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LanceLetter - Tesla crash; Polaroid Go; Apple; Ingenuity

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LanceLetter

April 26 · Issue #227 · View online

Stuff that matters.


Scribbled while filling out my Oscar ballot

My beloved SX-70
My beloved SX-70
Tesla Crash
Being a passenger in a self-driving car is a more subtle experience than you might imagine. The driver sits with her hands either hovering above or resting on the steering wheel. She has her feet near the gas and brake, but not on them, and is watching the road. You only fully realize that she’s not controlling the car when the wheel turns on its own.
The future of vehicle autonomy, wherein we climb into the passenger compartment and a driverless vehicle whisks us away isn’t here yet. That’s why I was surprised to hear that when police investigated a Tesla Model S crash that killed two people, they reported that there wasn’t anyone in the driver’s seat.
I know that Teslas can conduct short maneuvers like parking and be summoned from a parking space without a driver, but otherwise, Tesla is quite clear about current self-driving requirements. From the Tesla site:
“Current Autopilot features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.”
What I’m curious about is whether the system actively detects a body in the seat. I know that the system includes attention sensors and will let you know if you’re not paying attention. This is to prevent people from falling asleep while the car drives.
In the case of a self-driving car, I’d hope that people treat it like enhanced cruise control and how I’ve seen most people treat early autonomy: in the seats, with their hands on or near the wheel and ready to grab control at a moment’s notice.
When I raised this topic on Twitter, Tesla watchers and fans called me, well, basically an idiot. Reminding me that Tesla has just level 2 autonomy (the autonomy rating goes up to 5 for complete self-driving) and that, of course, they have such sensors in the seat. Without a body in the driver’s seat the Tesla won’t drive. Still, the messaging on Tesla’s site isn’t clear on that point and no one appears to know what the Tesla passengers did or didn’t do.
The crash is tragic, but I wouldn’t leap to any conclusions about autonomous driving. I strongly believe that the future mobility is autonomy and that if highways were filled with self-driving cars, or at least there was a dedicated self-driving lane (like HOV), the roads would be much safer (studies bear this out but add that they won’t eliminate crashes).
There are two other developments this week in Tesla world. First, the company is expected to offer up earnings later today. Aside from how the previous quarter went, this’ll be a good opportunity to see how Tesla views the rest of 2021 and its potential for EV production, sales, and delivery.
Secondly, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is getting set to host Saturday Night Live this weekend. Elon is not without a sense of humor, but it can be strange, and I don’t know how his penchant for meme comedy will translate to the live show.
Remember Polaroid?
There will never again be anything quite like my Polaroid SX-70. The design and operation (first-ever instant single-lens-reflex [SLR] camera) was truly one of a kind. Sadly, Polaroid’s subsequent instant cameras were but pale imitations. You can still buy SX-70 film, though it’s quite pricey.
These days, Polaroid focuses on heat-activated instant film cameras that lean heavily into “cute” and do little or nothing to move the start of the art forward.
If, however, you’re itching for a little bit of the “Polaroid Instant” feel, you might want to check out the new Polaroid Go. It’s notable not so much for its analog operation (cute in the digital age) and faint whiff of SC-70 heritage, but for its diminutive size. I must admit, I am kind of intrigued.
Basket full of Apple
Apple’s Spring Event was just as bursting with products as I thought it would be. Between the ultra-thin design and eye-popping colors, the new M1 iMac is a stunner. I’m not so interested in the purple iPhone 12, but that new M1 iPad Pro is an important sea-change in Apple’s bespoke silicon program. What I mean is that this could be a signal that Apple is preparing to ditch its A-series silicon for M-class, home-grown CPUs.
Gotta love space
The Mars Ingenuity helicopter has now flown three times! This is quite a feat, sending instructions to a 4 lb. copter that’s millions of miles away and waiting to hear back if it lifted off, hovered, and then flew half the distance of a football field. It’s a struggle for most of us to keep out drones in the air and not slam into a tree or building, especially if we can’t see them.
Yes, I watched the Oscars. Yes, they were weird. The thing I missed the most? The lame scripted jokes. This was the least show-bizzy show biz event I’ve ever seen: No dancing, no singing, no skits (well, one with Glenn Close). Plus, they jumbled the categories, plopping Best Director at the opening and Best Picture about ¾ the way through. On the bright side, the show clocked in at a tight 3 hours and fifteen minutes.
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