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Racing into the future of autonomous driving

After a third-place finish at last year’s Formula Student Germany, MIT Driverless team aims to compete in the $1.5 million Indy Autonomous Challenge.

On a cloudy day last August, Emily Zhang held her breath at the Hockenheimring racetrack in Germany’s Rhine Valley. Less than two weeks after the circuit hosted the German Grand Prix, it was the stage for Formula Student Germany, one of the world’s most competitive automobile design competitions for students.

Zhang and her teammates from MIT Driverless — working under the auspices of the Edgerton Center — watched anxiously as their race car rolled over to the starting line. A sleek, gleaming blue striped with white, the automobile named DUT18 wasn’t an ordinary race car. First, it was built by engineers at TU Delft; then, programmers at MIT wrote algorithms that would replace its human driver. Together, the two schools were competing for the first time in the competition’s category for autonomous — or self-driving — vehicles.

For Zhang, the competition was the test of a year’s work. A Course 6 (electrical engineering and computer science) senior and member of the Driverless computer vision team, Zhang helped write the race car’s software. Her team’s code would enable the car to attempt the competition’s various challenges, such as steering itself through a circuit it had never seen before. Two cameras mounted on the car would point at cones lining the track, then use geometry to calculate — and maintain — the car’s distance from them. For Zhang, the open-ended nature of the challenge made it an exciting change from her usual classwork. “It’s been really cool and very fun to be working on such an interesting and complex problem,” Zhang says. “And the team is great. Everyone is very passionate about working together on this problem.”

In Germany, Zhang and the other Driverless team members had one goal: getting their car to work. They certainly weren’t expecting to achieve a third-place podium finish. The success, says Driverless business team member and MBA student Krystal Liu, inspired them to aim even higher. “This year, we were planning to do it better,” she says. “This year, we were trying to go for first.”

Liu and the rest of the team would soon encounter a major challenge. After the success in Germany, the team had begun improving their software for the following year’s competition. They were about to start testing it in the Netherlands when the coronavirus pandemic struck.

“When Covid hit, we were unsure of what would happen,” Liu recalls. “Everything changed.” The team soon heard that the 2020 Formula Student Championship had been cancelled — in addition to all the other summer competitions. A while later, the team learned about a new competition being held later this year: The Indy Autonomous Challenge, or IAC, is a $1.5 million prize competition that will be held at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “It’s like the autonomous student version of the Indy 500,” Liu says.

The competition is different from the Formula Student Championship in a few ways. First, teams aren’t required to build their own cars, just the autonomous driving software — they use it to maneuver professional race cars. “It’s super high-speeds, up to 120 miles per hour,” Liu says. “So way faster than we were doing before — and still autonomous!” And for Zhang, the competition will pose the Driverless team an engineering problem they didn’t have in Germany. “We’re going to be driving with other cars,” she says. “So that’s going to bring out a lot of really cool problems.”

But even though the Driverless team is ready to take on the challenge of the IAC, participating in the competition requires funding that is difficult to come by without sponsors. Spearheading that effort is Dan Reilly, a dual-degree MBA and mechanical engineering master’s student in the Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) program. Reilly says he joined Driverless to support the team’s sponsorship strategies, and “to make sure the engineers don’t have to worry about this stuff, that they can just do the great work they do.” Over the next few months, he says, he hopes to convince companies to join hands with Driverless.

Every year, almost 40,000 Americans lose their lives in vehicular crashes. More than 90 percent of these are caused by human error, which means that autonomous vehicles could potentially save thousands of lives. Competitions like the Indy Autonomous Challenge aim to play their part by increasing public awareness of the benefits of driverless cars, as well as offering teams like MIT Driverless an opportunity to tackle the most important problems holding driverless technology back.

Liu says her time at Driverless has convinced her that autonomous technology will change the world. “I used to be uncertain about whether it would,” she says. “Now, I’m both certain that it will happen, and confident that it’s the right thing to do.”

Source : http://news.mit.edu/2020/racing-future-autonomous-driving-0714


Tesla’s Model S is the first electric car with 400-mile range EPA rating

Long range achieved by being lighter, more efficient, and having more aerodynamic wheels


The Tesla Model S Long Range Plus now has an EPA-rated range of 402 miles, making it the first electric vehicle to receive a rating of over 400 miles from the agency. The new rating applies to all North American Model S vehicles with the “Long Range Plus” name, which Tesla introduced back in February to replace the “Long Range” version of the car.

“All Model S cars made since late Jan have 402 mile range,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet. “This is just making it official.” The Model S Long Range Plus has a starting price of $74,990 following a price reduction last month.

Model S Long Range Plus: Building the First 400-Mile Electric Vehicle

The Tesla Team June 15, 2020

The freedom to travel anywhere is critical to Tesla’s mission. Since the introduction of our 265-mile Model S in 2012, we’ve continued to revisit every aspect of the design to deliver the longest-range and highest-performance electric vehicles on the road.

Starting today, all North American Model S Long Range Plus vehicles have an official EPA-rated range of 402 miles, representing a nearly 20% increase in range when compared to a 2019 Model S 100D with the same battery pack design.

Until recently, the EPA-rated range of the Model S Long Range Plus was 391 miles, but this had been a source of contention between Tesla and the EPA. Last month, Tesla’s CEO claimed that the rating was a result of a mistake made by the EPA, which caused the car to lose 2 percent of its range when tested. However, the government agency disputed this, and said that the car had been tested properly. At the time, Musk said the car would be re-tested when the EPA reopened.

On Tuesday, the EPA told CNBC that it approved the new range estimate after receiving data from Tesla gathered during an in-house test. “Tesla has updated the 2020 Model S Long Range Plus vehicle making several changes to the vehicle from the one EPA previously tested. EPA approved the new label value based on a review of the testing protocols and data submitted by Tesla and found it was complete and accurate,” the agency said.

In a blog post accompanying the announcement, Tesla has detailed the improvements that have allowed the car to break the 400-mile barrier. These include weight reductions in components like the car’s battery pack, more aerodynamic wheels, and using more efficient drive units. Regenerative braking improvements also mean more energy gets sent back to the car’s battery pack while driving.

The improvements result in “a nearly 20% increase in range when compared to a 2019 Model S 100D with the same battery pack design,” Tesla says.

Source: https://www.theverge.com/2020/6/16/21292629/tesla-model-3-long-range-plus-epa-rating-aerodynamic-wheels-mass-reduction-efficiency

Germany will require all petrol stations to provide electric car charging

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Germany said it will oblige all petrol stations to offer electric car charging to help remove refuelling concerns and boost consumer demand for the vehicles as part of its 130 billion euro ($146 billion) economic recovery plan.

The move could provide a significant boost to electric vehicle demand along with the broader stimulus plan which included taxes to penalise ownership of large polluting combustion-engined sports utility vehicles and a 6,000 euro subsidy towards the cost of an electric vehicle.

Germany’s announcement follows a French plan to boost electric car sales announced last week by President Macron.

Source : https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-germany-autos/germany-forces-all-petrol-stations-to-provide-electric-car-charging-idUSKBN23B1WU

SpaceX debuts upgraded drone ship with record-breaking rocket landing A SPACEX FALCON 9 BOOSTER HAS SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED FIVE ORBITAL-CLASS LAUNCHES AND LANDINGS FOR THE FIRST TIME, MARKING THE HALFWAY POINT TO THE ROCKET’S DESIGN GOAL. (SPACEX)

SpaceX has successfully launched and landed the same Falcon 9 booster five times for the first time ever while simultaneously debuting an upgraded drone ship formerly stationed on the West Coast.

With this launch under SpaceX’s belt, the company has fully proven that the March 2020 in-flight engine failure suffered during the inaugural fifth launch of a Falcon 9 was a fluke. Even more importantly, with Falcon 9 B1049.5 safely aboard drone ship Just Read The Instructions (JRTI), SpaceX can now begin preparing for the booster’s sixth launch – a first for the company as it pushes towards a 10-flight goal.

Now passing the halfway point almost a little over 24 months after SpaceX debuted Falcon 9’s Block 5 upgrade, there is a strong chance that at least one booster – perhaps even B1049 – will either cross the 10-flight mark or get within a few launches of it by the end of the year. SpaceX has some 18 more launches nominally planned over the next 7 months, a number that doesn’t even include 14-18 additional Starlink launches targeted in 2020.

(SpaceX)
(SpaceX)
Falcon 9 B1049 streaks into the sky on its fifth orbital-class launch and third Starlink mission. (Richard Angle)

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Just 15 minutes after liftoff and six minutes after Falcon 9 B1049’s record-breaking landing, the rocket’s second stage successfully deployed SpaceX’s eighth batch of 60 Starlink satellites, also the 7th batch of upgraded v1.0 spacecraft. With this launch complete, after a several-week period of orbit-raising, SpaceX will soon have ~475 operational satellites in its space-based internet constellation.

According to comments made by COO and President Gwynne Shotwell in a May 25th interview with Aviation Week’s Irene Klotz, SpaceX aims to complete 14 Starlink launches – ~840 satellites worth – before it starts to roll out Starlink internet service to customers around the world.

Given that SpaceX has another two Starlink missions planned in June alone, the company could easily cross the 14 launch mark in August or September, opening the constellation for an alpha, beta, or possibly even wider release by the end of Q3 2020. In typical SpaceX fashion, its record-breaking eighth Starlink launch and the start of a potential four-launch month has come four days after the company successfully launched astronauts into orbit for the first time, arguably the single most important mission in its 18-year history.

60 new Starlink satellites depart Falcon 9’s second stage and begin to spread out ahead of orbit-raising. (SpaceX)

Now with that historic launch safely behind SpaceX and a new, gently-used booster nearly back in the stable, the company can get back to tackling an extremely busy Starlink and commercial launch manifest over the next several months. Stay tuned!


Source : https://www.teslarati.com/spacex-rocket-landing-record-drone-ship-debut/