by Dr. Iain Corness
Google it and HAL drives away without you
A Google bubble.
Autonomous cars seem to be the buzz words at present. Have we the technology to
build such cars that can drive by themselves, without hitting anything? Have we
the faith in our technology that we can sit in the passenger seat and let HAL
9000 do the driving? (For those too young to know, HAL 9000 was the
(Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer) and was a sentient computer (or
artificial intelligence) that controlled the systems of the Discovery One
spacecraft and interacts with the ship’s astronaut crew, in the movie 2001, A
Many manufacturers are touting the fact that they have built remote control
vehicles. Even the US Army has driverless cars that can travel for 100 km,
negotiating all kinds of terrain, while firing the odd RPG in somebody’s
Now we have a non-automotive company joining the driverless fray, with Google
showing this self-driving car at its Californian headquarters.
According to my sources, Google has started building a fleet of 100 self-driving
electric cars to test its autonomous driving technology that it says could
transform mobility. That is expressing the situation very mildly.
Google’s bubble cars in this early testing will be limited to 40 km/h and have
plug-in controls to allow the driver to take over if the computer goes into
‘revolt’ mode, as did HAL 9000.
Apparently, Google has used modified cars from Toyota and Lexus to test its
autonomous driving systems, covering 1.1 million kilometers on public roads over
the past four years.
The new bubble cars were shown in California where Google co-founder Sergey Brin
talked up the plans for the latest step in the company’s autonomous driving
program which he hopes will be taken up by other car manufacturers.
The car is started by a go/stop button, as is the case with most cars these
days. Once a destination is selected, it drives off under automatic control,
using Google’s road maps, software and sensors such as lasers and radar to make
its way through the traffic. The system is an extension of Google’s global
The vehicle is expected to have a range of about 160 km - about the same as many
current electric cars - and will be made by a manufacturer in Detroit.
Google’s bubble cars initially will be used to ferry Google employees around the
company’s campus in California.
Honda slows production
The downturn in new car demand has seen Honda drop its
production to 60 percent of capacity, and the new USD 530 million plant it had
started building this year in Prachinburi Province will be put on hold for
between six months and a year.
Honda’s moves to reduce output are in reaction to the Thai domestic new car
sales that fell 47 percent in Q1 2014 compared with the same period last year.
Exports, however, have not been affected, with Toyota, Mitsubishi, Isuzu, Mazda,
GM and Ford claiming their numbers remain on target.
This was echoed in Japan by Honda chairman Fumihiko Ike - who is also head of
the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association - who was quoted as saying that
even though Thai auto sales had plunged over the past year after a subsidy
program ended, the investment into Thailand remained strong.
“Thailand of course poses risks as a country, but if you ask me whether they are
major country risks, I personally do not think that they will have a very big
impact on business activities,” he was quoted as saying.
Ike said Thailand’s auto sales decline since May 2013 has largely been due to
the ending of a government subsidy program for first-car buyers, which ended in
2012. The subsidy scheme has also had 10 percent of applicants default.
Thailand is now the second largest source of vehicles for the Australian market
behind Japan, with 228,479 out of the 1,136,227 total vehicles sold here last
year coming from the South East Asian nation.
The new plant, now in limbo was to supply the local market, and export to other
ASEAN countries, the Middle East and Oceania. The biggest market in Oceania is
Australia, where more than 70 percent of Honda cars originate from Thailand.
It is currently unclear if the models planned for the new plant will also be
delayed by the move, or perhaps shifted to Ayutthaya for production.
What did we learn from the Canadian GP?
Well we learned, if we didn’t know it already, Ricciardo (who
must be sponsored by Colgate) is the ‘real deal’. Starting from grid 6,
Ricciardo in his Red Bull maintained position and chipped away, making sure he
didn’t put a foot wrong, and then in the closing laps he took the advantages by
clever driving, ending on the top step of the podium. There will be more for
this talented Aussie. The German driver and his team mate, previously known as
The Finger, came third.
Mercedes showed it was not invincible, giving heart to the rest of the field.
And why did the Mercedes duo have brake problems during the race? It was a
“high-voltage control electronics failure led to a permanent loss of MGU-K
drive” on both their cars in Montreal. Does the average race fan even understand
the MGU-K drive? Simple answer - No. However, a good second place for Rosberg,
who leads the world championship by a healthy 22 points.
After the Red Bulls, Jenson Button in the McLaren lucked his way into fourth
with Sergio Perez (Force India) entering the demolition derby with Massa
(Williams). Massa has, despite the pundits saying he has had his day, been
rejuvenated and he must have enjoyed passing Alonso (Ferrari), and here’s one in
the eye for you Fernando, my old mate! Much controversy about the Perez/Massa
accident, with Massa going free and Perez given a 5 grid slot penalty for the
next GP. Viewers pointing the finger at Massa, but the stewards pointed to
Raikkonen (Ferrari) once again went into ‘sleep’ mode and finished 40 seconds
behind Alonso. Afterwards he complained, “for one reason or another I was always
stuck behind other cars.” The most likely reason is that he just isn’t driving
fast enough. Not like a world champion. Consulting my crystal ball, he will
retire from F1 at the end of this year.
Lewis Hamilton is becoming known for sulky tantrums, both in the car and outside
it. A little more maturity is needed, and a little less of the ‘rapper’ image.
He is getting far too big for his boots.
01 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:39:12.830
02 Nico Rosberg Mercedes +4.2
03 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull +5.2
04 Jenson Button McLaren +11.7
05 Nico Hulkenberg Force India +12.7
06 Fernando Alonso Ferrari +14.7
07 Valtteri Bottas Williams +23.4
08 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso +27.7
09 Kevin Magnussen McLaren +28.9
10 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +53.3
11 Sergio Perez Force India
12 Felipe Massa Williams
13 Adrian Sutil Sauber
14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber
The retirements were too many
Romain Grosjean Lotus
Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
Kamui Kobayashi Caterham
Pastor Maldonado Lotus
Jules Bianchi Marussia
Max Chilton Marussia
The next GP is at Austria on the 22nd of June. The race time for us in Thailand
will be a very convivial 7 p.m. The next silly hour race will be America in
November, starting at 3 a.m. Thai time.
Naza’s huge used car lot
Last month I had a trip to Kuala Lumpur, and whilst there it
was suggested I visit Naza World’s car showroom. The great majority are imported
from the UK and Japan and there were literally hundreds of cars set out in an
air-conditioned, tiled floored showroom.
The cars are all top spec and included Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini,
Brabus, Mercedes-Benz, Koenigsegg, Porsche (52 of them from GT3, GT2, 911 Turbo,
Boxter, Cayenne and Panamera). According to the website, they have more than
1,000 vehicles in stock.
Naza Group is the franchise holder for Ferrari, Maserati, Koenigsegg, Kia
Motors, Peugeot, Chevrolet, CitroŽn, Brabus, Ducati, Harley Davidson, Piaggio,
Vespa, Aprilia, Gilera and Indian Motorcycle brands in Malaysia. That is 15
different franchises, and on top of that, Naza has marketed rebadged versions of
Kia’s Carnival, Carens, Picanto vehicles as Naza Ria, Naza Citra, and Naza Suria
respectively for Malaysian market. In April 2006, Naza developed the Naza Sutera
based on Hafei Lobo. It was joined by a Naza-badged version of the Peugeot 206
called the Naza 206 Bestari in May 2006, and a Naza-badged version of the Kia
Picanto called Naza Picanto in November 2006.
So if you are looking for a used Koenigsegg, a swift trip to KL might be your
answer. Of course, how you then get it into Thailand is another matter
altogether, but don’t put it on a transporter to Khon Kaen.