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Transportation

Uber is Getting Serious About Building Real, Honest-To-God Flying Taxis (theverge.com) 86

An anonymous reader shares an article: When Uber first announced its crazy-sounding plan to explore "on-demand urban aviation" -- essentially a network of flying taxis that could be hailed via a smartphone app and flown from rooftop to rooftop -- the company made it clear that it never intended to go it alone. Today, as it kicked off its three-day Elevate conference in Dallas, Texas, the ride-hail company announced a slew of partnerships with cities, aviation manufacturers, real estate, and electric charging companies, in its effort to bring its dream of flying cars a little closer to reality. Uber said it will be teaming up with the governments of Dallas-Fort Worth and Dubai to bring its flying taxis to those cities first. It is also joining forces with real estate firm Hilwood Properties in Dallas-Fort Worth to identify sites where it will build takeoff and landing pads, which Uber calls "vertiports." It has signed contracts (or is in the midst of contract negotiations) with five aircraft manufacturers to work on the design and production of lightweight, electrically powered vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft. And it launched a partnership with an electric charging company called ChargePoint, to develop charging stations for Uber's flying taxis.
Transportation

Alphabet's Self-Driving Cars To Get Their First Real Riders (bloomberg.com) 50

After almost a decade of research, Google's autonomous car project is close to becoming a real service. From a report on Bloomberg: Now known as Waymo, the Alphabet self-driving car unit is letting residents of Phoenix sign up to use its vehicles, a major step toward commercializing a technology that could one day upend transportation. For the service, Waymo is adding 500 customized Chrysler Pacifica minivans to its fleet. Waymo has already tested these vehicles, plus other makes and models, on public roads, but only with its employees and contractors as testers. By opening the doors to the general public with a larger fleet, the company will get data on how people experience and use self-driving cars -- and clues on ways to generate revenue from the technology.
Businesses

Amazon Might Be Planning To Use Driverless Cars for Delivery (fortune.com) 109

Amazon could be eyeing driverless car technology as a way to get items to people's doors faster, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. From an article: It seems nearly every tech and auto giant are now evaluating autonomous vehicle technology. Google-owner Alphabet recently spun out its self-driving car unit, Waymo, into its own subsidiary. Apple was just granted a license in California to test autonomous vehicles. Ford and General Motors are also doubling down on creating autonomous vehicles. Amazon's ambitions, however, may not be to actually build these cars. Instead, the e-commerce giant has a team of around a dozen employees thinking of ways to potentially use the nascent technology to expand its own retail and logistics operations. Operating fleets of driverless trucks to ship items bought from its marketplace could help lower costs for the company.
Transportation

No Longer a Dream: Silicon Valley Takes On the Flying Car (theverge.com) 148

Last year, Bloomberg reported that Google co-founder Larry Page had put money in two "flying car" companies. One of those companies, Kitty Hawk, has published the first video of its prototype aircraft. From a report on The Verge: The company describes the Kitty Hawk Flyer as an "all-electric aircraft" that is designed to operate over water and doesn't require a pilot's license to fly. Kitty Hawk promises people will be able to learn to fly the Flyer "in minutes." A consumer version will be available by the end of this year, the company says. The video is part commercial and part test footage, starting with a lakeside conversation between friends about using the Flyer to meet up before switching to what The New York Times says are shots of an aerospace engineer operating the craft in Northern California.
Businesses

Uber Tried To Hide Its Secret IPhone Fingerprinting From Apple (cnbc.com) 113

theodp quotes today's New York Times profile of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick: For months, Mr. Kalanick had pulled a fast one on Apple by directing his employees to help camouflage the ride-hailing app from Apple's engineers. The reason? So Apple would not find out that Uber had secretly been tracking iPhones even after its app had been deleted from the devices, violating Apple's privacy guidelines.
Uber told TechCrunch this afternoon that it still uses a form of this device fingerprinting, saying they need a way to identify those devices which committed fraud in the past -- especially in China, where Uber drivers used stolen iPhones to request dozens of rides from themselves to increase their pay rate. It's been modified to comply with Apple's rules, and "We absolutely do not track individual users or their location if they've deleted the app..." an Uber spokesperson said. "Being able to recognize known bad actors when they try to get back onto our network is an important security measure for both Uber and our users."

The article offers a longer biography of Kalanick, who dropped out of UCLA in 1998 to start a peer-to-peer music-sharing service named Scour. (The service eventually declared bankruptcy after being sued for $250 billion for alleged copyright infringement.) Desperately trying to save his next company, Kalanick "took the tax dollars from employee paychecks -- which are supposed to be withheld and sent to the Internal Revenue Service," according to the Times, "and reinvested the money into the start-up, even as friends and advisers warned him the action was potentially illegal." The money eventually reached the IRS as he "staved off bankruptcy for a second time by raising another round of funding." But the article ultimately argues that Kalanick's drive to win in life "has led to a pattern of risk-taking that has put his ride-hailing company on the brink of implosion."
Transportation

Waymo Is Using Grand Theft Auto V To Help Teach Its Self-Driving Cars (bloomberg.com) 56

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) 171

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) 175

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) 230

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) 154

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) 344

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.

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