Tesla Autopilot is steering towards lane dividers again

Cutting corners: Tesla Autopilot is possibly the most advanced self-driving system available to the public, but Tesla’s ambition has come with a considerable amount of risk. After a Model X steered into a lane divider causing a fatal accident last year, Tesla ‘fixed’ the problem with a subsequent software update, but the issue is back.

Reddit user Beastpilot drives down a freeway in Seattle as part of his afternoon commute. Last year, only days after a fatal accident in similar circumstances, BP noticed that his own Model X was steering towards the lane divider separating the freeway from a carpool lane that veers off to the left. Speaking to Ars Technica, he described the car as acting as if the divider was an empty lane.

In light of the then-recent tragedy, he notified Tesla immediately. They didn’t respond, but after several weeks, a new update rolled out and the issue stopped. Come October last year, however, BP’s Model X began steering towards the lane divider again. Once again he notified Tesla to no avail, but once again an update rolled out a few weeks later and the issue disappeared.

Continuing to enjoy the Tesla experience despite the Autopilot issues, BP picked up a Model 3. It didn’t have any troubles until the 2019.5.15 update rolled out earlier this month. You can see the issue returning quite clearly in BP’s Reddit post below: the car follows the lane rightwards until it suddenly veers to the left and into the lane divider.

It’s BACK! After 6 months of working fine, 2019.5.15 drives at barriers again from r/teslamotors

This is exactly what happened to Walter Huang last year, only when the car shifted left into the lane divider, his hands weren’t on the wheel and the car hit a concrete wall front on at 70 mph. By that time Teslas had passed that exact same stretch of road 85,000 times on Autopilot, which had probably lulled Huang into a false sense of security. But just because the system works for the first 100,000 times, that apparently doesn’t mean that a software update can’t add a fatal flaw.

One way of making sure old errors aren’t built back into the system – remember, the code is written largely by a neural network – is by checking for every single reported error every single update using simulations. A 3D model of an intersection or road is presented to the software, which must decide what to do and where to go. If it collides with a virtual car or leaves its lane then it’s back to the drawing board. If it passes through all these simulations without a hitch, then it gets downloaded to the cars.

For most companies, this is easy because most self-driving cars rely on Lidar-based 3D maps as their real-time information source. Teslas aren’t equipped with Lidar and only use cameras and radar, and thus don’t use 3D maps to guide themselves. This means that 3D maps can’t be presented to the cars directly, they must be translated into complex footage and radar readings. Tesla refuses to say how regularly they put the effort in to do this, if at all.

Tesla’s plan is to use their billions of miles worth of footage, radar readings and driver’s decisions to create a neural network that is so well informed it must be reliable. Or at least that’s the marketing pitch. In reality, Teslas only consume a few hundred megabytes of data per day at peak, so only a fraction of those miles actually get sent to the supercomputers.

Tesla’s solution to their technical problem is to shift the issue onto the consumer, who must always keep their hands on the wheel and their mind on the traffic, according to their terms of service. Unfortunately, that’s directly against human nature, and drivers do just zone out. With Autopilot on, you can’t trust the car, and you can’t trust the driver. Perhaps it’s better to leave Autopilot off for the time being.

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Want more Love, Death + Robots? Read these 17 short stories online

Last week, Netflix released its 18-episode animated anthology Love, Death + Robots, a decidedly NSFW series that adapted a number of short stories from well-known science fiction authors. It’s clear from watching the series that there’s a nearly endless supply of source material out there for another season, if Netflix green-lights one. While we wait to see whether that happens, we’ve rounded up some recommendations for a good season 2, and we’ve got 17 recommendations that you can read online now (along with a couple of deep cuts that you’ll have to hunt for.)

Love, Death + Robots’ episodes are often heavy on the violence and body horror. One story in that range is Charlie Jane Anders’ “Don’t Press Charges and I won’t Sue,” which was published in Boston Review’s Global Dystopias in 2017. Set in the near future, it follows a woman who’s kidnapped by an ultra-conservative organization that tries to forcibly “fix” her gender. Another good one to consider from Anders is “The Minnesota Diet,” a satirical story about food scarcity in a futuristic city.

Also, every couple of years MIT publishes Twelve Tomorrows, a special fiction-filled edition of its Technology Review. These collections are always worth reading, but Elizabeth Bear’s story “Okay, Glory” (later reprinted in Lightspeed Magazine) is particularly good. It features an eccentric tech billionaire who accidentally gets trapped in his smart home when it’s infected with ransomware.

The 1970 anthology Science Fiction Hall of Fame contains a number of classic stories that would lend themselves well to a Love, Death + Robots 2. One good example is “Surface Tension” by James Blish, originally published in 1952 in Galaxy Magazine. It isn’t officially published online, but here’s a scanned copy of the magazine, courtesy of the Internet Archive. The story is about an expedition from Earth that crash-lands on an aquatic planet. With no hope of rescue, the survivors engineer tiny descendants, who eventually become sophisticated enough to develop their own spacecraft-like ships to explore the world beyond the water’s surface.

Last year, Clarkesworld Magazine published “Wings of Earth” by Chinese science fiction author Jiang Bo. The story is about a pair of astronauts — one Chinese, one American — who explore a massive alien ship that suddenly appears in orbit around Earth. It’s a trippy story that with overtones of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it would make for a particularly great animated short.

Love, Death + Robots also features some zany episodes, so here’s one that might fit in there: Brooke Bolander’s Uncanny Magazine story “The Tale of Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” is a fun one about a princess who befriends three velociraptors, who eventually eat the dim-witted prince who’s trying to control her.

Keeping in mind that robots play a big part of this show, an excellent story to adapt would be Ted Chiang’s Lifecycle of Software Objects, a fantastic novella about a scientist raising a pair of robots to sentience. The story was originally published as a hardcover book, but Subterranean Press also published it online. It’s long since been taken down, but you can find it via the Internet Archive. It’ll also be included in Chiang’s new collection, Exhalation, which is due out in May. The title story is also well worth reading.

N.K. Jemisin is responsible for a number of really brilliant novels, but her 2016 story for Tor.com, “The City Born Great,” would make for an excellent animated short. It’s about a graffiti artist who discovers he’s the physical embodiment of New York City, and has to fight off an existential, otherworldly threat. It’s dynamic, epic, and extremely colorful.

One story that’s stuck with me for years is Geoffrey A. Landis’ “The Long Chase.” It’s set in a distant future where the last robotic survivor of a war attempts to escape from its enemy, a chase that takes centuries, across the solar system and beyond.

Love, Death + Robots did already adapt Ken Liu’s “Good Hunting,” but there are plenty of other stories from his back catalog that might fit. The story that first comes to mind is “The Paper Menagerie,” about a biracial child coming to terms with his identity via some fantastical origami. Another excellent one to consider is “Mono No Aware,” about the crew of a starship struggling to fix their damaged spacecraft after Earth is struck by an asteroid.

I’m a big fan of Karin Lowachee’s short fiction — you might remember a story of hers in our own digital anthology, Better Worlds. Since Love, Death + Robots featured a bunch of stories that focused on mechs and military science fiction, her Nomad would be a good fit. It’s about a sentient mech coping with the loss of a beloved pilot, and running into a gang of rogue mechs in the wastelands of Canada.

Clarkesworld Magazine also published Chelsea Muzar’s “Not Now” last year. It’s short, but has an intriguing premise: a giant mech arm falls from the sky and onto a teenager’s house. She’s left to cope with the fallout: discrimination from her neighbors and classmates who were already suspicious of robots.

Linda Nagata’s short story for Tor.com, “The Martian Obelisk,” earned a Hugo nomination last year, and it’d lend itself well to animation. An architect has devoted her life to a project at the behest of a tech gazillionaire who wants her to build a monument to humanity on Mars. It’s meant to outlast us, but she runs into complications when she discovers that a long-assumed-dead colony still has survivors.

A great short story that came out last December is Annalee Newitz’s “When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis,” which was published in Slate. A health bot goes from house to house as part of a government program to monitor neighborhoods for infectious diseases like the flu. When the government privatizes its program, it continues its work on its own, with the help of a flock of crows.

Love, Death + Robots’ trio of John Scalzi adaptations show off how well his super-short stories adapt to the screen. In that vein, a piece he published to his blog Whatever last December, “An Interview with Santa’s Lawyer,” might make a really fun animated short, if only because it includes the line “I’ve seen Santa out of uniform. That dude is ripped.”

It’s also worth tracking down stories that haven’t made their way online. Love, Death + Robots did some deep dives into old collections and anthologies, and found a bunch of short fiction that was worthy of attention.

Karen Traviss is probably best known for her Star Wars and Gears of War novels, but her short fiction is pretty great as well. “Suitable for the Orient,” which appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction back in February 2003 (and is included in her short story collection View of a Remote Country), takes its title from a saying from the British Empire — below-par doctors were frequently shipped out to Asia. In this story, such a doctor has has to deal with the native near-sentient aliens on a planet after human hunters kill some of them.

“The Waste Land” by Charles Sheffield might be harder to track down, as it only appears to have been published in the March 2003 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction. It’s still worth reading if you have the option. It focuses on a security guard who’s called into a nuclear-waste facility to investigate the death of a worker who suffered from unbelievable radiation burns. In the process, he discovers a mysterious experiment and a cover-up. This one feels like it’d be particularly suited for a noir-ish art style.

Another couple of entries from the Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology would make good animated shorts. The first is Murray Leinster’s “First Contact,” about a human spaceship coming into contact with an alien counterpart, and having to figure out how to exchange information without either of them tipping off the other about the location of their homeworlds. Another is “Microcosmic God” by Theodore Sturgeon, about a brilliant scientist who develops a tiny civilization in his lab and rapidly advances their evolution and technology by continually killing off generations.

Finally, given Love, Death + Robot’s frequent use of cats, Arthur C. Clarke’s story “Who’s There?” seems like a perfect fit. It’s a fun story about an astronaut who discovers some unexpected passengers while on an EVA.

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Wireless earbuds from Beats are reportedly coming as an AirPods alternative

Image: beats by dre

No matter who you choose, Apple wins.

The just-announced second-generation AirPods may soon have some competition from Beats, but what does “competition” really mean when Apple also owns Beats? It means more options for you, the consumer, and that’s about it.

A completely cord-free version of Beats’ PowerBeats3 Wireless headphones could be announced very soon, according to CNET. Citing “a person close to the retail channel who has previously provided credible information,” the report suggests that Apple is looking at an April reveal.

The PowerBeats3 headphones are more elaborate than Apple’s AirPods, with hooks that fit over the wearer’s ears (to keep each earbud in place) and a cord that winds around the back of your neck. The updated version would reportedly do away with that connecting cord, so you’d just have the two untethered earbuds. 

According to CNET’s source, the updated PowerBeats would also feature always-on support for Siri (just like the new AirPods), and they “may” have better battery life than either of the Apple-branded options as well. The updated headphones will reportedly be fitted with the same H1 chip inside the newer and more powerful AirPods.

PowerBeats headphones are for the sporty crowd, with the built-in ear hooks meant to keep them firmly in place during physically demanding activities. The AirPods are more geared toward casual use, as they’re just buds that pop into your ears.

It wouldn’t be unheard of for Apple to release a seeming competitor to its own newly announced product. Not long after the first-gen AirPods launched in 2016, Apple revealed the BeatsX — in-ear Bluetooth headphones that are tethered together by a cord.

Whatever’s going on, with an April reveal supposedly in the works the wait to find out what’s coming next from Beats shouldn’t be too much longer. 

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If you live in the northern U.S., you could see a radiant celestial treat Saturday night

Astronauts took pictures of an aurora over the Pacific Northwest in 2016.
Astronauts took pictures of an aurora over the Pacific Northwest in 2016.
Image: esa/nasa

Some of us Earthlings may see dancing, green lights in the sky on Saturday night.

The sun blasted out a flare of energized particles into space on March 20, and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Prediction Center forecasts that a strip of the northern U.S. may experience a visible effect of this event: an aurora, or eerie dancing greenish light, created when the sun’s particles interact with Earth’s atmosphere.

Such an atmospheric event is stoked by a disturbance called a geomagnetic storm, where energized solar particles propel changes in Earth’s magnetosphere — a sprawling zone of space around Earth where the planet’s magnetic field changes and evolves in reaction to the sun. 

It often takes a few days for powerful flares from the sun, known as Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), to hit Earth and stoke a space storm.

NOAA's aurora forecast for March 23, 2019.

NOAA’s aurora forecast for March 23, 2019.

Image: NOAA/Storm Prediction Center

The Space Prediction Center predicts that a curved strip of land in the U.S. between Washington and Maine is the “most likely” extent of the celestial lights, though areas as far south as Colorado may be treated to the aurora.

This furthest extent is forecast to fall between the green and yellow lines seen in the above NOAA graphic, or the tweet below. This means portions of Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

While the Lower 48 may glimpse some green light, the event is expected to be quite vivid over a majority of Alaska, where the epicenter of the aurora will be on impressive display in a ring atop the planet

To see the lights, it’s best to view in the darkest night skies possible, away from light pollution, and if possible, before the moon rises. 

Happy celestial viewing.

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Apple's rumored game service wouldn't include 'freemium' titles

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It’s now a little clearer how Apple’s rumored game subscription service might work — including what you wouldn’t get. Bloomberg sources claim the service will bundle paid games (most likely the more popular ones) for a flat monthly rate, and would likely exclude “freemium” games where you need to make an in-app purchase to unlock everything. Don’t expect to get a Fortnite Battle Pass or Super Mario Run, then.

The apparent leak also discussed how developers would get paid. Apple would divvy up subscription fees based on how often people play a studio’s games, theoretically rewarding those who make particularly compelling titles that keep things fresh with regular updates.

You might even hear about the service relatively soon. The sources mentioned that Apple could talk about its plans as soon as its March 25th event, although this isn’t guaranteed. If not then, it might prefer to talk about game subscriptions at WWDC in early June. That latter option makes the most sense in our eyes. The March 25th gathering is expected to focus primarily on movie and news services, leaving little room for early talk about another service. Also, Apple may want to recruit developers for the service straight away instead of teasing them a few months early.

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