IF THE DENIZENS of the tech world are grumpy about spending the energy reserves they built up over the holidays to survive CES, they should try working in the auto industry. For the folks creating and covering the future of cars, the Vegas show is merely the nose-bloodying jab that sets up the jaw-clacking undercut: the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Both shows, however, were unusually quiet this year, at least compared to the overhyped displays of the recent past. Because while major changes are on the horizon, other problems are already within firing range. The auto industry is hunkering down amid predictions of slowing sales: GM and Ford are reworking their lineups to suit American tastes. And Tesla, coming off a terrific 2018, just announced it’s laying off 7 percent of its full-time staff and making other cuts to rein in costs.
Elsewhere, Seattle enters the “period of maximum constraint,” Cadillac looks for a new kind of electric future, and cycling advocates ponder what it means to be on the other side of the street. It’s been a week—let’s get you caught up.
Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week
- This week, Seattle entered the three-week stretch between the closing of a major highway and the opening of its replacement tunnel. Which means it’s a great time to unbury a key element of that tunnel, which it buried back in 2013.
- At CES, our man on the ground (that’d be Jack) finds autonomous vehicle developers charting a path between the human-driven car of the past and the totally self-driving vehicle of the future. Turns out people and machines will have to work together—and developers will have to come up with ways for them to do it safely.
- Hark, the 2020 Shelby GT500 roars, both the most powerful street legal Mustang ever, and the most powerful Ford production car ever.
- Making official a long-anticipated relationship, Ford and Volkswagen announce a partnership that will see them jointly building and selling vehicles, in a bid to improve everyone’s finances. Aarian takes a look at what that means for each automaker’s self-driving efforts.
- As tech players like Uber, Lyft, and Bird pump money into cycling and scooters, they’ve started to recruit longtime safe streets champions to help out. But what does it mean to be an advocate working for “the man”?
- If there’s one lesson from the Detroit auto show, it’s that Americans want SUVs, and that automakers are happy to oblige. Peep our roundup of the most interesting rides from the show.
- In a flashback to CES, Jack recounts his ride in Yandex’s self-driving car—with no safety driver behind the wheel—and is thankful the conditions in Las Vegas are better for robots than those in Moscow.
- General Motors says it’s working toward a fully electric future, and that Cadillac will be the brand to lead the charge. At the Detroit show, the luxury arm teases its first purely battery-powered effort, but the concept SUV leavesa lot to the imagination.
- After a strong finish to 2018, Tesla starts the year by laying off more than 3,000 full-time workers, about 7 percent of its staff. Another reminder that the auto industry is a brutal place, and Tesla is still working to ensure it sticks around for the long term.
Flight Reminder of the Week
This week marked 10 years since pilots Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles safely landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after a bird strike knocked out both of the plane’s engines. The entire “Miracle on the Hudson” flight was so short, we had to speed up this gif of the plane’s journey from one side of Manhattan to the other.
Stat of the Week
The increase in cyclists, compared to 2017, on Seattle’s Spokane Street Bridge, now that the city has risked traffic armageddon with its “period of maximum constraint.” Traffic engineer Dongho Chang shared the numbers on Twitter:
News from elsewhere on the internet
- Aicha Evans expands the sadly thin ranks of women leading self-driving development efforts, taking the helm at Zoox. The Senegalese native takes the place of former CEO Tim Kentley-Klay, who was ousted in August.
- Ford recalls nearly 3,000 Lincoln Nautilus SUVs because their system for detecting when the driver is touching the wheel—crucial to its lane-centering assist feature—has faltered.
- Softbank’s Vision Fund, which has already invested in GM’s Cruise and Uber, extends its reach into the mobility space, putting $500 million into Cambridge Mobile Telematics, which makes a mobile data analysis platform.
- After BoingBoing editor Cory Doctorow published a blog post about how to turn a Bird scooter into a “personal scooter,” Bird sent its lawyers after him. It didn’t go great.
- Lidar: cool, crucial, and … camera killing? A robocar engineer attending CES says the laser being demoed by AEye damaged his very fancy camera—but that the sensor maker offered to reimburse him.
- Next time you feel like criticizing how your bus driver takes that tight turn, try driving a mile or a few behind the big wheel. Or at least read Brendan Bartholomew’s personal account of what it’s like to train for that “delicate, dangerous dance.”