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Who’s kissing who? Self driving cars edition

(TECH NEWS) With so many players, partnerships and rivalries in the self driving car game, we thought we’d try to put everything in one place for you.

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We begin with a story.

In the grim darkness of the 2000s, when I was but a little Matt, cocooned in higher learning, intent on writing the Man and sticking it to the Great American Novel and/or vice versa, a friend showed me a remarkable object.

This friend, and her friends, and their friends, had joined in fearsome female conspiracy to produce a list of who, in the… “complicated” is underselling it. Who, in the lunatic “Game of Thrones with twice the beer, half the IQ and no sharp objects” social congress of a co-ed dorm full of liberal arts majors, had been canoodling with whom.

My entry appeared 18th. High midfield – there were about 80. I never got up the nerve to ask how we were ranked.

You wouldn’t believe how useful that list has been to my life. Not the list itself, beyond a healthy infusion of self-doubt (18th?). But the concept, friends. Who’s smooching whom? It’s the universal question. Money and math are just ways to track it. Map the relationships, you’ve mapped the thing.

Let us therefore speak of self-driving cars. Because they’re coming, we all know it, and like any reasonable person you would like to acquire a giant Scrooge McDuck money pool to swim in thereby.

First, for our purposes, assume every car manufacturer has an in-house outfit at least looking at autonomous cars, because duh. For our purposes, they’re celibate. Nothing wrong with that.

Second, for the sake of their self-image (18th? Really? I mean, it was 80-some, but… really?) I’ll keep my smoochers alphabetical.

Now. Who, amongst the people actually building autonomous cars, is smooching whom?

Daimler, or Mercedes to be all American about it, is smooching..

…Smart. Yep, just Smart, which is a Daimler brand. Daimler is quite monogamous in its autonomous automotive endeavors. Aww. And seriously, the self-driving Smart Car is freaking adorable.

…Lyft, which is branching out of the X-as-a-service business to actually build stuff. At least, it says it is. Fair dues, it says it emphatically, like “by 2021 a majority of our rides will be in self-driving cars, and by 2025 personal car ownership won’t be a thing.” To that end, they’re smooching…

…Ford, because, you know, Ford makes cars and Lyft doesn’t.

…themselves. We’ve all been there.

But there’s more to Lyft. I ain’t saying Lyft is a gold digger, but it is not frequently seen in the company of partners with less than substantial means. They’re looking to be network of choice for other people’s self driving cars. That is, Lyft seeks to be smooched. Big-name volunteers currently include GM and Jaguar.

Uber. I’m almost hesitant to write about Uber, because, my Deity of Choice, Uber is a hot mess right now. Like, really. But they do theoretically have a business model other than litigation, and they have made a commitment to actually making, not just contracting, self-driving cars. To that end, they’ve been doing some hopefully less-skeezy-than-usual smooching with…

…Otto. Otto was Uber’s Waymo, their in-house startup. Unfortunately, they’re currently in court arguing that it’s not Uber’s Waymo in the sense that a Waymo executive stole a bunch of stuff from Waymo, then hooked up with Uber. Oh my, the drama. Poor Otto, like so many third wheels, appears to have been dropped, but there was smoochin’ going on. Litigious smooching! That is the worst kind of smooching.

…Volvo. Volvo was going to be to Uber what Fiat Chrysler was to Waymo. You may be sensing a pattern. Also, the Uber Volvo self-drivers are back in testing after smacking into somebody in Arizona. See aforementioned “mess, hot.”

Volvo. What’s to say about Volvo? My first car was a Volvo wagon (of course it was, I am, as noted elsewhere in my oeuvre, a painfully stereotypical fluffy hippie) and I can think of nothing exciting to say about Volvo. That (un)said, Volvo has a rep for surprisingly forward thinking techwise, given its cars are best known for safety, reliability and other unsexy things. That’s borne out in its smooching, which includes…

…Autoliv, which, world’s largest auto safety supplier. Sounds like Volvo.

…Nvidia, which, what? Nvidia’s definitely the “s/he’s hooking up with who?” entry on this list. For non-nerds in the audience, Nvidia’s main consumer-focused business is graphics processing for PCs. Gamer stuff. They make sure you can see the individual folds of brain tissue off the zombie you just domed. As an Nvidia customer myself, I’d never lower myself to a stereotype-laden joke like “Nvidia’s doing cars? Nvidia customers don’t go outside!” but, well. On the other hand, chipsets. They are very good at them.

Waymo, the Alphabet-owned (read “Google, but for things we don’t want to call Google”) startup that’s all autonomous cars, all the time, is smooching…

…well, mostly Google. They would be. But – can we be real a second? Google’s a slut. We all know it. Get a little entrepreneurial Natty Light in ‘em and they’ll go home with anything. So in practice, Waymo is smooching…

Fiat Chrysler Automotive to get the cars on the road. That’s already happened with their Early Rider Program, which has put 500 robo-Chryslers on the streets of Phoenix, something I still find vaguely intimidating. If the satnav says “Exterminate!” I’m moving to Mars.

Intel for hardware. Waymo still does its development entirely in-house, but Intel, being noted for building nice chips, is building the chips.

The great thing about “who’s smooching whom” is that, when you map that one aspect, you get a sense of the whole. That list from the first paragraph? An alien could be given that and no other information about h. sapiens collegiensis and determine “these organisms have little impulse control, no understanding of consequences, and should probably consume less of a mysterious resource called ‘beer.’”

The Spock analysis of automotive smooching yields similar results. For all the crazed Lannister decadence above, the relationships people are building in order to make self-driving cars a reality come down to three things: a business plan for their use, top-tier tech, and a whole bunch of actual cars.

As yet, nobody has all three, hence the smooching. Lyft has a business plan, but no cars, so smooches for Ford, GM and Jag. Volvo has cars, but no tech or business plan, so Nvidia and Autoliv get their smooches.

The question is, who will get all three in one place in a way customers care about?

That’s where you come in. Read the above, read this (that goes into far greater detail). It has maps!

After that, your call. It’s your money. Like any good smooch, you don’t know how it’s gonna go until it’s gone.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Tech News

3 cool ways bug-sized robots are changing the world

(TECH NEWS) Robots are at the forefront of tech advancements. But why should we care? Here are some noticeable ways robots are changing the world.

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Bits of robots and microchips changing the world.

When we envision the robots that will (and already are) transforming our world, we’re most likely thinking of something human- or dog-sized. So why are scientists hyper-focusing on developing bug-sized (or even smaller!) robots?

Medical advances

Tiny robots could assist in better drug delivery, as well as conduct minor internal surgeries that wouldn’t otherwise require incisions.

Rescue operations

We’ve all heard about the robot dogs that can rescue people who’ve been buried beneath rubble or sheets of snow. However, in some circumstances these machines are too bulky to do the job safely. Bug-sized robots are a less invasive savior in high-intensity environments, such as mine fields, that larger robots would not be able to navigate without causing disruption.

Exploration

Much like the insects after which these robots were designed, they can be programmed to work together (think: ants building a bridge using their own bodies). This could be key in exploring surfaces like Mars, which are not safe for humans to explore freely. Additionally, tiny robots that can be set to construct and then deconstruct themselves could help astronauts in landings and other endeavors in space.

Why insects?

Well, perhaps the most important reason is that insects have “nature’s optimized design”. They can jump vast distances (fleas), hold items ten times the weight of their own bodies (ants) and perform tasks with the highest efficiency (bees) – all qualities that, if utilized correctly, would be extremely beneficial to humans. Furthermore, a bug-sized bot is economical. If one short-circuits or gets lost, it won’t totally break the bank.

What’s next?

Something scientists have yet to replicate in robotics is the material elements that make insects so unique and powerful, such as tiny claws or sticky pads. What if a robot could produce excrement that could build something, the way bees do in their hives, or spiders do with their webs? While replicating these materials is often difficult and costly, it is undoubtedly the next frontier in bug-inspired robotics – and it will likely open doors for humans that we never imaged possible.

This is all to say that in the pursuit of creating strong, powerful robots, they need not always be big in stature – sometimes, the tiniest robots are just the best for the task.

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Tech News

4 ways startups prove their investment in upcoming technology trends

(TECH NEWS) Want to see into the future? Just take a look at what technology the tech field is exploring and investing in today — that’s the stuff that will make up the world of tomorrow.

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Woman testing VR technology

Big companies scout like for small ones that have proven ideas and prototypes, rather than take the initial risk on themselves. So startups have to stay ahead of technology by their very nature, in order to be stand-out candidates when selling their ideas to investors.

Innovation Leader, in partnership with KPMG LLP, recently conducted a study that sheds light onto the bleeding edge of tech: The technologies that the biggest companies are most interested in building right now.

The study asked its respondents to group 16 technologies into four categorical buckets, which Innovation Leader CEO Scott Kirsner refers to as “commitment level.”

The highest commitment level, “in-market or accelerating investment,” basically means that technology is already mainstream. For optimum tech-clairvoyance, keep your eyes on the technologies which land in the middle of the ranking.

“Investing or piloting” represents the second-highest commitment level – that means they have offerings that are approaching market-readiness.

The standout in this category is Advanced Analytics. That’s a pretty vague title, but it generally refers to the automated interpretation and prediction on data sets, and has overlap with Machine learning.

Wearables, on the other hand, are self explanatory. From smart watches to location trackers for children, these devices often pick up on input from the body, such heart rate.

The “Internet of Things” is finding new and improved ways to embed sensor and network capabilities into objects within the home, the workplace, and the world at large. (Hopefully that doesn’t mean anyone’s out there trying to reinvent Juicero, though.)

Collaboration tools and cloud computing also land on this list. That’s no shock, given the continuous pandemic.

The next tier is “learning and exploring”— that represents lower commitment, but a high level of curiosity. These technologies will take a longer time to become common, but only because they have an abundance of unexplored potential.

Blockchain was the highest ranked under this category. Not surprising, considering it’s the OG of making people go “wait, what?”

Augmented & virtual reality has been hyped up particularly hard recently and is in high demand (again, due to the pandemic forcing us to seek new ways to interact without human contact.)

And notably, AI & machine learning appears on rankings for both second and third commitment levels, indicating it’s possibly in transition between these categories.

The lowest level is “not exploring or investing,” which represents little to no interest.

Quantum computing is the standout selection for this category of technology. But there’s reason to believe that it, too, is just waiting for the right breakthroughs to happen.

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Tech News

Will AI take over copywriting roles? This tool hopes to make that a reality

(TECH NEWS) CopyAI hopes to give copywriters a run for their… well, WPM. But how much can AI fully replace copywriting skills?

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Hands typing on a laptop, working on copywriting piece.

Copywriting is an important trade. Writers are often able to breathe life into otherwise formulaic websites peddling products which, sans the copy from those writers, might very well suffer a fate of relative obscurity. However, copywriters are also expensive, and their duties—indispensable as they may be—can be replicated fairly easily by little more than basic machine learning.

The question is this: Can AI replace copywriters? That’s a question that CopyAI hopes to answer with a resounding “yes”.

CopyAI is an “AI powered [sic] assistant for writing and brainstorming marketing copy.” This makes it a powerful tool to complement human writing, at the very least; is it enough to put people like me out of a job?

From my experience with the tool, no—at least, not yet. CopyAI can’t create an engagement strategy, respond to customers, spin testimonials to evoke heart-felt reactions, or analyze its own trends.

But that doesn’t detract from how freaking cool it is in practice.

CopyAI asks for very little from its user. Upon selecting a style of copy—Facebook Market, website carousel, or even page header, for example–you are prompted to enter the title of your product and a couple of short sentences describing it in the context of your ad. CopyAI does the rest, and while the results can be hilariously out of touch, you’re able to pick the ones that sound the most like your desired copy and then generate more options that sound similar.

The service has a huge number of different options for advertisement types, and you can use multiple different copy projects in one specific campaign.

Naturally, CopyAI has a few flaws, most of which replicate the problems we’ve seen with machine learning-based writing in the past: It doesn’t sound quite human enough to be comfortable. However, that’s a problem for a skilled copywriter to solve—and quickly, thus making something like CopyAI a potentially preferable choice for mass copywriting.

So, again, we ask: Is there a way for CopyAI to replace copywriters entirely in the future? Probably not. The copy it produces is intriguing, and often close enough that underfunded campaigns might find some value in using it short-term, but it doesn’t have the punch that a real person can pack into an advertisement.

That said, combining CopyAI with a small team of copywriters to reduce burnout—and repetition—could make for some very efficient work on the back end.

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