Monthly Archives: November 2016

New Tesla Model S While Driving

Car hacking has been a big concern lately. After a Wired article demonstrated how security researchers could remotely disable a new Jeep Cherokee by worming into the car’s infotainment system, automakers are under increased scrutiny over their digital security. Now, security researchers have reportedly figured out how to take control of one of the most tech-heavy vehicles on the road today: The Tesla Model S.

According to a Financial Times report (which can only be accessed through a subscription), researchers Kevin Mahaffey and Marc Rogers were able to completely disable a Model S as it drove along at low speed. Reuters quotes the researchers: “We shut the car down when it was driving initially at a low speed of five miles per hour [. . .] All the screens go black, the music turns off and the handbrake comes on, lurching it to a stop.” Mahaffey and Rogers will present their findings at the Def Con cybersecurity conference on Friday.

Wired goes into greater detail, explaining how the hackers were able to gain control of the vehicle. First off, unlike the Jeep hacking event, Mahaffey and Rogers’ exploit required physically plugging a laptop into the Model S dashboard. Once their computer was connected to the vehicle, they were able to start and drive the Tesla through laptop commands. The researchers say that they were also able to plant a remote-access Trojan into the car’s software while the laptop was connected, allowing them to remotely cut the car’s motor at a later time.

Wired also reports that the duo found that the Tesla’s large center dash touchscreen uses an out-of-date browser that, theoretically, could allow an attacker to gain wireless control of the car if the owner navigated the dashboard touchscreen to a malicious web page. The researchers did not specifically test this vulnerability.

In all, the researchers found six vulnerabilities in the Model S’s software, and worked hand-in-hand with Tesla to develop fixes. Wired reports that an over-the-air patch was distributed on Wednesday to every Model S to close the loopholes discovered by the researchers.

The researchers say they chose to hack the Tesla because of the electric carmaker’s reputation for understanding software. A Tesla spokeswoman emailed us the following statement:

“Our security team works closely with the security research community to ensure that we continue to protect our systems against vulnerabilities by constantly stress-testing, validating, and updating our safeguards. Lookout’s research was a result of physically being in Model S to test for vulnerabilities. We’ve already developed an update for the vulnerabilities they surfaced which was made available to all Model S customers through an OTA update that has been to deployed to all vehicles. “

Hey, at least Tesla was able to push out the fix over-the-air—Jeep’s response was to ask owners to bring their cars to a dealership, or download the fix to a thumb drive.

Hydrogen Prototype on Looks

BMW’s hydrogen strategy is starting to take shape. The company has been working on hydrogen-powered cars since 1984, but for a long time the focus remained on the internal-combustion engine. The efforts, first shown in a 7-series in the mid-1980s, culminated in 2006 in the V-12–powered Hydrogen 7. Now the company has switched to a different tack.

While those early vehicles were fun to drive, they suffered from the inefficiencies of super-cooling the liquefied hydrogen, and the hydrogen vaporizing in storage. Around the turn of the century, BMW began to research the hydrogen-powered, fuel-cell electric vehicle as an alternative to the hydrogen-powered combustion engine. The result of that research is the matte-black, two-seat sports car you see here, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the i8.

Built atop an early prototype architecture of the i8 plug-in hybrid, this “eDrive Hydrogen Fuel Cell Prototype” is powered by a completely electric, 272-hp powertrain. The passenger compartment of the fully functional, 125-mph-plus sports car uses many i8 components, but the space typically occupied by the rear seats is instead taken up by the hydrogen-electric powertrain.

The car was assembled in BMW’s prototype shop, and it lacks the sophistication of an i8. But the headlight/front-grille treatment and the trapezoid taillights suggest that BMW’s styling department invested more than a cursory glance.

In 2013, BMW’s hydrogen strategy took another decisive turn, when the company announced its cooperation with Toyota, a major proponent of the technology. The tech sharing has led to several prototype vehicles. Two of them were present at a technology backgrounder in Miramas near Marseille, France. Based on the 5-series GT, they were fitted with a “cryogenic pressure vessel,” a double-walled hydrogen tank with 350 bar of vent pressure that integrates easily into the (admittedly, somewhat large) vehicle architecture and can be refueled within minutes and far more conveniently than, say, a CNG vehicle.

Are You Working on Self Driving Cars at the University

Google may be winning the race to self-driving cars, but Uber isn’t giving up. The University of Arizona has announced that it will be partnering with the ride-sharing behemoth to help with the development of optical systems for its self-driving car.

Thanks to the deal, the University of Arizona will be the new test-bed for Uber’s prototype mapping vehicles and Uber will donate $25,000 to the university’s College of Optical Sciences. On top of all that, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has signed an executive order “supporting the testing and operation of self-driving vehicles in Arizona,” according to a release from the Arizona Governors Office.

Previously Uber had been rumored to be partnering with Carnegie Mellon University to open a robotics lab in Pittsburg, where Uber’s prototype cars have been spotted already. It’s unclear if this deal is instead of that one, or in addition to it. After all, self-driving cars require optics research and robotics research. It may not be long before Uber can get rid of those pesky humans it needs to drive the cars around

Late in today’s IndyCar 500 miler at Pocono, Andretti Autosport’s Justin Wilson was struck by debris from Sage Karam’s Dallara. He has been airlifted to Lehigh Valley Network Cedar Crest Hospital. No further information is known at this time, but this post will be updated when further official word on his condition reaches us.

The race was not red flagged, it was restarted for eight laps, allowing Wilson’s Andretti teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay to take the win.

Plastic Carbon Fiber Gears Could Be a Viable Alternative

Researchers from Gifu University in Japan might have developed a worthy metal gear replacement from two unlikely materials: plastic and carbon fiber.

Metal has long been used in cars because of its toughness, but a new plastic gear made with carbon fiber handles the pressure just as well. The researchers first identified which part of the gear is the weakest. Turns out it’s the teeth that connects to its core. So, they lined it with carbon fiber to strengthen that part, which gives it the same stamina a metal gear has.

Initial tests are promising because the gears hold up just as well as the metal gears do.

This plastic and carbon fiber gear has two major advantages over metal. The first is cost because it’s substantially cheaper than metal. Second, it’s much lighter so if it could help a vehicle’s fuel efficiency and increase its speed.

If all goes well, the gears could be commercialized by 2017. Sadly, it will take a few years after that before they hit the road because of regulatory approvals.

Check and Fill Tires

While it may seem like a mundane task, inflating tires is much more crucial to your car than you may think, and it results in a safer and more economical experience on the road. Your vehicle’s handling also will be greatly improved as the larger a tire’s inflated footprint, the more responsive and comfier the ride balance will be.

Because it’s National Tire Safety Week, it’s the perfect time to check your car’s tires.

Before starting

To find your tires’ proper inflation level, look for a sticker on the driver-side doorjamb. It displays the vehicle weight restriction and tire information. The info is also found in the maintenance or car-care section of your vehicle’s owner’s manual.

Don’t refer to the sidewall markings on your tires, which in part specify the maximum tire pressure — not the recommended pressure.

Unless your tire is visibly flat, don’t judge tire inflation just by looking at it; you have to use a tire pressure gauge to get the correct pounds per square inch reading. There are three types of tire-pressure gauges: digital, internal slide and dial. Prices range from $5 for a basic gauge to more than $30 for one that is digital, has an air-release button — or even talks. All will do the job, but you may want to consider the conditions in which you’ll be using your gauge. “We’ve found that low-cost digital pressure gauges are very accurate and maintain the accuracy longer, but in extremely cold temperatures the gauge may not show up properly,” said John Rastetter, Tire Rack’s director of tire information services.

Tips for checking and filling your tires

Tire manufacturers suggest checking tires when they’re cold for the most accurate reading. Outside temperatures can cause tire pressure to vary by as much as 1 psi per 10 degrees; higher temperatures mean higher psi readings. “Tires are black; what does black do? Attract heat,” Rastetter said, noting the importance of finding a shady place to check and fill all four tires.

Temperature plays a huge part in tire psi, Rastetter said, adding that the most crucial time of year to check pressure is in fall and winter when days are shorter and average temperatures plummet.

Check your tires in the morning before going anywhere, because as soon as you get behind the wheel for an extended amount of time, psi will rise. Rastetter said that if you’ve been on the road a long time and notice higher psi in your tires, don’t let the air out, as the increase in pressure has built up due to the warm, constantly-in-motion tires

What to do

1. Pull your car onto a level surface in the shade.
2. Remove dust caps from the tires’ valve stems.
3. Using your tire gauge, firmly press the tip of the gauge straight on to the tire’s valve stem for a brief moment.
4. The tire gauge should provide a psi reading; if the number seems unrealistically low or high — for example, 85 psi or 1 psi – you will need to repeat the previous step, ensuring that the tire gauge’s tip is properly making contact with the valve stem.
5. If the tire gauge’s recorded reading is higher than the manufacturer-recommended rating, press the gauge tip on the valve stem until you hear air leak out. Check the tire pressure again.
6. If the reading is lower than recommended, fill the tire with air by firmly pressing the air-hose tip onto the valve stem. You will hear air quietly enter the tire. If you hear air leaking or spraying out, you need to double-check that the connection between the air hose and the tire’s valve stem is secure.
7. When you think you’ve added or let out enough air, check the pressure a few times with the gauge.
8. Replace the valve dust caps. Rastetter emphasized the importance of keeping dust caps on during winter driving because if water gets into the valve stem and freezes inside the tire, it could cause a flat.