Why Self-Driving Cars Should Never Be Fully Autonomous ( 277

An anonymous reader writes: David Mindell, an MIT professor, says self-driving cars should never be fully autonomous. "There's an idea that progress in robotics leads to full autonomy. That may be a valuable idea to guide research but when automated and autonomous systems get into the real world, that's not the direction they head. We need to rethink the notion of progress, not as progress toward full autonomy, but as progress toward trusted, transparent, reliable, safe autonomy that is fully interactive: The car does what I want it to do, and only when I want it to do it." Mindell writes, "Google's utopian autonomy is a more brittle, less functional solution than a rich, human-centered automation."

Charge Rage: Electric Cars Are Making People Meaner In California 528 writes: Matt Richtel reports that the push to make the state greener with electric cars is having an unintended side effect: It is making some people meaner. The bad moods stem from the challenges drivers face finding recharging spots for their battery-powered cars. Unlike gas stations, charging stations are not yet in great supply, and that has led to sharp-elbowed competition. According to Richtel, electric-vehicle owners are unplugging one another's cars, trading insults, and creating black markets and side deals to trade spots in corporate parking lots. The too-few-outlets problem is a familiar one in crowded cafes and airports, where people want to charge their phones or laptops. But the need can be more acute with cars — will their owners have enough juice to make it home? — and manners often go out the window. "Cars are getting unplugged while they are actively charging, and that's a problem," says Peter Graf. "Employees are calling and messaging each other, saying, 'I see you're fully charged, can you please move your car?'"

The problem is that installation of electric vehicle charging ports at some companies has not kept pace with soaring demand, creating thorny etiquette issues in the workplace. German software company SAP installed 16 electric vehicle charging ports in 2010 at its Palo Alto campus for the handful of employees who owned electric vehicles. Now there are far more electric cars than chargers. Sixty-one of the roughly 1,800 employees on the campus now drive a plug-in vehicle, overwhelming the 16 available chargers. And as demand for chargers exceeds supply, there have been notorious incidents of "charge rage." Companies are finding that they need one charging port for every two of their employees' electric vehicles. "If you don't maintain a 2-to-1 ratio, you are dead," said ChargePoint CEO Pat Romano. "Having two chargers and 20 electric cars is worse than having no chargers and 20 electric cars. If you are going to do this, you have to be willing to continue to scale it."

Emissions Scandal Expands: Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Mazda, and Mitsubishi ( 416

An anonymous reader writes: Volkswagen has taken some serious heat for deliberately circumventing emissions tests with "defeat devices" in some of their vehicles. While no other cars have been found to use specific devices to fool tests in the same way, we're now learning that many manufacturers still mysteriously perform worse in the real world. Last week, the Guardian revealed that diesel cars from Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat, Volvo, and Renault emitted significantly more pollution in realistic driving conditions than the tests supposedly allow. Now, we learn that vehicles from Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Mazda, and Mitsubishi emit substantially more than they should as well. For example: "Mercedes-Benz's diesel cars produced an average of 0.406g/km of NOx on the road, at least 2.2 times more than the official Euro 5 level and five times higher than the Euro 6 level. Honda's diesel cars emitted 0.484g/km of NOx on average, between 2.6 and six times the official levels." This provides clear evidence that the automotive industry is designing its cars to follow the letter of the law (passing tests), but not the spirit (actually reducing pollution).

Volkswagen Boss Blames Software Engineers For Scandal ( 479

hattig writes: Today VW's Michael Horn is testifying to Congress and has blamed the recent scandal on engineers saying: "It's the decision of a couple of software engineers, not the board members." However, 530,000 cars in the U.S. will need to be recalled for significant engine modifications, not a software fix. Only 80,000 Passats are eligible for the software fix. There is no word on the effects these modifications will have on the cars' performance, fuel consumption, etc. The BBC reports: "The issue of defeat devices at VW has been a historic problem, points out a Congress panel member questioning VW US chief Michael Horn. In 1974, VW had a run-in with US authorities regarding the use of defeat devices in 1974, and in December 2014 it recalled cars to address nox emissions."

Volvo Will Accept Liability For Self-Driving Car Crashes ( 203

An anonymous reader writes: Volvo has announced it will accept "full liability" for accidents when one of its cars is driving autonomously. It joins Mercedes and Google in this claim, hoping to convince regulators that it's worthwhile to allow testing of such vehicles on public roads. Volvo's CTO said, "Everybody is aware of the fact that driverless technology will never be perfect — one day there will be an accident. So the question becomes who is responsible and we think it's unrealistic to put that responsibility on our customers." Of course, this is limited to flaws in the self-driving system. If the driver does something inappropriate, or if another vehicle causes the accident, then they're still liable. It's also questionable how the courts would treat a promise for liability, but presumably this can be cleared up with agreements when customers start actually using the technology.

IP Address May Associate Lyft CTO With Uber Data Breach ( 103

An anonymous reader writes: According to two unnamed Reuters sources the IP address of Lyft CTO Chris Lambert has been revealed by Uber's investigations to be associated with the accessing of a security key that was accidentally deposited on GitHub in 2014 and used to access 50,000 database records of Uber drivers later that year. However, bearing in mind that the breach was carried out through a fiercely protectionist Scandinavian VPN, and that Lambert was a Google software engineer before become CTO of a major technology company, it does seem surprising that he would have accessed such sensitive data with his own domestic IP address.

Boarding Pass Barcodes Can Reveal Personal Data, Future Flights 64

An anonymous reader writes: Security experts have warned that barcodes contained on airplane boarding passes could offer a detailed stream of information to malicious individuals, including data on travel habits and future flight plans. Brian Krebs explained yesterday that by using an easily available online barcode reader, attackers can retrieve a person's name, frequent flyer number, and record locator — information needed to access an individual's account and details of past and upcoming flights, phone numbers, and billing information, along with options to change seats and cancel flights.

London Mayor Boris Johnson Condemns Random Uber Pick-Ups 216

An anonymous reader writes: The mayor of London Boris Johnson has written a column in the Daily Telegraph condemning the way that Uber drivers in the UK capital can effectively circumvent black cabs' legal monopoly on being hailed by random passengers. Whilst supporting the principle of free enterprise, Johnson has no solution to the legal quandary, except to hobble Uber's business model in an absurdly Luddite move, or else level the playing field and condemn the well-outfitted but expensive black cab trade to extinction. Johnson is reluctant to ask such a thing of Parliament, noting that many people there don't 'have apps'.

Sex, Drugs, and Transportation: How Politicians Tried To Keep Uber Out of Vegas 136 writes: Johana Bhuiyan has written an interesting article about how the Las Vegas taxi industry used every political maneuver in its arsenal to keep Uber and Lyft off the strip. Vegas is one of the most lucrative transportation markets in the country, with some 41.1 million visitors passing through it annually. The city's taxi industry has raked in a whopping $290 million this year to date (PDF). What made Vegas unique — what made it Uber's biggest challenge yet — was the extent to which local governments were willing to protect the incumbents. According to Bhuiyan, in Las Vegas, Uber and its pugnacious CEO Travis Kalanick really did run into the corrupt taxi cartel bogeymen they'd long claimed to be saving us from, and this cartel would prove to be their most formidable opponent. But when push came to shove and the fight turned ugly, the world's fastest-growing company ran right over its entrenched opposition.

Daimler Tests a Self-Driving Truck On the Autobahn 130

Engadget reports that Daimler has tested an autonomous truck in one environment guaranteed to put stress on any car: the German Autobahn. While the Mercedes Actros truck was guided with a mix of "radar, a stereo camera array and off-the-shelf systems like adaptive cruise control," there was a human crew on hand, too, just in case. From the article: This doesn't mean you'll see fleets of robotic trucks in the near future. Daimler had to get permission for this run, and the law (whether European or otherwise) still isn't equipped to permit regular autonomous driving of any sort, let alone for giant cargo haulers. Still, this could make a better case for approving some form of self-driving transportation.

This is not F1 (or NASCAR): High-End Hybrids Race In Texas 28

Ars Technica takes an in-depth look at some of the tech side of the hybrid racing circuit, in particular the World Endurance Championship . From the article: Hybrid systems are allowed to deploy between 2MJ and 8MJ of energy during a single lap of Le Mans, augmenting the power from an internal combustion engine. Energy can be recovered from up to two motor/generator units (MGUs); usually this means recapturing kinetic energy from the front and rear wheels under braking. To balance things out, cars that recover and deploy 8MJ carry less fuel, and the flow rate at which they can feed it to the engine decreases. Audi's R18, with its mix of turbo diesel and flywheel hybrid technology, was king of the hill for several years, but the hybrid systems were much less powerful. Last year, Toyota's gasoline V8 and supercapacitor-powered TS040 was the car to beat. But 2015 is the year of the Porsche 919 Hybrid. Porsche chose lithium-ion batteries to hybridize the 919's turbocharged gasoline V4, and this year is able to capture and deploy the full 8MJ (Toyota is in the 6MJ class and Audi 4MJ). The article spends more space on Audi's approach than the others, but offers a cool glimpse at all three of these companies' niches within the field, as represented at the Texas' Lone Star Le Mans.

'Legacy' London Car Hire Companies Lawyer Up Against Uber 239

An anonymous reader writes with The Stack's report that: The London Private Hire Car Association (LPHCA) has engaged a major firm of lawyers to present its case against Uber in the UK capital, citing lack of continuous insurance checks, Uber's tax avoidance practices and even 'loitering' Uber drivers as reasons to impose regulations which would eliminate Uber's competitive advantage in London. A lot of Londoners like to have that competition around, though.

Volkswagen Diesel Scandal Logistics Imply Sizable Conspiracy 153

Guinnessy writes with an interesting analysis of the Volkswagen software cheating scandal: Physics Today's Charles Day takes a look at how diesel engines work, and why it's clear it's not just a lone software engineer who came up with the cheat. "...[S]oftware is impotent without hardware. To recognize when a car was being tested and not driven, the defeat device required data from a range of sensors -- sensors that a noncheating car might not need.... Whereas it's conceivable that a single software engineer, directed by a single manager, could have secretly written and uploaded the code that ran the defeat device, installing its associated hardware would require a larger and more diverse team of conspirators," he says.

EPA Gave Volkswagen a Free Pass On Emissions Ten Years Ago Due To Lack of Budget 203

An anonymous reader writes: A new report suggests that continuing cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency's budget contributed to Volkswagen being able to cheat on its emissions tests. When the test scripts were developed the department — which can still only conduct 'spot tests' on 20% of all qualifying vehicles — was forced to concentrate on heavy machinery and truck manufacturers, which at the time had a far higher incidence of attempting to cheat on vehicle standards tests. Discounting inflation the EPA's 2015 budget is on a par with its 2002 budget (PDF), and has been cut by 21% since 2010.

San Francisco Still Among Most Dangerous For Pedestrians 278

dkatana writes: The city of San Francisco averages 200 injuries per year and 30 deaths. This is almost double the number of Barcelona, Catalonia, which has about the same population. The city started a Vision Zero program, aimed at reducing and ultimately eliminate pedestrian deaths by 2024. But after a year-long Vision Zero education push called Safe Streets SF, whose key message is that pedestrians always have the right of way, the results have been modest. Now a series of banners on light poles in the South of Market neighborhood with the message: 'Slow down! We live here!' are trying to convince drivers to respect people on foot.

Uber Raided By Dutch Authorities, Seen As 'Criminal Organization' 471

An anonymous reader writes: Uber offices in Amsterdam have been raided by Dutch authorities, as reported by several local media sources (Google translation of original in Dutch). This follows intimidatory deterrence practices earlier in The Netherlands, with Uber drivers being fined in the past months, and fresh allegations that the company would act as a "criminal organization" by offering a platform for taxi rides without license (read: without the authorities earning money from the practice). Time for tech companies to consider moving their European offices elsewhere? Uber's lawyers must be incredibly busy. Proposed regulations in London would effectively end the company's service there, while the mayor of Rio de Janeiro said he would ban Uber's operations outright. They're receiving mixed messages from Australia — just a day after running afoul of regulations in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory is moving to legalize it.

Elon Musk Predicts 1,000km EV Range In Two Years, Autonomous Cars In Three 398

An anonymous reader writes: Speaking with a Danish TV show, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk made a couple of interesting statements about Tesla's future. The company's Model S sedan advertises a range of 200-300 miles (322-483 km) depending on variant, average speed, and tires. Musk says the company will produce an electric vehicle capable of breaking the 1,000km (621 mi) mark by "2017 for sure." Later, Musk went even further, saying he expected "full autonomy" for Tesla vehicles to arrive in "approximately three years." He doesn't expect them to be legal at that point, as regulations will take time to catch up.

$20 Million XPRIZE Takes On Carbon Emissions 47

An anonymous reader writes: XPRIZE has announced a new, $20 million competition that aims to tackle carbon emissions. They're not looking to reduce emissions, but rather to convert them into something useful. They provide examples: "products like new and sustainable building materials; low-emission transportation fuels; and alternative chemical products that can be used to make everything from clothing and running shoes, to safer, stronger automobiles and breakthrough medicines." Awards will be given for making use of emissions from two different sources: coal power plants and natural gas power plants. "The winning team will convert the most CO2 emissions into the highest value products. To be competitive, teams will have to make the business case for their approach as well as minimize their use of energy, water, land, and other inputs that have consequences for the environment."

Amazon Launches 'Flex,' a Crowdsourced Delivery Service 145

sckirklan writes: Amazon has rolled out a new service called Amazon Flex. It lets people sign up to deliver packages using their mobile phone and their car, earning $18-25/hr while doing so. Think Uber, but for package delivery. Their goal is to fully support one-hour delivery within certain cities. The service is available in Seattle to start, and it'll soon expand to Manhattan, Baltimore, Miami, Dallas, Austin, Chicago, Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Portland. No news on what they think of bicycle couriers, but given their focus on being green, I'd imagine something is in the works.

John Harrison: Inventor and Longitude Hero 106

szczys writes: Here's an interesting fact: when at sea you can't establish your longitude without a reliable clock. You can figure out latitude with a sextant, but not longitude. Early clocks used pendulums that don't work on a rocking boat. So in the 1700s the British government offered up £20,000 for a reliable clock that would work at sea. John Harrison designed a really accurate ocean-worthy clock after 31 years of effort and was snubbed for the prize which would be £2.8 Million at today's value. After fighting for the payout for another 36 years he did finally get it at the ripe old age of 80. The methods he used to build this maritime chronometer were core to every wrist and pocket watch through the first third of the 20th Century. One of his timepieces, designated Clock B, was declared by Guinness to be the world's most accurate mechanical clock with a pendulum swinging in free air' more than 250 years after it was designed.