Archiv für den Monat September 2016

A High-Stakes Bet: Turning Google Assistant Into a ‘Star Trek’ Computer

Google’s new assistant will be incorporated in new products like Google Home, an Amazon Echo-like talking computer. CreditJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

Google is one of the most valuable companies in the world, but its future, like that of all tech giants, is clouded by a looming threat. The search company makes virtually all of its money from ads placed on the World Wide Web. But what happens to the cash machine if web search eventually becomes outmoded?

That worry isn’t far-fetched. More of the world’s computing time keeps shifting to smartphones, where apps have supplanted the web. And internet-connected devices that may dominate the next era in tech — smartwatches, home-assistant devices like Amazon’s Echo, or virtual reality machines like Oculus Rift — are likely to be free of the web, and may even lack screens.

But if Google is worried, it isn’t showing it. The company has long been working on a not-so-secret weapon to avert its potential irrelevance. Google has shoveled vast financial and engineering resources into a collection of data mining and artificial intelligence systems, from speech recognition to machine translation to computer vision.

Now Google is melding these advances into a new product, a technology whose ultimate aim is something like the talking computer on “Star Trek.”It is a high-stakes bet: If this new tech fails, it could signal the beginning of the end of Google’s reign over our lives. But if it succeeds, Google could achieve a centrality in human experience unrivaled by any tech product so far.

The company calls its version of this all-powerful machine the Google Assistant. Today, it resembles other digital helpers you’ve likely used — things like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. It currently lives in Google’s new messaging app, Allo, and will also be featured in a few new gadgets the company plans to unveil next week, including a new smartphone and an Amazon Echo-like talking computer called Google Home.

But Google has much grander aims for the Assistant. People at the company say that Sundar Pichai, who took over as Google’s chief executive last year after Google was split into a conglomerate called Alphabet, has bet the company on the new tech. Mr. Pichai declined an interview request for this column, but at Google’s developer conference in May, he called the development of the Assistant “a seminal moment” for the company.

If the Assistant or something like it does not take off, Google’s status as the chief navigator of our digital lives could be superseded by a half-dozen other assistants. You might interact with Alexa in your house, with Siri on your phone, and with Facebook Messenger’s chatbot when you’re out and about. Google’s search engine (not to mention its Android operating system, Chrome, Gmail, Maps and other properties) would remain popular and lucrative, but possibly far less so than they are today.

That’s the threat. But the Assistant also presents Google with a delicious opportunity. The “Star Trek” computer is no metaphor. The company believes that machine learning has advanced to the point that it is now possible to build a predictive, all-knowing, superhelpful and conversational assistant of the sort that Captain Kirk relied on to navigate the stars.


CreditStuart Goldenberg

The Assistant, in Google’s most far-out vision, would always be around, wherever you are, on whatever device you use, to handle just about any informational task.

Consider this common situation: Today, to book a trip, you usually have to load up several travel sites, consult your calendar and coordinate with your family and your colleagues. If the Assistant works as well as Google hopes, all you might have to do is say, “O.K., Google, I need to go to Hong Kong next week. Take care of it.”

Based on your interactions with it over the years, Google would know your habits, your preferences and your budget. It would know your friends, family and your colleagues. With access to so much data, and with the computational power to interpret all of it, the Assistant most likely could handle the entire task; if it couldn’t, it would simply ask you to fill in the gaps, the way a human assistant might.

Computers have made a lot of everyday tasks far easier to accomplish, yet they still require a sometimes annoying level of human involvement to get the most out of them. The Assistant’s long-term aim is to eliminate all this busywork.

If it succeeds, it would be the ultimate expression of what Larry Page, Google’s co-founder, once described as the perfect search engine: a machine that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.”

At this point, a few readers may be recoiling at the potential invasion of autonomy and privacy that such a machine would necessitate.

The Assistant would involve giving ourselves over to machines more fully. We would trust them not just with our information but increasingly with our decisions. Many people are already freaked out by what Google, Facebook and other tech companies know about us. Would we be willing to hand over even more power to computers?

Those are important questions, but they are also well down the road. For now, the more pressing question for the Assistant is: Will it even work?


Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, calls the development of the assistant “a seminal moment” for the company. CreditJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

Google has technological advantages that suggest it could build a more capable digital assistant than others have accomplished. Many of the innovations that it has built into its search engine — including its knowledge graph database of more than a billion people, places and things, and the 17 years it has spent trying to understand the meaning of web queries — will form the Assistant’s brain.

Google has also been one of the leaders in machine learning, the process that allows computers to discover facts about the world without being explicitly programmed. Machine learning is at the heart of a number of recent advances, including Google Photos’ uncanny capacity to search through your images for arbitrary terms (photos of people hugging, for instance).

“We are in the process of transforming into a machine-learning company,” Jeff Dean, who is in charge of Google Brain, the company’s artificial intelligence project, told me this year. For each problem Google solves this way, it gets better at solving other problems. “It’s a boulder going downhill gathering more momentum as it goes,” Mr. Dean said.

If you use the Assistant today, you’ll see some of these advances. As my colleague Brian X. Chen explained last week, if your friend sends you a picture of his dog on Allo, Google Assistant will not only recognize that it’s a dog, but it will also tell you the breed.

That’s an amazing technological feat. But as Brian pointed out, it’s also pretty useless. Why does your friend care if you know his dog’s a Shih Tzu?

This gets to a deeper difficulty. The search company might have the technical capacity to create the smartest assistant around, but it’s not at all clear that it has the prowess to create the friendliest, most charming or most useful assistant. Google needs to nail not just Assistant’s smarts, but also its personality — a new skill for Google, and one that its past forays into social software (Google Plus, anyone?) don’t speak highly of.

Then there is the mismatch between Google’s ambitions and Assistant’s current reality. Danny Sullivan, the founding editor of Search Engine Land, told me that so far, he hadn’t noticed the Assistant helping him in any major way.

“When I was trying to book a movie, it didn’t really narrow things down for me,” he said. “And there were some times it was wrong. I asked it to show me my upcoming trip, and it didn’t get that.”

Of course, it’s still early. Mr. Sullivan has high hopes for the Assistant. It would be premature to look at the technology today and get discouraged about its future, especially since Google sees this as a multiyear, perhaps even decade-long project. And especially if Google’s future depends on getting this right.



Paris motor show 2016 review: A-Z of all the new cars

The Paris motor show is heralded as the world’s biggest motor show, claiming more visitor footfall than any other auto show. No wonder car makers are scrambling to prepare their new car launches in time.

Here we round up all the cars, world debuts and major launches at the Paris motor show. Think of it as a handy one-stop shop for everything about the Mondial de l’Automobile, including a continuously updated list of all the key cars unveiled on the day.

The new 2017 Audi A5 Sportback: a Paris motor show debut

A5 Sportback (above): The slinkier new five-door A5 hatchback is unveiled
Q5: Ingolstadt is readying the replacement Q5 Mk2 for a Paris debut

Concept car: 
Not the new 5-series, but a new crossover concept is coming

C3 (below): The French will launch chic new supermini at the Paris motor show
C3 WRC concept:

CXperience: Plug-in hybrid concept previews Citroen’s upcoming design language

Citroen C3: Paris motor show 2016 world debut

2016 range updates: 
Fresh styling, trim and features for Sandero, Sandero Stepway and Logan MCV

GTC4 Lusso T:  New V8-engined version of the car formerly known as the FF
LaFerrari convertible:
Maranello’s taken a tin-opener to its fastest supercar

Civic (below):  
Next Civic is another French debutant; everything you need to know about Civic Mk10
Civic Type R prototype:  New prototype offers a look at the next-gen hot hatch from Honda

2016 Honda Civic

i10: Revamped city car gets new tech and fresh styling
i20 WRC:  Get your first look at the 2017 WRC entry from Hyundai
i30:  Third-gen hatchback family confirmed for the Paris motor show
RN30 concept:  New 375bhp hot-hatch concept targets the Focus RS

 UK pricing revealed for sleek new coupe
QX Sport:
We’re expecting a refreshed version of the new mid-sized crossover concept from Beijing
VC-T variable compression ratio engines:  CO2-crushing new engine tech at Paris

 Practical MPV gets new styling and tech for 2016
New Rio supermini to make its public debut at the French car show
Soul: Revamped Kia Soul gets new 201bhp turbo engine

The new Land Rover Discovery: covers come off at the Paris motor show

Discovery (above):  The all-new Discovery, now revealed in full, is set to be one of the big draws at Paris

UX crossover concept:
 Latest concept aims to showcase new tech and connectivity features
Kinetic Seat Concept:  The humble car seat, as you’ve never seen it before

AMG GT Roadster:  French guillotine beheads Merc’s glorious sports car in Paris
AMG R50 hypercar (below):  Big Paris shock, as Merc confirms F1-engined hypercar
E-class All-Terrain:  Merc chases the Allroad dollar with E-class in wellies
Electric SUV concept:  We’re expecting a mid-sized e-crossover
GLC 43 4Matic Coupe: Sleeker version of the twin-turbo GLC SUV steps out
Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6:  A closer look at the new super-luxury concept

The new Mercedes-AMG R50 hypercar - F1-engined!

Clubman JCW:  It’s the most powerful version of Mini’s compact estate to date

GT-PHEV Concept:  
A conceptual look ahead to the next Outlander SUV

Slicker, more Europeanised supermini takes a bow at Paris motor show

Lumpy crossover enters the mainstream in prettier, more conventional Mk2
5008:  Double-oh Peugeot reborn as a family crossover; seen first in Paris
3008 DKR race car:  New rally-raid special shown ahead of 2017 Dakar

Panamera (below):  
It’s the brand spanking new, prettier Panam sports saloon Mk2

The new 2016 Porsche Panamera: a Paris motor show launch

La Regie unleashes its first pick-up at its home show in Paris
Koleos:  New ‘Initiale Paris’ version of luxury SUV unveiled
Trezor:  Sleek EV coupe packs a 345bhp punch
Zoe:  Renault’s upped the Zoe’s maximum range to 250 miles

Ateca X-Perience:  
Rugged new concept showcases potential production car

A major launch for Skoda as it unveils its first full-size family crossover

Fortwo and Forfour Electric Drive:  World premiere of the e-Smart is scheduled for Paris

LIV-2 SUV concept:  
This one points to the next-generation Rexton SUV, we reckon

 European debut for the new baby crossover inspired baby
SX4 S-Cross:  Mild facelift for 2017 model year SUV

C-HR crossover:  
Final production sight of the new compact SUV, after Geneva design reveal
Gazoo Racing:  New umbrella body for all Toyota’s motorsports will launch in Paris
Prius Plug-in Hybrid:  European debut for Toyota’s plug-n-play Prius
FCV Plus:  Another Euro first for this fuel-cell show car

New EV features plenty of punch and long range, but we won’t get it – yet

I.D. electric car concept (below):  Volkswagen promises dramatic change with new long-range EV
Volkswagen announces 13th brand:  Mystery Berlin-based brand being worked on

VW I.D. concept

Amazon has a secret plan to replace FedEx and UPS called ‚Consume the City‘

Amazon has been quietlybeefing up its own shipping logistics network lately.

Amazon CEO Jeff BezosAmazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Although Amazon publicly says it’s meant to complement existing delivery partners like FedEx and UPS, a new report by The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Bensinger and Laura Stevens says Amazon has broader ambitions.

Eventually, Amazon aims to build a full-scale shipping and logistics network that will not only ship products ordered from Amazon, but also will ship products for other retailers and consumers.

In other words, Amazon is looking to compete against delivery services like FedEx and UPS, the report says. Internally, some Amazon execs call the plan „Consume the City.“

Here are other new details around Amazon’s logistics plan, according to the report:

  • Amazon recently hired former Uber VP Tim Collins as VP of global logistics.
  • It recruited dozens of UPS and FedEx executives and hundreds of UPS employees in recent years.
  • Test trials for last-mile deliveries are running in big cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami.
  • The company also experimented with a program called „I Have Space“ to store Amazon’s inventory in warehouses owned by other companies.

On top of that, recently reported that Amazon has hired Ed Feitzinger, the former CEO of UTi Worldwide, one of the largest supply chain management companies, as VP of global logistics. Add that to the fact that Amazon has now built facilities within 20 miles of 44% of the US population, and Amazon is starting to look like a real threat to existing logistics networks.

According to Baird Equity Research, Amazon is looking at a $400 billion market opportunity by launching all these initiatives. They could also help Amazon reduce some of its shipping costs, which have been increasing every year.

People in the industry are starting to take notice, too, according to Zvi Schreiber, the CEO of Freightos, an online marketplace for international freight.

„After dominating e-commerce and warehousing, Amazon is moving farther up the supply chain and eyeing the logistics sector from all angles, particularly looking to leverage technology, capital, and manpower to make logistics more efficient,“ Schreiber told Business Insider.

„Given their track record of disrupting industries — from retail to warehousing and e-commerce fulfillment to cloud computing — the trillion-dollar freight industry is certainly tracking Amazon nervously.“

Here’s the electric car Audi is building to take on Tesla

Audi E-tron quattroAudi

Tesla’s Model S and Model X are soon going to have some serious competition.

Last September, Audi revealed its all-electric e-tron quattro concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The SUV, which is slated to go into production by 2018, will have three electric motors, a range of 310 miles on a single charge, and quick charging capabilities.

Here’s a look at some of the features in the e-tron quattro that we hope to see in the production version.

Like the e-tron concept, Audi will most likely include piloted driving technology in its upcoming all-electric SUV.

Like the e-tron concept, Audi will most likely include piloted driving technology in its upcoming all-electric SUV.

Audi piloted techYouTube/Audi

The e-tron quattro concept has piloted driving technology, which uses radar sensors, a video camera, ultrasonic sensors, and a laser scanner to collect data about the car’s environment and create a model of the vehicle’s surroundings in real-time.

Audi currently has a lot of this tech in its newer vehicles, so it’s likely we will see a more advanced piloted system in the production version of the e-tron quattro.


Cameras could replace side view mirrors.

Cameras could replace side view mirrors.


The e-tron quattro has curved displays built into the front section of the doors that lets the driver view what is around them. There’s no guarantee we’ll see this in the production version, but automakers are beginning to experiment with new kinds of mirror designs.

For example, GM’s a digital mirror in the Chevy Bolt and the Cadillac CT6that uses cameras to stream whatever is behind you.

It will likely be covered in screens.

It will likely be covered in screens.


The e-tron quattro concept features two touch displays in the cockpit, one to the driver’s left to control lights and the piloted driving systems and one to the right where media and navigation is controlled.

The center console has two more OLED displays for climate control and infotainment.

With its 95 kWh battery, the e-tron quattro has an impressive range of 310 miles on a single charge.

With its 95 kWh battery, the e-tron quattro has an impressive range of 310 miles on a single charge.


To put that into perspective, Tesla’s Model X SUV with all wheel drive and a 100kWh battery has a range of 289 miles on a single charge. Audi has already said its range will beat this.

It may be able to fully charge in just 50 minutes.

It may be able to fully charge in just 50 minutes.


We know the production version will have quick charging capabilities, but we don’t know exactly how fast it will work. However, we’re hoping it’s in line with the e-tron quattro concept’s charge time.

The concept car has a Combined Charging System (CCS), meaning it can be charged with a DC or AC electrical current. It can fully charge with a DC current outputting 150 kW in just about 50 minutes.


The e-tron quattro concept is equipped with induction charging technology, so it can be charged wirelessly over a charging plate.

The e-tron quattro concept is equipped with induction charging technology, so it can be charged wirelessly over a charging plate.


We can’t say if this is a definite feature the production version will have, but our fingers are crossed.

It will have super fast connectivity.

It will have super fast connectivity.


Audi announced at CES this year that it is the first automaker to support the latest standard for mobile communications: LTE Advanced.

LTE Advanced is the latest enhancement to LTE, meaning that it can deliver larger and faster wireless data payloads than 4G LTE. We can almost certainly expect to see the technology integrated into the upcoming production car.

Daimler präsentiert futuristisches Trio: Urban e-Truck, Vision Van und Future Bus

Der Mercedes Benz Urban eTruck feiert auf der Nutzfahrzeug-IAA seine Weltpremiere.Der Mercedes Benz Urban eTruck feiert auf der Nutzfahrzeug-IAA seine Weltpremiere.

Der Urban e-Truck, der Vision Van und der Future Bus – Mercedes zieht auf der Nutzfahrzeug-IAA die ganz große Elektroshow ab. Hinter den futuristischen Studien steckt aber mehr. Denn die Daimler AG versteht sich nicht mehr ausschließlich als Hersteller.

Es ist das gleiche Bild wie beim Pkw-Pendant in Frankfurt: Wer in diesen Tagen bei der Nutzfahrzeug-IAA in Hannover den Daimler-Stand besucht, wird auf eine Zeitreise mitgenommen. Denn hier stehen nicht die Laster von morgen, sondern die von übermorgen. Mit einem Aufwand, wie man ihn in dieser Branche so noch nicht erlebt hat, haben die Entwickler der Bus-und-Truck-Sparte aus dem Sternen-Imperium gleich drei visionäre Studien verwirklicht: Vision Van, Urban e-Truck und Future Bus.

Wie weit uns Mercedes mit diesen drei spektakulären Studien, die allesamt auf reinen Elektroantrieb setzen, in die Zukunft blicken lässt, weiß keiner genau. Wolfgang Bernhard, der für die Nutzfahrzeugsparte zuständige Daimler-Vorstand, ist allerdings überzeugt, dass die Zeitenwende bei der Elektro-Mobilität bereits eingesetzt hat und sie sich „viel dynamischer entwickelt, als wir das alle für möglich halten würden“.

Die Marschrichtung ist klar

Über 200 Kilometer soll der 25-Tonnen-Koloss rein elektrisch fahren.
Über 200 Kilometer soll der 25-Tonnen-Koloss rein elektrisch fahren.

Und kühn ergänzt der 56-Jährige, dass Daimler mit der Umsetzung der visionären Ideen „den Transport völlig neu erfindet“. Für Güter und Personen. Auf Autobahnen und in Städten. So sei der Urban e-Truck als erster emissionsfreier schwerer Truck die beste Antwort auf immer rigideren Zufahrtsbeschränkungen in verstopften Großstädten. Der sogenannte Verteilerverkehr im eher innerstädtischen Bereich könne mit ihm flüsterleise und sauber durchgeführt werden. Und mehr noch. Er ist komplett vernetzt, und bietet einschließlich eines intelligenten Reichweiten-Managements quasi ein Rundum-Sorglos-Paket für Transport- und Logistik-Unternehmen aus einer Hand.

Das umfasst eine flexible und effiziente Routenplanung, die Staus und sogar die Wetterlage einbezieht, die Optimierung des Energieverbrauchs, das Ansteuern der Ladestationen bis hin zum kompletten Lademanagement. „Das garantiert einen hoch effizienten Betrieb“, erklärt Bernhard. Und zudem will Daimler künftig auch noch stationäre Stromspeicher anbieten, die schon heute aus Antriebsbatterien von Elektroautos hergestellt werden. „Wir müssen uns von einem reinen Hersteller in einen Dienstleistungsanbieter verwandeln“, gibt der Kopf der Nutzfahrzeug-Division die Marschrichtung für die Zukunft vor.

Auch Langstrecke ist „physikalisch“ möglich

Während die Außenhaut des Urban e-Truck futuristisch anmutet, ist das Cockpit vergleichsweise konventionell gestaltet.
Während die Außenhaut des Urban e-Truck futuristisch anmutet, ist das Cockpit vergleichsweise konventionell gestaltet.

Ehrgeizige Pläne, wobei der Urban e-Truck aber allein schon technisch beeindruckt. Verantwortlich für den leisen Auftritt des 25-Tonnen-Kolosses sind zwei Elektromotoren an der Hinterachse direkt neben den Naben, die für eine Gesamtleistung von 340 PS sorgen und es im Zusammenspiel auf ein Drehmoment von 1000 Newtonmeter bringen. Damit ist volle Durchzugskraft direkt aus dem Stand garantiert. Die drei modularen Batteriepakete mit einer Gesamtleistung von 212 kWh sind immerhin für eine Reichweite von 200 Kilometern gut, was für eine Tagestour im Verteilerverkehr üblicherweise voll ausreicht. Die Ladezeit an einer 100-kW-Säule soll nur knapp über zwei Stunden betragen, allerdings sind solch potente Kraftquellen derzeit noch eine Seltenheit.

Und auch wenn die Lithium-Ionen-Akkus zusammen fast 2,5 Tonnen wiegen, wird der Stadt-Laster mit einer Nutzlast von 12,8 Tonnen, wie sie im Verteilerverkehr gängig sind, fertig. Auch der typische 7,4 Meter lange Kühlkoffer für den Frischedienst-Einsatz von Supermärkten und Einzelhandelsgeschäften mit Lebensmitteln lässt sich hinterm Fahrerhaus verbauen.

Mit seinen Drohnen soll der Vision Van vor allem den Lieferverkehr "auf der letzten Meile" revolutionieren.
Mit seinen Drohnen soll der Vision Van vor allem den Lieferverkehr „auf der letzten Meile“ revolutionieren.

Während Wolfgang Bernhard die Einführung rein elektrischer Antriebe im schweren Truck auf der Langstrecke für „physikalisch unmöglich“ hält, gibt er dem Verteiler-Lkw eine gute Chance. „Der Urban e-Truck würde im Vergleich zu einem Diesel-Lkw heute sicher einen Aufschlag in fünfstelliger Höhe erfordern“, erklärt der Nutzfahrzeug-Chef. Allerdings sei der stromernde 25-Tonner frühestens Anfang des nächsten Jahrzehnts serienreif und bis dahin seien die Batteriepreise allemal günstiger. Hinzu kämen aber auch noch die deutlich geringeren Betriebskosten. Denn erstens liegen die Stromausgaben rund 40 Prozent unter einem vergleichbaren Dieselverbrauch und zweitens besitzt ein E-Antrieb viel weniger Verschleißteile, was die Wartungs- und Instandhaltungskosten maßgeblich reduziert. Auch Ölwechsel fallen ja nicht mehr an.

Ohne Lenkrad, aber mit Drohnenlandeplatz

Mindestens genauso futuristisch von Chefdesigner Gordon Wagener gezeichnet präsentiert sich der Vision Van, der mit einer Cloud-basierten Steuerungssoftware ebenso in ein Gesamtkonzept einer komplett digitalisierten Lieferkette eingebunden werden soll. Das Fahrzeug kommuniziert beispielsweise auch über ein als „Kühlergrill“ gestaltetes Black Panel mit der Umwelt und soll vor allem den Lieferverkehr „auf der letzten Meile“ revolutionieren. So gibt es im Cockpit weder Lenkrad noch Pedalerie, dafür aber auf dem Dach zwei Landeplätze für Drohnen, die bei der Auslieferung den letzten Teil des Zustellungsweges vom Auto zum Kunden überbrücken sollen.

Eher als Meilenstein auf dem Weg zu einem autonom fahrenden Omnibus gilt der Mercedes Future Bus, der auch bereits in der Praxis bewiesen hat, dass mit einem City-Pilot an Bord zumindest teilautomatisiertes Fahren im öffentlichen Nahverkehr technisch bereits möglich ist. Auf der knapp 20 Kilometer langen Strecke vom Flughafen Amsterdam Schiphol bis nach Harlem musste der Fahrer jedenfalls kein einziges Mal Gas oder Bremse betätigen.

Dass Mercedes auf der Nutzfahrzeug-IAA mit den drei Zukunftsstudien aber nicht nur eine Show fern jeglicher Realität abzieht, beweist die Ankündigung, schon 2018 mit zwei voll elektrischen Fahrzeugen auf den Markt zu kommen. So ist ein ausschließlich mit Strom angetriebener Bus ebenso versprochen wie ein Sprinter mit E-Antrieb. Und schon im nächsten Jahr ist die Kleinserie eines Fuso e-Canter geplant. Der Kleinlaster der japanischen Tochter, ein Überbleibsel der einst gescheiterten Fusion mit Mitsubishi, setzt je nach gewünschter Reichweite auf individuelle Batteriesätze mit drei bis sechs Akkupacks à 14 kWh, mit denen die Kunden ihre Bedürfnisse in puncto Reichweite, Preis und Gewicht flexibel anpassen können. Er werde um einen vierstelligen Betrag teurer sein als ein vergleichbarer Diesel, würde in den Betriebkosten aber rund 1000 Euro auf 10.000 Kilometer einsparen und sich so bereits nach drei Jahren amortisieren.

Self-driving cars are here, but that doesn’t mean you can call them ‚driverless‘

Volvo Driverless Car What I imagine I could’ve been doing on my way to college instead of holding a steering wheel for nine hours. (Not actually me) Volvo

I went to college nine hours away from home — easily doable in a day’s drive, but tedious nonetheless.

On one trip through the cornfields of Indiana, I remember turning to my friend wondering why we hadn’t figured out cruise control for steering wheels. I had already been cruising at a steady 70 m.p.h. for hours with my feet on the floor. Why did I have to touch the steering wheel to keep it in the lines too?

Less than six years later, the answer is that I don’t have to touch the steering wheel anymore. Self-driving cars are here, and they’re arriving faster than many predicted.

The pace at which a self-driving car went from myth to reality has caused all sorts of problems, from a talent shortage in the field to a sudden arms race in trying to build the best self-driving car on the market. Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick called it „existential“ for the company to develop its own driverless car technology.

Yet, there’s still a large distinction — and years of development — between the self-driving cars hitting the streets today and the driverless cars that we dream of in the future. Most „driverless“ cars today still have a driver in the front seat. Teaching a car how to drive itself (even with a driver on hand) is just the important first step.

Dreams of driverless

It’s hard not to be seduced by the images of driverless cars.

Mercedes-Benz‘ concept car shows four seats all turned to face each other. Bentley’s driverless dream comes with a holographic butler — a future staple for the high-end autonomous car. The Rolls-Royce has a two person couch with a giant TV where the driver normally sits.

Bentley Bentley

Even Larry Page is rumored to be working on a flying car so we all finally get one step closer to“The Jetsons“ future we’ve envisioned.

However, what’s not acknowledged is just how hard it is to get cars to that point. When I asked Uber’s Kalanick just what’s holding truly driverless cars back, he laughed because there’s just so much — and a lot of it just that the technology hasn’t even been developed. A self-driving car shouldn’t freak out at a four-way intersection or turn off every time it goes over a bridge.

To get in a self-driving car today, it feels like having cruise control, but for the whole car. The autopilot keeps the car’s speed steady, it stays evenly inside the lines, and maintains the proper following distance. The only way to experience a self-driving car is to either own a Tesla or live in Pittsburgh and magically hail a self-driving Uber.

After taking a ride in Otto’s self-driving truck, I explained the experience to my 92-year-old grandmother as being in a plane: You have a licensed driver who does take off and landing, or in this case, getting onto the interstate, but then once it’s clear, you just set it to autopilot.

While having „self-driving cars“ in the hands in the public is a huge milestone, it’s just the beginning in the path to full autonomy.

Truly driverless cars remain years away — but still closer than you think. Ford, for example, plans to roll out its first fully autonomous carsfor ride-sharing by 2021. Google is aiming for 2020 , and Tesla is planning to make its vehicles part of car-sharing networkonce its cars are fully autonomous.

The impacts of that will be widely felt. Merrill Lynch predicted in a 2015 report that driverless taxis like Ubers will make up 43% of new car sales by 2040. The Boston Consulting Group also wrote in a 2015 report that driverless taxi sales are bound to incline. The BCG predicts that 23% of global new car sales will come from driverless taxis by 2040, which will result in a decline in vehicle ownership in cities.

Before we get to driverless though, we need to perfect self-driving. To do that, that means putting real self-driving cars to the roads in a test. That’s why they are here and happening now. Driverless will come next.

Artificial Intelligence Software Is Booming. But Why Now?

Marc Benioff, left, chief executive of Salesforce, talked with Matthew Panzarino, editor in chief of TechCrunch, at its Disrupt conference in San Francisco last week. Credit Beck Diefenbach/Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO — This is the year artificial intelligence came into its own for mainstream businesses, at least as a marketing feature.

On Sunday,, which sells online software for sales and marketing, announced it would be adding A.I. to its products. Its system, called Einstein, promises to provide insights into what sales leads to follow and what products to make next.

Salesforce chose this date to pre-empt Oracle, the world’s largest business software company, which on Sunday evening began its annual customer event in San Francisco. High on Oracle’s list of new features: real-time analysis of enormous amounts of data. Oracle calls its product Oracle A.I.

Elsewhere, General Electric is pushing its A.I. business, called Predix. IBM has ads featuring its Watson technology talking with Bob Dylan. These moves, along with similar projects at most major tech companies and consulting firms, represent years of work and billions in investment.

There are big pushes in A.I. in agriculture, manufacturing, aviation and pretty much every other sector of the economy.

It’s all very exciting, the way great possibilities are, and clearly full of great buzzwords and slogans. But will other companies see any value in all this or understand if A.I. has value for them?

“No one really knows where the value is,” said Marc Benioff, co-founder and chief executive of Salesforce. “I think I know — it’s in helping people do the things that people are good at, and turning more things over to machines.”

Mr. Benioff wasn’t selling Einstein’s capabilities short. He was talking about the long-term value of artificial intelligence, which is passing through a familiar phase — a technology that is strange and new, that sometimes overpromises what it can do and is headed for uses not easily seen at the start.

Cloaked inside terms like deep learning and machine intelligence, A.I. is essentially a series of advanced statistics-based exercises that review the past to indicate the likely future, or look at current customer choices to figure out where to put more or less energy.

Perhaps a better question than “What is the value?” of this explosion of advanced statistics is “Why now?” That shows both the opportunity and why many companies are scared about missing out.

Much of today’s A.I. boom goes back to 2006, when Amazon started selling cheap computing over the internet. Those measures built the public clouds of Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft, among others. That same year, Google and Yahoo released statistical methods for dealing with the unruly data of human behavior. In 2007, Apple released the first iPhone, a device that began a boom in unruly-data collection everywhere.

Suddenly, old A.I. experiments were relevant, and money and cheap data resources were available for building new algorithms. Ten years later, computing is cheaper than ever, companies live online and in their phone apps, and sensors are bringing even more unruly data from more places.

Amazon, Google and the rest have exceptional A.I. resources for sale, but many older companies are wary of turning their data over to these upstarts. That, along with fear of a competitor getting on top of A.I. first, is a big motivation for some to try things out.

Salesforce is selling Einstein as a system that can work predictive magic without having to look at your data, in what Mr. Benioff calls a “democratizing” move that will create millions of A.I. users who are not engineers.

He said this on his way to attend a series of customer focus groups around the country, however — strong evidence that customers don’t get it yet, even if they’re willing to try it.

“There’s fear of Google and Microsoft controlling everything, and there’s a desire to apply A.I. to anything that’s digital,” said Michael Biltz, managing director of Accenture’s technology vision practice. “People are going to have to experiment, most likely first on pain points like security and product marketing.”

How will we know when the A.I. revolution has taken hold? A technology truly matures when it disappears. We don’t marvel at houses with electricity now, or the idea of driving to work at 60 miles an hour. We can say “phone” and mean a hand-held computer with NASA-level processing power and a professional-quality camera for taking selfies with our drones.

A.I. is probably heading for the same places, invisibly sorting through lots of data everywhere to continuously update and automate most of our lives. Goodness knows what the weird new tech thing will be about at that point.

BMW will electrify its regular cars – what happens to ‚i‘ models?

2017 BMW i32017 BMW i3

When the BMW i3 went on sale in the U.S. back in May 2014, it marked not only the debut of the German automaker’s first mass-market electric car, but also a new sub-brand.

BMW originally planned to group all its electric cars under the „i“ sub-brand, which currently includes all-electric and range-extended REx versions of the i3, as well as the striking and expensive i8 plug-in hybrid coupe.

But as BMW looks to expand the number of electric cars in its lineup, that strategy may soon change.

The carmaker plans to offer all-electric versions of its regular models, starting with the 3-Series sedan, X4 crossover, and Mini Cooper, reports WardsAuto.

The industry trade journal cites a report from the German newspaper Handelsblatt, which in turn is based on interviews with anonymous sources close to BMW chairman Harald Kruger.

The decision to sell all-electric versions of the 3-Series, X4, and Mini Cooper is partially motivated by the need to compete with Tesla Motors, and to match electric-car programs of other German luxury brands, the report said.

2017 BMW 330e i Performance2017 BMW 330e i Performance

The 3-Series in particular is likely the vehicle most directly targeted by the Tesla Model 3, the 215-mile, $35,000 electric sedan unveiled by the Silicon Valley company in April.

It has already been reported that an all-electric powertrain will be offered in the 3-Series—BMW’s core model—as part of a 2018 redesign.

While it initially resisted the idea, BMW may also view offering electric powertrains in its regular models as a less-expensive option than adding more dedicated „i“ models.

Both the i3 and i8 use carbon fiber-reinforced plastic body shells and aluminum subframes that aren’t shared with other models.

This reduces the profit margin of these „i“ models compared to the rest of BMW’s lineup.

In its latest 7-Series large luxury sedan, BMW has incorporated individual structural members of carbon fiber within a largely steel structure, meaning the dedicated CFRP body shells may not be needed.

2016 BMW X4 M40i2016 BMW X4 M40i

BMW is expected to launch an i5 extended-range electric crossover in 2018, as well as a convertible version of the i8 and a new electric flagship sedan code named „iNext.“

To some extent, though, the move away from dedicated BMW plug-in models has already begun.

In the U.S., the carmaker offers plug-in hybrid versions of the 3-Series sedan, as well as the X5 SUV, and the 7-Series sedan will follow.

These models wear „i Performance“ badges, but they have nonetheless obliterated the „i“ division’s short-lived monopoly on plug-in hybrids within the BMW lineup.

Whether there will be any further dedicated „i“ models after the i5 remains to be seen, but the shift in tactics underscores the slow spread of battery-electric powertrains across the lineups of more and more manufacturers.

In other words, electric powertrainsaren’t just for special vehicles any more.

Digital Transformation: The re-alignment of technology and business models to more effectively engage digital consumers

„There is an Uber in every business“

Interview mit Brian Solis: "There is an Uber in every business"
»Too many businesses today take a technology-first approach to Customer Experience. This is not really customer centric.«

Why is it so difficult to create Customer Experience (CX) for many people and decisionmakers?
Customer Experience (CX) is a difficult process, because so many stakeholders interpret CX differently and then prioritize investments and resources accordingly. The IT-Department thinks it’s about technology. The Marketing-Department thinks it’s about omnichannel. The department customer service focuses on contact touchpoints. The Advertising-Department activates experiential events and campaigns. And the executives ask for customer data and make decisions based on narrow inputs and more so cognitive biases. I could go on and on. This is the reason why Customer Experience is a mess today. Everyone is perpetuating the problem by attacking CX from their silo and the losers are the customers. Yet, customers don’t see departments, they see one brand. Just »because this is how it’s always been done« is a recipe for digital darwinism today. Customer Experience is an opportunity not to just improve and integrate customer experiences, but also re-engineer business models and processes to compete in an era where customers are taking control of their experiences.

Who should own the experience? And what skills will be important in the future?
The best companies in Customer Experience take a different perspective regarding this question. They start with acknowledging that the person, who owns the customer experience, is the customer. Think about that for a second. They absolutely own their experience. Yet, here we are debating, who should own it and do everything, but understand their behaviors, expectations, preferences et al. I define Customer Experience this way: it’s the sum of all engagements a customer has with your brand in every touchpoint, in each moment of truth, throughout the customer lifecycle. The question to ask is then, what is the experience they have? What they expect additionally? What experiences they’re receiving from other companies? More so, how are their favorite apps – for example Uber or Tinder – changing their expectations and how should you rethink the customer journey to be native, frictionless, and delightful based on outside innovation? As such, the question who owns Customer Experience, is something that should be answered in a future state and work toward that goal now.

Companies excelling here are looking at ideal customer experiences and building inside and outside for them. New cross-functional groups lead collaboration to remove friction, optimize effective touchpoints and invest innovation based on new areas of opportunity. An empathetic customer-centric approach to CX improves retention, acquisition and relationships. Great Customer Experience is all the work, that you do so your customers don’t have to…

To what extent technology should play a role in Customer Experience?

Too many businesses today take a technology-first approach to Customer Experience, which is ironically not customer centric. I call this the remote control. No one likes the remote control. We use it, because we have to. I would go so far to say that we have a reluctant relationship with it. Yet, every year, even though we get a new generation of TV innovation, we still get a remote control that looks a little different, but also gets more complex along the way. Did you know that there are on average 70 buttons on this brick and at the same time, we all have phones or tablets where we interact with them using completely different gestures? Technology is not the answer, it’s an enabler. CX should start with the three »Ps« – people, purpose and promise. Technology should facilitate experiences and bring them to life.

What is the importance of CX as part of the digital transformation?

Digital transformation means something different to everyone. Just like Customer Experience. It is something, that is started independently in each group with different objectives. But like CX, everything is on a collision course towards convergence. Everything has to work together, otherwise you compete against yourself. I define digital transformation this way: The re-alignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital consumers, create new value and deliver delightful and relevant experiences at every touchpoint in the customer journey. In my research, I’ve found that a common catalyst for rapid and ultimately holistic digital transformation is in fact Customer Experience. More so, by zooming in on the Digital Customer Experience (DCX) and asking what would my digital customer do and how is it affecting traditional behavior, companies can beeline towards fast innovation.

Customer Experience: Everything has to work together

This is the part where skeptics or laggards say: „Why would you focus on the digital customer? They’re a minority in the overall market. We should focus on customers as a whole!“ They’re right in some aspects. The thing is that ­they didn’t. They continued to invest in technologies and systems that distanced companies from people all in the name of efficiencies, scale and profitability. These actions weren’t customer-centric, they were shareholder- and stakeholder-centric. It’s the same argument with taxis in the face of Uber. They’ve had ­years to study how people were changing, how digital was affecting experiences and decision-making, how start-ups were placing customers at the center of services. Once Uber hit the market, it set a new standard for customer experience. People who take Uber don’t go back to taking taxis. There’s an Uber of everything on the horizon of every business and digital transformation is the best defense and offense to compete in a digital economy.