A Sleeping Tesla Driver Highlights Autopilot's Biggest Flaw

As technology advances, so must policing. Last week, when a couple of California Highway Patrol officers spotted a man apparently sleeping in the driver’s seat of a Tesla Model S going 70 mph down Highway 101 in Palo Alto around 3:30 am, they moved behind the car and turned on their siren and lights. When the driver didn’t respond, the cops went beyond their standard playbook. Figuring the Tesla might be using Autopilot, they called for backup to slow traffic behind them, then pulled in front of the car and gradually started braking. And so the Tesla slowed down, too, until it was stopped in its lane.

“Our officers’ quick thinking got the vehicle to stop,” says CHP public information officer Art Montiel. The officers arrested the driver, identified in a police report as 45-year-old Alexander Joseph Samek of Los Altos, for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Neither the cops nor Tesla has confirmed whether the Model S had Autopilot engaged at the time. It seems likely it was, though, since the vehicle was staying in its lane and responding to vehicles around it, even though its driver didn’t wake up until the cops knocked on his window.

Tesla clearly tells its customers who pay the extra $5,000 for Autopilot that they are always responsible for the car’s driving, and that they must remain vigilant at all times. Driving drunk is illegal. And the vehicle’s sorta-self-driving tech may have prevented a crash. But if Autopilot did allow a slumbering and allegedly drunk driver to speed down the highway, it brings up another question: Is Elon Musk’s car company doing enough to prevent human abuse of its technology?

It’s long-standing but still-relevant criticism. Last year, a National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the 2016 death of an Ohio man whose Tesla hit a semi-truck while Autopilot was engaged concluded that Tesla bore some of the blame. When the oncoming truck turned across the path of the Tesla, the sedan didn’t slow down until impact. “The combined effects of human error and the lack of sufficient system controls resulted in a fatal collision that should not have happened,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said at the time.

Since then, Tesla has restricted how long a driver can go without touching the steering wheel before the receiving a warning beep. If they don’t respond, the system will eventually direct the car to stop and hit its hazard lights. That makes this incident a bit confusing, as Musk noted in a tweet:

The sensors in the steering wheel that register the human touch, though, are easy to cheat, as YouTube videos demonstrate. A well-wedged orange or water bottle can do the trick. Posters in online forums say they have strapped weights onto their wheels and experimented with Ziplock bags and “mini weights.” For a while, drivers even could buy an Autopilot Buddy “nag reduction device,” until the feds sent the company a cease-and-desist letter this summer.

All of which makes the design of similar systems offered by Cadillac and Audi look rather better suited to the task of keeping human eyes on the road, even as the car works the steering wheel, throttle, and brakes. Cadillac’s Super Cruise includes a gumdrop-sized infrared camera on the steering column that monitors the driver’s head position: Look away or down for too long, and the system issues a sharp beep. Audi’s Traffic Jam Pilot does the same with an interior gaze-monitoring camera.

Humans being human, they will presumably find ways to cheat those systems (perhaps borrowing inspiration from Homer Simpson) but it’s clear a system that monitors where a driver is looking is more robust for this purpose than one that can be fooled by citrus.

It’s possible Tesla will give it a shot. The Model 3 comes with an interior camera mounted near the rearview mirror, and though the automaker hasn’t confirmed what it’s for, don’t be surprised if an over-the-air software update suddenly gives those cars the ability to creep on their human overlords.

And if that doesn’t work, well, there’s always the Ludovico Treatment. Or a car that does all the driving, no human needed.


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China will likely publish rules for new tech board in January: 21st Century

FILE PHOTO: A customer takes a picture as robotic arms collect pre-packaged dishes from cold storage, done according to the diners’ orders, at Haidilao’s new artificial intelligence hotpot restaurant in Beijing, China, November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China will likely publish rules for Shanghai’s planned “technology innovation board” in January, and will launch the new tech board before June, the 21st Century Business Herald reported on Tuesday, citing unidentified sources close to the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

Companies with core technologies can start submitting listing applications as soon as in March or April, but firms with unproven technologies such as blockchain, or in traditional industries such as finance or real estate will be disqualified for listing on the new board, the newspaper added.

Plans for the technology innovation board were unveiled by Chinese President Xi Jinping early last month. The board will adopt a loosely-regulated mechanism for initial public offerings (IPOs), potentially competing with Hong Kong, or even New York.

According to the newspaper, applicants will not be required to be profitable, but must meet certain threshold in terms of revenue and capitalization.

The new board may also adopt a more flexible trading system, granting stocks more room to rise or fall, and allowing investors to sell shares on the same day of purchase, according to the article. Currently, Chinese stocks are allowed to rise or fall a maximum of 10 percent on a single trading day, and investors can not sell shares on the day of purchase.

Reporting by Samuel Shen and John Ruwitch; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu

Fintech company Calastone to shift fund network to blockchain

LONDON (Reuters) – Calastone, an investment funds transaction network, said on Monday it will shift its entire system to blockchain in May, a move that could slash costs for the sector by billions of dollars a year.

London-based Calastone provides back and middle-office services to more than 1,700 firms such as JP Morgan Asset Management, Schroders and Invesco, helping them sell their funds across the world through banks and other local financial advisors.

The shift will see more than 9 million messages a month between those counterparties – worth more than 170 billion pounds ($217 billion)- completed on blockchain, marking a move into mainstream finance for a technology whose hype has rarely been matched by widespread usage in major industries.

Currently three separate messages are sent digitally between firms as they buy into a fund: one to place orders, another to confirm receipt, and a third to confirm the price.

Though more reliable than manual methods of communicating like faxes – still used by some in the industry – that messaging process is still cumbersome and time-consuming.

Moving to blockchain could slash as much as 3.4 billion pounds ($4.3 billion) a year in global fund industry costs by pooling trading and settlement processes, Calastone said, citing research by consultants Deloitte.

Savings on such a scale would be a boon to the fund industry as it is buffeted by investor pressure to lower fees – its main source of revenue – and rising costs, much of it linked to tougher regulations after the financial crisis.

“The more you can automate, the more you de-risk, you more you streamline, the more you speed up,” said Andrew Tomlinson, chief marketing officer at Calastone.

FROM HYPE TO REALITY?

Originally conceived to underpin the cryptocurrency bitcoin, blockchain is a shared database that can process and settle transactions in minutes. It does not need middlemen for checks and its entries cannot be changed, making it highly secure.

Proponents say it has the power to revolutionise industries from finance to shipping by making back office jobs more efficient. That prospect has sparked tests by banks and other financial companies across the world over the last few years.

But despite the hype, few blockchain projects have been put into practice in the finance sector, due in part to worries over costs, regulation and how widely used it can become.

Banks and asset managers are also concerned about the security of blockchain, said Matthias Huebner at consulting firm Oliver Wyman in Frankfurt.

“How secure is the technology? Is there a risk of fraud? Is there a risk of data just getting lost?” he said.

Still, Calastone said all of its users would see their trades move to the blockchain.

JP Morgan Asset Management and Invesco – listed as clients on Calastone’s website – declined to comment on the shift when contacted by Reuters. Schroders, also listed as a client, did not respond to a request for comment.

Beyond finance, the majority of blockchain projects launched so far have been in peripheral industries such as ticketing or food supply chains.

Recently, though, others have been launched in the commodities sector, suggesting that the technology is catching on in major sectors.

Big oil companies and trading firms, for instance, are now able to finalise crude oil deals on a blockchain-based platform.

Reporting by Tom Wilson and Simon Jessop, editing by Louise Heavens

New Valve Agreement Gives Developers a Bigger Share of Profits

Valve just made a change to how it splits up revenue from games on its Steam platform that will share more money with developers.

Valve announced the change Friday night, which details updates to its distribution agreement and reveals a new revenue share tier system. After a game makes more than $10 million on Steam, 25% of earnings will go to Steam. At $50 million, 20% will go to Steam. This includes revenue from game packages, downloadable content, in-game sales, and Community Marketplace game fees. This is for revenue from Oct. 1, 2018 and onward, but will not take into account any revenue made prior to that date.

Prior to this change, Steam would take about 30% of all revenue, as noted by The Verge. This was largely true across the board at any revenue level, with exceptions only made for smaller developers that participate in its Steam Direct program, which allows new developers to easily submit their games to the platform.

The move comes as more competitors look to dismantle Steam’s dominance, which for a long time was the main source of PC gaming. EA, one of the largest game developers, has its own Origin platform, Discord, a chat service used heavily in the gaming community announced its competitor The Discord Store just over a month ago, and more developers are self-releasing titles to avoid splitting its revenue.