Tag Archives: Technology

D’oh! Meet the real-life ‘Simpsons’ Homer-mobile


(Credit:

David Moore
)

Homer Simpson may not know anything about design, but he knows what he likes — and the car he designed for his brother Herb Powell’s auto manufacturer in episode “O Brother, Where Art Thou” is a testament to all that is Homer-iffic.

With a $82,000 price tag in 1991, though, the Frankenstein
car managed to bring Herb’s empire crumbling down around him. Features included a particularly lurid green coat of paint; a rear dome equipped with leashes and muzzles for fighting kids; enormous externally mounted cup holders; a hood ornament of a 10-pin bowler; a giant chrome, roof-mounted horn that blasts “La Cucaracha”; and more tailfins than decorum allows.

For the 24 Hours of LeMons race — in which a team cannot spend more than $500 on its car — Porcubimmer Motors modified a superleggera rally car with all of these wondrous features, “La Cucaracha” and all.

The interior of The Homer isn’t perhaps quite up to Homer’s luxurious standards, equipped as it is with a roll cage and megaphone (presumably to help with the musical horn), but we particularly like the “Bort” number plates. And it definitely has some grunt — the car clocked in fifth in the June 29 Button Turrible race in Los Angeles.

A real-life car designed by Homer Simpson (pictures)

Check out its wondrousness in the video below, and a plethora of photos in our gallery and on Facebook.

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Students create smartphone-powered driverless car


(Credit:
Video screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

The driverless car is already on the road, and there’s a lot to look forward to, especially as the technology is refined and improved.

A team of information and communications technology students from Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, may have found one way already — using smartphone technology.

Their prototype
car, about the size of a toy pedal car, has a smartphone mounted on the front and uses several of the phone’s features for autonomous driving. The phone’s camera identifies the lanes, while the phone’s GPS is used for navigation.

The team, whose members include Tommi Sullivan, Michael Lennon, and Yukito Tsunoda, won a Queensland iAward for their creation. The award honors cutting-edge technology innovations.

“A normal unmanned vehicle would usually use a camera or a different sensor or a Ladar on the top, but the uniqueness in this car is that most of the sensors are used from the mobile phone,” Sullivan said.

Added Tsunoda, “Our ultimate goal is to implement our program and drive the car in the public environment, and we hope to one day see people using their smartphone to drive their cars in a real-life situation.”

(Source: CNET Australia)

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ABB wins contract for Dutch electric vehicle charging stations

An illustration of a Fastned electric-vehicle charging station

An illustration of a Fastned electric-vehicle charging station


(Credit:
ABB)

Fastned, a Dutch company building a network of 200 electric-vehicle charging stations along highways in the Netherlands, has selected Switzerland-based ABB to supply the chargers for the network.

The devices can charge an EV’s battery in 15 to 20 minutes, ABB said Monday, and will be equipped to handle a variety of EVs. “This is critical to maintain compatibility between rapidly evolving
cars and chargers in the years to come,” the company said in a statement.

The first chargers will be delivered in September, and Fastned plans to have its charging stations built by 2015, ABB said.

Electric vehicles such as Tesla Motors’ critically acclaimed Model S have only just begun arriving on the market, but some entrepreneurs see charging stations as a business opportunity today. Tesla is building its coast-to-coast Supercharger network in the United States, for example, and a company called Clever is building a charging network in Denmark. Charging an EV takes longer than filling a gas tank, though high-power chargers can speed the process.

Fastned plans to situate charging stations so that electric vehicle drivers will never be more than 50km (31 miles) away from one. The stations’ roofs will be covered with photovoltaic cells for a bit of an electricity boost.

The planned Fastned electric-vehicle charging station network in the Netherlands.

The planned Fastned electric-vehicle charging station network in the Netherlands.


(Credit:
ABB)

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ABB wins contract for Dutch electric vehicle charging stations

An illustration of a Fastned electric-vehicle charging station

An illustration of a Fastned electric-vehicle charging station


(Credit:
ABB)

Fastned, a Dutch company building a network of 200 electric-vehicle charging stations along highways in the Netherlands, has selected Switzerland-based ABB to supply the chargers for the network.

The devices can charge an EV’s battery in 15 to 20 minutes, ABB said Monday, and will be equipped to handle a variety of EVs. “This is critical to maintain compatibility between rapidly evolving
cars and chargers in the years to come,” the company said in a statement.

The first chargers will be delivered in September, and Fastned plans to have its charging stations built by 2015, ABB said.

Electric vehicles such as Tesla Motors’ critically acclaimed Model S have only just begun arriving on the market, but some entrepreneurs see charging stations as a business opportunity today. Tesla is building its coast-to-coast Supercharger network in the United States, for example, and a company called Clever is building a charging network in Denmark. Charging an EV takes longer than filling a gas tank, though high-power chargers can speed the process.

Fastned plans to situate charging stations so that electric vehicle drivers will never be more than 50km (31 miles) away from one. The stations’ roofs will be covered with photovoltaic cells for a bit of an electricity boost.

The planned Fastned electric-vehicle charging station network in the Netherlands.

The planned Fastned electric-vehicle charging station network in the Netherlands.


(Credit:
ABB)

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App store in the driver’s seat: Here comes your next car

GM showing off a concept command center in a Cadillac ATC at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.


(Credit:
Roger Cheng/CNET)

If smartphones can have app stores, why not cars?

That’s the thinking of at least some of the big automakers as they work to build the foundation for curated selections of
car-centric apps that can be purchased directly from the vehicle’s in-dash monitor.

The notion of the smart car and connected car applications was a hot topic of discussion at CE Week in New York last month. In May, General Motors told CNET that the first apps for its cars would arrive in the second half of the year, helped by a partnership with ATT to provide a 4G LTE connection to many of its vehicles.

The increasing rhetoric and hype underscore a broader effort by the automakers to adapt to the changing times and use technology to set themselves apart. The industry, which is used to multiyear development cycles on each car model and a consistent annual shipment schedule, is attempting to work with a mobile device sector more accustomed to a phone or
tablet launch every other month, and where the pace of innovation has been relentless.

Where automakers had previously focused on the point of sale, moving on from a customer after he drives off the lot, they are beginning to take a page out of the mobile devices industry with more continued support. The answer lies in software. The automakers believe apps and software updates will future-proof smart cars and help them strengthen the relationship with their customers.

“We’re not just trying to give customers what they want; we’re working on what we think they will want in the future,” GM Vice Chairman Stephen Girsky said during his keynote address during Mobile World Congress in February.

This isn’t about getting touchy-feely with the consumer; there’s big money involved with this push. The market for hardware related to connected cars could grow to as much as $30 billion by the end of the decade, according to Gartner analyst Thilo Koslowski. The services revenue opportunity could potentially be another $20 billion.

But in racing to deliver the smarter car, the automotive industry risks confusing the customer. Many companies are staking their own different, incompatible path, potentially leading to a future platform war between competing automakers that threaten to sour consumers and developers on the idea of car apps. The automakers may also find that creating and managing a store filled with car-centric apps isn’t a task they’re really up for.

Those concerns haven’t dampened the enthusiasm. In some ways, the car is an ideal “vehicle” for apps, Koslowski said. There’s room for multiple physical controls and displays; voice command is a logical addition to the driving experience; battery power isn’t a limiting factor; and there’s plenty of space to add cellular radios.

“The car could be the ultimate mobile device,” he said.

A personalized driving experience

There’s a lot of promise from the idea of car-centric apps. Diagnostic apps can monitor your car’s condition and send e-mail or text alerts if it needs servicing. Cars can tap into Internet radio apps for a more customized selection of music, or news, traffic, and weather apps for real-time information relevant to the driver’s location.

“We as drivers — that’s what we want: more information presented in a safer, more personalized way,” said Tom Taylor, vice president of advanced strategy for Verizon Telematics. Verizon Telematics, which provides connected car services during emergencies, was previously known as Hughes Telematics before Verizon scooped it up a year ago.

When a driver can own a car for five years or longer, the ability to upgrade the vehicle’s software after the point of purchase at little cost is an attractive selling point. The idea of selecting different apps to customize the capabilities and feel of each car also carries its own appeal.

On a holistic level, more connected cars with sensors could provide more accurate driving data, allowing for better traffic information and help with the government’s push to reduce accidents.

Mercedes-Benz’s Mbrace system offers apps and works with your smartphone.


(Credit:
Screenshot by Roger Cheng/CNET)

“I think we’re really seeing the beginning of a huge shift in how we view and use the automobile and its role in personal transportation — and much of this is driven by technology,” said Doug Newcomb, a car tech consultant for Newcomb Communications and Consulting.

Luxury car brands, naturally, are at the forefront of this push. Mercedes-Benz, for instance, already offers the ability on select models to run a Google local search, find a nearby restaurant via Yelp, check out a Facebook newsfeed, and get news and stock quotes through its Mbrace system, powered by Verizon.

But with GM promising to connect most of its fleet with 4G LTE by 2014, car apps could be hitting the mass market very soon.

Hybrid vs. embedded

When it comes to connected car apps, there are two schools of thought: an embedded model in which the apps are downloaded into the vehicle and run by the car’s own system, and a hybrid model where apps reside in a smartphone or tablet and can connect to the car’s system.

Ford’s highly regarded Sync system, which can stream music from Pandora on the iPhone to the car, is a good example of the hybrid model.

Ford App Link - Pandora

Ford drivers with Sync AppLink now listen to their music collection from the Amazon Cloud Player on their smartphone using simple voice commands.


(Credit:
Ford)

GM, meanwhile, has been a vocal proponent of the embedded option, and has been particularly aggressive in cultivating developer support for its own platform. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, GM sponsored a “hackathon” with ATT to build connected car apps. GM told CNET that it has signed up 1,800 developers as of May.

Mary Chan, head of the company’s global connected consumer division, envisions navigation, radio, and car diagnostic apps that can be downloaded onto the car. She said it was important for an automaker to fine-tune popular smartphone apps for the car because of driver distraction and safety issues. When GM worked with Apple on integrating Siri, for instance, it stripped out some capabilities because it was deemed too distracting for the driver.

“Embedded technology helps simplify the user experience,” Chan said in an interview with CNET in May.

Still, there are some who believe that an embedded option is unnecessary for most applications.

The connected Cadillac drew crowds at Mobile World Congress.


(Credit:
Roger Cheng/CNET)

“It’s a mistake,” said Roger Lanctot, an analyst for Strategy Analytics.

People don’t want to pay a second time so their favorite smartphone apps can also sit in the car — a problem that some apps face now on phones and tablets, Lanctot said. And while people spend a lot of time in their cars, they spend more time and are more intimately attached to their phone, making it the logical place for their apps.

ATT’s David Haight, vice president of business development for the wireless business, said he has the “fundamental belief that if you pay for the app once, it should go anywhere,” but conceded a lot of the business aspect of the apps is still up in the air.

The automakers are all exploring both options, and analysts believe the industry will settle on a mix of both models.

Cars: the next platform war?

Forget
Android vs. iOS. We may be facing a scenario where app fans will have to choose between General Motors and Ford.

That’s where things are currently headed, with companies such as GM pushing its own proprietary platform, a potential headache-inducing situation for consumers. If drivers have a set of apps on a GM car, will they be able to switch to Toyota or Honda? Or what if they own both cars, but the apps only work on one of the vehicles?

It’s similarly frustrating for developers. Sure, GM promises a potential market of millions of cars. But so does Ford, Toyota, and the rest of the automakers, forcing developers into a difficult quandary.

“Automotive is both maddening and super exciting at the same time,” said Brian Lakamp, president of digital for Clear Channel, which includes the iHeartRadio app. “The time to market is, oftentimes, a year and sometimes two out, and there is not as much standardization in automotive as there is in other platforms.”

Chan is hopeful that the industry will converge to a single common platform.

“We as an industry recognize what the consumer electronics industry has done successfully: use common standards to drive innovation,” she said. Still, she added, there remains a trade-off between common standards and differentiated brands and services that needs to be negotiated.

ATT’s Haight said it will just take time.

“The (automakers) are all at different places, but they’re heading to the same place — it’s all converging,” he said.

Still, some are skeptical that day will come soon.

Connected cars roll into MWC13 from ATT, GM (pictures)

“The automotive industry is not good at fair play,” Koslowski said.

Others, such as Verizon Telematics, are waiting on the sidelines for the automakers to turn to it for assistance in creating a universal app store. Taylor said that the automakers may find managing an app store to be too far out of their area of expertise, and that a company like Verizon could provide the necessary help. Likewise, Haight said ATT has been pouring more resources into its connected car division with the hope that it can ultimately serve as the common platform for automakers.

However things shake out, the driving experience is poised to change dramatically over the next few years. Hopes are high that it will change for the better.

“I’m confident the industry will figure out a way to create something compelling,” Koslowski said.
CNET’s Joan Solsman contributed to this story.

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The 135is proves BMW can still make a sports car

The 2013 BMW 135is restored my faith in “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” Many years ago, I owned a 325is, of the E30 generation, which taught me what BMW was all about. But over the last few years, coinciding with the launch of the X6, the brand seemed to take a turn for the mundane, turning out cars tuned for the mass market rather than enthusiasts. After driving a particularly placid 3-series, I was beginning to fear the worst.

Now, the little 135is has convinced me that BMW still knows how to make a sports car.

Despite the 1 Series being BMW’s smallest, entry-level car, it can be one of the most potent, and the best street performer in the lineup. At just over 14 feet long, the 135is comes to the U.S. in a coupe format, and includes two smallish rear seats. The Europeans also get a really nice-looking hatchback version, which BMW refuses to import.

The 135i, boasting BMW’s excellent direct-injected and turbocharged 3-liter, six-cylinder engine, was already a little rocket. The addition of the “s” to the model name, something BMW has done occasionally through the decades, turns the car into a tuned-up street racer, with acceleration that won’t quit and an exhaust note that will get your attention.

BMW 135is: The fastest 1-series (pictures)

To make the 135is worthy of the extra letter, BMW reprogrammed the engine software, bringing the output up to 320 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque. Likewise, a new traction control program allows for a little more play, and the suspension has been stiffened. On the completely unnecessary side, BMW adorns the 135is with little M badges, evoking the somewhat disappointing attempt at an M version of the 1 Series from a few years back.

Manual transmission
The model BMW sent to CNET was a purist’s dream, with a manual transmission and no navigation system. Although the other transmission option is the truly excellent seven-speed twin clutch, which shaves 0.1 second from the zero-to-60-mph time, it was nice to get some driving time with the manual, which suits the 135is very well.

The gate exhibits what I think of as classic European smoothness. It precisely moves through the gears, but instead of feeling mechanical, there is a well-worn feel to each gear slot, as I imagine the giant gears of a centuries-old town clock would interlock. However, I’m not crazy about the flat-topped shift knob, as it feels too small for an adult’s hand. Add an inch of height to it, and the knob would be a perfect pistol grip.

2013 BMW 135is

This six-speed manual shifts with precision and European smoothness.

(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

I also rejoiced in the fact that the 135is had no buttons for Sport or Eco modes. Essentially, the 135is is always in Sport, and has no time for normal or Eco modes.

A purist might think, good, this is the way sports cars are meant to be: all mechanical with no technical tomfoolery. But don’t fool yourselves, there is a lot of technology at work in this car; BMW just hides it well. First, there is the engine, a real marvel of engineering using precisely programmed variable valve timing and direct fuel injection, which bears as much resemblance to an old, carburetor push-rod engine as a Mac Pro does to a slide rule.

Instead of relying on a limited-slip differential to aid cornering, BMW applies programming to the rear brakes, selectively engaging each one to help the car rotate through the turns.

I was impressed that merely making a fast start, running up the engine revs for a good zero-to-60-mph run, caused the traction control warning to light up on the instrument cluster. Fortunately, traction control never seemed to interfere, and could also be turned off by pressing a button. Holding down that same button also turns off the Dynamic Stability Control, which is not advisable unless you are on a track that you know well.

As for acceleration, the 135is took off quickly, like any well-powered sports car. But its engine programming let it rev up to 7,000rpm, giving me more time in the lower gears. It hit 60 mph in second gear, just before hitting redline, and an upshift to third showed the 135is just had more to give.

Just about where most cars would give up, the 135is got another power bump, seeming to increase its rate of acceleration.

2013 BMW 135is

Engine software lets the 135is rev up to 7,000rpm.

(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

The acceleration was accompanied by one of the best exhaust notes I’ve heard from a car in a long time. With the window down for maximum auditory stimulation, the exhaust growled aggressively under acceleration. Suddenly letting off the gas pedal resulted in a series of little backfires, as if the 135is had to somehow exhale all that power it had at the ready.

With the windows closed, the car’s noise dampening reduces the exhaust note to a low, bass thrumming. It changed tone and tempo with the tachometer needle, making the car seem like an exotic, thereminlike instrument. Really, somebody should sample it.

The beauty of the 135is is that, even with its high-tempo acceleration, it is perfectly drivable in stop-and-go traffic. The manual transmission makes for a little more work when boring driving conditions prevail, but it shifts so well that I didn’t mind. When you stop on an ascent, a hill-hold feature steps in to make taking off easier, too.

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