Autonomous Weed-Killing Robot Could be the Future of Farming

From the annals of German farming trivia: The infamous Nürburgring circuit wasn’t initially designed for speeding men, but for saving cows. As brave Autofahrers took up public road racing during the Twenties, they began splattering wandering, grazing livestock in the Eifel mountains. Otto Creutz, who fathered the ambitious racetrack that eventually traced 17.6 multifarious miles over 1,000 feet of elevation change, reportedly said: “I am here in the first place for the farmers and in the second place for motorists.”

Nearly a century later, German ingenuity is lending farmers a robotic helping hand. This is the Bonirob, a weed-killing, crop-scanning field worker that no one will ever call an Illegal. Funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, created by automotive-industrial giant Bosch and its start-up Deepfield Robotics, the Bonirob puts your typical John Deere tractor to shame.

The Bonirob looks like a compact lunar rover, or maybe the Kush-aided dream of a Humboldt County pot farmer. It makes its way through fields using GPS, video and Lidar scanning. Those fix its position to the nearest centimeter; roughly as exacting as Audi’s autonomous RS7 racing concepts. Using image files, machine learning teaches the robot to distinguish between different plant species. Professor Amos Albert, a robotics expert and Deepfield’s general manager, says it’s a tricky process: “The leaves of carrot and chamomile, for example, are very similar in their early stages. Over time, based on parameters such as leaf color, shape and size, Bonirob learns how to differentiate more accurately between plants we want and plants we don’t want.”

Instead of plucking weeds or hosing them with environmentally sketchy herbicides, the machine uses a ramrod to smash undesired plants into the ground so crop can flourish. But this is more than a earth-friendly Roomba; the Bonirob is named for a system in which laboratory scientists analyze thousands of plants (size, shape, resistance to insects and viruses) to decide which new strains are worth developing. It can take up to 10 years to bring these improved crops to market. Bosch says Bonirob could speed the process by imaging and analyzing plants in the literal field, assessing how well they actually grow. Farmers benefit again: The technology-award-winning robot scans and samples crops to decide how much water and fertilizer they need.

As with autonomous cars that rely on similar sensor technology, Bosch believes its technology could transform farming in coming decades. That’s critical for an agriculture industry that’s seen yields-per-acre triple since 1950, but may need to boost yields by three percent each year just to keep up with population growth. Some potentially awesome technology, even if we don’t get a racetrack out of it.

Mississippi Sinkhole Swallows a Dozen Cars; Spares Local IHOP

In Feb. 2014, it was the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky. Now there’s been another massive, car-swallowing sinkhole, this time at a Meridian, Miss., International House of Pancakes. If the next sinkhole wipes out a midway of deep-fried delicacies at Darlington Raceway, the warning will be clear: God is throwing a tantrum, and wants to send car owners below the Mason-Dixon to a literal Deep South.

The mighty “Mississinki,” as I’ve taken to calling it, carved a parking-lot trench roughly 375 feet long and 35 feet wide. It swallowed more than a dozen cars, but spared the local IHOP, which had opened just days before. Cars tumbled 30 feet into a muddy grave, with rain hampering a recovery that police expected would take several days. One woman left dinner to find her brand-new Ford F-150 in the pit. One very lucky Chevy dangles perilously at the edge.

Buck Roberts, Meridian’s public safety director, told the Meridian Star that the collapse isn’t technically a sinkhole. Real sinkholes are caused by circulating groundwater that dissolves limestone, carbonate or other susceptible rocks below the surface, hollowing out caverns until the land above collapses. Instead, the restaurant had been built over a former city culvert, which may have weakened due to area construction. Roberts, who would probably remind you to pronounce the c in arctic, called it “an accident.”

Not a single injury was sustained. Likely because every man, woman and child was enjoying a Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity®, which IHOP informs us can now be had with peaches, cinnamon apple topping or glazed strawberries, finished with fluffy whipped topping. The IHOP will remain closed for weeks, with Meridian appropriately declared a state of emergency. A little late for that, don’t you think?

These Sixties Sports Car Inspired Sunglasses Are Killer

At its best, the Internet is curating. Spoon feeding your interests, carefully tailored yet broadly appealing. Grantland curates sports and society. The Drive curates machinery, and the culture it creates. When it comes to men’s gear, uncrate is a formative master. Case and point: Model X1 reissue.

That’s the result of collaboration with eyewear titan Warby Parker. The design is inspired by Sixties sports cars, lightweight and with heavy-duty nylon lenses. Matte black or tortoise shell, the limited-run Model X1’s garage life aesthetic is spot-on. And, given a pair of custom Ray Bans is more expensive than an iPhone, the $145 price point here won’t make you grimace. (Pro tip: Always grimace, especially in sunglasses. You’ll look cooler). Check ’em out here.

Love and Breakups in a Ferrari 488 Spider

Romance is always in the air in a Ferrari, never more than in Italy. But even in Emilia-Romagna, in the thick of a Sangiovese vineyard-cum-spa, I’m determined to resist a 661-horsepower come-on from that pneumatic hussy, the turbocharged 488 Spider. Ignoring those out-to-here hips, painted in the latest Blu Corsa fashion; trying not to get lost in the dusky caverns of the side air intakes.

Let some Eurotrash gigolo take my place. My heart belongs to another, the 488’s predecessor, the 458. We’ve only had a brief fling, but a romp around Ferrari’s Fiorano test track convinced me the track-focused 458 Speciale was the world’s greatest sports car. But now, Ferrari whispers like some procurer, the ingenue of my dreams has picked up a coke habit and put on 7 pounds. And I need to dump her. Presto. Before this turns into creepy-sexist Mad Men copy, let’s snuff the post-test-drive cigarette and consider the 488 Spider.

The eighth generation of Ferrari’s mid-engine, V-8 convertible raises the bar the way you’d suspect it would. Transport the 488 Spider to the seminal Ferrari 308 era, and Tom Selleck would yank out his mustache just to sit in the Botticelli-shell seats, play with the steering-wheel manettino switch and ask what the hell it is he’s stroking. (It’s called “carbon fiber,” Mr. Selleck). Despite harnessing 0.6-liters less displacement than the 458, the 488 Spider amasses 99 more horsepower and a shocking 40-percent torque bump. The not-so-secret is turbocharging. And with an record 170 horsepower per liter, this engine spits another nail in the coffin for free-breathing V-8 engines.

The 488 Spider pops the cork from 0-62 mph in three seconds flat, 0.4 seconds quicker than a droptop 458. Braking distances, shift speeds, lap times, steering response, and even perhaps sexual response: Ferrari has PowerPoint math to prove that 488 beats 458. Here in Emilia-Romagna, we don’t need a single espresso to get antsy at the sight of a half-dozen 488’s, tops lowered and waiting.

The front end leads with almost alien maw, including an aerodynamic splitter that hovers like a cantilevered bridge. At first, the 308-style scalloped doors, Hobbit-high door handles and looping rear fenders seem too greedy for attention, dragging your eye down the rabbit hole of its air intakes. But from the rear and three-quarters, it’ll make you giggle from sheer exotic aptness.

The dual aluminum headrest fairings are the Spider’s design coup over the coupe, windswept dunes that spill over a rear deck, wide and martial as an aircraft carrier’s. This Ferrari is all about wind, including the signature “blown spoiler” that funnels air through an intimate orifice at the rear to pin the tail to the pavement. Compared to many new convertibles, the top is languorous, opening and closing in 14 seconds. But once it’s dropped, and the autumn vineyards recede behind us, we quickly learn that 488 Spider and a public road is not a fair fight.

Unleashed on the Autostrada, my searing yellow Spider leads a three-car convoy to an effortless 150 mph. Something up ahead pings my radar, and I slow down just as a parked Carabinieri pops into view. I swear he’s grinning as we flash past.

The steering wheel is a Schumacher-via-Mitty affair, strung with everything from shift lights to turn signals. Twitch a finger on its column-mounted shift paddles, and the seven-speed auto gearbox downshifts 40 percent faster, and upshifts 30 percent sooner, than that hardcore 458 Speciale.

We tear up a long, lopping ascent to Forte di San Leo, a medieval castle atop a hyper-dramatic promontory that stood in as Leonardo da Vinci’s pad in Hudson Hawk, the early Nineties epic Bruce Willis bomb. In the courtyard, the mayor (wearing a sash in Italian-flag colors) and his cohort greet us with coffee table books and local wines, cheeses and honey. Because driving a new Ferrari in Italy is like pulling up in the Popemobile.

The stability control, conspiring with a range of Formula 1-inspired onboard systems, constantly assesses your inputs and relative skill level, maximizing speed and traction in any situation. During full-out driving, Ferrari claims, the 488 is shooting 130 more horsepower to the pavement at virtually any moment compared with its predecessor.

Ferrari 488 Spider

Gliding over Italy’s gimcrack asphalt to the Adriatic Sea near Rimini, the 488 Spider captures and carries us like a bobber in the rushing Colorado. The body never oscillates, the tires don’t squirm until intentionally provoked with gobs of power in lower gears. Our speeds climb higher and higher, and we wonder what it might take to rattle the Ferrari.

There are only two related downsides, three if you count the near-unobtainable price: The hallmark of decades of Ferraris, that warlike shriek, has been silenced. And while the ambitious tachometer displays 10,000 rpm at it outer spectrum, the actual redline is 8,000 rpm, down from 9,000 in the 458. In automatic mode, the car is too smart to bother chasing redline, preferring to upshift around 7,000 and let the next gear drop.

The engine is still a flat-crank beauty, the turbos an amazingly technical affair with a featherweight turbine wheel, ball bearings and abradable seals that reduce energy losses. The 488 emits a wolf whistle of turbo hiss—not a bad sound, but it does conjure Evos rather than Enzos. Ferrari describes the sound as a baritone. We all know tenors are the real stars at La Scala.

Just as the company did away with manual transmissions, it now tells us every future car will be either turbocharged or hybridized. Porsche’s new 911 is turbocharged, even models that don’t wear a Turbo badge. This is now the way of the world, more horsepower and torque with less fuel consumption and emissions. Game over. And that goes for the Fords and Audis and Japanese metal that the rest of us drive, too. Especially with an IPO afoot, Ferrari isn’t about to let rowdy turbo engines—like that in Mercedes AMG GT S—start brutalizing its supercars.

So raise a glass of Barolo to the Ferraris of old, sure. But save a toast for this stupendous new 488, too, in Spider or GTB coupe form. The Lamborghini Huracán is one fine supercar, but its handling doesn’t flow from your fingertips as in the Ferrari; the Porsche 911 GT3 RS puts up a noble performance battle, but is eclipsed in curbside appeal parked anywhere near the 488’s orbit. The McLaren 650S, another performance toss-up, can’t match the Ferrari’s Italian mystique or blue-chip resale value.

That leaves the 488 plucking the 458’s plum role as the best current supercar. Breaking up is always hard, but I’ll let the 458 down easy. Please, amore: It’s not you, it’s me.

You’re Full of Shit: A Drunken Argument About the New Ford GT

So The Drive’s chief auto critic Lawrence Ulrich and editor-at-large A.J. Baime walk into a bar…

Our guys had been out all day, tearing through Southern California, chasing a Volkswagen GTI in the new Chevy Volt. Then, they had a little disagreement. A.J. has seen the forthcoming 2016 Ford GT and thinks it’s a game-changer, both as a road and race machine. Lawrence, who has also seen the car, is duly unimpressed. Things got heated.

Some background: A.J. literally wrote the book on the old Ford GT, which famously won Le Mans in 1966. Lawrence, documented man of the people, was on the debate team in high school and can hold his liquor with aplomb.

Sixteen beers. Two goliaths. One supercar.

The automotive barstool debate is back.

Special thanks to The House of Shields for pouring drinks.
39 New Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA

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Why Racing Doesn’t Need “Athletes” To Be Great

Are race-car drivers athletes? You’re probably heard this question before, but if you’re like me, you’ve never had a satisfying answer.

Acknowledged: Drivers are in incredible shape. They have resting heart rates you could measure on a calendar. Their muscle density must be gauged with ground-penetrating radar. You'd be a masochist to emulate their diets, which probably take as much endurance and pain tolerance as an actual race, with the possible exception of Tony Stewart’s.

Acknowledged: What racers do is physically punishing. The stresses of racing are sufficient to pop ribs loose, displace vertebrae, detach retinas. Drivers can lose, depending on whose measurement you believe, between 12 and 20 lbs of water weight during a race. Their bodies are marvels of careful conditioning, with the possible exception of Tony Stewart’s.

Is it clear I’m not, in fact, ragging on Tony Stewart here? Because that guy—even retired—is the best kind of sportsman. The stick/ball sports equivalent would be a gym rat, a guy who’s just working out all the time, and who seems to have or require no life outside this activity. Stewart is either racing a car or going somewhere to race a car or, I suppose, sleeping. And while his athleticism may not be apparent, it’s demonstrably, undeniably there. His physical fitness comes from nothing more complicated or sophisticated than competing. Constantly. Which means, gruff public image aside, he derives a lot of joy from doing what he does. Talk about intangibles. What more, aside from winning, could you want?

Oh, right. The athlete thing.

Take the physical-fitness evidence and Webster’s Unabridged arguments, then add the stuff we haven’t talked about, like the chance, always diminishing but impossible to eliminate, that these guys could actually die while competing. Throw them all together and it still won’t matter.

Race car drivers aren’t athletes. They may never be. Understand: I am not saying that. I’m saying it’s not for me to say. “Athlete” is not defined by Webster’s, by ESPN and certainly not by me. It's defined by social consensus, and society has largely decided that an athlete wears special shoes and carries a special stick or glove. You’re not allowed to operate a machine unless it’s propelled by your muscles.

Here’s an idea: Instead of talking about aerobic fitness—a quality that allows a driver to concentrate on the actual job—let’s concentrate on the actual job.

Anyone who follows golf has seen Tiger Woods’ swing evolve, devolve, break down and be rebuilt over the years through hours of analysis. Football fans love critiquing the style of running backs; hockey fans have strong, informed opinions about goalie styles. And don’t ask the average baseball fan to compare two pitchers unless you’ve had a healthy lunch and a full night’s sleep.

But two different drivers? Seb Vettel versus Lewis Hamilton? Tony Stewart versus Jimmie Johnson? Very different strengths and weaknesses, very different approaches and comfort zones—and all worth talking about. But no one does.

Oh, you can easily learn how they like their cars set up. You hear stuff like This one’s a great qualifier and This one finds speed when he really needs it, or That one makes every car he drives better, and so on. But the process of how this actually happens might as well be magic.

Usually I’m all for that kind of mystery, because there’s not enough romance to daily life; too much is measured to death by marketers and pollsters and demographers, and other people who should be locked up. But I believe racing, like astrophysics and sound design, will become more elegant and enjoyable the more we know about it.

I have been around racers just enough to know that formula guys drive differently than sports car guys, that guys who started in karts or motorcycles or dirt tracks have different advantages and disadvantages. These lessons were given by experts: smart, experienced folks who learned the hard way—by spending as much time at the track as possible. If I can understand what they’re saying, the average fan certainly shouldn’t have a problem.

Sports fanhood thrives on information. Putting more of it out there will generate more interest. Plus, the personality-driven stuff would allow us to know more about how our favorite drivers actually do their jobs. That’s the best kind of pure fan bait.

And we could use this new information to make much more informed—though still ultimately emotional—arguments over which driver is better, even across different eras and different kinds of racing. That kind of argument would actually be fun. That kind of argument is what sports fanhood is actually for.

John Krewson has been a writer and editor at The Onion for 25 years. He has no regrets, except maybe dipping his cookies in soda that one time.

Drive Wire: Subaru’s Viziv Concept


We turn to the Tokyo Motor Show, where Subaru will show off the new Impreza 5-door hatch and the neat-looking Viziv Concept, which is pretty close to their planned replacement for the Tribeca. The Viziv features a full-length panoramic glass roof, pillarless sliding rear doors, and four individual bucket seats. If all these features make it into the production model, the Viziv will be a much-welcomed successor to the Tribeca.

The Ford GT, a Brothel and a Run-In With Johnny Law

Welcome to Road Warrior, where readers submit debaucherous, weird or funny road-trip stories. Speed? Trouble? Bloodshed? It’s all anonymous, and anything goes. Think of it as the no-holds-barred, two-lane confessional. Repent and be absolved, my son...

The Road: I-80, through Nevada

The Warrior: A 37-year old New Yorker, with a buddy and a 2006 Ford GT

We were in the desert, nothing but dirt in all directions, and the pavement was straight and empty. No other cars in sight. Our GT was capable of 200-plus mph. I’m thinking: Moments like these don’t come often. I goosed it, and the speedometer needle jerked across the gauge.

The eyes struggle for perspective at 175 mph, and you can feel the jelly around your brain tingling like it’s mentholated. A tire blow-out could be fatal; a speed trap could come out of nowhere. The GT wanted more.

The car didn’t belong to us. We’d been asked to deliver it from west coast to east, as a favor, so everything had the sheen of moral turpitude, it all being a gesture for a friend. Motoring through Nevada, we had a long way to go. I lifted from the throttle and downshifted, thinking I’d pull off at the next exit for a piss. That’s when I lost the clutch—completely and instantly. We rolled to a stop on the highway shoulder and got out of the car.

“Oh man,” my buddy said, “we are fucked.”

That’s when a highway patrolman pulled up behind us. He couldn’t believe his eyes.

“This thing is a Ford?” he asked, incredulous. Yep, a Ford. “You guys are lucky,” he said, “I’m the only patrolman on duty for 300 miles in either direction.”

“You have no idea how lucky we are,” I answered. If that cop had shown up four minutes earlier, we’d be in handcuffs.

We towed the car to a Ford dealership in Elko. It was a Sunday afternoon, and the place was closed. Which is how we found ourselves with a night free in Nevada.

Elko is a bizarrely wonderful place. So was the whorehouse we found on the edge of town, which—as many a Vegas conventioneer could tell you—had a perfect right to do business in the Silver State. Step inside Sue’s Fantasy Club, and it’s like you’ve entered another country and another time. There are the usual barroom smells, booze and lost souls. Only here, the male patrons seem to squirm on their stools as you size them up, and a lineup of women appears, all smiles. They don’t look like fraternity sisters, but their faces are surprisingly tender and, dare I say, innocent. Each undoubtedly has a story worthy of a Springsteen ballad or six. Being married guys, we made love to our cocktails and left.

The next day, we dragged our hangovers back to the Ford dealership. The chief mechanic was in the shop looking down at the GT. He said, “Well, there goes the theory that I’d never lay eyes on one of these.”

“Can you fix it really fast?” I asked. “We got three days to make it cross-country.”

He laughed. “No way. I gotta order parts. This is going to take a week.”

A week. In Elko, Nevada. The mind reeled.

We headed straight for the local airport and caught a small plane. The GT’s owner sent a transporter for the car. I maintain our innocence in every way. That busted clutch wasn’t our fault. Everything else? Very much our fault.

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Please, Look at This Photo of a Porsche 356

As of this week, regular-grade Porsche 911s use forced induction. And, because Porsches are Porsches, we can only speculate about the purists. In 2035, will naturally-aspirated 911s be subject to the same kind of frenzy air-cooled Carreras are experiencing today? Should we be cashing in stocks to procure one beat-to-hell, current-generation 911 GTS and speculate wildly? Would burning a pyre of turbochargers in righteous support of natural aspiration assure our entry into the Porsche Club of America?

As our collective driveways and garages illustrate, prudent conjecture has never been a personal strength. (“Seriously, that ‘87 Mitsubishi Starion will totally be a collector’s item soon, dude!”) So let’s retreat to what’s known: Porsche’s past. Here’s a highlight, absent any of the flashpoints: no US DOT impact bumpers or water-cooled engines or automatic transmissions or turbos. In fact, this Porsche, a 1954 356, precedes even the “911” name.

The 356 is simple, serene and uncontentious. To criticize its design would be like lambasting a polished stone. The model is elegant and relaxed, despite the painful-looking sandals grasping her feet. Lose yourself in this scene of a time before Internet forums, virulent YouTube fanboys and EPA standards. It’s damn refreshing.

How to Get Dumped and Crash a BMW 5 Series

The Car: 1997 BMW 540i

The Crash: Eighteen-year-olds generally cannot afford a BMW M5. Some, however, might see their way into a haggard, high-mileage BMW 5 Series. The car had enough dashboard warning lights to illuminate a black hole. Also, a V-8 and manual gearbox. I emptied my savings account and limped it home. The peeling window tint and aftermarket taillights made me look like a Triad cocaine dealer.

That was autumn. Just before winter, I had a drag-out argument with my then-girlfriend, mostly because she didn’t realize we were dating. On the drive home, I listened to Tom Waits and thought about buying a piano. Unrequited love is a bitch. So are dump trucks.

To be clear, I didn’t hit the thing; I just failed to realize it’d dropped gate and spilled loose gravel across a 90-degree right-hand turn. The car yawed over surface change, jackknifed and climbed a curb. The damage wasn’t so bad, actually: a collapsed rocker, tweaked front control arm and two bent wheels. Knife twist? Textbooks and boxes of spare parts convinced BMW’s seat sensors that three passengers were present. Eighteen-year-olds cannot afford to replace a half-dozen erroneously deployed airbags, either.

The Damage: A write-off—for both car and ego.

The Moral: Put your luggage in the trunk; it’s O.K. to cry listening to Blue Valentine.