Elon Musk unveils new Tesla master plan

Image: Tesla and Powerwall
Tesla’s lines of business include the Model S electric sedan as well as the Powerwall home battery system, seen at left. (Credit: Tesla)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has just shared his once-secret master plan for the electric-car company, which he now casts as a solar power and energy storage company as well. Here is the plan, as summarized by Musk in a post on the Tesla site.

  • Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
  • Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments
  • Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning
  • Enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it

The expansion of Tesla’s product line will include “heavy-duty trucks and high passenger-density urban transport,” Musk says in the post. “Both are in the early stages of development at Tesla and should be ready for unveiling next year. We believe the Tesla Semi will deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate.”

Story by Todd Bishop and Alan Boyle

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Ford works on virtual drivers for future cars

Image: Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous car
Ford is testing Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicles at night. (Credit: Ford)

The car of the future may well be controlled by a certified virtual driver that relies on the cloud for guidance, ranging from directions to software security updates.

Those are some of the concepts laid out today by Jim Buczkowski, director of electrical and electronics systems at Ford Research and Innovation, during a Seattle Chamber of Commerce breakfast. And tech companies in the Seattle area are playing a role in turning those concepts into reality.

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Will self-driving cars be good for the planet?

Image: Self-driving car
Volvo’s SARTRE project is aimed at developing fuel-saving approaches to autonomous driving, such as “platooning.” SARTRE stands for “Safe Road Trains for the Environment.” (Credit: Volvo)

Experts expect self-driving cars to make the roads much safer, and driving much more convenient. But what will they do to the environment? A newly published study suggests that, under some scenarios, the shift to autonomous vehicles could double energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions.

The good news is that other scenarios could lead to a nearly 50 percent reduction in those metrics by 2050, which would brighten the picture for coping with climate change. It all depends on how driverless cars are introduced into the marketplace, and how consumers and businesses respond.

“There is lots of hype around self-driving cars, much of it somewhat utopian in nature. But there are likely to be positives and negatives,” University of Washington engineering professor Don MacKenzie said. “By taking a clear-eyed view, we can design and implement policies to maximize the benefits and minimize the downsides of automated vehicles.”

MacKenzie is one of the authors of a study analyzing the range of possibilities, published today in the journal Transportation Research Part A. The survey comes as a plethora of companies, ranging from Ford and Tesla to Google and Apple, are hustling to make vehicles more autonomous and jump through regulatory hoops.

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AI experts say robots could spark unemployment

Image: Google self-driving car
Google is testing subcompact self-driving cars. (Photo via Google)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The robot revolution may put half of us humans out of a job by 2045 – and if that happens, what are the politicians going to do about it?

“This issue of automation and employment, which is going to be one of the biggest policy issues for the next 25 years, if not longer, and now we’re in a presidential election year … this issue is just nowhere on the radar screen,” Rice University computer scientist Moshe Vardi said Feb. 13 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Washington.

Vardi and other experts on artificial intelligence sketched out a scary picture of what the next couple of decades could bring as machines become smarter, more powerful and more prevalent. It’s a picture that’s developing quickly, thanks to the rise of machine vision and machine learning.

Bart Selman, a computer science professor at Cornell University, said he would not have been as concerned about AI’s downside five years ago. Since then, however, engineers have brought about dramatic improvements in the ability of software systems to see, hear and understand their environment.

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