I Just Drove The Car Of The Future–And It Wasn't A Tesla

The journey into the future is rarely going to take place on a smooth well-paved multilane highway. Most often it involves uncounted detours along bumpy and narrow back roads that we never even knew existed. Which is why, given the option, most of us would be perfectly content to stay on the well-worn tracks of the present and avoid all the buffeting of the future.

So, what if I told you that there was a company which could guarantee avoiding every one of those bumps in the road?  In doing research for an upcoming book I came across ClearMotion, a company which promises to do just that. Intrigued? Stick with me because I’ll bet you’ve never heard of this 100-million-dollar startup, even though it’s going to change the future of the automobile experience in ways you’ve never imagined.

First, a disclosure and some background. 

I love to drive and I love cars. But if I end up riding shotgun or, God forbid, in the back seat I’ll complain more bitterly than a two-year-old in a day-old dirty diaper. Remember those child car seats with the built-in plastic steering wheel? Those were created for kids like me.

My lifelong love of driving is in large part why I’ve been so fascinated by the idea of a driverless car. On the one hand, I have zero doubt that we will have fully autonomous driverless cars within the next five years and that the entire fleet of global transport will switch over to driverless with 25 years. (Yes, there’s a specific rational behind that number, which I just don’t have the time to get into here, but will detail in a future column.)

On the other hand, the prospect of my giving up “driving” is a tough one to buy into.

Gateway Innovations

That seems like an irresolvable quandary. It’s not. There’s a very clear path for how even die-hard auto-enthusiasts like me will transition from being the driver to being the driven. That path is lined with what I call “gateway innovations.”  These are innovations that don’t pose a threat to the status quo because they can co-exist with it and even enhance it. However, once you begin to use them going back to the status quo is nearly impossible. For example, think of how lane departure warnings, automatic collision avoidance braking, autonomous parallel parking, adaptive cruise control, and semi-autonomous cars such as Teslas, are slowly weaning us off of driving, while we’re still in the driver’s seat. As we cede more control of the driving to the car we learn to rely on and trust these systems so much that we have an extraordinarily difficult time getting into a car without them.

“…we’re okay with the status quo because we don’t have the future to compare it to.:”

When I look at the technologies that will create the greatest gravity to pull us forward into the driverless future I look for the subtle gateway innovations which will sneak up on us, almost unnoticeably, and which we will then not be able to live without.

ClearMotion has developed what may well be one the most important gateway innovations when it comes to changing the automobile experience. As part of the research I’ve been doing I had the chance to go for a test drive in a BMW 535 modified with their technology. It took about five minutes for me to realize how limited my view of the future had been. 

Before I describe exactly what ClearMotion’s innovation is, and why I feel it’s so transformative, let me set the stage with a little more context:

  • First, it’s clear that the automobile industry needs to make many incremental changes in how automobiles behave in order to acclimate drivers to being passengers. For example, many of the activities we envision doing inside of a driverless car, such as reading, working, watching a movie, or even sleeping just not going to work in a car that’s jostling around as it encounters the inevitable movements of navigating anything other than a smooth, straight, level road.
  • Second, roadways are anything but static surfaces. Roads deteriorate, they have potholes, frost heaves, bumps, seams, debris, and myriad deformities which are simply unavoidable. We deal with the discomfort of these as drivers and passengers today because we have no choice. Remember the last pothole you hit? Who did you curse, the city which didn’t patch it or yourself for not seeing it? I’m sure it wasn’t the car, because we just expect cars to behave in a certain way when they hit a pothole.
  • Third, being transported is a tactile and physical experience. It happens in three dimensions and there are constant forces acting on the car and its occupants that determine the quality of the experience. We take for granted and accept the inherent discomfort of how these forces make us feel–again because we don’t see an alternative.
  • Fourth, although we think of highways as representing the biggest risk for driving in a car, highway’s make up only 45,000 miles of the nation’s 3.9 million road miles, and (according to the US DoT) the rate of deaths per 100,000,000 vehicle miles is twice as high on local streets (1.32) as it is on highways and arteries (.74). While much of this is due to traffic conditions, a 2009 Washington Post article stated that up to half of all fatal accidents may be due to poor road conditions. Once again, that’s just part of the risk of driving in a car.

We accept all of these factors as simply being part of the driving experience. We think nothing of taking the risks and dealing with the discomforts. After all, what’s the alternative? And that’s pretty much what makes it so hard for us to envision most disruptive innovation, we’re okay with the status quo because we don’t have the future to compare it to.

If you’ve ever seen an old stagecoach or horse drawn wagon you’ve probably thought to yourself, “How in the world did people ride in those things for more than a few miles without having their teeth shaken loose from the jarring of wooden wheels on unpaved roads littered with rocks and ditches?” However, I doubt that the people who rode in those primitive carriages saw their mode of transportation as any less advanced than we do ours, just as much as I doubt that anyone today could, or would, put up with a car that had the same quality of ride as a stagecoach.

Smoothing Out The Bumps

Enter ClearMotion, which has developed what they call the “world’s first digital chassis” using Active Ride Control (ARC). Simply put ARC intelligently adjust a car’s suspension to predictively respond to road surface conditions by using a set of proprietary algorithms and four amazingly compact actuators.

Ride control technology was first developed for Formula 1 racing in the 1980s and subsequently banned in the 1993 because it allowed Formula cars to reach speeds considered unsafe on tight turns. At the time, it was also highly unreliable due to mechanical faults and onboard computers that just weren’t powerful enough to deal with the massive amount of data that had to be processed.

The second generation of the technology, called adaptive ride control, found its way into many high-end luxury and sports cars. Adaptive ride control allows you to switch from a comfort mode to a sport mode or it adjusts automatically by raising, lowering, or dampening the ride based on the road surface. I’ve got cars with both of these features and there’s no comparison, between adaptive and active ride control. Adaptive control is a defensive feature that respond but it does not predict and adjust in a real-time offensive mode the way ARC does.

The video below gives you a little better sense for how ARC works. However, I can tell you firsthand that descriptions and videos do not come remotely close to the actual experience of being in a car using ClearMotion’s ARC. The best analogy I can think of to describe the sensation of switching over from a normal drive mode to ARC is to imagine the way it feels when you are in a commercial jet at full throttle as it bounces along a runway before takeoff. Just as the wheels leave the tarmac and retract into the plane’s belly you have this immediate sense of calm and quiet. If we set aside turbulence there is not much you can’t do on a plane that you could do in a fixed room not in motion.

Shakeel Avadhany (Shak) President and CEO of ClearMotion has a wonderful metaphor, he calls what they do “noise canceling for automobiles.” In the same way that noise canceling headphones create opposing frequencies to cancel out background noise, ARC cancels out every deformity in the road with an opposing frequency to provide a nearly motionless ride. The device itself is deceivingly small, about the size of a softball. One is attached to each of a car’s four shock absorbers. The device contains a computer controlled actuator that pumps hydraulic fluid into and out of the shock absorber as the computer uses sophisticated algorithms and AI to observe, predict, and cancel out the slightest anomalies in the road.

From Cockpit to Cabin

While the device definitely changes the driving experience, it’s ultimate trajectory–and the real gateway innovation–is moving from the notion of a car’s interior as a cockpit to that of a cabin. We’ve so bought into the cockpit metaphor that we measure the value of a car by how well it gives us a sense for the road. A tight rough ride in a high-performance automobile is considered a desired feature. A driver’s seat that fits you like a glove and cocoons you to keep you from bouncing about is similarly a feature. But all of these are built around a model of the car experience that is based on the constraints of how cars drive and behave today. As those constraints are removed so will our limited view of what the car experience could be.

To be fair, the car is still driving on a roadway and it’s impossible to cancel out all sensation of motion. However, the difference in even the pre-release version of the technology that I experienced was a quantum leap from anything I’ve experienced in the most advanced luxury cars.

As we pulled back in from the test drive and brought the car to a stop Shak asked me to sit back while we watched a short clip from Jurassic Park on the car’s iPad control panel–the clip where a dinosaur attacks the Land Rover. I wasn’t sure where this was going until the BMW we were in suddenly began to lurch and jump in synchronized motion with the movie scene. As the dinosaur lunged to bite down on the Land Rover the BMW shook back and forth as though we were the ones being shaken about in the tyrannosaurus’ jaws. I commented, jokingly, that ClearMotion may be able to bring back drive-in theaters.

The Jurassic Park demo was clearly meant for impact of substance. I really don’t expect to be watching Star Wars in my driveway as I pretend my car is a rebel X-wing fighter, but as I thought about the role that the car has played in defining our culture, from Ford’s Model T to Tesla’s Model S, it occurred to me that whatever notion I might have of what a car is and how it should be used is steeped in the legacy of what I’ve known; the smooth, well-worn road of the past and not the yet to be defined twisting turning road ahead.


Famed Architect’s Lawsuit Against Google Just Got Much More Serious

Eli Attia alleges he wasn’t the only one mistreated by the search giant.

A long-running lawsuit filed against Google by a prominent architect has just gotten much broader.

Last week, the Superior Court of California granted a motion adding racketeering charges to the civil case being pursued against Google by Eli Attia, an expert in high-rise construction. Attia claims Google stole his idea for an innovative building design method – and now he wants to prove that it does the same thing frequently.

Attia’s suit was originally filed in 2014, four years after he began discussions with Google (prior to its reorganization as Alphabet) about developing software based on a set of concepts he called Engineered Architecture. Attia has said Engineered Architecture, broadly described as a modular approach to building, would revolutionize the design and construction of large buildings. Attia developed the concepts based on insights gleaned from his high-profile architecture career, and has called them his life’s work.

Google executives including Google X cofounder Astro Teller came to share his enthusiasm, and championed developing software based on Engineered Architecture as one of the company’s “moonshots.” But Attia claims the company later used his ideas without fulfilling an agreement to pay to license them.

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Attia’s suit names not just Google, but individual executives including founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. It also names Flux Factory, the unit Attia’s suit alleges was spun off specifically to capitalize on his ideas.

Speaking to the San Jose Mercury News, Attia’s lawyer claims Google told Attia his project had been cancelled, “when in fact they were going full blast on it.” Flux Factory is now known as Flux, and touts itself as “the first company launched by Google X.”

Attia’s suit will now also seek to prove that his case is representative of a much broader pattern of behavior by Alphabet. According to court documents, the motion to add racketeering charges hinged on six similar incidents. Those incidents aren’t specified in the latest court proceedings, but Alphabet has faced a similar trade-secrets battle this summer over X’s Project Loon, which has already led to Loon being stripped of some patents.

The idea of racketeering charges entering the picture will surprise many who associate them with violent organized criminals. But under RICO statutes, civil racketeering suits can be brought by private litigants against organizations and individuals alleged to have engaged in ongoing misdeeds. The broader use of racketeering charges has slowly gained ground since the introduction of RICO laws in the 1960s, with some famous instances including suits against Major League Baseball and even the Los Angeles Police Department.


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The A.I. Of Destruction In ‘Just Cause 3’

Lead AI designer Niklas Norin speaks with Forbes contributor Todd Kenreck about creating artificial intelligence that reacts to the massive destruction of ‘Just Cause 3.’

Cloud Computing

NSA director just admitted that government copies of encryption keys are a big security risk

NSA chief Michael S. Rogers speaks at Fort Meade.

The director of the NSA, Admiral Michael Rogers, just admitted at a Senate hearing that when Internet companies provide copies of encryption keys to law enforcement, the risk of hacks and data theft goes way up.

The government has been pressuring technology companies to provide the encryption keys that it can use to access data from suspected bad actors. The keys allow the government “front door access,” as Rogers has termed it, to secure data on any device, including cell phones and tablets.

Rogers made the statement in answer to a question from Senator Ron Wyden at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday.

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 2.06.46 PMWyden:  “As a general matter, is it correct that anytime there are copies of an encryption key — and they exist in multiple places — that also creates more opportunities for malicious actors or foreign hackers to get access to the keys?

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 2.07.12 PMRogers: Again, it depends on the circumstances, but if you want to paint it very broadly like that for a yes and no, then i would probably say yes.”

View the exchange in this video.

Security researchers have been saying for some time that the existence of multiple copies of encryption keys creates huge security vulnerabilities. But instead of heeding the advice and abandoning the idea, Rogers has suggested that tech companies deliver the encryption key copies in multiple pieces that must be reassembled.

From VentureBeat

Get faster turnaround on creative, more testing, smarter improvements and better results. Learn how to apply agile marketing at our roadshow in SF.

“The NSA chief Admiral Rogers today confirmed what encryption experts and data scientists have been saying all along: if the government requires companies to provide copies of encryption keys, that will only weaken data protection and open the door for malicious actors and hackers,” said Morgan Reed of the App Association in a note to VentureBeat.

Cybersecurity has taken center stage in the halls of power this week, as Chinese president Xi Jinping is in the U.S. meeting with tech leaders and President Obama.

The Chinese government itself has been linked with various large data hacks on U.S. corporations and on U.S. government agencies. By some estimates, U.S. businesses lose $ 300 billion a year from Chinese intellectual property theft.

One June 2nd, the Senate approved a bill called the USA Freedom Act, meant to reform the government surveillance authorizations in the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act expired at midnight on June 1st.

But the NSA has continued to push for increased latitude to access the data of private citizens, both foreign and domestic.

All articles

The AI of Destruction In ‘Just Cause 3’

Artificial Intelligence designer Niklas Norin speaks with Forbes contributor Todd Kenreck about creating AI that reacts and cleans up after the massive devastation of Just Cause 3.

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Marketing Clouds and Video: A relationship just beginning to bloom

video recording


John Koetsier’s recent report, “Marketing Clouds: How the best companies are winning via marketing technology,” was full of great insights into where marketing clouds are headed. It also found that marketing cloud users have barely scratched the surface when it comes to video, revealing that only about 20 percent of the 1,500 marketers surveyed use the video marketing tools featured in their marketing cloud solutions.

Some of the commentary I’ve read on the report made me think I would need to find a new career path. (I’m the CEO and cofounder of the video marketing and analytics platform Vidyard.) But rather than see this as a sign that video hasn’t caught on, I see the results as an opportunity for video. Five years ago, if someone had asked marketers about their use of social media technology, only about 20 percent would have said they were invested there, too. Look how far social has come. Just about every company now has a person, if not a team, dedicated to social. We’re already starting to see the same thing with video, and adoption is hitting an exponential curve.

Video is poised for huge growth in both B2B and B2C marketing. That’s what I see in all the other data and anecdotal evidence about video. My own company has seen 1,000-percent growth in customers using video platform technology in the last two years. Last year, a joint report from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs found that video ranked higher than white papers, infographics and research reports for content marketing, and was up 6 points over 2013.

From VentureBeat

And that doesn’t even take into account the big picture statistics on online video. Internet prognosticator extraordinaire Mary Meeker predicts that, by 2017, 74 percent of all internet traffic will be video. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have all made bets on video recently.

So clearly video is working, and there’s going to be more of it. Then why is the 20 percent number so low?

There are a couple of things going on here. First, video capabilities within marketing clouds and marketing automation platforms are pretty minimal at this point. While they support the ability to embed videos within marketing campaigns and web pages, most do not even offer video hosting capabilities, let alone tools to track audience engagement or detailed viewer analytics. With little native video functionality, it’s not surprising to see that most marketers haven’t adopted the video technology offered within their marketing cloud. But that doesn’t mean solutions aren’t out there or that customers aren’t adopting video technology as a fast pace. Third-party video marketing platforms offer rich integrations with marketing clouds such as Hubspot, ExactTarget, Salesforce, Eloqua and Marketo to help marketers integrate video with their various campaigns and digital channels, and even track the second-by-second viewing behavior of each customer and prospect to enhance qualification and nurturing. Other technologies help to serve video ads to targeted accounts across multiple networks while still others enable marketers to generate 1-to-1 personalized videos to boost audience engagement.

Meanwhile, many companies that are doing video are doing it without getting the full benefits. They’re posting videos to YouTube or even on their own websites, but they aren’t taking advantage of the tools that would come from a video marketing platform. Analytics are often a big part of the marketing cloud sales pitch (and the most-used feature according to John’s research), but when it comes to video, marketing clouds don’t offer very impressive analytics. Like YouTube, they might give you vanity metrics such as total views, views-by-day or even views-by-device. Those are nice and all, but they don’t necessarily help turn prospects into customers, and isn’t that ultimately the goal of marketing? When marketers fully commit to video, they want to know by name who watched their videos. They want to know whether the person watched the entire video or turned it off after 10 seconds. They want to be able to use an entertaining top-of-funnel video to point potential customers to more detailed materials that guide them along the buying journey.

Marketing clouds simply aren’t there yet, so it’s no wonder only 20 percent of marketers are using marketing clouds for video. But with the incredible success marketers are seeing with video to boost SEO, engagement time and conversions rates, you can bet that adoption of video and related technologies will continue to grow rapidly. We’ll just have to wait and see if the marketing clouds bring advanced video technology natively into their platforms or if it remains the domain of those solution-providers that offer core expertise in video marketing.


Michael Litt is CEO of Vidyard, a video marketing and analytics platform based in Kitchener, Ontario.

VB’s research team is studying web-personalization… Chime in here, and we’ll share the results.