Transportation

Is the World Ready For Flying Cars? (engadget.com) 251

An anonymous reader shares a report from TechCrunch, adding: "Is the world ready for flying cars? Sebastian Thrun, the supposed godfather of autonomous driving, and several other tech investors seem to think so." From the report: At TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017, Thrun talked a lot about flying cars and how that was the future of transportation. So did GGV's Jenny Lee, a prolific investor in China. And so did Steve Jurvetson, one of the original investors in SpaceX. The technical backbone for flying cars seems to be there already -- with drones becoming ever-present and advancements in AI and self-driving cars -- but the time is coming soon that flying cars will be the primary mode of transportation. "I can't envision a future of highways [and being] stuck in cars," Thrun said. "I envision a [future] where you hop in a thing, go in the air, and fly in a straight line. I envision a future where Amazon delivers my food in the air in five minutes. The air is so free of stuff and is so unused compared to the ground, it has to happen in my opinion."

Cars today are forced to move on a two-dimensional plane (ramps, clover intersections and tunnels set aside), and while self-driving cars would make it easier for cars to talk to each other and move more efficiently, adding a third dimension to travel would make a lot of sense coming next. Thrun pointed to airplane transit, which is already a "fundamentally great mass transit system." Jurvetson said he was actually about to ride in a flying car before he "watched it flip over" before arriving to talk about some of the next steps in technology onstage. So, there's work to be done there, but it does certainly seem that all eyes are on flying cars. And that'll be enabled by autonomous driving, which will probably allow flying cars to figure out the most efficient paths from one point to the next without crashing into each other.
Lee said that China is closely analyzing changes in transportation, which might end up leading to flying cars. "I do want to highlight that there's going to be huge disruption within the transportation ecosystem in China," Lee said. "Cars going from diesel to electric. China has about 200 million install base of car ownership. In 2016, only 1 million cars are electric. The Chinese government hopes to install 5 million parking lots that are electric... Even the Chinese OEMs are buying into flying taxis."
Cellphones

Can An Individual Still Resist The Spread of Technology? (chicagotribune.com) 382

schwit1 shares a column from the Chicago Tribune: When cellphones first appeared, they gave people one more means of communication, which they could accept or reject. But before long, most of us began to feel naked and panicky anytime we left home without one. To do without a cellphone -- and soon, if not already, a smartphone -- means estranging oneself from normal society. We went from "you can have a portable communication device" to "you must have a portable communication device" practically overnight... Today most people are expected to be instantly reachable at all times. These devices have gone from servants to masters...

Few of us would be willing to give up modern shelter, food, clothing, medicine, entertainment or transportation. Most of us would say the trade-offs are more than worth it. But they happen whether they are worth it or not, and the individual has little power to resist. Technological innovation is a one-way street. Once you enter it, you are obligated to proceed, even if it leads someplace you would not have chosen to go.

The column argues "the iPhone X proves the Unabomber was right," citing this passage from the 1996 manifesto of the anti-technology terrorist. "Once a technical innovation has been introduced, people usually become dependent on it, so that they can never again do without it, unless it is replaced by some still more advanced innovation. Not only do people become dependent as individuals on a new item of technology, but, even more, the system as a whole becomes dependent on it."
Transportation

Hyperloop One Reveals 10 Strongest Potential Hyperloop Routes In the World (techcrunch.com) 142

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Hyperloop One wants to build a real, working Hyperloop -- but it'll need strong partners to make it a reality, across both industry and government. That's why, in part, it held a global competition requesting proposals for routes around the world. The winners of that competition have now been announced, and the resulting routes span the U.S., the U.K, Mexico, India and Canada. Hyperloop One has assessed each proposal from hundreds of teams who applied from around the world, examining the potential of each from the perspective of infrastructure, technology, regulatory environment and transportation concerns. As a result, it identified the strongest candidates [with four routes in the U.S., two routes in the U.K., one route in Mexico, two routes in India, and one route in Canada.]

The next step for each of these winning teams will be a validation process conducted with Hyperloop One to do some in-depth analysis on each route, establishing things like ridership forecast and building a fully fleshed out business case for each. Hyperloop One will be hosting workshops in each of the above countries to help with this process, and to meet with stakeholders and help establish necessary partnerships. Overall, Hyperloop One points out that these winning teams represent a combined population of almost 150 million people, with routes that would link up 53 urban centers around the world and span a total distance of 4,121 miles).

Transportation

Ford Disguised a Man As a Car Seat To Research Self-Driving (techcrunch.com) 84

According to TechCrunch, Ford put a man in a car seat disguise so that a Ford Transit could masquerade as a true self-driving vehicle in order to evaluate how passers-by, other drivers on the road and cyclists reacted to sharing the road with an autonomous vehicle. From the report: The trial, conducted with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, also made use of a light bar mounted on the top of the windshield to provide communication about what the car was doing, including yielding, driving autonomously or accelerating from a full stop. The Transit Connect van used for the trial would indicate its behavior using signals including a slow white pulse for yielding, a rapid blinking for accelerating from a stop, and staying solid if it's actively in self-driving mode. The bar is positioned roughly where a driver's eye line would be, to try to catch the attention of those around it who would look in its direction.
Software

'Operational Limitations' In Tesla Model S Played a 'Major Role' In Autopilot Crash, Says NTSB (reuters.com) 210

Mr D from 63 writes from a report via Reuters: The chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said on Tuesday "operational limitations" in the Tesla Model S played a "major role" in a May 2016 crash that killed a driver using the vehicle's semi-autonomous "Autopilot" system. Reuters reported on Monday that the NTSB is expected to find that the system was a contributing factor because it allows drivers to avoid steering or watching the road for lengthy periods of time. The NTSB is also expected to find that Tesla Inc could have taken additional steps to prevent the system's misuse and will fault the driver for not paying attention. "Today's automation systems augment, rather than replace human drivers. Drivers must always be prepared to take the wheel or apply the brakes," NTSB Chairman Robert Sumalt said. The system could not reliably detect cross traffic and "did little to constrain the use of autopilot to roadways for which it was designed," the board said. Monitoring driver attention by measuring the driver's touching of the steering wheel "was a poor surrogate for monitored driving engagement." At a public hearing Tuesday on the crash involving Brown, NTSB said the truck driver and the Tesla driver "had at least 10 seconds to observe and respond to each other."
Medicine

California Bans Drones From Delivering Marijuana (theverge.com) 82

In what will surely be disappointing news for a host of start-ups promising to deliver marijuana by drone like MDelivers and Eaze, California's Bureau of Cannabis Control has recently unveiled new regulatory rules that will ban drones from delivering marijuana. "The Bureau is currently developing regulation surrounding weed use and sales under the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) after recreational marijuana was legalized in California," reports The Verge. From the report: "Cannabis goods will be required to be transported inside commercial vehicles or trailers," the proposed program description reads. "Transportation may not be done by aircraft, watercraft, rail, drones, human powered vehicles, or unmanned vehicles." Under the rules, deliveries can only be made by licensed retailers, "in person by enclosed motor vehicle," and the vehicles used for deliveries must have a GPS that allows the seller to track the package. The Bureau also specifically states that those delivering the cannabis aren't allowed to consume the substance while out on the delivery. Further reading: Ars Technica
Earth

Uber Gives Free Rides to Shelters During Hurricane Irma (bloomberg.com) 38

One million households lost power in Florida, and at least three people died, after Hurricane Irma made landfall Sunday morning. Bloomberg reports how Uber tried to help: Uber Technologies Inc. is offering free rides to shelters near Tampa as Hurricane Irma barrels toward the Florida mainland. The City of Tampa's Office of Emergency Management publicized the free rides on its Twitter feed, @AlertTampa, and mobile news alert service. Uber's offer helps serve a vital need for transportation, as Tampa Bay area residents got late notice that the monster storm that changed track on Saturday and was heading their way. It also provided a chance for the company to burnish an image... Uber has also been criticized for using its so-called surge pricing in times of crisis.
China

China Builds World's Largest EV Charging Network With 167,000 Stations (247wallst.com) 103

"It soon will become easier to charge a Chevy Bolt or Tesla in China," reports 24/7 Wall Street, citing reports from China's official newspaper that they've built the highest number of electric-car charging facilities in the world, offering "the broadest coverage, and the most advanced technology." AmiMoJo quotes their announcement: A total of 167,000 charging piles have now been connected to the telematics platform of the State Grid Corporation of China, making it the world's largest electric vehicle (EV) charging network. By cooperating with 17 charging station operators, the SGCC now offers more than 1 million kilowatt-hours of power each day.
24/7 Wall Street says the ambitious (and government-subsidized) plan "is bound to help electronic car adoption since most vehicles in the category have ranges well under 300 miles."
Power

India Aims To Put One Million Electric Vehicles On the Road By Mid-2019 (indiatimes.com) 76

gubol123 shares a report from The Economic Times: Six leading car makers are eyeing the government's plan to buy 10,000 electric vehicles while policy makers are considering generous fiscal incentives to make their capital and running cost cheaper than petrol cars within five years. Broadly, the aim is to put on roads one million electric three-wheelers and 10,000 electric city buses by mid-2019 and make India the world leader in at least some segments of the market as the country strives to shift entirely to battery-powered transportation by 2030. In six to eight months, 10,000 e-vehicles are expected to be running in the national capital region. The tender to buy 10,000 e-vehicles has already attracted Tata Motors, Hyundai, Nissan, Renault, Maruti Suzuki and Mahindra & Mahindra, and would be quickly followed by a dramatic scaling up of the e-vehicles program. The tender would be awarded by the end of this month and cars would start rolling in by mid-November.
Transportation

Spinning Metal Sails Could Slash Fuel Consumption, Emissions On Cargo Ships (sciencemag.org) 170

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: U.K. soccer star David Beckham was known for "bending" his free kicks over walls of defenders and around sprawling goal tenders, thanks to a physical force called the Magnus effect. Now, the physics behind such curving kicks is set to be used to propel ocean ships more efficiently. Early next year, a tanker vessel owned by Maersk, the Danish transportation conglomerate, and a passenger ship owned by Viking Line will be outfitted with spinning cylinders on their decks. Mounted vertically and up to 10 stories tall, these "rotor sails" could slash fuel consumption up to 10%, saving transportation companies hundreds of thousands of dollars and cutting soot-causing carbon emissions by thousands of tons per trip.

Rotor sails rely on a bit of aerodynamics known as the Magnus effect. In the 1850s, German physicist Heinrich Gustav Magnus noticed that when moving through air a spinning object such as a ball experiences a sideways force. The force comes about as follows. If the ball were not spinning, air would stream straight past it, creating a swirling wake that would stretch out directly behind the ball like the tail of a comet. The turning surface of a spinning ball, however, drags some air with it. The rotation deflects the wake so that it comes off the ball at an angle, closer to the side of the ball that's rotating into the oncoming air. Thanks to Isaac Newton's third law that every action must have an equal and opposite reaction, the deflected wake pushes the ball in the opposite direction, toward the side of the ball that's turning away from the oncoming air. Thus, the spinning ball gets a sideways shove.

Transportation

India Just Might Be Getting a Hyperloop (wired.com) 149

California may have produced the horrorshow traffic that prompted Elon Musk to pitch the hyperloop, but it's hardly the only place eager to ditch cars for levitating pods hurtling through tubes at speeds approaching the sound barrier. India wants in, too. From a report: Today, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, one of the companies formed to realize Musk's vision of tube travel, announced it has signed a deal with the state of Andhra Pradesh, in southeast India. Working with the state's economic development board, HTT will spend six months studying possible routes for a hyperloop connecting the cities of Vijaywada and Amaravati -- a move that would transform a 27-mile, hour-long drive into a six-minute whoosh. And then, over an undisclosed period of time, the Los Angeles-based company says it will build the thing. The India deal is just the latest for HTT, which also plans to build networks of tubes in South Korea, Slovakia, and Abu Dhabi. But to make all -- or any -- of that happen, the company's 800 engineers (most of whom have day jobs and work on this in their spare time, in exchange for stock options) must first master the practical aspects of the hyperloop. That means building and maintaining a near-vacuum state across miles of tubes, propelling levitating pods through them, getting people or cargo into and out of those pods, and much more.
Communications

New Qualcomm Auto Chipset Advances Vehicle-To-Everything Communications (zdnet.com) 24

Qualcomm has introduced a new Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) chipset and reference design that aims to bring automakers one step closer to deploying the communications systems necessary for fully autonomous vehicles. Ford, Audi, the PSA Group and SAIC are all endorsing the new chipset. ZDNet reports: The Qualcomm 9150 C-V2X chipset, expected to be available for commercial sampling in the second half of 2018, is based on specs from the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a collaboration between groups of telecommunications associations. Meanwhile, Qualcomm's C-V2X reference design will feature the 9150 C-V2X chipset, an application processor running the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) V2X stack, as well as a Hardware Security Module (HSM). C-V2X technology encompasses two transmission modes: direct communications and network-based communications. It's key for both safety features and for implementing autonomous driving capabilities.

For instance, its direct communications capabilities improve a vehicle's situational awareness by detecting and exchanging information using low latency transmissions. Relying on the globally harmonized 5.9 GHz ITS band, the 9150 C-V2X chipset can relay information on vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P) scenarios without the need for a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM), cellular subscription or network assistance. On top of that, C-V2X network-based communications (designed for 4G and emerging 5G wireless networks) supports telematics, connected infotainment and a growing number of advanced informational safety use cases.

Transportation

Samsung Gets Self-Driving Car Permit In California (cnet.com) 18

Samsung on Wednesday has obtained a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test autonomous cars on the streets of California. Samsung joins a group of other tech companies already on the list, including Apple, Uber, Nvidia and Alphabet's Waymo, as well as several automakers like Ford, BMW, Volkswagen and Tesla. CNET reports: Samsung confirmed the news, but said it doesn't plan to actually manufacture self-driving cars. "As a global leader in connectivity, memory, and sensor technology, Samsung Electronics looks forward to participating in California's Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program and joining in the pursuit of a smarter, safer transportation future," a Samsung spokesman said in a statement. "While we have no plans to enter the car-manufacturing business, we are excited to help develop and deliver the next generation of automotive innovation." The company received a permit from the South Korean government to test autonomous cars in that country in May. Last year, it bought a car tech company called Harman for $8 billion.
Music

Traditional Radio Faces a Grim Future, New Study Says (variety.com) 240

In a 30-page report, Larry Miller, the head of New York University's Steinhart Music Business Program, argues that traditional radio has failed to engage with Generation Z -- people born after 1995 -- and that its influence and relevance will continue to be subsumed by digital services unless it upgrades. Key points made in the study include: Generation Z, which is projected to account for 40% of all consumers in the U.S. by 2020, shows little interest in traditional media, including radio, having grown up in an on-demand digital environment. AM/FM radio is in the midst of a massive drop-off as a music-discovery tool by younger generations, with self-reported listening to AM/FM radio among teens aged 13 and up declining by almost 50 percentage points between 2005 and 2016. Music discovery as a whole is moving away from AM/FM radio and toward YouTube, Spotify and Pandora, especially among younger listeners, with 19% of a 2017 study of surveyed listeners citing it as a source for keeping up-to-date with music -- down from 28% the previous year. Among 12-24 year olds who find music discovery important, AM/FM radio (50%) becomes even less influential, trailing YouTube (80%), Spotify (59%), and Pandora (53%). By 2020, 75% of new cars are expected to be "connected" to digital services, breaking radio's monopoly on the car dashboard and relegating AM/FM to just one of a series of audio options behind the wheel. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the typical car in the U.S. was 11.6 years old in 2016, which explains why radio has not yet faced its disruption event. However, drivers are buying new cars at a faster rate than ever, and new vehicles come with more installed options for digital music services.
Power

Tesla's Electric Semi Truck Will Reportedly Get 200-300 Miles Per Charge (reuters.com) 322

According to Reuters, Tesla next month plans to unveil an electric big-rig truck with a working range of 200 to 300 miles, a sign that the company is targeting regional hauling for its entry into the commercial freight market. From the report: Chief Executive Elon Musk has promised to release a prototype of its Tesla Semi truck next month in a bid to expand the company's market beyond luxury cars. The entrepreneur has tantalized the trucking industry with the prospect of a battery-powered heavy-duty vehicle that can compete with conventional diesels, which can travel up to 1,000 miles on a single tank of fuel. Tesla's electric prototype will be capable of traveling the low end of what transportation veterans consider to be "long-haul" trucking, according to Scott Perry, an executive at Miami-based fleet operator Ryder System. Perry said he met with Tesla officials earlier this year to discuss the technology at the automaker's manufacturing facility in Fremont, California.
Businesses

German Company Building An Electric 'Air Taxi' Makes Key Hires From Gett, Airbus and Tesla (techcrunch.com) 74

Lilium, the Germany company known for building an electric "air taxi," is announcing a number of key hires from notable companies in the transportation space. While the company is still in its early days, it is ambitiously striving to make flying cars a reality. Back in April, the company launched its first public (and successful) test flight in Germany. TechCrunch reports: [The key hires] are Dr Remo Gerber, former MD for Western Europe at Gett, who joins Lilium as Chief Commercial Officer; Dirk Gebser, who takes up the position of VP of Production and previously held manufacturing executive roles at Airbus and Rolls Royce; and Meggy Sailer, who joined Lilium as Head of Recruitment in February and was formerly Tesla's Head of Talent EMEA. In a call with Gerber, he told me he was "super happy" to be joining the German startup, noting that there are very few companies in Europe with the same level of ambition. "It is definitely the most fascinating job I could have ever imagined," he says, audibly excited. "I've done quite a few things in my time and I've seen quite a few companies but never anything even remotely like that." To add a little color, Gerber pointed out that his training is in physics ("a long time ago") and that his grandfather was a pilot in World War II, and his uncle also a pilot. This, and the first time he saw the Lilium jet fly, made the opportunity to join a startup building a new kind of air travel "irresistible."
Transportation

Uber and Lyft May Cause Lower Car Ownership In Big Cities, Says Report (slashgear.com) 118

A new study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute has shed light on what may turn out to be a growing trend: lower car ownership in cities where ride-sharing services are available. SlashGear reports: While Uber and Lyft have both deployed in a number of cities, they have, at times, had to abandon those cities due to local governments driving them out for one reason or another. That's what happened in Austin, Texas, opening the door for an interesting study on personal car ownership. Did the sudden absence of these two services cause increased car usage and/or ownership, or did things remain unaffected? The result, according to the study, was a big increase in personal car usage and a statistically significant increase in car ownership. The researchers surveyed a total of 1,200 people from the Austin region, and found that 41-percent of them started using their own car more often to make up for the lack of Uber and Lyft rides. As well, a total of 9-percent of those surveyed bought their own personal car to make up for the services' absences.
Math

MIT Team's School-Bus Algorithm Could Save $5M and 1M Bus Miles (wsj.com) 104

An anonymous reader shares a report: A trio of MIT researchers recently tackled a tricky vehicle-routing problem when they set out to improve the efficiency of the Boston Public Schools bus system. Last year, more than 30,000 students rode 650 buses to 230 schools at a cost of $120 million. In hopes of spending less this year, the school system offered $15,000 in prize money in a contest that challenged competitors to reduce the number of buses. The winners -- Dimitris Bertsimas, co-director of MIT's Operations Research Center and doctoral students Arthur Delarue and Sebastien Martin -- devised an algorithm that drops as many as 75 bus routes. The school system says the plan, which will eliminate some bus-driver jobs, could save up to $5 million, 20,000 pounds of carbon emissions and 1 million bus miles (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). The computerized algorithm runs in about 30 minutes and replaces a manual system that in the past has taken transportation staff several weeks to complete. "They have been doing it manually many years," Dr. Bertsimas said. "Our whole running time is in minutes. If things change, we can re-optimize." The task of plotting school-bus routes resembles the classic math exercise known as the Traveling Salesman Problem, where the goal is to find the shortest path through a series of cities, visiting each only once, before returning home.
Google

Tesla Looking To Start Testing Autonomous Semi In 'Platoon' Formation (arstechnica.com) 63

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Tesla is developing a long-haul, electric semi-truck that can drive itself and move in "platoons" that automatically follow a lead vehicle, and is getting closer to testing a prototype, according to an email discussion of potential road tests between the car company and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), seen by Reuters. The correspondence and meeting show that Tesla is putting self-driving technology into the electric truck it has said it plans to unveil in September, and is advancing toward real-life tests, potentially moving it forward in a highly competitive area of commercial transport also being pursued by Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] and Alphabet Inc's Waymo. After announcing intentions a year ago to produce a heavy-duty electric truck, Musk tweeted in April that the semi-truck would be revealed in September, and repeated that commitment at the company's annual shareholder meeting in June, but he has never mentioned any autonomous-driving capabilities. An email exchange in May and June between Tesla and Nevada DMV representatives included an agenda for a June 16 meeting, along with the Nevada Department of Transportation, to discuss testing of two prototype trucks in Nevada, according to the exchange seen by Reuters.
Security

Forget the Russians: Corrupt, Local Officials Are the Biggest Threat To Elections (securityledger.com) 287

chicksdaddy writes: Do you think that shadowy Russian hackers are the biggest threat to the integrity of U.S. elections? Think again. It turns out the bad actors in U.S. elections may be a lot more "Senator Bedfellow" than "Fancy Bear," according to Bev Harris, the founder of Black Box Voting. "It's money," Harris told The Security Ledger. "There's one federal election every four years, but there are about 100,000 local elections which control hundreds of billions of dollars in contract signings." Those range from waste disposal and sanitation to transportation."There are 1,000 convictions every year for public corruption," Harris says, citing Department of Justice statistics. "Its really not something that's even rare in the United States." We just don't think that corruption is a problem, because we rarely see it manifested in the ways that most people associate with public corruption, like violence or having to pay bribes to receive promised services, Harris said. But it's still there.

How does the prevalence of public corruption touch election security? Exactly in the way you might think. "You don't know at any given time if the people handling your votes are honest or not," Harris said. "But you shouldn't have to guess. There should be a way to check." And in the decentralized, poorly monitored U.S. elections system, there often isn't. At the root of our current problem isn't (just) vulnerable equipment, it's also a shoddy "chain of custody" around votes, says Eric Hodge, the director of consulting at Cyber Scout, which is working with the Board of Elections in Kentucky and in other states to help secure elections systems. That includes where and how votes are collected, how they are moved and tabulated and then how they are handled after the fact, should citizens or officials want to review the results of an election. That lack of transparency leaves the election system vulnerable to manipulation and fraud, Harris and Hodge argue.

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