Archive for November 2015

Whether it’s a car, a truck, a bus or an airplane, most vehicles humans have invented turn fuel into power by mixing it with air and burning it in metal cylinders inside their engines. Yes, there is considerable variation in terms of how much fuel and air an engine of any of these vehicles needs at any given moment, but the basic foundations of how the movement is achieved remains extremely similar.

Still, this variation needs to be accounted for. How much fuel you need relies on how fast you’re going at a given moment (think of mileage: there’s always a different miles-per-gallon rating for cars in the city [where they typically don’t go too much faster than 40 MPG] and on the highway [where they typically go over 60 MPG]). So how do we account for this?

More modern methodology includes a new electronically controlled system called fuel injection, which regulates the fuel-air mixture so it’s always right for how fast you want to go. However, this device is a newer development.

The OG technology for this purpose is called a carburetor. Let’s see how it works.

carburetor2First off, keep in mind that engines turn liquid fuel into movement by combusting it in cylinders and using the heat energy to power the car’s gearbox and thus its wheels. However, the fuel isn’t the only important component. With a car engine, you need the proper balance of air and fuel if you don’t want to do harm to the engine. That’s what the carburetor ensures.

A carburetor is a tube that allows air and fuel into the engine by utilizing valves. The valves help the carburetor to mix the air and fuel in a variety of proportions best suited to the speed at which the drier is attempting to drive.

Here’s what the simplest possible one would look like: it’d be a large vertical pipe above the engine cylinders with a horizontal fuel pipe joined onto one side. As the air flows down the pipe, it has to pass through a narrow kink in the middle, which makes it speed up and causes its pressure to fall. This kinked section is called a venturi. The falling pressure of the air creates a sucking effect that draws air in through the fuel pipe at its side.

basic carburetorThe airflow then pulls in fuel to join it; now you have a air-fuel mixture, but how do you manipulate how much fuel is actively entering the cylinder? The carburetor has two swiveling valves above and below the venturi as well as a valve called the choke at the top of the cylinder that regulates how much air can flow in.

If the choke is closed, less air flows down through the pipe and the venturi sucks in more fuel, allowing for a fuel-rich texture. That’s necessary for when the engine has just been turned on.

Beneath the venturi is a second valve called the throttle. The more the throttle is open, the more air flows through the carburetor and the more fuel it drags in from the pipe to the side. With more fuel and air flowing in, the engine releases more energy and makes more power and the car goes faster. This helps you to accelerate. Alright, that’s all you get!

Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently revealed information about the future of the Model S’s Autopilot feature during a quarterly financial call. Musk announced that more constraints will be programmed into the app in an attempt to keep people from “doing crazy things.”reese and friends

“Crazy things” have been being reported since Autopilot was first released. For example, an Electric Vehicle record-setting trio used the feature to drive from Redondo Beach, California to Manhattan in 57 hours and 48 minutes. Apparently drivers Carl Reese, Deena Mastracci and Alex Roy drove around 90 mph and had the autopilot mode engaged 96% of the time. Allegedly they spent most of that time with their hands off the wheel.

Reese, Mastracci and Roy aren’t the only Tesla owners experimenting with Autopilot. Musk claimed that around 40,000 Model S owners already had purchased some form of the Autopilot app, meaning that up to 1 million miles are being driven a day with the help of the Autopilot feature. “Early data is very positive,” he reported, “we’re very aware of many accidents that were prevented by Autopilot, and not aware of any that were caused by Autopilot.”

Tesla investors must be happy to hear that Autopilot hasn’t caused any accidents given the recent trend for autopilot and self-driving car developers to accept liability for any crashes caused by cars operating under their software.uber video

One avoided accident was famously caught on video by an Uber driver in Seattle that somehow owns a Tesla. The video is shot from driver’s point of view and films a car as it unexpectedly pulls into the driver’s lane. The Tesla screeches to a stop, avoiding a head-on collision. According to the driver, he had been scanning the traffic moving in his direction and his foot never even touched the breaks. The video was released only two weeks after Tesla’s autopilot feature hit the public and can be found on nbcnews.com and Youtube.

Perhaps because no accidents have actually been caused yet, Tesla spokeswoman Khobi Brooklyn isn’t too worried about the misuse of autopilot:

“It’s so cool to see Model S owners get out there and use this groundbreaking technology. The more people who use it, the better it will get.”

Still, she extends a warning to Autopilot’s abusers: “Having said that, today’s Autopilot features are designed to provide hands-on experience to give drivers more confidence behind the wheel, increase their safety on the road, and make highway driving more enjoyable. Drivers can’t abdicate responsibility, we expect the driver to be present and prepared to take over at any time.”

Even Elon Musk ultimately ended up tweeting support of the cross-country trio: “Congrats on driving a Tesla from LA to NY in just over two days!”

I suppose the company and its customers are enjoying their legal immunity while they can; laws regarding autonomous driving don’t even exist yet, which was why Tesla was able to release self-driving cars in the first place.

The whole issue is an example of one of the largest and most entertaining problems of the tech boom in America: huge amounts of unprecedented and revolutionary technological advances are being made during a time of the worst governmental partisan gridlock the United States has ever seen. ┬áNew technology is creating legal grey areas faster than our government can make decisions… very strange times!