Category Archives: Toys, Technology. Electronics, Software

Tesla stays chill to finish 3-day cross-country rally

Tesla Supercharger rally
(Credit:
Tesla Motors)

To those of you wary about range of electric cars, and especially the prospect of finding enough charging stations along your chosen route, Tesla Motors has this message: We just drove from LA to New York, and in only three days.

Less than two weeks after the company set up its final Supercharger station along a 3,400-mile cross-country route, a pair of Tesla Model S sedans pulled up in front of New York’s City Hall. The arrival came three days and four hours after the two vehicles departed Los Angeles.

CEO Elon Musk tweeted the news Sunday afternoon: “Tesla LA to NY Supercharger rally just completed in 76 hours across northern route in dead of winter thru heavy snow!”

The electric-powered vehicles did indeed pass through some heavy-duty winter weather including icy roadways and two snowstorms, the first in Colorado, which resulted in a time-sapping detour, and the second while going through Wisconsin and Illinois. “Road closures, detours and traffic delays as a result of the [Colorado] snow storm ended up costing the Tesla team a total of eight hours,” Tesla said in a blog post chronicling that portion of the trip.

“Since getting through the storms of Colorado, the
cars have met all their time goals and have never been short on charge,” Tesla said in its day three post.

Part of the publicity stunt aspect of the trip was Tesla’s intention to set a Guinness-recognized world record for lowest charge time for an electric vehicle traveling across the United States.

Tesla says that its Model S sedans average about 300 miles per charge at 55 mile per hour and that one of its Superchargers can deliver half the charge of a Model S in about 20 minutes. The recharges are free to Model S owners.

The company now has more than 70 Supercharger sites across the US.

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Big, street-legal Little Tikes car is your childhood on steroids

Toytown Coupe

This ain’t your kid’s Cozy Coupe.


(Credit:
Attitude Autos)

The Little Tikes Cozy Coupe has been a childhood staple for over three decades. Even if you don’t know the name, you know the car. It’s a red plastic vehicle with a tall yellow top, all done up in a rounded design and powered by pedals. The only problem is that you’re too big to fit in one. Unless you know the guys at Attitude Autos in the UK.

Mechanic John Bitmead and his buddies spent five months crafting a full-size, street-legal Cozy Coupe, which is dubbed the Toytown Coupe. It’s red and yellow and runs on gas. You can’t tell by looking at it, but the
car started off as a Daewoo Matiz.

The Toytown fits two adults, but has no windshield, in keeping with the original version it’s modeled after. That can make it a little daunting to take out on a rainy UK day. Unlike the toy version, the car can get up to 70 mph. The mechanics dedicated over 1,000 hours and about $6,600 into making the coupe.

Perhaps the giant Cozy Coupe will inspire other makers to craft adult-sized versions of popular toys. I would like to put in a request for a walking, talking Teddy Ruxpin that’s as big as a grizzly bear, please.

Toytown Coupe

Yes, mom, it has airbags.


(Credit:
Attitude Autos)

(Via BBC News)

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Driverless trucks get in shape for US Army convoy duty

US Army driverless trucks

Driverless trucks head down the road in a test of the AMAS program for the Army and Marines.


(Credit:
Lockheed Martin)

Google may have the best-known driverless vehicles, but the US Army surely has the largest.

Defense industry heavyweight Lockheed Martin said Thursday that testing has wrapped up on a series of advanced tests in the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System (AMAS) program for the US Army and US Marine Corps. The testing, Lockheed said, showed that fully autonomous convoys can operate in urban environments and with a mixture of vehicle types.

What challenges did these driverless vehicles face? The trucks had to navigate road intersections, oncoming traffic, stalled and passing vehicles, pedestrians, and traffic circles in test areas both rural and, with less margin for error, urban.

Somewhat like the jury-rigged systems seen on the first generation of robotized cars, the AMAS program for the Pentagon’s ground troops uses standard-issue vehicles outfitted with a kit of gear including a high-performance LIDAR sensor and a second GPS receiver, locked and loaded with a range of algorithms. That gear, Lockheed said, could be used on virtually any military vehicle, but in these tests was affixed to the Army’s M915 tractor-trailer trucks and to Palletized Loading System vehicles. (The photo above shows a pair of PLS road warriors followed by an M915.)

AMAS-equipped vehicles can still be operated manually by human drivers, and the sensing and control function in a truck in self-driving mode should alert its occupants to safety threats.

2014’s military tech: lasers, drones, and more (pictures)

Consumers and businesses can’t go out and buy robo-cars just yet, but the era of driverless rides is nearly upon us. Google has been front and center in the effort to integrate robo-cars into real-world environments, and a range of automakers, from Nissan and Lexus to Audi and GM, have been getting in on the game.

Meanwhile, a handful of states — California, Nevada, and Florida — have made it legal to test driverless
cars on public roads. The latest round of AMAS testing, though, took place earlier this month in the wide open, and much less public, environs of Fort Hood, Texas.

Convoys are commonplace arrangements for military vehicles, of course, but research shows that similar platooning of civilian vehicles could save fuel, fit more cars on the road, and even improve road safety.

“The AMAS CAD hardware and software performed exactly as designed, and dealt successfully with all of the real-world obstacles that a real-world convoy would encounter,” David Simon, AMAS program manager for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said in a statement. (In this case, CAD refers to the Capabilities Advancement Demonstration portion of the AMAS program, not to computer-aided design.)

The development and testing of the AMAS platform stems from an $11 million contract that Lockheed Martin received from the Defense Department in October 2012.

AMAS algorithms also are used to control the company’s Squad Mission Support System, a more distinctive and less conventional six-wheeled unmanned ground vehicle that has been used by soldiers in Afghanistan.

Self-driving cars: Where do they go from here? (pictures)

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Stunning BMW coupe strikes performance, economy balance

With tires screeching, the 2014 BMW 428i danced through a set of turns and put a big smile on my face. Yes, I thought, this is exactly what I expect from BMW, what many others learned to love about the German automaker, and how BMW became synonymous with performance.

The all-new 4 Series exhibited exquisite balance at the turn apexes and, pushed closer to the limits, the rear walked out in a nicely controlled slide, just enough to help rotate the car through the corners. This is the kind of driving I live for.

If you haven’t been following the recent turns and twists in BMW model naming nomenclature, the existence of a BMW 428i may come as a surprise. This new model comes from BMW’s decision to discontinue the 3 Series coupe and create a whole new series. In the new BMW world order, sedans are designated as odd series while coupes are all even series. Could BMW really be taking a page or two from Audi’s playbook?

Far more than simply a 3 Series coupe, the new 4 Series is a darned good-looking car. In good coupe style, a long nose stretches out in front of the windshield, suggesting plenty of room for power under the hood. Black vent openings on the front fenders make for a perfect accent. The rear roofline drops back dramatically, a design cue that can only be found on a coupe.

Striking new 2014 BMW 428i coupe (pictures)

The design reminds me of BMW’s original 6 Series, the Shark, from the ’70s and ’80s. Of course, it also looks something like the 2015 Mustang, something neither Ford nor BMW can be happy about.

Coupes make rear-seat access a little more difficult, not that you want to frequently load up this car with a lot of people-weight. In the 4 Series, BMW splits the rear seat with a plastic tray, making it suitable only for two. Taller folks won’t enjoy sitting back there — I’m only 5′ 8″ and my head brushed the ceiling when I leant forward. As a nice touch for front-seat passengers, extenders automatically push the seat belts within reach.

Familiar components
If you look under the skin, there isn’t much that’s actually new about the 4 Series. With BMW’s efficient manufacturing, drivetrain components and cabin electronics are shared across models.

The 428i’s engine has been in play with BMW for a couple of years now. This 2-liter four-cylinder engine uses direct injection, a twin-scroll turbo, and BMW’s Valvetronic and VANOS valve actuation technologies, to produce 240 horsepower and an impressive 258 pound-feet of torque. This same engine finds its way into the new 228i (video), the 328i, the 528i, the X1 xDrive28i, and the X3 xDrive28i. That is an impressive collection of coupes, sedans, convertibles, and SUVs.

2014 BMW 428i

Although a new model, there is no mistaking the 428i for anything other than a BMW.

(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

This engine marks just one aspect of BMW’s new focus on fuel economy. For the 428i, that means 23 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. I turned in an average of 26.5 mpg in a mix of freeway and city driving, and the aforementioned dancing through the turns in full-on sport mode.

Contributing to fuel economy is the standard eight-speed automatic transmission. BMW also offers a no-cost six-speed manual transmission option for dedicated three-pedal fans. In terms of performance, I found the automatic to be truly excellent for both sport driving and cruising through the city. Its manual mode snaps off gear changes almost as quickly as a dual-clutch transmission.

For maximum fuel economy in everyday, boring driving tasks, the 428i comes with an Eco Pro mode, activated with a rocker switch on the console. This mode severely detunes the throttle, engages the idle-stop feature, and sets climate control on minimum efficacy. I spent quite a bit of time driving in this mode around San Francisco and on the nearby freeways, and found no difficulties keeping up with traffic or executing any other maneuvers requiring throttle. In fact, when I floored it to make a pass, the engine was ready to give me its all, after a little turbo lag.

Idle-stop, which shuts down the engine at stop lights, works a little more noticeably than I’ve found in some other cars. In the 428i, the engine started up with a cough and a shiver when I lifted my foot from the brake, but it was fast enough to keep up with other drivers.

The reduced climate control proved difficult to set comfortably, even with outside temperatures in the high 60s. It also occasionally let the windows steam over, which hampered visibility. A menu option let me set climate control to run normally in Eco Pro mode, but that takes away most of the energy savings.

2014 BMW 428i

BMW uses this 2-liter 4-cylinder engine in a wide range of applications.

(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

A push up on the rocker switch put the car into Comfort mode, with suspension and steering tuned the same as in Eco Pro. The throttle became a little more active and the climate control ran normally. I could also turn idle-stop on or off with a switch near the engine start button. In either of these two modes, the 428i is an easy and comfortable driver with a premium feel.

Sport mode
Things took an exciting turn when I pushed the rocker up again, putting the 428i into Sport mode, then dragged the shifter over into its Sport position. The throttle mapping instantly changed, leading to a power surge, and the steering tightened up, becoming more responsive.

And because this 428i came with the Dynamic Handling package, the dampers also tightened up, making the suspension a bit more rigid. It’s not a dramatic change and the ride never becomes harsh, but this adaptive suspension is an essential part of what makes the 428i so fun in the turns.

In fact, I think it would be foolish not to get the Dynamic Handling package, which also includes BMW’s Variable Sport Steering. That system actually changes the steering ratio for high-speed driving, so that less input is required to turn the wheels.

2014 BMW 428i

With the Dynamic Handling package, you can configure the suspension and engine tuning for sport mode.

(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

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CNET on Cars: Three things that make the 2015 Ford Mustang (CNET On Cars, Episode 34)

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In this episode:

  • The three things that make the new 2015 Mustang new
  • Dealing with red-light cameras and stop-and-go traffic lights with new
    car tech
  • Top 5 new car technologies Cooley wants to see in 2014
  • Explaining how Chrysler HEMI engines are — and are not — hemi engines!

As always, e-mail me your thoughts, suggestions, and comments.

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For Super Bowl, Jaguar reminds you that Brits are evil

He’d cut your liver out and saute it.


(Credit:
Jaguar/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET)

American advertisers always want you to believe that their core is made of saccharine and honey.

Buy my American brand and your world will be more idyllic than a night spent with Jimmy Stewart.

The Brits, on the other hand, occasionally like to reveal a dark heart below their hardened upper lip.

How touching, then, that Jaguar, a quintessentially British brand now owned by India’s Tata Motors, has decided to admit to its evil underbelly.

In a Super Bowl ad to champion its quite pretty F-Type sports
car, Jaguar bares its soul.

Featuring Tom Hiddleston, Mark Strong, and the nasty, nasty Ben Kingsley, the ad posits an important cultural question: “Have you ever noticed that in Hollywood movies, all the villains are played by Brits?”

What follows are the three characters uttering quite forced dialogue that’s vaguely related to cars.

This is a pity.

It would have been more striking if we’d heard Kingsley say: “I will personally come to your house, slice your liver out, and saute it in your own frying pan if you don’t buy this car.”

It would have been more memorable if Strong had mused: “If you’re not at your local Jaguar dealership within 90 minutes, I will use Google’s very fine maps and your own cell phone to trace you. Then I will bind you, gag you, toss you into a very British drawing room where I will feed you to my 100 hungry rottweilers.”

After all, the tagline that can briefly be glimpsed at the end of the spot is: “How alive are you?”

The Brits never like to speak directly. So a reasonable interpretation of this tagline might be: “We’ll kill you if you don’t buy the F-Type.”

I think ratcheting up the threats would work. Americans adore violence, just as much as they fear sex.

Or am I being a little too Hollywood here?

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