Monthly Archives: July 2016

Travel From Lost Angels

By 2017, Tesla cars could be driving all the way across the country without any hands on the wheel, according to CEO Elon Musk and his vision for driverless technology. The enigmatic entrepreneur also had a few choice words for the media during the surprise announcement Wednesday, accusing journalists of “killing people” by over-reporting Tesla Autopilot crashes, which he described as “basically almost none.”

Having teased a big announcement via Twitter for the past week, what Musk finally revealed late Wednesday was an enhanced version of the electric vehicle’s autopilot software. By the end of next year, said Musk, Tesla would demonstrate a fully autonomous drive from, say, “a home in L.A., to Times Square … without the need for a single touch, including the charging.”

Effective immediately, Tesla will equip all models with a network of cameras and other sensors capable of watching everything happening around the vehicle and making instant decisions on how to respond to potential problems. The new technology is a significant step up from the semi-autonomous Autopilot system now used on Tesla’s Model S sedan and Model X battery-SUV.

But Tesla cautioned that not all the new features will be activated immediately upon the launch of the Model 3, which is expected to occur sometime in late 2017. It first needs to clock “millions of miles of real-world driving” to ensure everything works properly. The maker is clearly hoping to avoid a repeat of the problems of the Autopilot system that has blamed for at least one fatal crash.

Related: U.S. Opens Investigation Into Tesla After Fatal Crash on ‘Autopilot’

Getting vehicles to drive on their own has proven frustratingly difficult — Google, long seen as one of the leaders in the development of the technology, has acknowledged having more than a dozen mostly minor collisions with its prototypes. And Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot has received much of the blame for a May 9 crash in Florida that killed a former Navy SEAL. Several other crashes, including a fatal one in China, are also under investigation, though not clearly linked to the technology.

The Feds approve

But that hasn’t dimmed the broad support for autonomous driving — and even more advanced driverless vehicles — shared by automakers and automotive regulators alike. Just one month ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued the first federal guidelines covering self-driving vehicles.

“This is a change of culture for us,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who has become a vocal proponent of the technology, arguing that it will eventually result in a sharp decline in highway crashes, injuries and deaths.

But journalists could be the ones holding back progress, suggested Musk, saying, “If, in writing some article that’s negative, you effectively dissuade people from using an autonomous vehicle, you’re killing people.”

Musk and Tesla have also come under fire for what skeptics say was an over-ambitious roll-out of the preliminary Autopilot system. California-based Consumer Watchdog has noted that Tesla itself called the system a “beta,” and argued that the carmaker was using its owners to improve the system. That might be acceptable with smartphone software, but not with a motor vehicle, the non-profit organization has declared.

Taking it to the next level

Tesla also plans to have future buyers help it develop the new fully-autonomous system — something known in the automotive and tech communities as Level 5 autonomy. But the Silicon Valley company is taking a more cautious approach this time.

Each new vehicle will be equipped with eight separate cameras, according to Tesla, as well as radar and a dozen ultrasonic sensors that can gather a 360-degree view of the world at distances up to 820 feet. In turn, that data will be processed by what Tesla is calling a “neural net.”

Unlike a human driver, those cameras and other sensors won’t blink, get distracted by text messages or crying children in the back seat. But Tesla will need to make sure they also won’t make mistakes like those that contributed to the May 9th fatal crash. It appears the Model S camera confused a white truck trailer for the bright Florida sky, while the car’s radar thought the truck was an overhead highway sign.

Initially, new Tesla vehicles will have some of their potential functions disabled – including the forward collision warning with emergency auto-braking feature. The goal will be to “further calibrate” the new system and, when Tesla is confident it will work, turn them back on, one at a time, using the maker’s over-the-air update technology.

How you can crack the best online

download-32Oil prices fell on Thursday on profit-taking, after markets rallied the previous day on another unseasonal draw in U.S. crude oil stocks helping bullish sentiment from an expectation of an OPEC-led cut in production.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures were at $51.03 per barrel at midday European trading, down 57 cents from their last close. Brent crude futures were at $52.12 per barrel, down 55 cents.

Traders said the moves were a result of profit taking after WTI futures settled at a 15-month high the previous day, fueled by a fall in U.S. crude stocks by 5.2 million barrels in the week ended Oct. 14 to 468.7 million barrels.

“Today we are drifting lower with WTI crude oil finding resistance at $52. The dollar gained some strength during the Asian session which also helped trigger some profit taking ahead of today’s ECB meeting,” said Ole Hansen, Saxo Bank’s head of commodity research.

Analysts at JCB noted that U.S. crude oil stocks have been depleted by 26.5 million barrels in the past seven weeks which was unusual even when taking into account hurricanes that can disrupt oil production and supplies by tankers.

“The counterseasonal nature of the draw is also notable as we ought to be seeing builds on the back of fall refinery maintenance.”

This reduction in stocks in the world’s largest oil consumer has added to bullish sentiment that arose after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) proposed to cut or at least curb oil production.

While many remain skeptical about OPEC’s ability to strike and effectively implement a deal at a Nov. 30 meeting, the notion of coordination among the 14 member states has at least put a floor under Brent and WTI prices at around $50 a barrel.

“Speculative pressure is probably what is driving up prices,” said Jonathan Chan of Singapore-based Phillip Futures.

Reuters technical commodity analyst Wang Tao said U.S. oil is expected to break a resistance zone of $51.67 to $52.11 per barrel, and then rise towards $52.78. Meanwhile, Brent oil may stabilize around a support at $52.49 per barrel and then retest a resistance at $53.45.

BMI Research even said it saw “significant potential for an upwards break in Brent towards $60 per barrel… driven by bullish technical drivers and supportive conditions in the broader financial markets,” although it added fundamentals did not warrant much higher prices.

OPEC’s November meeting may agree on a half a million to 1 million barrels per day oil production cut. The producer cartel hopes non-OPEC exporters, especially Russia, will cooperate.

Lead Over Trump

Hillary Clinton held her lead over Donald Trump in the final presidential debate ahead of the election, analysts said of the Wednesday night market reaction.

“This remains Clinton’s election to lose. Hillary solidified her lead in the polls by staying on message, emphasizing policy prescriptions, and launching several devastating personal attacks,” said Karl Schamotta, director of FX research and strategy at Cambridge Global Payments.

“Trump played his last hand, and lost,” said Schamotta.

U.S. stock index futures held slight gains throughout the debate and added a few points to trade near session highs after the end of the debate, with Dow futures up about 45 points as of 11:13 p.m., ET.

The Mexican peso reversed losses to trade about a third of a percent higher against the U.S. dollar after the end of the debate, with the dollar hitting its lowest against the peso since September 8. The dollar-peso is watched as a proxy on the market perception of the election result.

“I think the market thought Trump scored a few points early in the debate. I think he did very well with the conservative agenda. He said all the things the Republican party wanted him to say… I think the sentiment is, yeah, maybe he has captured a few points but Hillary is still in the lead,” said Ilya Feygin, managing director and senior strategist at WallachBeth Capital.