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January 3, 2018 News of the Day: Elon Musk Announces Job Openings at Tesla's Gigafactory on Twitter, Baidu to Use BlackBerry Software in Apollo Self-Driving Platform

Author: Eric Walz   

Elon Musk Announces Job Openings at Tesla's Gigafactory on Twitter

SPARKS, NV — Elon Musk said that Tesla's Nevada Gigafactory will be the largest battery production facility in the world once completed. Now he is turning to social media to fill job vacancies as battery production is scheduled to increase. The Gigafactory makes battery cells and other drivetrain components for Tesla vehicles and Powerwalls.

In a Twitter post, Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote: "Come work at the biggest & most advanced factory on Earth! Located by a river near the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains with wild horses roaming free," linking to a page on Tesla's website where applicants can read about the Gigafactory and submit their resumes.  Tesla's online job board lists all of the available positions at the factory.

The Tesla Gigafactory was born out of necessity, and will supply enough batteries to support Tesla's projected vehicle demand.

Tesla broke ground on the Gigafactory in June 2014 outside Sparks, Nevada. The name Gigafactory comes from the word "Giga," the unit of measurement representing "billions." The factory's planned annual battery production capacity is 35 gigawatt-hours (GWh), with one GWh being the equivalent of generating (or consuming) 1 billion watts for one hour. This is nearly as much as the entire world's current battery production combined.

The Gigafactory is being built in phases so that Tesla can begin manufacturing immediately inside the finished sections and continue to expand thereafter. Already, the current structure has a footprint of more than 1.9 million square feet, which houses more than 4.9 million square feet of operational space across several floors.

Currently, construction on the Gigafactory is less than 30 percent complete. Once completed, Tesla expects the Gigafactory to be the largest building in the world — entirely powered by renewable energy sources, with the goal of achieving net zero energy.

With the Gigafactory ramping up production, Tesla's cost of battery cells will significantly decline through economies of scale, innovative manufacturing, reduction of waste, and the simple optimization of locating most manufacturing processes under one roof.

By reducing the cost of batteries, Tesla aims to make products available to more and more people and and bring Tesla closer to its goal of transitioning the world to sustainable energy.

Baidu to Use BlackBerry Software in Apollo Self-Driving Platform

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BlackBerry and Chinese internet search firm Baidu Inc Wednesday signed a deal to work jointly on developing self-driving vehicle technology, sending BlackBerry's Toronto-listed shares up 8 percent to an over four-year high.

BlackBerry, which has developed software QNX Hypervisor 2.0 to run complex computer systems in vehicles, said Baidu would use its software for its Apollo self-driving platform.

"By integrating the BlackBerry QNX OS with the Apollo platform, we will enable carmakers to leap from prototype to production systems," said Li Zhenyu, general manager of Baidu's intelligent driving division.

The automotive industry is one of the fastest-growing segments of the technology market, as automakers race to add more features toward building self-driving cars.

It is a very material opportunity for technology companies that get well-positioned with automotive OEMs, CIBC Capital Markets analyst Todd Coupland said, adding that such self-driving features will be on all cars in the next few years.

"The opportunity is global, it's for a very large market and I think it's a very solid win for BlackBerry."

BlackBerry has already signed various deals for next-generation automotive systems with chipmaker Qualcomm, as well as technology companies Denso and Aptiv.

As part of the latest agreement, BlackBerry and Baidu will also combine Baidu's smartphone integration software for connected cars and its AI system to run on the QNX Platform, Blackberry said.

Nissan to Showcase ‘Brain-to-Vehicle' Concept at CES Next Week

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The biggest carmakers and tech companies are spending billions of dollars on deep-learning to perfect your ability to drive without thinking. Nissan Motor Co. is taking a different direction, by trying to "decode" your thinking so hands-on driving is more enjoyable.

The Japanese company will unveil and test its "brain-to-vehicle" technology at next week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The "B2V" system requires a driver to wear a cap that measures brain-wave activity and transmits its readings to steering, acceleration and braking systems that can start responding before the driver initiates the action.

The driver still turns the wheel or hits the gas pedal, but the car anticipates those movements and begins the actions 0.2 seconds to 0.5 seconds sooner, said Lucian Gheorghe, a senior innovation researcher at Nissan overseeing the project. The earlier response should be imperceptible to drivers, he said.

"We imagine a future where manual driving is still a value of society," said Gheorghe, 40, who earned a doctorate in applied neural technology. "Driving pleasure is something as humans we should not lose."

Carmakers are working on ways to keep the traditional driving experience relevant as automakers and tech companies are rapidly trying to upend the industry with fully autonomous technologies. IHS Markit expects 21 million autonomous vehicles to be sold annually by 2035 — equivalent to about a quarter of all current vehicle sales.

Many automakers, including Toyota Motor Corp. and BMW, say they won't give full control to computers and plan to continue building cars with distinct driving characteristics.

Nissan plans to introduce fully autonomous cars in 2022. Besides predicting drivers' movements, the skullcap also could detect their preferences and discomfort when the vehicle is in autonomous mode, prompting systems to adjust accordingly.

Yet, drivers of autonomous vehicles still will be able to flip a switch and take manual control of the car. That's where Nissan's brain-to-vehicle system comes into play.

"You are feeling either that you are a better driver or the car is more sporty and more responsive," said Gheorghe, who uses the system himself for 15 minutes a day while commuting to work.

The technology, which Nissan said is exclusive, will be included in fully autonomous cars and should be ready in five to 10 years, the company said. The prototype resembles a cap that would be worn while gaming or undergoing medical testing, with wires coming out of the top.

EVs & Hybrids Account for Half of All New Car Sales in Norway in 2017

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OSLO, Norway — Sales of electric and hybrid cars exceeded half of new registrations in Norway in 2017, a record assisted by generous subsidies that extended the Nordic nation's lead in a shift from fossil-fuel engines, data showed on Wednesday.

Pure electric and hybrid cars accounted for 52 percent of all new car sales in 2017 in Norway, up from 40 percent in 2016, the independent Norwegian Road Federation said.

"No one else is close" in terms of a national share of electric cars, Advisory Board for Veitrafikken (OFV) chief Oeyvind Solberg Thorsen said. "For the first time, we have a fossil fuel market share below 50 percent."

"This is a milestone on Norway's road to an electric car fleet," Vidar Helgesen, Norway's Minister of Climate and Environment, told AFP. "The transport sector is the biggest challenge for climate policy in the decade ahead."

Norway exempts new electric cars from many taxes and road tolls and owners often get free parking and charging. Norway also generates almost all its electricity from hydropower, so the shift helps to reduce air pollution and climate change.

Last year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Norway was far ahead of other nations such as the Netherlands, Sweden, China, France and Britain in electric car sales.

"The shift has gone faster than we'd thought, and the big car makers say they're going all in to produce non-fossil cars," Thorsen told Reuters. Norway's electric car policies contrast with its big offshore oil and gas production.

Christina Bu, head of the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association which represents owners, said it was too early to reduce incentives for electric cars, noting that parliament has set a goal of phasing out sales of fossil fuel vehicles by 2025. "It's an ambitious goal only seven years away," she told Reuters.

Norwegian car sales in 2017 were topped by the Volkswagen Golf, BMW i3, Toyota Rav4 and Tesla Model X. The Tesla is fully electric and the other models are electric or plug-in hybrids.

Overall, sales of pure electric cars in Norway rose in 2017 to 21 percent from 16 percent in 2016.

Sales of diesel cars fell most in 2017, to 23 percent from 31 in 2016. Some regions in Norway have started to charge higher road tolls for diesel cars than for petrol-driven vehicles to discourage their use.

Eric Walz
Originally from New Jersey, Eric is an automotive and technology reporter specializing in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley. Eric has over fifteen years of automotive experience and a B.A. in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the automotive industry and beyond. He has worked on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology. Outside of work, Eric likes to travel to new places, play guitar, and explore the outdoors.
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