst of both a SUV driven renaissance and some healthy sales. The X-Trail is at the heart of this and leads in a updated Qashqai due soon. I spend some time with the (almost) top of the tree X-Trail ST-L seven seater with the petrol engine and X-Trail TL diesel AWD.The seven seater ST-L sits one level below the top of the ST ladder, with the ST-L 4WD at the peak. The TL diesel AWD caps the TL range. There’s a choice of 2.0L or 2.5L petrol engines depending on the trim level in the ST. The 2.5L pumps out 126kW and 226Nm, at 6000 and 4400rpm. There’s 130kW and a very decent 380Nm from the 2.0L diesel, at 3750 and 2000rpm.Transmission for both is a CVT (Continually Variable Transmission) and as usual seems to sap the energy of relatively low torque petrol engines. Nissan’s not alone in this. The diesel is better but suffers from lag from idle. Tank capacity is 60L each. Consumption for the diesel is rated at 6.1L/100 km and the 2.5L petrol at 8.3L/100 km, both for the combined cycle. AWT pretty much matched the petrol figure at 8.5L/100 km. That’s reasonable for both considering the 1534kg and 1664kg tare weights.The petrol’s acceleration is leisurely in comparison to the diesel, even allowing for the diesel’s time to spool up into its torque range. However, the petrol is more linear, being a constant ramp up as opposed to the slightly more “build then bang” of the diesel. And although both are front wheel drive oriented, with the diesel being a switchable to Auto or All Wheel Drive, there’s little to no noticeable torque steer. That’s impressive more so in the diesel given the rev point when max torque takes effect. Once on song the diesel is a cracker and pulls the TL nicely, if with a bit more chatter than expected from modern diesels.The transmission is programmed with seven ratios and is quite effective in engine braking on a downhill run, and occasionally needed a nudge into Sports mode in order to drop the revs and ratio down. However the diesel’s transmission had an odd whine and a feeling of being held back, almost as if the parking brake was engaged.

Ride and handling varied between the two, with the steering in the ST-L feeling overly light, overly assisted. There’s less assistance and a more weighty feeling in the TL diesel. Actual ride comfort was almost identical, with the ST-L feeling just that SLIGHTLY less tied down, with a fraction more float and rebound. The TL diesel’s suspension is built with soft- and off-roading in mind and feels more composed and confident. The undulations found in Sydney’s freeways see both damp down quicker than other SUVs, with far less float and rebound than many other brands observed. Turn in and turning circle are better than Holden’s new Equinox, meaning shopping centre carpark living will be easier. That’s the trade off for the assistance.The exterior bears almost no resemblance to the X-Trail released in the late noughties. It features the new deep V nose cone now seen across the Nissan range, and a flowing, organic, set of sinuous curves from the front to rear. There’s angular headlight clusters, ineffective indicator lamps buried deep into the bottom corners near the grille, beautifully sculpted LED tail lights and a power tail gate in the TL. The ST-L rolls on 225/65/17 rubber encased in simple yet stylish ten spoke “tuning fork” alloys, the TL 225/55/19 with black painted machined alloys.Inside it’s a mixed reception. Overall fit and finish and trim appeal was high but visual appeal is an independent thing. Although of a rounded and mainly ergonomic design, the X-Trail’s interior from the driver’s perspective doesn’t quite feel as fresh as it could. There’s a tight gap between door trim and arm when reaching down to adjust the electric seats, the seven inch main touchscreen is a dull and uninspired design for the audio (DAB only found in ST-L and TL with Bose speakers), the driver’s info screen is a sad looking mauve and dotted affair.However, they are at least easy to read and use. The reverse camera is crisp and in both had a superimposed top-down 360 degree view. There’s a glass roof fitted in the TL. Oh, and those door arms have no grip handle where you’d expect to find them, but have a handle at a difficult fulcrum point. And there’s no wireless charging pad either…The seats themselves were spot on for support and comfort in both TL and ST-L however the rear pews in the ST-L are utterly compromised by the relative lack of useable space and can’t be recommended for anything other than short journeys. There’s heating (no venting) for the front seats in the ST-L and for front and second row in the TL. The TL’s rear space features two removeable cloth covered sections that reveal a plastic tub, one thats more user friendly for dirt work and for shopping.Capacity is 445L for the 7 seater, and the TL has 945L with the second row folded flat. The popular venting for cooling cans and bottles remains, with the centre console featuring room for two items side by side. The dash in the TL is of a more higher quality to look at, especially in the touchscreen surround, and both cars have analogue dials still for the speed and rev counter.Both review cars came fitted with a towbar ($1120 option) and the ST-L with a non-descript plastic nudge-bar (a $1200 option) at the front. The TL had a switch for trailer braking fitted in a cluster near where the driver’s right knee would be to assist in towing braking. The cluster also included an Eco on/off, stability/traction control on/off, and a switch for a heated steering wheel. There’s also a button for the rear powered tail gate.There’s plenty of standard equipment in both and across the range. Auto headlights, powered mirrors, sliding second row seats, Bluetooth streaming are common throughout teh range, with the ST-L and TL receiving Blind Spot Warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Lane Departure Warning is standard on the TL and is somewhat sensitive, seeming to go off if you looked at the white or dotted lines.At the time of writing Nissan Australia was offering some sharp driveaway deals; the ST-L seven seater was $40817 for a 2018 model and $51192 for the diesel TL AWD. Naturally, these are subject to change so please check with your local Nissan dealer or enquire via 2017/2018 Nissan X-Trail info
Warranty is the standard three years or one hundred thousand kilometres and there’s a better than others three years roadside assistance package on offer.

At The End Of The Drive.
Nissan is doing something right with the X-Trail judging by the sheer amount seen in the two weeks the model spent at AWT HQ. The pick of the two is the diesel AWD, more so for the better handling feel the chassis exhibited. There’s a better ambience in the TL’s cabin and as an overall driving experience outweighs the ST-L. Those third row seats are compromised due to the sheer size of the X-Trail (4690mm length, 2705mm wheelbase).

If your need is for a dedicated seven seater, there’s other options out there that would be better. If you need a reasonable diesel AWD there’s still plenty of choice. But you’ll also need to consider that the Nissan X-Trail has been rated as the number one selling SUV for 2017. That, on its own, says a lot.

 

 

Jaguar Ups The Pace.

Get used to that word. Pace. It’s part of the Jaguar triple play. Grace, space, and pace. There’s the F-Pace, a sharp looking four door mid sized SUV, and now there’s the E-Pace and I-Pace. Both are SUVs and both showcase what modern Jaguar is all about.

I-Pace.
It’s power to the people with the I-Pace being Jaguar’s first foray into fully electric mainstream driveability. Priced from $119000 plus on roads it showcases Jaguar’s own innovative approach as well, and here how.

ELECTRIC
With a state-of-the-art 90kWh Lithium-ion battery using 432 pouch cells, the I-PACE delivers a range of 480km (WLTP cycle). Owners will be able to achieve a 0-80 per cent battery charge in just 40 minutes using DC rapid charging (100kW). Home charging with an AC wall box (7kW) will achieve the same state of charge in just over ten hours – ideal for overnight charging.

A suite of smart range-optimising technologies includes a battery pre-conditioning system: when plugged in the I-PACE will automatically raise (or lower) the temperature of its battery to maximise range ahead of driving away.

PERFORMANCE
Two Jaguar-designed electric motors – which feature driveshafts passing through the

motors themselves for compactness – are placed at each axle, producing exceptional combined performance of 294kW (400PS) and 696Nm, and all-wheel-drive, all-surface traction.

The high torque density and high-energy efficiency characteristics of the motors deliver sports car performance, launching the I-PACE from a standing start to 100km/h in just 4.8 seconds. The instantaneous performance is matched with exceptional ride comfort and engaging driving dynamics.

The bespoke EV aluminium architecture uses advanced riveting and bonding technology to deliver a light, stiff body structure. Together with the structural battery pack, it has a torsional rigidity of 36kNm/degree – the highest of any Jaguar.

The battery is placed centrally between the two axles, and as low down as possible with a seal between the housing and the underfloor. This location enables perfect 50:50 weight distribution and a low centre of gravity: together with the advanced double wishbone front and Integral Link rear axle with (optional) air suspension and configurable Adaptive Dynamics, this delivers agile handling and outstanding ride comfort.

DESIGN

There will be nothing else on the road that looks or drives like the Jaguar I-PACE. It is designed and engineered to take full advantage of its smart electric powertrain and maximise the potential of the packaging benefits it brings.
Its sleek, coupe-like silhouette is influenced by the Jaguar C-X75 supercar with a short, low bonnet, aero-enhanced roof design and curved rear screen. This cab-forward design contrasts with its squared-off rear, which helps reduce the drag co-efficient to just 0.29Cd. To optimise the balance between cooling and aerodynamics, Active Vanes in the grille open when cooling is required, but close when not needed to redirect air through the integral bonnet scoop, smoothing airflow.

Inside, the layout optimises space for passengers while sophisticated materials – including the option of a premium textile Kvadrat interior – and exquisite attention to detail identify this as a true Jaguar.

While a mid-sized SUV, I-PACE’s cab forward design and EV powertrain means interior sp

ace comparable to large SUVs. In the rear, legroom is 890mm while, with no transmission tunnel, there’s a useful 10.5-litre central storage compartment. In the rear, tablet and laptop stowage is found beneath the seats, while the rear luggage compartment offers a 656-litre capacity – and 1,453-litres with seats folded flat.

CONNECTED-CAR TECHNOLOGY

I-PACE introduces the Touch Pro Duo infotainment system to Jaguar. Utilising an innovative combination of touchscreens, capacitive sensors and tactile physical controls, Touch Pro Duo is intuitive to use.

A new EV navigation system assesses the topography of the route to destination and insights from previous journeys, including driving style, to calculate personalised range and charging status with exceptional accuracy for maximum driver confidence.

The advanced system uses ‘Smart Settings’ technology – driven by AI algorithms – to identify individual driver preferences, and then tailors the I-PACE’s driving and interior settings accordingly.

I-PACE will also launch an Amazon Alexa Skill. This means owners will be able to ask an Alexa enabled device for information held in the Jaguar InControl Remote app.

Head to www.jaguar.com.au for information.Jaguar Cars Australia