Lithium-Ion Battery Fires on Aircraft are Happening ‘Much More Frequently’

As smoke began filling the cabin, an airplane passenger saw sparks and fire bursting from a bag in the seat directly behind her — which turned out to be a “smoky flashing lithium battery, which had begun smoldering in a carry-on bag,” according to CBS News.

The flight crew contained the situation, and “Airport fire trucks met the plane on the runway and everyone evacuated safely.” But a CBS News Investigation “has discovered similar incidents have been happening much more frequently in the skies over the United States.”

The FAA verifies the number of lithium-Ion battery fires jumped more 42% in the last five years. A CBS News analysis of the FAA’s data found that since 2021 there’s been at least one lithium battery incident on a passenger plane somewhere in the U.S., on average, once every week…

Some airlines are taking action to control the growing number of fires. They are using specialized “thermal containment” bags designed for flight crews to use if a lithium battery starts heating up to the point where it’s smoking or burning. Mechanical engineers at the University of Texas at Austin say the bags can effectively contain fire and keep it from spreading, but don’t extinguish it.
In a video accompanying the article, an engineering professor at the university’s Fire Research Group even showed a lithium-ion battery fire that continued burning undewater. “You can’t put it out. It’s a fire within the cell. So, you’ve got fuel, oxygen, heat in the cell, all.” (The article also notes a startup called Pure Lithium is working on a new kind of non-flammable battery using lithium metal cells instead of lithium ion).

Guidelines from America’s Federal Aviation Administration require spare lithium-ion batteries be kept with passengers (and not checked) — and prohibits passengers from bringing onboard damaged or recalled batteries and battery-powered devices.
Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader khb for sharing the article.

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Mercedes Locks Better EV Engine Performance Behind Annoying Subscription Paywalls

Last year, BMW announced plans to charge a $18 per month subscription for heated seats. Now, Mercedes is considering making better EV engine performance an added subscription surcharge. “Mercedes-Benz electric vehicle owners in North America who want a little more power and speed can now buy 60 horsepower for just $60 a month or, on other models, 80 horsepower for $90 a month,” reports CNN. “They won’t have to visit a Mercedes dealer to get the upgrade either, or even leave their own driveway. The added power, which will provide a nearly one second decrease in zero-to-60 acceleration, will be available through an over-the-air software patch.” Techdirt reports: If you don’t want to pay monthly, Mercedes will also let you pay a one time flat fee (usually several thousand dollars) to remove the artificial restrictions they’ve imposed on your engine. That’s, of course, creating additional upward pricing funnel efforts on top of the industry’s existing efforts to upsell you on a rotating crop of trims, tiers, and options you probably didn’t want.

It’s not really clear that regulators have any interest in cracking down on charging dumb people extra for something they already owned and paid for. After all, ripping off gullible consumers is effectively now considered little more than creative marketing by a notable segment of government “leaders” (see: regulatory apathy over misleading hidden fees in everything from hotels to cable TV).

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Cruise Robotaxis Now Run All Day In San Francisco

According to a recent Twitter post from Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt, the robotaxi service is now operating all day in San Francisco. The post says we will soon see Cruise “open up full operations in other cities,” which may soon include Dallas, Texas, according to a recent job listing. From the report: According to a recent LinkedIn post from Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt, the robotaxi network is now running 24/7 rides across San Francisco, beginning with employees. As The Kilowatts points out on Twitter, nonemployees in the San Francisco area are still limited to about one-third of the city between f 10:00 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. In his post, Vogt said that in accordance with safety policies, around-the-clock public rides will roll out “very soon.”

Cruise is a robotaxi startup founded in the San Francisco Bay area in 2013. In the last decade, the company (along with plenty of support from GM) has made tremendous progress in its home state of California, where it continues to try and expand. Services that began in San Francisco have since grown to Phoenix, Arizona, and, most recently, Austin, Texas. In February, the Cruise president, CEO, and cofounder, Kyle Vogt, shared that the company had surpassed one million miles driven without anyone behind the wheel. In many ways, the city by the bay has become a proving ground for Cruise’s electric robotaxis, and its hilly, congested terrain will act as a testing site for yet another major milestone — around-the-clock robotaxi operations.

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After Low-Speed Bus Crash, Cruise Recalled Software for Its Self-Driving Taxis in March

San Francisco autonomous vehicle company Cruise recalled and updated the software of its fleet of 300 cars, reports the San Francisco Chronicle, ” after a Cruise taxi rear-ended a local bus “when the car’s software got confused by the articulated vehicle, according to a federal safety report and the company.”
The voluntary report notes that Cruise updated its software on March 25th.

Since last month’s low-speed crash, which resulted in no injuries, Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt said the company chose to conduct a voluntary recall, and the software update assured such a rare incident “would not recur….” As for the March bus collision, Vogt said the software fix was uploaded to Cruise’s entire fleet of 300 cars within two days. He said the company’s probe found the crash scenario “exceptionally rare” with no other similar collisions.

“Although we determined that the issue was rare, we felt the performance of this version of software in this situation was not good enough,” Vogt wrote in a blog post. “We took the proactive step of notifying NHTSA that we would be filing a voluntary recall of previous versions of our software that were impacted by the issue.” The CEO said such voluntary recalls will probably become “commonplace.”

“We believe this is one of the great benefits of autonomous vehicles compared to human drivers; our entire fleet of AVs is able to rapidly improve, and we are able to carefully monitor that progress over time,” he said.

The Cruise car was traveling about 10 miles per hour, and the collision caused only minor damage to its front fender, Vogt’s blog post explained. San Francisco’s buses have front and back coaches connected by articulated rubber, and when the Cruise taxi lost sight of the front half, it made the assumption that it was still moving (rather than recognizing that the back coach had stopped). Or, as Cruise told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, their vehicle “”inaccurately predicted the movement” of the bus.

It was not the first San Francisco incident involving Cruise since June, when it became the first company in a major city to win the right to taxi passengers in driverless vehicles — in this case Chevrolet Bolts. The city’s Municipal Transportation Agency and County Transportation Authority recorded at least 92 incidents from May to December 2022 in which autonomous ride-hailing vehicles caused problems on city streets, disrupting traffic, Muni transit and emergency responders, according to letters sent to the California Public Utilities Commission….

Just two days before the Cruise crash in March, the company had more problems with Muni during one of San Francisco’s intense spring storms. A falling tree brought down a Muni line near Clay and Jones streets on March 21, and a witness reported on social media that two Cruise cars drove through caution tape into the downed wire. A company representative said neither car had passengers and teams were immediately dispatched to remove the vehicles.

On Jan. 22, a driverless Cruise car entered an active firefighting scene and nearly ran over hoses. Fire crews broke a car window to try to stop it.

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AM Radio to Be Dropped in All Ford New Models Except Commercial Vehicles

It’s not just the Ford Mustang that’s losing its AM radio. The Detroit Free Press reports:

“We are transitioning from AM radio for most new and updated 2024 models,” Ford spokesman Wes Sherwood told the Free Press. “A majority of U.S. AM stations, as well as a number of countries and automakers globally, are modernizing radio by offering internet streaming through mobile apps, FM, digital and satellite radio options. Ford will continue to offer these alternatives for customers to hear their favorite AM radio music, news and podcasts as we remove amplitude modulation — the definition of AM in this case — from most new and updated models we bring to market.” Commercial vehicles will continue to offer AM radio because of longstanding contract language, Sherwood said….

“In essence, EV motors generate a lot of electromagnetic interference that affects the frequencies of AM radio and make it difficult to get a clear signal,” said Mike Ramsey, an analyst with Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner Research Group, which specializes in digital transformation and innovation. “It could be shielded, but given the diminishing listening habits to AM, the automakers haven’t chosen to do it. Most of the content there is available through other means, including podcast and internet streaming. In my view, this isn’t that different from automakers discontinuing 8-track players, cassette players and CD players. Technology has advanced. The idea that it is a critical safety channel is a bit suspect given that almost all critical communication now is sent through mobile phones….”

Veteran analyst John McEloy, host of “Autoline After Hours” webcast and podcast said automakers don’t need to get rid of AM radio. “It’s happening because automakers would love to get rid of the cost of an AM radio,” he told the Free Press. “Some of them, like Ford, are using EVs as an excuse to get rid of it. GM shields its AM radios in its electric cars to they don’t get any interference.”
But the article also quotes a spokesperson for GM saying they’re “evaluating AM radio on future vehicles and not providing any further details at this time.”

Last month U.S. Senator Markey noted that seven more top automakers have already removed AM radio from their electric vehicles — BMW, Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla, Volkswagen, and Volvo.

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VW Says Sorry For Child Carjacking Fiasco, Makes Safety Service Free

Last month, Volkswagen garnered plenty of bad publicity when it emerged that the company’s connected car service refused to help track a stolen car — with a 2-year-old child still on board — until someone paid to reactivate the service. Now, the automaker says it’s very sorry this happened, and it’s making its connected vehicle emergency service free to most model-year 2020-2023 Volkswagens. Ars Technica reports: “The family was thankfully reunited, but the crime and the process failure are heartbreaking for me,” said Rachael Zaluzec, VW’s SVP for customer experience and brand and marketing. “As a mom and an aunt, I can imagine how painful this incident must have been. Words can’t adequately express how truly sorry I am for what the family endured.”

“Volkswagen must and will do better for everyone that trusts our brand and for the law enforcement officials tasked with protecting us. In addition to a full investigation of what went wrong and actions taken to address the failure, we want to make it right for the future. Today, we are setting a new standard for customer peace of mind. As of June 1, we will make these connected vehicle emergency services free for five years as one significant step we can take as a commitment to our owners and their families,” Zaluzec said in a statement sent to Ars.

Most MY2020 or newer VWs can use connected services, apart from MY2020 Passats. From June, owners can sign up for five years of free Car-Net Safe and Secure, which uses the vehicle’s onboard modem to connect to the emergency services via the car’s SOS button. In gasoline-powered VWs, there is also an anti-theft alert. VW says it will make Car-Net Remote Access free for five years as well. This lets owners interact with their car via a mobile app and can lock and unlock the doors, honk the horn and flash the lights, and, if fitted, remote-start the vehicle.

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