All posts in “Autonomous Cars”

False alarm: Tesla isn’t closing all its stores

Calm down, everyone. Tesla is not closing all of its stores. 

The Teslaverse was twisted into knots on Friday when a rumor hit Reddit suggesting that things were not looking bright for the approximately 115 Tesla stores scattered across the United States. Specifically, a thread titled “Effective immediately many Tesla stores will be permanently closed” spurred worry that the company had decided to do away with its beloved physical locations in favor of online sales. 

What gave this claim extra punch is that the poster, ElonsVelvetJacket, is a “known leaker” and thus likely to have an inside scoop. 

However, as things sometimes go on the internet, this turned out to be not 100 percent accurate. And, thankfully for us, Elon Musk was all too happy to set the record straight. 

“This is incorrect,” Musk told Mashable via email. “We are converting some store locations to be purely service and vehicle delivery, because they aren’t in the right location for sales activity. There are much better existing locations that will be used for sales and new stores opening up in places people actually go, like malls and popular street shopping areas.”

The distinction made by Musk is an important one, as Tesla has different types of locations around the country. Some serve as both service centers and stores, while others are just for sales. Musk is basically saying that he is planning on expanding Tesla’s capacity for service work at locations that previously also doubled as sales spots. 

Make sense?

According to Electrek, the conversions are limited to Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Arizona, and should only affect seven stores. 

Why is this happening now? Well, it probably has to do with the imminent release of the Model 3 and the subsequent likely need for increased service capacity, but that’s just speculation. Either way, the Tesla family can breathe a sigh of relief that the physical embodiment of Uncle Elon is not going away anytime soon. 

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Tech CEO busted for riding in driverless car to his own convention

A car equipped with Baidu's mapping tech is shown off at the 2016 Auto China show.
A car equipped with Baidu’s mapping tech is shown off at the 2016 Auto China show.

Image: Ng Han Guan/AP/REX/Shutterstock

A tech exec making a splashy entrance at a keynote is nothing new—but they usually don’t break the law in the process. 

Baidu CEO Robin Li took a ride to the company’s Create AI developers conference in a car tricked out with self-driving tech, all while beaming live footage of the journey to the keynote stage. 

The problem? In China, where the event took place, self-driving cars aren’t allowed on public roads. 

There were clearly no human hands guiding the way as the car zipped around, the steering wheel adjusting on its own. Another camera captured the vehicle’s movements on the busy roads on a separate screen, charting its progress as it shifted from lane to lane.   

You can check out the video shown onstage of Li in the self-driving car via Shanghaiist. Baidu, for its part, triumphantly tweeted out photos of the keynote stage during the demo.  

It was a cool showing for the company, which has developed its own autonomous platform to compete with Western auto behemoths and tech titans (more on that in a bit). But Li and Baidu were in flagrant violation of the self-driving car ban, even with Gu Weihao, GM of Baidu’s Intelligent Vehicle Division, reportedly in the driver’s seat.

Following the event, Beijing’s Traffic Management Bureau acknowledged that it was looking into the joyride, according to CNN Money

The road authority issued a statement declaring that Baidu would be, “investigated and dealt with according to the law,” maintaining the government’s earlier stance that it’s not yet prepared for self-driving tests on public roads until the proper protocols are put into place. 

The whole snafu immediately brings to mind Uber’s conflict with the California DMV. The company’s self-driving car experiment was booted from the state after it was introduced to San Francisco without being registered through the proper channels, and only returned after the company met the state’s standards.  

Baidu isn’t quite on Uber’s level here; the company showed off one short demo ride with high-level employees in the car, a far cry from rolling out an entire self-driving pilot program onto a city’s streets without the proper clearance. 

But the basic breach of public trust is inherently the same. The tech hasn’t been approved by the country’s governing body, and no one on the road had any idea that the tech was in use during the ride.  

Baidu’s reps had no comment on the incident when reached via email. 

Baidu’s open self-driving mission

The company has been working on an autonomous platform since at least 2015, and not without controversy before Li’s adventure; he boasted last year of a stunt where the company’s engineers jumped in front of its cars to show off the tech’s autobraking capabilities. 

Li’s illicit arrival wasn’t the only self-driving highlight from this year’s conference, however. Baidu tweeted out a quick video of a pair of cars that were reportedly converted by a partner to have autonomous capabilities using the Baidu’s self-driving platform.   

But Baidu has been much more transparent than many of its competitors. The company opened up its self-driving platform to others via the Apollo program, which boasts giant industry partners like Ford, Bosch, Daimler, and Nvidia along with smaller Asian companies, in an effort to crack the software behind autonomy. 

It’s a marked difference from how most Western companies are handling their projects. Just look at Uber again — the San Francisco dispute was caused largely because of the company’s refusal to share its secrets, and it’s currently in the midst of a massive lawsuit with Google-owned Waymo over its self-driving technology. 

Baidu’s top brass, meanwhile, has called its platform “the Android of the autonomous driving industry, but more open and powerful.” That attitude could really benefit the industry as a whole—so Baidu should do its best to keep its program running smoothly. 

If the Google of China behaves less like Uber and more like, well, Google, it very well could become a global leader when it comes to self-driving cars.  

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WTF is Apple doing with a secret, car-focused office in Berlin?

Apple CEO Tim Cook and Seele Gmbh's Nelli Diller in Germany in 2015, totally not scoping out the best spot for a secret office.
Apple CEO Tim Cook and Seele Gmbh’s Nelli Diller in Germany in 2015, totally not scoping out the best spot for a secret office.

Image: Tobias Hase/Epa/REX/Shutterstock

Hey Apple: WTF is going on in Germany?

The Cupertino company might be up to something on the down low in Deutschland, according to Business Insider‘s Sam Shead. The reporter investigated rumors of a secret Apple office focused on automotive development in Berlin, following an initial leak last year that Apple was snatching up German engineering talent in the wake of Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia.  

It took almost half a year, but Shead’s tenacity appears to have paid off. He claims to have found the office smack dab in the middle of Berlin, in a nondescript building overlooking the city’s famous Gendarmenmarkt square area.

Shead’s efforts to find the mysterious workspace were aided by a source in Berlin’s startup scene and a barista at a coffeeshop near the alleged building. Once he homed in on the office, Shead found a buzzer affixed with the company’s name, but no other explicit Apple heraldry. 

A man leaving the building told Shead Apple “quietly moved in around a year ago,” but knew little else about the operation. The reporter’s attempts to make contact with anyone on Apple’s floor were met with no response, and the office’s window blinds were shut to keep anyone from peeking in. 

Unsurprisingly, Apple didn’t respond to BI‘s request for comment about the office, and had nothing to say to us when we reached out via email, either. 

So what’s going on over there?

Popular sentiment and previous reports point to the secret office being a facility for Apple’s rumored automotive project, which has been bandied about over the past few years without any direct confirmation. “Project Titan,” as the initiative was reportedly called internally, appeared to run out of gas last year after reports of layoffs — but that was when the focus was on actually building an electric car. 

More recent reports suggest the company is working on an autonomous platform, described in documents as the “Apple Automated System.”  

The German operation could be focused on the more technical aspects of that potential self-driving platform. Shead’s sleuthing on LinkedIn discovered “dozens of engineers” employed by Apple in Berlin, lending more weight to the theory. Among these engineers are supposedly former Here employees, who could be involved in high-level mapping work needed for autonomous car systems.      

Apple has visibly ramped up its automotive efforts in the U.S. of late. The company registered three cars with the California DMV for self-driving tests last month, one of which was reportedly spotted leaving an Apple facility. 

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