Cars have been around for more than a century now. We take it for granted that we have names like ‘automobile’ and ‘car’ to describe these four-wheeled beasts we love so much; they’re the only names we’ve ever known. But, friends, it could have been worse. It could have been so much worse.
What started out as a quest to explore the rise and fall of some of America’s original auto manufacturers turned into a realization that, dear God, just about everyone who put an engine on some wheels had a different name for their creation. I mean, it makes sense; I’m sure the cavemen who invented clothing all had a different name for what they were covering their bodies with. It makes sense that cars wouldn’t have always been ‘cars’.
See, what we consider our norm today pissed off a lot of people back in the day. In an August 1897 issue, The New York Times reported that “the new mechanical wagon with the awful name automobile has come to stay”.
Wait, what? Awful? If that was so awful, then what were our other options?
Let’s Talk Patents
In 1792, Oliver Evans applied for a US patent in Philadelphia for what was, at the time, essentially a prototype of what we’d consider a car today. Its name? Oruktor Amphibolos. We’ve written a whole article about this legendary creation, but it was basically designed to dredge Philadelphia’s dockyards. It was the first self-propelled vehicle in America at the time, but it couldn’t actually dredge much of anything because Evans was mostly just excited to build an engine. It’s probably good that this thing didn’t stick around.
Then came George Selden, a patent attorney from New York. In 1879, he patented something he called a “road machine” (which is slightly more agreeable than the Oruktor). He hadn’t actually, y’know, built anything yet, but he kept expanding the patent throughout the years as automotive technology advanced because it meant he could collect royalties from American car manufacturers.
Good ol’ Henry Ford was rightfully annoyed that this guy who hadn’t even made anything could reap the benefits of all the hard work automakers were putting in. He took Selden to court in 1904, where the judge decided that Selden would have to build a road machine from his own patent. Selden couldn’t do it. In 1911, the patent was overturned, giving manufacturers the freedom to build cars at a lower cost, since they didn’t have to shell out big bucks to a guy whose claim to fame was some words on a page, not an automobile.
While the Selden drama was playing out, brothers Charles and Frank Duryea decided they wanted to expand their bicycle making business to include cars as well. They patented their “motor wagons” in 1895, and they had a pretty interesting history. Frank Duryea drove one of their cars to the win America’s first automobile race, averaging a whopping speed of 7.3 mph. The press they received meant they were able to sell the first commercial vehicle in the US, which was then promptly involved in America’s first recorded car accident. Nice. Motor wagons did not catch on.
And then, we had Henry Ford. Drawing his inspiration from the bicycle, Ford submitted a patent in 1896 for what he was calling a “Quadricycle”. It was a name that, thankfully, didn’t stick around for very long.
Early media references to cars utilized a wide variety of fun and creative names. There wasn’t any standardization yet as far as names or even designs went. For journalists and authors, it was basically a creative exercise to describe something they’d never seen before. A fine selection of their choices include:
- Automotor horse
- Horseless carriage
- Motor carriage
- Oleo locomotive
So Where Did Today’s Names Come From?
‘Automobile’ was just one of the many words being thrown around back in the day. We’re not really sure how it came to be our standard, but its use in The New York Times was a key factor in its widespread adoption.
The name first originated with an Italian painter and engineer back in the 1300s. His name was Martini, and he, like Selden, never actually built a car. He did draw up plans for a four-wheeled man-powered carriage, though, and called it the automobile by combining the Greek word auto (‘self’) and the Latin word mobils (‘moving’). Or, a self-moving vehicle. Easy.
Plus, it sounded a whole lot nicer than something like ‘autobaine’. Yeesh.
“Car” had been around for a while. Derived from the Celtic word carrus (‘cart’ or ‘wagon’), it had been another name for horse-drawn carriages. It was a pretty easy transfer, given what some of the first vehicles looked like.
All I gotta say is, we got pretty lucky when it came to names.
SELF-DRIVING CAR DEVELOPERS SHOULD PUT PEDESTRIANS FIRST
Since march, when an autonomous vehicle killed a pedestrian in Arizona, forecasts for AVs have been decidedly less optimistic. But autonomous vehicle promoters are undeterred. AI entrepreneur Andrew Ng contends that self-driving cars will be safe for pedestrians when walkers and cyclists conform to their limitations. “What we tell people is, ‘Please be lawful and please be considerate,’” he told Bloomberg.
Has Mr Ng ever walked for as much as an hour in a city? If so, he should realize that consideration of pedestrians’ needs—and motorists’ compliance with the few laws that protect pedestrians—are so deficient that any pedestrian who values their time (as drivers do) must improvise. And in fact, such improvisation can even make pedestrians’ journeys safer.
To be fair, Mr. Ng’s mistake is a common one. From a driver’s point of view, pedestrians’ behavior may appear erratic, lawless, and even suicidal. The solution, then, is to train pedestrians to do better, or to restrict them. In actuality, most pedestrians are much smarter than the dumb systems that are intended to control them—far smarter than signals, and even smarter than self-driving cars. A pedestrian who is on the right side of the street and wants to turn left at the next intersection may cross early, at mid-block. What may appear to some as selfish and dangerous rule-breaking may actually be safer and less disruptive to vehicular traffic. In one study of pedestrians aged 65 or older, for example, researchers found that the risk of a pedestrian-motor vehicle collision was 2.1-fold greater at sites with marked crosswalks, particularly those with no traffic signal or stop sign.
In the 1970s, research teams led by William H. Whyte filmed pedestrians on busy sidewalks as they walked around New York City. Walkers filtered past each other with extraordinary efficiency, coming within inches of each other but almost never touching. Such performance requires human intelligence. No one would propose putting pedestrians on autonomous Segways as a way to keep them from colliding with each other. Either traffic would slow almost to a stop, or collisions would increase.
Autonomous vehicles are frequently touted as safer and more efficient alternatives to conventional cars. But if safety and efficiency are indeed primary values, then cities should not deter walking by making it harder, but invite more walking by making it easier. This would entail, among many other things, urging drivers to be more lawful and considerate about pedestrians.
Indeed, the success of self-driving cars depends upon a rise in walking as a practical means of getting around. AVs cannot deliver on their own promises of safety and efficiency if they deter walking. Safety matters because we care about human health. Sedentary living is already inducing health conditions such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes; public health can only worsen if an autonomous future compels people to ride in cars for every mobility need. And self-driving cars will not be more efficient if we negate their per-mile efficiency benefits by increasing the total miles each person spends in the car.
Smart traffic signals can increase streets’ vehicle capacity by shepherding cars safely through intersections without compelling them to stop. But we don’t yet know how they’d work for cyclists and pedestrians, those who make the most efficient use of street space, use the least energy, and cause the least danger to others. Either they will have to be equipped with devices that incorporate them into signal systems, or smart signal systems will have to get much better at detecting and tracking them. The social and technical complications of either alternative are substantial.
In the meantime, we have access to innumerable low-tech possibilities. Traffic calming—design features that slow vehicles down—can make select streets much safer for everyone. Planners in the Netherlands, for example, apply humans’ smartness, instead of trying to suppress it, by designating certain streets “bicycle streets”; though drivers can still use them as “guests,” they must defer to cyclists. By conventional U.S. standards, this method is considered dangerous because it depends too much on human judgment. But the traffic safety record in the Netherlands should compel us to reconsider. In 2013, there were 3.4 road traffic deaths per 100,000 people in the Netherlands; the figure for the U.S. was 10.6. Extravagant promises about the driverless future too often distract us from implementing effective, inexpensive, low-tech improvements today.
To succeed on their own terms, AV developers will have to do much better by pedestrians. Bloomberg reports that AV developers are looking into “distinctive sounds—much like the beeping noise large vehicles make when reversing—to help ensure safe interactions between humans and autonomous vehicles.” This technique, in the form of the klaxon or car horn, is well over a century old. Honking was then attacked as a public health menace. Today, such noises can only make the walking environment less inviting, relative to the quiet, climate-controlled interior of a vehicle. For pedestrians who can’t afford this alternative, walking will be less pleasant than ever.
Too often we hear extravagant promises for self-driving cars, or warnings that “the AV future is coming; we have to get ready.” But the saw does not use the carpenter; the carpenter uses the saw. AVs are a tool. We humans have to decide if and how we want to use them. Despite the public relations, AVs will not, on their own, deliver safety or efficiency. We have to put them to work for the purposes of our choosing.
Chinese electric vehicle maker Nio closes 10 per cent up in New York IPO debut
In one of the year’s largest Chinese public offerings in the US, Nio, an electric-vehicle maker backed by the Chinese technology giant Tencent, debuted on the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday and closed up nearly 10 per cent.
Nio stock opened below range at US$6 a share, and had a mixed reception on a day when the Dow Jones Industrial Average was flat. After dropping to a low of US$5.35, however, shares recovered to close up at US$6.58.
Nio raised US$1 billion and has a goal to turn profitable within three to four years.
Founded by Chinese entrepreneur William Li in 2014 and based in Shanghai, Nio is regarded as China’s answer to Tesla, with its ES8 pure-electric, seven-seat sport-utility vehicle being compared to Tesla’s Model X.
Like Tesla, Nio continues to report a loss, posting a net loss of US$502.6 million in the first six months of 2018 on revenue of US$6.95 million, according to the company. Nio which is still at the outset of production, has sold 2,100 vehicles so far.
“We are aiming to turn a profit within three to four years by focusing on the Chinese market before going global,” Nio Chief Financial Officer Louis Hsieh told the South China Morning Post on Wednesday. “China accounts for about 60 per cent of the electric vehicle market in the world.”
The IPO comes as China continues to push into the electric-vehicle market. About 375,000 vehicles were manufactured by China in 2016, counting for about 43 per cent of total production globally, according to McKinsey & Company.
Nio, formerly known as NextEV, is backed by Tencent Holdings, along with other high-profile corporate investors including the tech giant Baidu, private equity firm Hillhouse Capital and Temasek, a holding company owned by the government of Singapore.
All the early investors have kept their stakes in the company at the time of the IPO, said Hsieh, indicating their faith in Nio’s prospects.
In the immediate future, however, uncertainty is building as trade disputes between the US and China continue to escalate.
“Tariffs currently help us for now because they make US cars more expensive,” Hsieh said. “But this is something we are monitoring closely as situations evolve.”
While acknowledging the comparison between Nio and Tesla, he said that Nio regards other high-end brands such as Mercedes and Audi as competitors as well.
“We are catering to the premium car buyers in China who want bigger cars like SUVs and that is how we design the cars,” said Hsieh said.
USS New York sailors pause to honor 9/11 victims, first responders
The sailors of Mayport-based Naval ship USS New York remember the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks every day.
Seven and a half tons of steel remains from the World Trade Center towers literally helped build their ship, reminding those on board daily of the sacrifices of the first responders.
The hat of a fallen police officer and the helmet of a fallen firefighter are displayed inside the ship, and a surviving fireman’s jacket hangs in the ship’s bridge, always standing guard as the crew’s “12th man.”
On the 17th anniversary of the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil, hundreds of sailors gathered Tuesday for a brief but emotional ceremony at Naval Station Mayport.
Capt. Brent Devore spoke about the 9/11 memorial items throughout the ship, which is one of only three Navy ships with items from the World Trade Center.
“We constantly say that every day is 9/11 and that we have to constantly remind ourselves we’re surrounded by the heroes,” Devore said. “We know that Trade Center steel is baked into the ship. We have memoirs throughout the entire ship that remind us of the first responders and all of the families who gave the sacrifice.”
News clips showing the planes hitting the Twin Towers had sailors holding back tears during the remembrance ceremony as they listened to the screams and cries of people on the ground that day.
As the video played, smoke was released from one of several areas of the ship that includes steel from the World Trade Center, serving as a reminder of what New York City residents and first responders saw for weeks, even months after the attacks — a plume of smoke that made losing thousands even more difficult.
Shivanane Harry, a sailor from New York City, said the attacks affected his career path.
“It will be in the history books. It’s one of those things that’s going to be there — remember the people that passed,” Harry said. “I’m here, and that’s one of the reasons why I joined the military.”
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