Blindfolded Bird Box Challenger crashes car

Remember, way back on January 2 when Netflix issued a warning to its customers over the viral Bird Box challenge meme to “PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELVES WITH THIS BIRD BOX CHALLENGE?”

That warning wasn’t heard or followed by at least one 17-year-old in Utah who decided to give the challenge — which involves a blindfold — a whirl while driving. The result was what one might expect. There was a crash (hat tip CNN, which spotted the tweet from Layton Police).

Netflix released a horror concept movie in December called Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock. In Bird Box, Bullock and her children, Boy and Girl, are forced to wear blindfolds and navigate a river and spooky forest to protect themselves against the evil monster that, if seen, causes people to kill themselves.

The horror flick not only broke viewership records, it inspired a bevy of #BirdBoxChallenge memes, including ones in which folks record themselves blindfolded and attempting to do complete tasks, many of which are depicted in the movie.

In this case, there were no injuries. Although the vehicles didn’t appear to escape the Bird Box challenge. And there will likely be more of these blindfolded while driving attempts. Here’s some advice: Just like eating Tide Pods, this isn’t a healthy activity.

Tesla is entering the Model 3 into Pwn2Own, one of the world’s toughest hacking contests

Tesla is handing over its new Model 3 sedan to Pwn2Own this year, the first time a car has been included in the annual high-profile hacking contest.

The prize for the winning security researcher: a Model 3.

Pwn2Own, which is in its 12th year and run by Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative, is known as one of the industry’s toughest hacking contests. ZDI has awarded more than $4 million over the lifetime of the program.

Pwn2Own’s spring vulnerability research competition, Pwn2Own Vancouver, will be held March 20 to 22 and will feature five categories, including web browsers, virtualization software, enterprise applications, server-side software and the new automotive category. The targets, chosen by ZDI, include software products from Apple, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Oracle and VMware. And, of course, Tesla . Pwn2Own is run in conjunction with the CanSec West conference.

Tesla has had a public relationship with the hacker community since 2014 when the company launched its first bug bounty program. And it’s grown and evolved ever since.

Last year, the company increased the maximum reward payment from $10,000 to $15,000 and added its energy products as well. Today, Tesla’s vehicles and all directly hosted servers, services and applications are now in scope in its bounty program.

The company also made an important overhaul last year to its bug bounty program to support “safe harbor” by allowing car owners to hack their own cars as long as they stick to the rules. Tesla’s product security policy now says that if, through “good-faith security research,” you brick your car, the company will reflash the software over-the-air or at a service center. The company says it won’t void the warranty on their car if they hack its software either.

There’s a reason why Tesla (and now other automakers) have launched bug bounty programs. Tesla vehicles are software-centric and in many ways changed the industry by enabling over the air software updates that can fix glitches and security problems as well as improve performance and add other new features. It’s what has allowed Tesla to win over consumers with the idea that their vehicle will get better over time.

But with that comes possible security issues. Since 2014, the program has led Tesla to release a number of security improvements, including cryptographic validation of its software, more robust cryptography for its key fobs and the launch of PIN-to-Drive, which aims to prevent against relay attacks on key-fob cloning.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that hackers at Pwn2Own Vancouver will find any vulnerabilities. TechCrunch was told by a Trend Micro spokesperson that the percentage of successful attempts varies, but it’s usually around 50 percent of available targets.

It’s also unclear if researchers will enter the automotive category since it’s new this year, the spokesperson said, adding that she hopes people enter “as we would love to see what the state of the art in automotive research really is.”

New trailer reveals when Game of Thrones will return

Winter is coming this spring.

HBO is finally revealing when season 8 of Game of Thrones will begin. On Sunday, HBO released a new teaser for Games of Thrones that announced the first episode will air April 14. The season 8 teaser, called Crypts of Winterfell, was released on YouTube and played before the third season premiere of True Detective.

The teaser depicts Jon Snow, Sansa and Arya Stark walking through a crypt that includes three statutes bearing their likeness. TechCrunch won’t spoil what comes next. Watch below.

Fans of Games of Thrones have been waiting more than a year for the HBO series based on George R. R. Martin novels to return. Last January, HBO broke it to dedicated fans that Game of Thrones wouldn’t be returning until 2019.

The season seven finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” aired on August 27, 2017.

HBO didn’t provide any other details about season 8, including if episodes would be longer than 60 minutes. HBO has previously said the final season would have six episodes.

Cadillac’s first electric vehicle will be a crossover

Cadillac revealed Sunday what will likely be the first electric vehicle in the luxury brand’s portfolio. And surprise, it’s a crossover.

The images of the full-size crossover SUV, which was unveiled during a debut party for the 2020 Cadillac XT6 in Detroit, kicks off a transformation of GM’s luxury brand. On Friday, GM announced plans to turn Cadillac into its lead electric vehicle brand in a bid to compete against Tesla as well as a host of other automakers bringing EVs onto the market.

Cadillac first electric crossover

Not much is known about this crossover yet. Cadillac said the name of the electric crossover and additional details about the vehicle will be revealed closer to launch.

This vehicle will not be based on the electric architecture found on GM’s Chevrolet models, the Volt or the Bolt EV. GM is starting with a clean slate and developing a new battery electric architecture, which Cadillac will be the first to use.

The most advanced components within the platform are the drive units and battery cells, which will be used throughout GM vehicle lineups in different countries, according to the automaker. The EVs can be configured in front-, rear- or all-wheel drive, and the output of their battery systems will be adjustable based on vehicle and customer needs, GM said.

The battery system also will be adjustable, based on vehicle and customer requirements.

This appears to be the beginning of an  aggressive product acceleration for Cadillac. Fresh off of the XT6 crossover reveal, Cadillac also hinted at both a future Escalade and an upcoming performance sedan. Cadillac said it plans to introduce new models at the rate of roughly one every six months through 2021.

GM is transforming Cadillac into an electric brand

General Motors is turning Cadillac into its lead electric vehicle brand in a bid to compete against Tesla as well as a host of other automakers bringing EVs onto the market.

Plans are already underway to introduce the first model from the company’s new battery electric vehicle architecture, GM said Friday during an investor meeting.

GM said this new BEV architecture will be the foundation for an advanced family of “profitable EVs,” a word choice likely meant to express the automaker’s conviction to offer up true competition in the EV world, which has been dominated by Tesla on the luxury side and Nissan in terms of pure volume sales.

The flexible platform will provide a broad array of body styles and will be offered in front-wheel, rear-wheel and all-wheel configurations, GM said. The brand’s most critical components, including the battery cells, are being designed for maximum usability across all programs, GM said. The battery system also will be adjustable, based on vehicle and customer requirements.

The announcement made Friday at an investor meeting marks a shift in GM’s approach to making electric vehicles. In the past, GM’s electrified vehicles — namely the all-electric Bolt and the plug-in hybrid Volt — fell under its mass-market Chevrolet brand.

The Bolt appears destined to continue, at least for now. (The Bolt is also used by GM’s self-driving subsidiary GM Cruise as its testing vehicle.) Meanwhile, the Volt is slated to end. GM announced last year it would end production of the Volt and the plug-in Cadillac CT6, which had sluggish sales.

GM has been undergoing a transformation over the past four to five years, getting rid of expensive, money-losing programs like the Opel brand in Europe, and investing more into electrification and autonomous vehicle technology. It has also warned repeatedly, Friday’s investor meeting being no exception, of a coming downturn in the traditional automotive business.

In November, GM ramped up its belt-tightening measures with cuts to factory and white-collar workers, plant closures in North America and the elimination of several car models as it tries to transform into a nimble company focused on high-margin SUVs, crossovers and trucks, and investments in future products like electric and autonomous vehicles.

The actions, which are meant to safeguard the automaker from an expected downturn in the U.S. market, will increase GM’s annual free cash flow by about $6 billion, including cost reductions of $4.5 billion and lower capital expenditure annual run rate of almost $1.5 billion by 2020. Ford took similar cost-cutting measures in 2018.

Even as GM announced those cuts, it said it would double engineering resources allocated to electric and autonomous vehicle programs by 2020.

Nissan’s new Leaf e+ is packing more than just 226 miles of range

Electric vehicle competition is heating up and it’s pushing some of the first entrants to add range and other features in hopes of keeping up with automakers that are just bringing EVs to the market.

Nissan has been in this EV game for nearly nine years now. The company has sold more than 380,000 Leaf vehicles globally since the EV first went on sale in 2010. And while it debuted a refreshed version of its all-electric Leaf just 16 months ago, the automaker is back with another Leaf variant that’s packing a lot more range and power, as well as several other new features.

Nissan unveiled this week at CES 2019 the Leaf e+, a version of the Leaf all-electric hatchback with 40 percent more range. The Leaf e+ has a 62 kilowatt-hour battery pack that has a range of 226 miles. That puts the Leaf e+ just under the Chevy Bolt EV, which has a 238-mile range, the upcoming Kia Niro EV with 239 miles and the Tesla Model 3 mid-range variant with 264 miles.

Pricing for the new Leaf e+ hasn’t been announced for the North American or European markets. In Japan, it will start at ¥4,162,320, which is around $38,000.

Consumers might have trouble distinguishing the Leaf and Leaf e+. Other than a 5-millimeter increase in overall height (16-inch wheels), the car’s exterior and interior dimensions are unchanged. The Leaf e+ has a revised front fascia with blue highlights and an “e+” logo plate on the underside of the charge port lid. Inside, drivers might notice the blue contrast stitching on the steering wheels, seats and door trim.

nissan leaf e+

The Leaf e+ is also equipped with advanced driver assistance technology known as ProPILOT and a one-pedal driving mode feature that allows the driver to start, accelerate, decelerate and stop using only the accelerator pedal.

ProPILOT is an in-lane semi-autonomous driving technology that can automatically adjust the distance to the vehicle ahead (some call it adaptive cruise control), using a speed preset by the driver. The system can also help the driver steer and keep the vehicle centered in its lane. ProPILOT Park, which is available only on Japan and EU models, is a system that can provide vehicle acceleration, braking, handling, shift changing and parking brake operation to guide the car into a parking spot.

Leaf e+ models in North American and EU will have a larger full-color 8-inch display, with an updated navigation system that can be linked to a compatible smartphone. This thin film transistor display features smartphone-like operation, including swiping, scrolling and tapping. Applications, maps and firmware are updated over the air, instead of having to manually update by USB or at a Nissan dealership, the company said.

Other new features include “Door-to-Door Navigation,” which syncs the vehicle’s navigation system with a compatible smartphone for driving and walking directions.

Nissan Leaf e+ interior

The big story here, of course, is the increased range and power. The Leaf e+ has a new electric powertrain that, combined with the battery, produces 160 kw of power and 340 Nm of torque. This means the Leaf e+ will have the get up and go required for merging and passing slower-moving vehicles on the highway.

Nissan says the Leaf e+ is 13 percent quicker when accelerating from about 50 mph to roughly 74 mph. The top speed has increased by about 10 percent.

The battery pack in the Leaf e+ is almost the same size and configuration as the one in the standard Leaf despite a 25 percent increase in energy density and increase in energy storage capacity.

The Leaf e+ also has a high-speed charging package — for those who want to pay for that feature — that will let drivers charge up to 80 percent of its range in 40 minutes. Based on early testing, Nissan Leaf e+ owners can expect similar charging times when hooked up to a 100 kW charger as current Nissan Leaf owners do with a 50 kW charger, despite a 55 percent larger battery storage capacity, the company said.

The new variant is expected to hit Nissan dealerships in Japan in late January. U.S. sales are expected to begin in the spring of 2019, and European sales will start in mid-2019.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

GM is smartening up its Bolt EV smartphone app

GM is sprucing up its smartphone app for owners of the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt through a collaboration with charging network companies EVgo, ChargePoint, and Greenlots.

The idea is to take aggregate dynamic data from each of the EV charging networks so owners can have a “more seamless charging experience.” In short: GM wants to make it easier and more intuitive for Bolt EV owners to find and access charging. Removing hurdles from the charging experience can go along way in convincing more people to buy the Bolt EV, or any EV for that matter.

The partnership with EVgo, ChargePoint, and Greenlots is a notable start considering that collectively that means more than 31,000 charging ports.

“GM believes in an all-electric future, and this is a significant step to make charging easier for our customers,” said Doug Parks, General Motors vice president of Autonomous and Electric Vehicle Programs. “By collaborating with these three companies, we expect to reduce barriers to create a stronger EV infrastructure for the future. This is an important step toward achieving GM’s vision of a world with zero emissions.”

GM plans to take the aggregate charging data from EVgo, ChargePoint, and Greenlots and use it to improve the myChevrolet app. For instance, owners will be able to see if a charging station is available and compatible with the Bolt EV. It will also provide real-time data on charge station to report if a charging station is working.

GM plans to create an app interface that will streamline the enrollment process for each of these networks. The automaker wants owners to be able to activate a charging session using the app instead of a membership card, but didn’t say when that feature would be rolled out. .

GM recently made a few updates to the myChevrolet app that lets owners project the energy assist to the vehicle’s infotainment system via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for drivers with model year 2017 or newer Bolt EVs.

This means Bolt EV drivers can access information through their infotainment system like vehicle range, charging station locations and search, as well as route planning that takes into consideration charging stops along the way if the destination is out of range.

Original purchasers of new Bolt EVs will have access to these features at no additional cost for five years from the vehicle delivery date, according to GM.

GM doesn’t provide updates about the Bolt EV, and more broadly its electric vehicle program at the same pace and frequency as say Tesla. But the company is still ramping up and expanding. GM recently expanded a battery lab and a new LG Electronics plant in Michigan has come online.

The LG Electronics facility in Hazel Park started making battery packs this fall to supply GM’s Orion Assembly Plant, where the automaker builds the all-electric Chevrolet  Bolt.

GM’s plan to launch 20 new all-electric vehicles globally by 2023 and increase production of the Chevy Bolt.

Toyota is developing fighter jet-inspired safety features for cars and wants to share it

Toyota Research Institute had a breakthrough last year in its pursuit to make driving safer. It was so profound that Toyota wants to open up to other automakers.

The inspiration was modern-day fighter jets, which use a low-level flight control system to translate the intent of the pilot and keep the aircraft stable and tucked neatly inside a specific safety envelope. TRI calls it blended envelope control, an approach that lets its “Guardian” driver assist system combine and coordinate the skills of the human driver and the vehicle they’re driving.

TRI CEO Gill Pratt revealed Monday during CES 2019 the research arm’s progress, an explanation of its approach, and most importantly, its intent to share its Guardian driver assist with other automakers. TRI is calling it “Guardian for all.”

To be clear, Toyota Guardian or the “Guardian for all,” system isn’t in production cars, nor will it be for some time. Pratt isn’t even entirely sure how this would be delivered to the rest of the industry. In a roundtable discussion with reporters, Pratt said he wasn’t sure if they would license the software, or a combination of hardware and software to automakers. He only noted that Toyota has the desire and intent to open it up to the rest of the automotive industry.

TRI, and Toyota as a result, have taken a dual approach to autonomy that it calls “Guardian” and “Chauffeur.” The automaker intends to eventually develop and deploy fully autonomous cars to serve an aging population, the disabled, or whomever might need a robotaxi. But as Pratt noted Monday, there is still much to be done before these types of vehicles will be on the road in any meaningful way.

In the meantime, Pratt says “we have a moral obligation to apply automated vehicle technology to save as many lives as possible as soon as possible.”

That’s where the other part of that dual approach called Guardian comes in. Guardian is technology that operates in the background and steps in when needed. The driver is always driving, but Guardian is watching, sensing and anticipating problems. 

Toyota Guardian is designed to amplify human control of the vehicle, not replace it, the company said. TRI showed a video during its CES presentation that of a three-car accident that included one of its self-driving research vehicles being driven in manual mode. The vehicle’s sensors were all on capturing data, however.

TRI contends that this blended envelope approach of Guardian would have anticipated or identified the pending incident and employed a corrective responsive in coordination with driver input. In this specific case, TRI’s modeling and testing determined that the system would have prompted the vehicle to accelerate out of the way to avoid the accident altogether.

Tesla is keeping 44 U.S. stores open until midnight in year-end Model 3 sales push

Some Tesla employees will ring in the New Year on a sales floor this year as the automaker tries to liquidate its inventory of Model 3 sedans — and even its more expensive Model S and Model X vehicles — before the federal tax credit for EVs is cut in half.

In a list of updated hours, 44 of the stores, including locations in California, Minnesota, Nevada, New York and Ohio, are open until midnight Monday. Tesla has more than 100 stores and galleries in the United States. Calls made to several of these stores indicate these locations have a mix of Model 3 sedans available for pickup today. Sales associates didn’t provide specific numbers.

After midnight Monday, the $7,500 federal electric vehicle tax credit will drop to $3,750 for anyone buying a Tesla vehicle.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been using Twitter to warn of the expiring tax credit for months now. Recently, the pace of promotion has escalated as Tesla’s inventory of Model 3 vehicles in the U.S. has persisted.

The company reportedly had more than 3,300 Model 3 vehicles in inventory in the U.S. as of Sunday, according a blog post by Electrek.

Now with just hours left before the federal tax credit drops, Tesla and Musk are making a special effort to reduce the Model 3 inventory in a final sales push.

Earlier this year, Tesla hit a milestone when it delivered its 200,000th electric vehicle. The achievement was a noteworthy occasion for an automaker that didn’t exist 15 years ago. However, it also activated a countdown for the $7,500 federal tax credit offered to consumers who buy new electric vehicles.

The tax credit begins to phase out once a manufacturer has sold 200,000 qualifying vehicles in the U.S. Under these rules, Tesla customers have to take delivery of their new Model S, Model X or Model 3 by December 31.

After December 31, the federal tax credit is cut in half to $3,750 for new Tesla customers. The tax credit is reduced again after June 30 to $1,875 before disappearing altogether at the end of next year.

Tencent left out as China approves the release of 80 new video games

Chinese internet giant Tencent has been excluded from the first batch of video game license approvals issued by the state-run government since March.

China regulators approved Saturday the released of 80 online video games after a months-long freeze, Reuters first reported. None of the approved titles listed on the approval list were from Tencent Holdings, the world’s largest gaming company.

Tencent is best known as a the company behind WeChat, a popular messaging platform in China. But much of its revenue comes from gaming. Even with a recent decline in gaming revenue, the company has a thriving business that is majority owner of several companies including Activision, Grinding Gears Games, Riot and Supercell. In 2012, the company took a 40 percent stake in Epic Games, maker of Fortnite. Tencent also has alliances or publishing deals with other video gaming companies such as Square Enix, makers of Tomb Raider. 

The ban on new video game titles in China has affected Tencent’s bottom line. The company reported revenue from gaming fell 4 percent in the third quarter due to the prolonged freeze on  licenses. At the time, Tencent claimed it had 15 games with monetization approval in its pipeline.

China, the world’s largest gaming market, tightened restrictions in 2018 to combat myopia and addiction. Tencent placed its own restrictions on gaming in what appeared to be an attempt to assuage regulators. The company has expanded its age verification system, an effort aimed at curbing use of young players, and placed limits on daily play.