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Transportation

Waymo Is Using Grand Theft Auto V To Help Teach Its Self-Driving Cars (bloomberg.com) 45

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: In the race to the autonomous revolution, developers have realized there aren't enough hours in a day to clock the real-world miles needed to teach cars how to drive themselves. Which is why Grand Theft Auto V is in the mix... Last year, scientists from Darmstadt University of Technology in Germany and Intel Labs developed a way to pull visual information from Grand Theft Auto V. Now some researchers are deriving algorithms from GTAV software that's been tweaked for use in the burgeoning self-driving sector. The latest in the franchise from publisher Rockstar Games Inc. is just about as good as reality, with 262 types of vehicles, more than 1,000 different unpredictable pedestrians and animals, 14 weather conditions and countless bridges, traffic signals, tunnels and intersections...

The idea isn't that the highways and byways of the fictional city of Los Santos would ever be a substitute for bona fide asphalt. But the game "is the richest virtual environment that we could extract data from," said Alain Kornhauser, a Princeton University professor of operations research and financial engineering who advises the Princeton Autonomous Vehicle Engineering team. Waymo uses its simulators to create a confounding motoring situation for every variation engineers can think of: having three cars changing lanes at the same time at an assortment of speeds and directions, for instance. What's learned virtually is applied physically, and problems encountered on the road are studied in simulation.

Space

Light Sail Propulsion Could Reach Sirius Sooner Than Alpha Centauri (arxiv.org) 155

RockDoctor writes: A recent proposition to launch probes to other star systems driven by lasers which remain in the Solar system has garnered considerable attention. But recently published work suggests that there are unexpected complexities to the system. One would think that the closest star systems would be the easiest to reach. But unless you are content with a fly-by examination of the star system, with much reduced science returns, you will need to decelerate the probe at the far end, without any infrastructure to assist with the braking. By combining both light-pressure braking and gravitational slingshots, a team of German, French and Chilean astronomers discover that the brightness of the destination star can significantly increase deceleration, and thus travel time (because higher flight velocities can be used). Slingshotting around a companion star to lengthen deceleration times can help shed flight velocity to allow capture into a stable orbit. The 4.37 light year distant binary stars Alpha Centauri A and B could be reached in 75 years from Earth. Covering the 0.24 light year distance to Proxima Centauri depends on arriving at the correct relative orientations of Alpha Centauri A and B in their mutual 80 year orbit for the sling shot to work. Without a companion star, Proxima Centauri can only absorb a final leg velocity of about 1280km/s, so that leg of the trip would take an additional 46 years. Using the same performance characteristics for the light sail, the corresponding duration for an approach to the Sirius system, almost twice as far away (8.58 lightyears), is a mere 68.9 years, making it (and it's white dwarf companion) possibly a more attractive target. Of course, none of this addresses the question of how to get any data from there to here. Or, indeed, how to manage a project that will last longer than a working lifetime. There are also issues of aiming -- the motion of the Alpha Centauri system isn't well-enough known at the moment to achieve the precise maneuvering needed without course corrections (and so, data transmission from there to here) en route.
Power

All-Electric 'Flying Car' Takes Its First Test Flight In Germany (theverge.com) 147

Today, Munich-based Lilium Aviation conducted the first test flight of its all-electric, two-seater, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) prototype. "In a video provided by the Munich-based startup, the aircraft can be seen taking off vertically like a helicopter, and then accelerating into forward flight using wing-borne lift," reports The Verge. From the report: The craft is powered by 36 separate jet engines mounted on its 10-meter long wings via 12 movable flaps. At take-off, the flaps are pointed downwards to provide vertical lift. And once airborne, the flaps gradually tilt into a horizontal position, providing forward thrust. During the tests, the jet was piloted remotely, but its operators say their first manned flight is close-at-hand. And Lilium claims that its electric battery "consumes around 90 percent less energy than drone-style aircraft," enabling the aircraft to achieve a range of 300 kilometers (183 miles) with a maximum cruising speed of 300 kph (183 mph). "It's the same battery that you can find in any Tesla," Nathen told The Verge. "The concept is that we are lifting with our wings as soon as we progress into the air with velocity, which makes our airplane very efficient. Compared to other flights, we have extremely low power consumption." The plan is to eventually build a 5-passenger version of the jet.
Transportation

Cycling To Work Can Cut Cancer and Heart Disease (bbc.com) 198

randomErr quotes a report from BBC: Want to live longer? Reduce your risk of cancer? And heart disease? Then cycle to work, say scientists. The five-year study of 250,000 UK commuters also showed walking had some benefits over sitting on public transport or taking the car. Published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) today, the University of Glasgow study compared those who had an "active" commute with those who were mostly stationary. Overall, 2,430 of those studied died, 3,748 were diagnosed with cancer and 1,110 had heart problems. But, during the course of the study, regular cycling cut the risk of death from any cause by 41%, the incidence of cancer by 45% and heart disease by 46%. The cyclists clocked an average of 30 miles per week, but the further they cycled the greater the health boon. However, the effect was still there even after adjusting the statistics to remove the effects of other potential explanations like smoking, diet or how heavy people are.
Transportation

Tesla Recalls 53,000 Model S, Model X Cars For Stuck Parking Brakes (cnet.com) 106

Tesla has issued a voluntary recall for approximately 53,000 Model S and Model X cars, which may be susceptible to having stuck parking brakes. The company hasn't received any reports of the parking brake system failing, but decided to issue a recall for precautionary reasons. According to CNET, the recall affects 31,000 Model S and Model X cars in the U.S., "and all affected vehicles carry build dates between February and October 2016." From the report: The problem lies with the electric parking brakes that help secure the vehicles when placed in Park. The parking brakes contain a small gear that might fracture, which would prevent the parking brake from releasing. Thus, a car that enters Park may not be able to move again. This has no bearing on the vehicles' regular brakes, and Tesla has received no reports of the parking brake system failing to hold a car in place. Tesla estimates that about 2 percent of the vehicles recalled contain the improperly manufactured gear. It should be noted that the parking brake assembly is from a third-party supplier, as well.
Transportation

Toyota Unveils Plan For Hydrogen Powered Semi Truck (rdmag.com) 149

New submitter omaha393 quotes a report from R&D Magazine: Toyota announced a new initiative on Wednesday aimed at advancing its work in vehicles powered by alternative energy sources. The automaker unveiled Project Portal, which is a novel hydrogen fuel cell system designed for heavy duty truck use at the Port of Los Angeles. A proof-of-concept truck powered by this fuel cell will be part of a feasibility study held at the Port this summer, with the goal of examining the potential of this technology in heavy-duty applications. The test vehicle will produce more than 670 horsepower and 1,325 pound feet of torque from two of these novel fuel cell stacks along with a 12kWh battery. Overall, the combined weight capacity is 80,000 pounds that will be carried over 200 miles.

omaha393 adds: "While hydrogen fuel has been criticized due to high cost of production and safety concerns, recent advances in catalysis and solid storage systems have made the prospect of hydrogen fuel an attractive commercial prospect for the future."

The Courts

Tesla Settles Lawsuit Against Former Autopilot Program Director Accused of Stealing Info, Engineers (electrek.co) 40

Earlier this year, Tesla filed a lawsuit against its former director of Autopilot Programs, Sterling Anderson, for stealing proprietary information about the Autopilot program and recruiting fellow Tesla engineers to work with him at Aurora Innovation, another autonomous driving company. According to Electrek, "the lawsuit was settled today with Tesla withdrawing their allegations without damages and Aurora agreeing to make itself available for an audit by a third-party to make sure they don't have proprietary information from Tesla's Autopilot program." From the report: Aurora also agreed to cover the cost of the audit for up to $100,000. The startup claims that it had already ordered its own audit, which found âoeno material Tesla confidential information." As for the allegations of poaching employees, Aurora has agreed not to reach out to Tesla employees for a year and to release the names of former Tesla employees who have joined the startup already. You can read Auroraâ(TM)s statement about the settlement in full here and Teslaâ(TM)s further down below: âoeSelf-driving vehicles will save lives, preserve resources, and make transportation more accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Aurora was founded on the premise that experience, innovative thinking, hard work, and a commitment to doing the right thing can accelerate this future..."
Transportation

Malaysia Air Is First Airline to Track Fleet With Satellites (bloomberg.com) 70

From a report: Malaysia Air, which lost a wide-body jet with 239 people aboard three years ago in one of history's most enduring aviation mysteries, has become the first airline to sign an agreement for space-based flight tracking of its aircraft. The subsidiary of Malaysian Airline System Bhd reached a deal with Aireon LLC, SITAONAIR and FlightAware LLC to enable it to monitor the flight paths of its aircraft anywhere in the world including over the polar regions and the most remote oceans, according to an emailed press release from Aireon. Aireon is launching a new satellite network with Iridium Communications Inc. that will allow it to monitor air traffic around the globe. It's projected to be completed in 2018. Most international flights are already transmitting their position with technology known as ADS-B and the signals can be tracked from the ground or space. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has already installed a ground-based tracking system for ADS-B. "Real-time global aircraft tracking has long been a goal of the aviation community," Malaysia Chief Operating Officer Izham Ismail said in the release. "We are proud to be the first airline to adopt this solution."
Transportation

Despite Well Known Risks, Survey Finds Most People Use Smartphones While Driving (cbslocal.com) 343

From a report: Everyone knows it's dangerous, but a lot of people are still doing it -- driving while distracted. In a survey of 3-million motorists, almost 9 out of 10 admitted to using their smartphone behind the wheel. According to a report by Zendrive, which studied device use among 3.1 million drivers over 5.6 billion miles of driving, in 88 percent of trips, drivers made at least some use of their phones. On average, they spent more than three-minute on the phone.
Transportation

Uber Face Fines Over Drunk Driving Complaints -- And Lost $2.8 Billion Last Year (usnews.com) 133

While Uber's bookings doubled last year, the company still showed a net lost of $2.8 billion. And now, "California regulators are recommending that Uber pay a $1.13 million fine for not investigating rider complaints that drivers were working intoxicated." An anonymous reader writes: California "requires ride-hailing companies to have a zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs," notes Reuters -- and yet Tuesday's order reports that investigators "found no evidence that (Uber) followed up in any way with zero-tolerance complaints several hours or even one full day after passengers filed such complaints." Investigators from the state's Public Utilities Commission are asking the full commission to examine their findings,

"To confirm the policy, regulators analyzed selected complaints against drivers who received three or more complaints," Reuters reports. Though Uber has sometimes suspended drivers within one hour of customer complaints -- 22 times -- they've apparently received 2,047 drug- or alcohol-related complaints between August 2014 and August of 2015. "The company said drivers were banned from working in 574 of those complaints, according to the order. But regulators then reviewed 154 complaints, and determined that the company failed to promptly suspend drivers in 149 complaints. The company also failed to investigate 133 complaints, and did not suspend a driver or investigate 113 complaints, the order shows... In at least 25 instances, Uber failed to suspend or investigate a driver after three or more complaints, the order states."

An Uber spokeswoman said the company had no comment, but "Adding to Uber's challenges, a Reuters investigation found a ten-fold increase in attacks on drivers in Sao Paulo last year, including several murders, after the start of cash payments on its platform at the end of July." And in addition, a judge in Brazil ruled last week that Uber's drivers are employees, which could make Uber liable for a variety of benefits, following a similar ruling in another Brazilian state court.

But there's also some good news for Uber. A court in Rome suspended a ban on Uber in Italy until the company finishes its legal appeal, and a two-month suspension in Taiwan also came to an end after Uber agreed to partner with license rental car companies.
Transportation

Cadillac's Hands-Free Driving Option Also Nags Inattentive Drivers (theverge.com) 68

Using LIDAR sensors, Cadillac mapped 160,000 miles of U.S. highways "within five centimeters of accuracy" to give its hands-free-on-the-highway cars the ability to better anticipate the roads ahead -- and to know when a human driver should take over. An anonymous reader writes: "The car can see farther than the sensors on the car with the map..." says the chief engineer for Cadillac's new "Super Cruise" hands-free driving option for highways, "so if we have a sharp curve, we can anticipate that." The system also gives Cadillac's vehicles a safety check not available to Tesla, which can't stop drivers from using Tesla's semi-autonomous Autopilot even when they're not on a highway. "We know where the car is because of the LIDAR map and the other data in the car," says a product communications manager at Cadillac. "Therefore we have the ability to geofence it."

In addition, The Verge reports that if drivers look away for more than 30 seconds, "the car will know thanks to an infrared camera attached to the top of the steering column. Eyes closed? The car will know and start a sequence of alerts to get the driver's focus back on the road. It can even see through UV-blocking sunglasses." While the camera doesn't record or store data, it will flash a strip of red LED lights embedded in the top of the steering wheel "if the driver is caught not paying attention."

Cadillac plans to create and transmit an updated map every year, and will also regularly update its map by "constantly" checking the database from the Transportation Department, and deploying own trucks to draw new maps of construction areas.
AI

Tiny Changes Can Cause An AI To Fail (bbc.com) 237

Luthair writes: According to the BBC there is growing concern in the machine learning community that as their algorithms are deployed in the real world they can be easily confused by knowledgeable attackers. These algorithms don't process information in the same way humans do, a small sticker placed strategically on a sign could render it invisible to a self driving car.
The article points out that a sticker on a stop sign "is enough for the car to 'see' the stop sign as something completely different from a stop sign," while researchers have created an online collection of images which currently fool AI systems. "In one project, published in October, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University built a pair of glasses that can subtly mislead a facial recognition system -- making the computer confuse actress Reese Witherspoon for Russell Crowe."

One computer academic says that unlike a spam-blocker, "if you're relying on the vision system in a self-driving car to know where to go and not crash into anything, then the stakes are much higher," adding ominously that "The only way to completely avoid this is to have a perfect model that is right all the time." Although on the plus side, "If you're some political dissident inside a repressive regime and you want to be able to conduct activities without being targeted, being able to avoid automated surveillance techniques based on machine learning would be a positive use."
Businesses

It's Official: Apple is Testing Self-Driving Cars 76

Apple has been granted a license for testing autonomous vehicles in California, marking the formal launch of its race with the likes of Uber, Alphabet and Tesla to define the future of driverless transportation. The permit was revealed with Apple's appearance on the list of approved companies on the California automotive regulator's website on Friday morning. From a report: This suggests Apple's ambitions in the auto industry are alive, despite some reported upheaval in the project, code-named "Project Titan." Reports last year centered on changing leadership and shifting focus within the project, which is under the command of veteran Apple executive Bob Mansfield. Still, as Apple looks for its next major growth driver after the iPhone -- and as cars increasingly become computers -- it's easy to see why the company would be interested.
Transportation

Used Tesla Model S Sedans Sell Faster Than Any Other High-End Used Vehicle (marketwatch.com) 50

According to a survey conducted by Autolist, "used Tesla Model S sedans sell faster than luxury-car competitors do, and faster than other top-selling used vehicles from Motor Co. and General Motors Co.," reports MarketWatch. From the report: Used Model S sedans had the briefest time on the market of all vehicles included in the survey, taking, on average, 87 days to sell. That was about 5% quicker than the average for vehicles in the model's peer group, which included the Audi A7, the Porsche Panamera, the BMW 6 Series, the Mercedes-Benz CLS and the Lexus LS 460. The listing prices of used Tesla Model S sedans were between 3% and 5% above their peer-group average for the past year, after controlling for price differences among the models, Autolist.com said. "We would expect top-performing vehicles in a peer group to have prices [about] 2% above our adjusted expectations for the segment. But 3% to 5% above, and maintaining that level of performance over the past year? That's surprising," Alex Klein, Autolist.com's vice president of data science, said in emailed comments.
Programming

More Americans Now Work Full-Time From Home Than Walk and Bike To Office Jobs (qz.com) 73

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: In the United States, the past decade has been marked by booming cities, soaring rents, and a crush of young workers flocking to job-rich downtowns. Although these are heady days for pavement-pounding urbanists, a record 2.6% of American employees now go to their jobs without ever leaving their houses. That's more than walk and bike to work combined. These numbers come from a Quartz analysis of data from the U.S. census and the American Community Survey. The data show that telecommuting has grown faster than any other way of getting to work -- up 159% since 2000. By comparison, the number of Americans who bike to work has grown by 86% over the same period, while the number who drive or carpool has grown by only 12%. We've excluded both part-time and self-employed workers from these and all results. Though managers are the largest group of remote workers, as a percentage of a specific occupation computer programmers are the most over-represented. Nearly 8% of programmers now work from home, following a staggering increase of nearly 400% since 2000.
Transportation

Tesla Will Reveal Its Electric Semi Truck in September (techcrunch.com) 271

From a report: Elon Musk just let us know when we'll get a look at the electric semi truck that he's teased in the past: The Tesla transport vehicle will be revealed in September, the CEO said on Twitter on Thursday, noting that the team has "done an amazing job" and that the vehicle is "seriously next level." Plans at Tesla for an electric semi truck have been in the works for a while now: The vehicle was first mentioned back in July of 2016, when Musk revealed part 2 of his fabled "master plan" for his electric vehicle company. The Tesla Semi, as Musk called it, is designed to help reduce the cost of cargo transportation, and improve safety for drivers, according to the CEO at the time.
Transportation

Uber's 'Hell' Program Tracked and Targeted Lyft Drivers (engadget.com) 145

In its quest to ensure Lyft remains in second place, Uber reportedly ran a program that exploited a vulnerability in its rival's system. From a report: According to The Information, the ride-hailing company's covert software-based program called "Hell" spied on its staunchest competitor's drivers from 2014 to early 2016. It's called Hell, because it served as the counterpart to "God View" or "Heaven," Uber's in-company app that tracked its own drivers and passengers. Unlike God View, which was widely available to corporate employees, only top executives along with select data scientists and personnel knew about Hell. The program apparently started when Uber decided to create fake Lyft rider accounts and fooled its rival's system into thinking they were in various locations around the city. Those fake riders were positioned in a grid to give Uber the entire view of a city and all of Lyft's drivers within it. As a result, the company can see info on up to eight of its competitor's nearest drivers per fake rider.
Twitter

Twitter Allegedly Deleting Negative Tweets About United Airlines' Passenger Abuse (thenextweb.com) 233

New submitter dooode writes: As you would have read, United just had another Nazi moment where they had to "re-accommodate" a customer using some (not so gentle) force. The social web seems to have been taken by a storm by this incident. But suddenly people are noticing their tweets are being deleted -- some of them merely status questions. Does twitter make money (read bribes) to delete negative tweets? What do you feel about it? The Next Web adds that "some of the allegedly deleted tweets did not directly mention the incident with the forcibly removed passenger." On the flip side, "some of the initial tweets exposing United Airlines' abusive treatment of passengers are still very much present and actively being reshared on the platform." It's possible that the "allegedly deleted tweets" initially appeared as replies to now-deleted tweets, but TNW says they contacted several users who rejected that premise, "claiming the missing posts were standard tweets."
Businesses

Why Do Airlines Overbook? (bbc.com) 575

From a report on BBC: A common overbooking problem on a United Airlines flight on Sunday ended with a man being bloodied and dragged from his seat and an already troubled airline earning more bad press. How did it all go so wrong? Overbooking on flights happens all the time. Empty seats cost airlines money, so they offset the number of passengers who miss flights by selling too many tickets. In this case, the problem arose because United decided at the last minute to fly four members of staff to a connection point and needed to bump four passengers to make way for them. When there's an overbooking issue the first step is to offer an inducement to the passengers to take a later flight. [...] Of the 613 million people who flew on major US carriers in 2015, 46,000 were involuntarily denied boarding, according to data from the Department of Transportation -- less than 0.008%.
Transportation

25 Percent of US Driving Could Be Done By Self-Driving Cars By 2030, Study Finds (techcrunch.com) 168

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Self-driving still seems to be a ways off from active public use on regular roads, but once it arrives, it could ramp very quickly, according to a new study by the Boston Consulting Group. The study found that by 2030, up to a quarter of driving miles in the U.S. could be handled by self-driving electric vehicles operating in shared service fleets in cities, due mostly to considerable cost savings for urban drivers. The big change BCG sees is a result of the rise in interest in autonomous technologies, paired with the increased electrification of vehicles. There's also more pressure on cities to come up with alternate transportation solutions that address increasing congestion. All of that added together could drive reduction in costs by up to 60 percent for drivers who opt into using shared self-driving services vs. owning and operating their own cars.

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