Uber’s Autonomous Vehicle Crash Shakes Industry

Last week’s accident between a testing autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian has shaken the automotive industry. Uber, the ride sharing company and their fleet of autonomous vehicles manufactured by Volvo, have all but stopped any further autonomous vehicle testing until further notice because of the crash. The crash involved a Volvo XC90 autonomous vehicle that was occupied by a human backup driver, and a pedestrian. While details on the accident have not been released, preliminary analysis of the available evidence shows that the pedestrian likely entered the oncoming path of the XC90 without sufficient time for the vehicle’s driving systems to properly avoid hitting the pedestrian. In addition, the backup driver did not have sufficient time to react to the situation or to avoid intervening with the driverless system before the vehicle collided with the pedestrian. This was thought to have been the first ever fatal accident involving an autonomous vehicle since testing had begun, including tests undertaken by other companies, such as Google. Right after Uber suspended their autonomous vehicle testing, Toyota announced that they would also be suspending all autonomous vehicle testing until further notice. In a statement provided by Toyota, the company informed the industry that they feel that the fatality has caused an emotional response from the backup test drivers and has shaken the confidence that autonomous vehicles can effectively prevent accidents in everyday scenarios. A similar response has reverberated throughout the automotive industry. Most companies are concerned about the backlash caused by the accident and how the thought of autonomous vehicles as being completely safe may now be gone. Autonomous vehicle testing relies on sensors placed around the vehicle that “see” the environment around the vehicle in an attempt to perform the act of driving at the level of a human, or even better. The system of sensors used by autonomous vehicles is dependent on being able to correctly identify the surroundings in the event of an emergency, and respond appropriately by navigating the autonomous vehicle away from the emergency. It may be difficult for the public to regain trust in such systems after they have been shown to be fallible. -taken from www.sae.org

New Device to Stop Semi Underride

The topic of vehicle underride has been discussed in many forums lately. Perhaps the most severe underride impact occurs between small passenger cars and large semi tractor trailers. Such an impact between small and large vehicles produces damage that is lethal to the occupants of the smaller vehicle in many cases. A group of underride researchers is testing a new product designed to reduce passenger vehicle damage in underride impacts with large trailers. The product is designed to resist underride impacts to the sides of the trailer, in the case of an accident where a passenger vehicle t-bones the trailer. The product is called Angel Wing and is produced by Airflow Deflector Inc. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety has performed impact tests against the Angel Wing  product at 35 mph and 40 mph impact speeds. The results of the test show that the Angel Wing effectively reduces the amount of underride to smaller vehicles, reducing the risk of decapitation type injuries to the vehicles occupants. Angel Wings are effectively large structural pieces that take up the space underneath a trailer’s main deck, behind the rear dual axles of the tractor and in front of the dual axles of the trailer. The concept of adding material in the area between the axles of the semi is not a new one, as many current trailers have large panels taking up this space currently. The difference between these large panels and Angel Wings is that Angel Wings are structural. The large panels in this area of many trailers currently is simply a panel to help reduce air turbulence under the semi in an attempt to increase fuel economy. Angel Wings may accomplish an increase in fuel economy as well as provide resistance to underride during impacts. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety has been investigating many methods to reduce underride between passenger vehicles and semis and will be continuing testing of these devices designed to reduce injury during accidents.   Taken from www.iihs.org

New Battery Design Shows Promise

Automobile fuel sources are going through a series of improvements as of lately. With improvements to alternative energy sources such as electric battery power, the future of automobile energy consumption is rapidly changing. Battery technology in itself is rapidly changing, and the concept of a battery having a fixed positive terminal, negative terminal, and fixed size is thrown out the window by a new start-up company from Finland. The company’s name is Tanktwo, and they are revolutionizing the shape and functionality of battery cells. Their design incorporates a sphere with six zones of contact. The idea is that the battery spheres would each be very small and have programmable zones to orientate proper battery polarity automatically when placed next to another battery sphere. The overall effect is a small array of battery cells that all align themselves to the appropriate polarity using computers located on each individual cell. The array of cells is located in a larger container, or battery module, acting similarly to other fuel cells aside from the fact that the fuel inside the cell is simply made up of little individual batteries. The possibilities of this concept show great promise in the automobile industry as a compromise to the obvious limitations presented by current battery designs and the limitations to electric vehicles. Batteries used in electric vehicles are severely limited in their functionality because of the need to slowly recharge the battery when the battery is depleted. This requires the automobile to essentially be parked for an extended period of time. Imagine if battery “refueling” stations simply removed the small spherical batteries from a vehicle’s battery module and replaced them with pre-charged, automatically orientating and assembling cells, and the automobile was instantly ready for use again. The small spherical batteries could then be re-charged and re-used again without dealing with replacing large, heavy, expensive batteries. The concept needs a lot of refining before it can be successfully implemented, but many large auto makers are taking notice to the concept. -taken from www.sae.org

Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Should motorcycle riders be required to wear helmets? The question has been asked many times and has a different answer depending on the context, and location in that it was posed. Legally, there are many states in the US that require motorcyclists to wear helmets. However, there are even more states that don’t require helmets for almost any age of rider and even a few that have no helmet laws at all. The requirement for riders to use helmets is somewhat controversial and has been debated by both sides over and over. The main argument being a demand for individual rights and freedom versus that of keeping riders safe in the event of an accident. Currently, there are 19 states, including the District of Columbia that require all motorcyclists to wear helmets while riding motorcycles. Another 28 states require riders to wear helmets under certain circumstances. These circumstances are usually associated with the rider’s age; younger riders under the age of 18 in these states are required to wear helmets, while those 18 and over are not required to wear them. There are three states, Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire, that do not require helmets at any age for any rider. See the map below for more information on which states have helmet laws and those that do not. Motorcycle riders who do not wish to wear helmets often argue that a requirement to wear helmets violates their individual rights of freedom. Additionally, non-helmet wearing riders may argue that helmets hinder their view of the road, are uncomfortable, and are unappealing appearance-wise. Ultimately, riders who choose not to wear helmets are accepting that they may have an increased risk of injury during an accident, but this is their own choice. Advocates for helmet laws wish to require all riders to wear helmets to reduce the risk of head injuries during accidents, in an attempt to regulate transportation in much the same way that seatbelts are required in all passenger vehicles. Regardless, the topic creates controversy on both sides of the debate. Read more: www.iihs.org

NHTSA Plans To Review Fuel Economy Regulations

Under new legislation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may revise the regulations set forth for fuel economy by the year 2021. The revision would effectively lower the requirements that automakers produce vehicles that meet certain fuel economy numbers for each successive year. Currently, automakers are required to meet a fleet-wide fuel economy number that increases each year. This policy has been in effect since the Obama Administration started the program in 2012. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is proposing to set fuel economy requirements for automakers in 2021 and leave them at this value for four years, or until 2025. Effectively, fuel economy requirements, while progressing towards better efficiencies and lowering fossil fuel burning and carbon dioxide production, will be reduced in an attempt to ease the constraints on the automobile industry to produce more efficient cars. New Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt has also planned on reviewing the limits for environmental pollution around the same time period, however the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not adopted the same policies on carbon dioxide pollution as of yet. The level of vehicle pollution is increasing as the effective size of vehicles demanded by consumers in the United States increases, even with the increase in production of electric and hybrid vehicles. Consumers are attracted to big, expensive, excessive vehicles such as trucks and full-size sport utility vehicles more than small compact vehicles and sedans. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will provide more reviews of the effect of fuel economy and vehicle pollution levels within the next four to five years. Many high-level environmentally conscious executives oppose the idea of peeling back the current fuel economy standards due to the effect of further pollution causing significant environmental damage. Even further, some are hinting that the Trump administration is rolling back all pollution standards in an attempt to pad the pockets of Big Oil companies and automobile industry executives. -Taken from Green Car Reports

Single Vehicle Accidents Are Dangerous

A recent study carried out by AAA Mid-Atlantic found that the majority of automobile crashes that result in a fatality are actually single-vehicle accidents. In other words, crashes caused by the driver are the most lethal type of crash, as opposed to multi-vehicle accidents which are typically considered more dangerous in the public’s view. Common crashes involving two or more vehicles are viewed as typically much more dangerous and common than crashes involving only one vehicle. The thought of being impacted by another vehicle in which the driver has no control over, such as being hit by a car running a red light, is typically much more daunting than a crash in which the vehicle’s own driver is at fault.  Approximately 96 percent of motorists fear the thought of being hit by another vehicle, whereas single vehicle accidents are fatal for more than half of all accidents. Significant data points were taken from statewide accident data in 2015 in the states of Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Virginia data shows that approximately 474 of 753 traffic fatalities were the result of single vehicle accidents. In Maryland, approximately 275 out of 513, or 54% of fatal accidents were caused by single vehicles. Washington DC had the highest percentage at approximately 74%. Nationwide averages show that single vehicle fatalities take up approximately 55% of fatal crashes.   Single vehicle accidents manifest themselves in different ways. For example, a vehicle rollover is considered a single vehicle accident. Vehicle rollovers are typically extremely dangerous because the occupants can be hit multiple times from multiple directions during the accidnent, causing severe injury at the minimum. Leaving the roadway is also considered a single vehicle crash, or colliding with a fixed object such as a telephone pole or concrete barrier. However, crashes that involve hitting a pedestrian or bicyclist are also considered single-vehicle accidents. These accidents are also often fatal due to the significant injuries that can occur during impact. taken from www.wtop.com

Airbag Manufacturer May File For Bankruptcy

Takata Airbags have been the center of a lot of recent attention due to the massive industry-wide recall that has occurred due to faulty airbag modules made by the company. Unfortunately, the extremely expensive recall has taken its toll on Takata, whom has privately announced that it will be seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection soon to help minimize the damages and loss of money. Takata has been forced to pay nearly one billion dollars in fines, penalties, and repayment to major automakers as a result of the recall. Industry experts estimate that Takata may have to be sold to another competitor after the bankruptcy takes place in order to keep its doors open, or risk going under due to their unpopularity after the recall. The result of the recall may mark the end of a once prominent Japanese company that was started over 85 years ago, as a textile manufacturing company that started out making parachutes for the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. The Takata airbags were recalled because of their potential to cause death or serious injury during deployment because the propellant used in the airbags became unstable over time when exposed to heat and humidity. The Takata airbags were responsible for about 17 deaths and numerous injuries as a result of the defective propellant. Of the one billion dollars paid during the recall, approximately $150 million was paid out to victims of injuries due to the defective airbags. More than one dozen automobile manufacturers have recalled vehicles with faulty Takata airbags, including Volkswagen, General Motors, and Toyota. The recall covers approximately 100 million airbag modules from Takata. One possible outcome of the bankruptcy would be the forced sale of Takata to a competitor. One such competitor, Key Safety Systems, owned by Chinese company Ningbo Joyson Electronic Corporation, has expressed some interest in purchasing Takata. Ningbo Joyson Electronic Corporation has the financial capacity to support Takata during the recall.   Taken from SFGate.com

New Tool to Stop Texting While Driving

A disturbing trend has increased in the past few years with the rapid increase in cell phone usage: texting while driving. Not necessarily limited to just sending texts while driving a vehicle, texting while driving is defined as virtually any cell phone input by the driver while driving a vehicle that takes visual attention off the road. Even some popular smart phone based games that use an augmented reality for gameplay (think Pokemon Go or similar) require significant attention of the user and can still be played while a vehicle is in motion. Texting while driving is very dangerous to the driver and to those drivers nearby. A new form of technology is aimed at detecting when texting while driving has occurred and law enforcement agencies are interested in utilizing it. The technology, termed “Textalizing”, can detect whether or not a cell phone was used to send texts and whether or not the vehicle was moving while the texts were sent. The technology works in much the same way that law enforcement “breathalizers” work in that, after a traffic stop by a police officer, the officer requests that the driver submit their cell phone for a brief examination by the textalizer which analyzes the text messages that were recently sent and determines whether or not the phone was used by the driver, while driving. The technology behind the textalizer is being developed to help curb the rise in texting while driving. Many accidents occur due to driver distraction and texting while driving is especially distracting because it requires the person texting to take their eyes off the road for a prolonged period of time to focus on sending the texts. The textalizer technology still has a ways to go before it can be implemented by law enforcement agencies, though. Issues, such as determining who is actually texting if multiple people are in a vehicle, or whether or not hands free systems were used to send the texts, etc. still need to be properly addressed so that the textalizer can accurately detect distracted driving. -taken from www.npr.org