🔋Tesla’s autopilot problem, explained


August 18, 2021

The Hustle

Software company Palantir has purchased $50.7m in gold bars in a bid to stash cash amid economic uncertainty. The gold is being held in a secure location in the northeastern US. You heard it here first — 7 years from now, this is the plot to a Netflix movie.

Today’s rundown:

  • Speed bump: The US government is putting Tesla’s autopilot software under the microscope.
  • Select a font: Stories behind the unique typefaces of digital brands.
  • Even 1% is a big deal: Beijing now holds a 1% stake in TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance.

Let’s do it.

The big idea
Tesla self-driving

Tesla’s autopilot technology is under the microscope

Autonomous driving may be the way of the future, but it just hit a speed bump.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a formal investigation into Tesla’s autopilot technology, which:

  • Covers 765k vehicles, spanning the company’s current models back to 2014.
  • Has sparked 11 accidents since 2018 in which Tesla drivers using autopilot crashed into emergency vehicles.

Tesla’s autopilot technology is powered by a neural network…

… that is trained on a library of thousands of images.

Each vehicle is equipped with cameras that monitor its surroundings and feed the neural network, which checks the library to determine if obstacles are in its path.

The system performs well in most situations but only identifies patterns it’s been trained on and has repeatedly struggled with:

  • Parked emergency vehicles
  • Large perpendicular trucks in its path

The bigger issue is that drivers expect the autopilot system to do all the work

While Tesla warns that drivers must be ready to take the wheel at any time, regulators claim the company is misleading customers with marketing material that makes it seem like the technology works on its own.

Tesla vehicles measure pressure on the steering wheel to ensure drivers are attentive, but drivers can game the system using weights or water bottles to simulate hands on the steering wheel.

This has led to unsafe situations, including:

  • Drunk driving
  • Drivers riding in the back seat with no one behind the wheel

Regulators say a major focus of the investigation will be on how the vehicle monitors and enforces driver engagement.

Musk still argues autopilot is 10x safer than the average vehicle

But experts claim his statistics are misleading.

An investigation could lead to a recall or other action by the NHTSA, which could be a serious pothole for Musk and Co.

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SNIPPETS

Old bird, new feathers: Allbirds launched an activewear line ahead of the company’s planned IPO. #ecommerce-retail

Electrical fires: GM announced plans to replace batteries in some Chevy Bolts to avoid fire risks. #clean-energy

McDonuts: McDonald’s announced plans to add a donut to its sweet menu this fall. #emerging-tech

Encryption issues: WhatsApp’s encryption is making it challenging to ban Taliban users who have been using the platform to communicate. #privacy

Into the archives: Ripple argued that SEC requests for terabytes of Slack messages could reveal sensitive business-related information. #fintech-cryptocurrency

Google announced its new mid-tier phone…the Pixel 5A. Compared to its predecessor (4A), it’ll have a bigger screen and better (but a lower price tag at $449). #big-tech

Font Talk
fonts

Digital brands love designing their own fonts

Last week, Twitter changed its typeface from Segoe UI to its own Chirp, which it says blends American Gothic, European Grotesque, and “quirks of early woodcut specimens.”

It’s designed to be both “messy and sharp,” suitable for both silly and serious Tweets.

Many digital companies come up with their own typefaces

Sans-serif fonts like Ariel or Verdana are often considered more legible online than serif fonts like Times New Roman or Garamond — including for people with dyslexia.

Fonts are also designed to be memorable and evoke the right emotions:

  • Netflix switched to its own typeface, Netflix Sans, in 2018. It’s got “cinematic” uppercases and “compact and efficient” lowercases.
  • Apple’s Chicago typeface, designed by Susan Kare in 1984 for the 1st Macs, had to be legible on low-res screens.
  • Airbnb’s blocky Cereal typeface had to be legible both online and on billboards, and feel “friendly and approachable.”
  • Facebook created an all-caps wordmark to differentiate the company from the app, and its lowercase blue wordmark.
  • Ebay debuted Market Sans in 2017, plus a flowchart explaining how it’d ensure the new font didn’t slow down browsing.

Fun fact: Typefaces are the umbrella under which fonts live. For example:

  • Helvetica is a typeface
  • Helvetica italics is a font

However, most people use the words interchangeably. #themoreyouknow

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Tech Cold War
TikTok app

Will the US force a sale of TikTok again?

Nearly a year ago, TikTok was tied up in an operatic corporate battle.

Over security concerns, the Trump administration was forcing a sale of the short video app from its Chinese owner (ByteDance) to the very unlikely American duo of Oracle and Walmart.

The controversy eventually went away…

… and TikTok ended the year with a huge milestone: It was the most downloaded app in 2020, besting Zucky McHarvard’s Facebook.

TikTok may be back in the hot seat, though.

According to a report from The Information, the Chinese government quietly took a 1% stake in ByteDance, which also owns popular Chinese apps Douyin and Toutiao. The government also holds 1 of 3 seats on its board of directors.

China is reining in its tech sector

  • Fintech giant Ant Group had to pull its IPO last year
  • China’s Uber (Didi) was taken out of app stores following its IPO
  • Alibaba paid a $2.75B fine for anti-monopoly violations
  • China’s tutoring industry is no longer allowed to be for-profit
  • ByteDance’s CEO stepped down in May, presumably to avoid regulator heat

The question over who really runs TikTok — aside from these DIY chefs and dancing teens — looks certain to pop up again.

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Watch Now

Wait, you haven’t watched the pod?

You’ve left us no choice.

My First Million is officially rebranding as a YouTube show… that’s also on podcast platforms (since that’s what it is).

Shaan says videos are “just more fun.” He is correct. Also, consider joining his “The Office” screenwriting challenge.

Episode No. 202: Cool niche industries you’re clueless about

AKA stretching gyms, one-year tattoos, and the nearly billion-dollar class ring business.

Watch the pod right here.

Fun pod →
AROUND THE WEB

🚇 That’s cool: For years, civil engineer Ted Green has collected public transit notification jingles. Hear the many beeps and boops in this interactive New York Times story.

🤖 Wow: Watch Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot do some sweet parkour in an obstacle course.

🗳️ On this day: In 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, securing the majority needed to give women the right to vote.

🤝 How to: Haiti recently suffered a devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake. Here’s a list of ways you can help.

⚔️ That’s fun: “The Witcher” fans can go to a Polish castle to learn how to fight monsters and interact with in-world characters. Toss a coin and enjoy, ya nerds!

📚 Haha: Always Judge a Book by its Cover does exactly that, linking to real and ridiculous books such as “Toilet Paper Origami,” “Be Bold With Bananas,” “Do It Yourself Coffins for Pets and People,” and “I Don’t Care if My Best Friend’s Mom is a Sasquatch, She’s Hot and I’m Taking a Shower With Her.”

TRENDS

The eco-friendly buzzwords in D2C right now?

Luxury and low-waste. Conscious consumption is very in.

A recent Trends signal dissects the booming demand for products like sustainably sourced shampoo bars, among other things.

Interested in other niches doing numbers? Peep the latest flare:

  • Exclusive hospitality clubs (complete with salons and care teams),
  • The “exotic” breakfast boom (eggs on the regs with some culture),
  • And “adventure foods” (which actually means food for adventures).

These research rundowns are just one leg of Trends.

Our community is actually our better half. People are dropping ridiculously valuable insights every single week.

Read one Trendster’s detailed notes on scaling a global top-100 podcast from scratch in just one year.

We’re full of resources and we’re looking for go-getters, so come see what all the hype is about.

Try one week of Trends for just a buck.

Get Access →
Meme of the day
The Office font meme

These are def the same font (Source: IMGFlip)

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