Posts tagged with "Self-Driving Cars":

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How Baidu Maps turns location data into 3-D cityscapes—and big profits

Level 3, number 203. Turn right 10 feet. Go straight for 15 feet. The best way to experience data's strong grip on everyday life in China is to open up Baidu Maps, a mapping app by China’s biggest search engine company, and walk around a shopping mall for one afternoon. Inside the building, a network of Bluetooth beacons, Wi-Fi modems, and satellites from a global navigation satellite system whir and ping through the air and the ionosphere to determine your precise location. The map on the Baidu app tilts to reveal an elaborately modeled 3-D cityscape.

The resolution of Baidu Maps is stunning: Entire cities are modeled in 3-D. Within public buildings, the floorplan of each building level is precisely mapped. As I stand inside the Taikoo Hui Mall in the city of Guangzhou, China, I search for a store within the mall. Baidu Maps reveals which level the store is on and how many meters I need to walk. Strolling through the mall with the app tracking my location with a blue dot on the screen, life starts to feel like a virtual reality experience. The difference between the map's 3-D model and the reality beneath my feet is smaller than ever. The 3-D model makes an uncanny loop: Virtual models were used by architects and designers to design these spaces, which now unfold on a messy plane between real space and screen space.

China now has its own tech giants—Alibaba, JD.com, Tencent Holdings, and Baidu—homegrown behind the Great Firewall of China. Like their American counterparts, these companies have managed to surveil their users and extract valuable data to create new products and features. Baidu began as a search engine, but has now branched out into autonomous driving, and therefore, maps. The intricacy of its 3-D visualizations is the result of over 600 million users consulting the app for navigation every day or using apps that rely on Baidu Maps in the background, such as weather apps that rely on its geolocation features.

The tech company, like its counterparts such as Google, take advantage of multiple features available in smartphones. Smartphones possess the ability to determine users’ positions by communicating with an array of satellites such as GPS (Global Positioning Service); GLONASS, Russia’s version of GPS; or BeiDou, China’s satellite navigation system. Such satellite systems are public infrastructures created by American, Russian, and Chinese governments, respectively, that enable our phones to determine users’ precise longitude and latitude coordinates. The majority of apps and services on smartphones rely on location services, from food delivery to restaurant reviews. However, satellite navigation systems are still imprecise—they are often a few meters off, with anything from the weather to tall buildings affecting accuracy.

However, smartphones contain more than satellite signal receiver chips. A slew of other sensors, such as accelerometers, light sensors, and magnets are embedded in the average smartphone. In 2015, Baidu invested $10 million in IndoorAtlas, a Silicon Valley startup that specializes in indoor mapping. The company's technology is at the forefront of magnetic positioning, which allows indoor maps at 1-meter accuracy to be created simply by using an average smartphone. This technology relies on the Earth's geomagnetic field and the magnets in smartphones. By factoring in the unique magnetic "fingerprint" of each building based on the composition of its materials, such as steel, a building's floor plan can be mapped out without any data provided by the architect. However, this strategy requires user data at scale; multiple user paths need to be recorded and averaged out to account for any anomalies. Gathering large amounts of data from users becomes an imperative.

Floorplans aside, magnetic positioning is not the only dimension of user location data collection that allows data to become a spatial model. As people drive, bike, and walk, each user generates a spatial "trace" that also has velocity data attached to it. Through such data, information about the type of path can be derived: Is it a street, a sidewalk, or a highway? This information becomes increasingly useful in improving the accuracy of Baidu Maps itself, as well as Baidu's autonomous vehicle projects.

The detailed 3-D city models on Baidu Maps offer data that urban designers dream of, but such models only serve Baidu's interests. Satellite navigation system accuracy deteriorates in urban canyons, due to skyscrapers and building density, obscuring satellites from the receiver chip. These inaccuracies are problematic for autonomous vehicles, given the "safety critical" nature of self-driving cars. Baidu's 3-D maps are not just an aesthetic “wow factor” but also a feature that addresses positioning inaccuracies. By using 3-D models to factor in the sizes and shapes of building envelopes, inaccuracies in longitude and latitude coordinates can be corrected.

Much of this research has been a race between U.S. and Chinese companies in the quest to build self-driving cars. While some 3-D models come from city planning data, in China's ever-changing urban landscape, satellite data has proved far more helpful in generating 3-D building models. Similar to Google's 3-D-generated buildings, a combination of shadow analysis, satellite imagery, and street view have proved essential for automatically creating 3-D building models rather than the manual task of user-generated, uploaded buildings or relying on city surveyors for the most recent and accurate building dimensions.

None of this data is available to the people who design cities or buildings. Both Baidu and Google have End User License Agreements (EULAs) that restrict where their data can be used, and emphasize that such data has to be used within Baidu or Google apps. Some data is made available for computer scientists and self-driving car researchers, such as Baidu's Research Open-Access Dataset (BROAD) training data sets. Most designers have to rely on free, open-source data such as Open Street Maps, a Wikipedia-like alternative to Baidu and Google Maps. By walling off valuable data that could help urban planning, tech companies are gaining a foothold and control over the reality of material life: they have more valuable insights into transport networks and the movements of people than urban designers do. It's no surprise then, that both Baidu and Google are making forays into piloting smart cities like Toronto’s Quayside or Shanghai's Baoshan District, and gaining even greater control over urban space. No doubt, urban planning and architecture are becoming increasingly automated and privately controlled in the realm of computer scientists rather than designers.

In Shoshana Zuboff's 2019 book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, she examines how tech companies throughout the world are employing surveillance and data extraction methods to turn users into free laborers. Our “behavioral surplus,” as she terms it, becomes transformed into products that are highly lucrative for these companies, and feature proprietary, walled-off data that ordinary users cannot access, even though their labor has helped create these products. These products are also marketed as “predictive,” which feeds the desires of companies that hope to anticipate users’ behavior—companies that see users only as targets of advertising.

Over the past several years, American rhetoric surrounding the Chinese “surveillance state” has reached fever pitch. But while China is perceived to be a single-party communist country with state-owned enterprises that do its bidding, the truth is, since the 1990s, much of the country’s emphasis has been on private growth. Baidu is a private company, not a state-owned enterprise. Companies like Baidu have majority investment from global companies, including many U.S.-based funds like T. Rowe Price, Vanguard, and BlackRock. As China's economy slows down, the government is increasingly pressured to play by the rules of the global capitalist book and offer greater freedom to private companies alongside less interference from the government. However, private companies often contract with the government to create surveillance measures used across the country.

The rhetoric about the dangers of Chinese state surveillance obfuscates what is also happening in American homes—literally. As Google unveils home assistants that interface with other “smart” appliances, and Google Maps installed on mobile phones tracks user locations, surveillance becomes ubiquitous. Based on your location data, appliances can turn on as you enter your home, and advertisements for milk from your smart fridge can pop up as you walk by the grocery stores. Third-party data provider companies also tap into geolocation data, and combined with the use of smart objects like smart TVs, toasters, and fridges, it's easy to see why the future might be filled with such scenarios. Indeed, if you own certain smart appliances, Google probably knows what the inside of your home is like. In 2018, iRobot, the maker of the Roomba vacuum, announced that it was partnering with Google to improve the indoor mapping of homes, and now setting up a Roomba with Google Home has never been easier. Big tech companies in the U.S. would like us to believe that surveillance is worse elsewhere, when really, surveillance capitalism is a global condition.

Over the past 30 years, cities around the world have been the locus of enormous economic growth and corresponding increases in inequality. Metropolitan areas with tech-driven economies, such as the Shenzhen-Guangzhou-Hong Kong corridor and the Greater Bay Area, are home to some of the largest tech companies in the world. They are also home to some of the most advanced forms of technological urbanism: While Baidu may not have every single business mapped in rural China, it certainly has the listing of every shop in every mall of Guangzhou.

The overlap between cities as beacons of capital and as spaces where surveillance is ubiquitous is no coincidence. As Google’s parent company, Alphabet, makes moves to build cities and as Baidu aggressively pursues autonomous driving, data about a place, the people who live there, and their daily movements is increasingly crucial to the project of optimizing the city and creating new products, which in turn generates more wealth and more inequality. Places like San Francisco and Shenzhen are well-mapped by large tech companies but harbor some of the worst income gaps in the world.

The "smart city" urbanism enabled by surveillance and ubiquitous data collection is no different from other forms of development that erode affordable housing and public space. Reclaiming our cities in this digital age is not just about reclaiming physical space. We must also reclaim our data.

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A team of researchers thinks autonomous electric cars could outdo the subway

A partnership between the state-owned Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE), the London-based architecture and technology firm PLP Labs (the research spinoff of PLP Architecture), and LogistikCentrum have released a new study and report proposing a new direction for public transit. Called NuMo, for New Urban Mobility, the proposed technology allows for highly efficient, electric-powered home-to-destination transit either over existing infrastructure or on new construction. The report claims that most cities rely on a less efficient 19th-century model of public transit, where trains and buses come at times at long intervals or unpredictably and can be either virtually empty or totally packed and uncomfortable. With NuMo, autonomous electric cars would be booked through an app and come directly to your current location. From there they would take off, eventually joining other NuMo cars with passengers or cargo in a “high-speed platoon.” The electric cars could then pull off at any point to pick up more passengers for carpooling, or to bring passengers directly to their destination. One of the central inefficiencies with traditional human-operated automobiles is that they have to be spaced fairly far apart from one another when moving and be given enough horizontal space to account for the inaccuracies and shifts from people operating them. Automated cars in a NuMo platoon would be able to “move within milliseconds of one another,” staying close together, reportedly reducing lane width by over three feet, fitting two cars into a single lane. In a NuMo-designed city, there would be a central control system with automated intersection control and load balancing, as well as vehicle-to-vehicle communication, and the ability prevent stopping and congestion, potentially ending traffic jams and accidents. Within the cities, cars would travel between approximately 20 to 40 miles per hour and outside they could reach speeds of 50 miles per hour. These NuMo cars and platoons could travel on existing infrastructure in specialized lanes, including in currently underused bus lanes or roads. The cars could also accompany the development of new roads over land or underwater, becoming a transit solution and network that, much like earlier subways and bus routes, could reshape how disparate parts of the city relate to one another. Such consolidation and optimization could help return streets to pedestrians and cyclists and, the researchers claim, could result in much greater capacity than current transit options. Open to all autonomous vehicles, NuMo is a protocol designed to be introduced to cities gradually. The researchers developed models for Stockholm and Gothenburg, Sweden, while also considering larger cities like London and New York. They claim that four-person cars set to travel only one second from one another would be twice the capacity of 120 passenger buses running a minute apart, quadrupling transport capacity and reducing travel time by a third while having no extra cost over building comparable traditional transit infrastructure. NuMo’s combination of autonomous electric vehicles, infrastructure overhauls, and efficient sustainable design is, according to Lars Hesselgren, director of research at PLP Architecture, “the next best thing to teleportation.”
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Driverless shuttles set to take over the Brooklyn Navy Yard later this year

New York City’s (and the state’s) first self-driving shuttles are arriving before the end of the second quarter, but they won’t be making life-or-death decisions on Manhattan’s busy streets. Instead, the Boston-based autonomous driving startup Optimus Ride, which was spun off from MIT, will bring driverless shuttles to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The 300-acre industrial campus is seemingly the perfect place to test autonomous vehicles (AVs) within the five boroughs. The yard is isolated, about a 15-minute walk from the nearest subway station (although a shuttle runs between the two), though a new ferry stop will open at the Yard in May. The enclosed Navy Yard also uses private streets, negating the need for city or state approval, and drastically reduces the congestion—both other vehicles and humans—that these shuttles will expect to face. Thanks to the Yard’s relative isolation, the entire area can be geofenced off or mapped down to the slightest detail ahead of the shuttles’ deployment to prevent them from leaving the bounded area. The technology has been used to great effect elsewhere, namely AV testing grounds where every variable can be controlled; the difficulty in expanding the use of self-driving cars has namely been to real-world unpredictability. According to Optimus Ride, the company's shuttles will offer the Navy Yard’s 9,000 employees a convenient way to get around the campus. The vehicles will loop from the new ferry stop and around to the public-facing Flushing Avenue side. While the company hasn’t released details on the model of shuttle it will be using, the company has previously deployed battery-powered vehicles capable of reaching speeds of up to 25-miles-per-hour elsewhere. It’s unclear what this will mean for the shuttle service that already operates on the Yard’s streets. “If this pilot abides by insurance and other non-traffic laws and remains confined to the Brooklyn Navy Yard—which is private—then it can operate,” a spokesperson for the mayor, Seth Stein, told The Verge. “The mayor has voiced his strong opposition to testing a new technology on our busy streets.” Optimus Ride also announced that it would be bringing its self-driving shuttles to the streets of Paradise Valley Estates, a private 80-acre planned community Fairfield, California. The move means that Optimus Ride will have AVs in four states, but for the time being, it seems that only self-contained, wealthier enclaves will benefit as the technology matures.
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A Tesla struck and "killed" a robot at CES—or did it?

It’s either a documented case of robot-on-robot violence or an elaborate self-perpetuating hoax. At the January 7 opening of the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, a Tesla in “self-driving mode” struck a Russian Promobot, and the event was captured on video. Or did it? The story seemed too good to be true, and touched a nerve over fears that autonomous vehicles could be dangerous (see the case of Uber’s Arizonan test car that got into a fatal crash last March). In the video, a Tesla Model S can be seen cruising by a robot standing curbside, at which point the Promobot falls over and its arm falls off. Promobot’s manufacturer, also called Promobot, posted footage of the incident to Twitter, tagged Elon Musk, and “Promobot was killed by a self-driving Tesla car” racked up over a million views. Promobot claims that its robot was damaged beyond repair and that they would be filing a police report. How did the robot manage to “run off” to the far side of the road without anyone noticing? How did Promobot seem to know that the Tesla was in self-driving mode? Why was the scene being filmed in the first place? The company has thus far been unable to provide answers, but tech writers and Twitter users were quick to point out the inconsistencies in Promobot’s story. Tesla’s cars, while equipped with an “Autopilot” mode that assists drivers on highways, lacks a fully-autonomous self-driving mode. When the driver, George Caldera, was asked for a comment by the Daily Mail, he allegedly told the British tabloid that he had shifted to the passenger seat and handed over control to the vehicle. “I switched this Tesla into a self-driving mode and it started to move. And wow! A robot on the track! I thought the flivver would come round, but it bumped straightly into it! I am so sorry, the robot looks cute. And my sincere apologies to the engineers.” Other than the strange quote, a rope can be seen on the far side of the road near the robot, and Promobot appears to fall over slightly before being passed by the car. Robots and self-driving cars have captured the public’s imagination, but confusion over the capabilities of each have at times also served to confuse. For instance, the robots deployed to ward off homeless people in San Francisco and Waymo’s self-driving cars in Arizona, have both elicited visceral responses from the public. The integration of artificial intelligence into the urban fabric has a long and bumpy road ahead.
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Waymo's self-driving cars in Arizona elicit violence

Residents of Chandler, Arizona, are waging war against the city’s new fleet of self-driving cars. Distraught locals have slashed tires, pointed guns, and thrown themselves in front of Waymo vehicles in order to prevent them from transporting passengers, according to The Arizona Republic. In April 2017, technology development company Waymo started a trial of self-driving taxis in Phoenix, the first of their kind. This past month, the service continued to expand as it launched its first commercial self-driving car service called Waymo One, where people of the Phoenix metropolitan area can request a driverless car through the simple use of a cell-phone app. Since Waymo vehicles took to the streets some two years ago, 21 rioting incidents have been reported to the police, particularly in Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix. While safety concerns seem to have triggered many of the violent outbursts, other locals see Waymo as a threat to their livelihood. People are worried that technology is going to replace them in the workforce. Taxi drivers across the world, for instance, have fought against the rapid dissemination of Uber and other ride-hailing services. Waymo's current controversy is just the latest in a series of incidents where autonomous vehicles or ride-sharing companies are getting into trouble. Last March, the self-driving car industry as a whole suffered the ultimate backlash when a self-driving Uber SUV mindlessly hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona.
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Waymo's self-driving taxi service goes live

Self-driving cars are ever inching closer to feasibility, as the Alphabet-owned company Waymo announced the official rollout of its self-driving taxi service today. The launch of Waymo One in Arizona, although only initially available to research testers from Waymo’s research program, is a milestone that critics thought Waymo wouldn’t be able to reach before the end of 2018. This year was a pretty dour period for real-world autonomous vehicle (AV) testing. Uber drew ire and shut down its self-driving car operations in Arizona after a test vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian crossing the street. Federal regulators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shut down a self-driving school bus program in Florida. And in Chandler, Arizona, just outside of Waymo’s AV testing ground, residents complained that the self-driving cars would regularly stop without warning at a T-shaped intersection and require that the human safety drivers take control. Waymo is starting small with a pool of invite-only riders, but the launch today fulfills a pledge the company had made to get its fleet of AVs on the road before the end of the year. Customers can hail an autonomous vehicle in the Metro Phoenix area through the Waymo ridesharing app in the cities of Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, and Mesa. Each car will be decked out with touchscreens, where passengers can connect with a Waymo rider support agent to have questions about their trip answered. In-car chaperones will be present during the first phase of Waymo One’s rollout, but moving forward, the company wants to graduate to fully-driverless rides. The early rider program will continue, and test riders will have early access to features that Waymo wants to include in their taxi service. The company is hoping to use the feedback from its Phoenix-area riders to eventually expand the program to other cities and the general public.
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Cryptocurrency mogul taps California architects for tech-powered desert utopia

Bitcoin and its competitors haven’t managed to topple the world’s existing currencies just yet, but the blockchain technology underpinning them might soon be making the leap to urbanism. As The New York Times revealed, millionaire lawyer Jeffrey Berns has bought up 100 square miles in the Nevada desert and tapped Los Angeles’s Tom Wiscombe Architecture and Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects (EYRC) to design an as-of-yet-unnamed, futuristic city. Complete with homes, offices, a college, and research campus, the city will, if it gets built, also introduce a novel form of urban citizenship that allows citizens to vote on the blockchain. What is the blockchain? The digital currency Bitcoin was the tool’s first proof-of-concept, but the underlying technology, a ledger shared among all users of a service that allows for trackable peer-to-peer transactions without a middleman, has uses in nearly every field. Improving efficiency on construction sites and documenting the chain of ownership for artwork are only a few of the potential uses proposed for the technology (and unlike Bitcoin, don’t involve destroying the environment). Berns made his fortune on the rise of Ethereum, a Bitcoin competitor indirectly pegged to its value (as many other cryptocurrencies are). While the prices of cryptocurrencies are constantly in flux, Ethereum allows for more than the transfer of more information than just monetary value. Berns has proposed that all future residents will be given an Ethereum-based ID, which they can use to hold their personal information and securely vote from. Berns has already spent a reported $300 million on the city through his company Blockchains LLC, including commissioning a set of renderings of the future smart city from Wiscombe and EYRC. The architects went big, and plans include a technology park for the advancement of artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, and nanotechnology, all integrated into a blockchain-based system. Vertical manufacturing and workplace hybrid typologies have also been proposed, and from the renderings, it appears that many of the buildings might be clad in dizzying panel arrays that recall circuit boards and harken back to Wiscombe’s previous work. For the residential portion, Berns has already received pre-approval for thousands of homes, which will vary from single-family houses to mixed-use blocks to communal buildings. The preliminary designs for the larger housing complexes draw on existing desert precedents and will bring a touch of Arcosanti-meets-Blade-Runner to the city. Drone deliveries, fully electric autonomous vehicles that can weave between indoor and outdoor spaces, and plans to power the city off of 100 percent renewable energy are all on the table. It might seem pie in the sky, as so many utopian communities are, but Blockchains LLC is already engaging with the residents of Storey County, Nevada, and the tech companies who have industrial parks at the border of the 67,000-acre plot. The feedback gathered will go towards putting together a master plan and the environmental impact statement; construction is slated to begin at the end of 2019 if all goes as planned.
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Federal government shuts down self-driving school bus program in Florida

The dreams of a fully autonomous school bus are on hold for a little while longer, at least in Babcock Ranch, Florida. On October 19, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ordered a complete halt to the self-driving school bus program in the Florida town, which had been transporting kids to-and-from school along a three-block stretch. Transdev North America had been operating the Easy Mile EZ10 Gen II shuttle as part of a two-month pilot program within the fully solar-powered, tech-forward community. The shuttle, which seats 12 and included a human supervisor ready to take over in case the “bus” encountered an unexpected obstacle, has a top speed of 8-miles-per-hour and was programmed to brake automatically. The bus was just one part of Transdev’s initiative to launch a network of autonomous shuttles (AVs) across North America, with Babcock Ranch as a testing ground. While the shuttle never picked up more than five students at a time, only operated one day a week during the five-week trial period, and only picked up and dropped off passengers in designated areas, the NHTSA didn’t mince words, calling the shuttle “unlawful.” According to the NHTSA, Transdev had only been granted permission to import their shuttles as demonstration vehicles and not to transport children. "Innovation must not come at the risk of public safety," said Heidi King, NHTSA Deputy Administrator, in a press release.  "Using a non-compliant test vehicle to transport children is irresponsible, inappropriate, and in direct violation of the terms of Transdev’s approved test project." While the NHTSA claims it wasn't informed about Transdev’s plans to use one of its shuttles to ferry students, the pilot program had been written about extensively and Transdev released several promotional videos touting their self-driving bus. Transdev, for its part, claims to have discussed the school bus shuttle with the NHTSA but that they had never received a letter asking them to stop operating it, and that they voluntarily shut down the program. The company also claims that every safety precaution was taken and that the shuttle was only operated along quite private roads. In its own release, Transdev states that “This small pilot was operating safely, without any issues, in a highly controlled environment. Transdev believed it was within the requirements of the testing and demonstration project previously approved by NHTSA for ridership by adults and children using the same route.” Whether the shutdown was over a miscommunication or because Transdev demonstrably overstepped its certification remains to be seen.
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Self-driving homes could be the future of affordable housing

The convergence of new technologies including artificial intelligence, the internet of things, electric cars, and drone delivery systems suggests an unlikely solution to the growing housing crisis. In the next few years, we may use an app on our smartphones to notify our houses to pick us up or drop us off. Honda recently announced the IeMobi Concept. It is an autonomous mobile living room that attaches and detaches from your home. When parked, the vehicle becomes a 50-square-foot living or workspace. Mercedes-Benz Vans rolled out an all-electric digitally-connected van with fully integrated cargo space and drone delivery capability, and Volvo just unveiled its 360c concept vehicle that serves as either a living room or mobile office. In other cases, some folks are simply retrofitting existing vehicles. One couple in Oxford England successfully converted a Mercedes Sprinter van into a micro-home that includes 153 square feet of living space, a complete kitchen, a sink, a fridge, a four-person dining area, and hidden storage spaces. For those who are either unwilling or unable to own a home, self-driving van houses could become a convenient and affordable solution.  Soon, our mobile driverless vehicles may allow us to work from our cars and have our laundry and a hot meal delivered at the same time. In Los Angeles alone, it is estimated that 15,000 people are already living in their cars and in most countries it is perfectly legal to live in your vehicle. The consequences of autonomous home living are far-reaching. It could radically reduce carbon footprints and living expenses by combining all transportation and housing needs in one space.  The new need for overnight parking creates new economic and social opportunities. New types of pop-up communities will emerge with charging stations, retail stores, laundry facilities, restaurants, and social spaces. The freedom of a van-home lifestyle suggests new modes of living which include more leisure time and less time tethered to a job. The impact on cities, economies, infrastructures, inter-city travel, and the way we live and organize ourselves are immeasurable and scarcely completely imagined. As Volvo says “Why fly when you can be driven?” Soon you may be able to avoid airport lines and delays. You will be able to arrive at your destination rested and refreshed after being driven overnight in your personal portable bedroom.
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Waymo faces tech hurdles as self-driving taxi deadline looms

As the technology propelling autonomous vehicles lurches forward, car companies have been struggling to make the leap between fundamental research and a marketable product. After an Uber test car struck and killed a woman in March of this year, the ride-sharing company abruptly shut down their self-driving program in Arizona. Now Waymo, the Alphabet-owned self-driving car company that had pledged it would launch a fleet of autonomous taxis in Arizona by the end of 2018, has reportedly been running into issues of their own. According to The Information, residents of Chandler, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, have become fed up with Waymo’s testing. The year-long process has seen cars stop without warning while making right turns at a T-shaped intersection, and sources have told The Information that the human safety drivers stationed in the passenger seat have routinely been forced to take manual control of the car. As with most other autonomous vehicle companies, Waymo uses safety drivers to take over when the car is in an unsafe or illegal position; the disengagement rate, or how frequently the human driver needs to take over per miles driven, is generally indicative of how well a self-driving car can move around on its own. The cars in Chandler have been deployed within a geo-fenced area–a location with GPS-defined boundaries–around Waymo’s office. Even in this small area, residents have complained that the abrupt stopping at intersections has caused them to nearly rear-end the test cars or to illegally drive around them. Waymo wouldn’t comment specifically on The Information’s report, but a spokesperson has said that Waymo’s cars are "continually learning" and that "safety remains its highest priority." The company hasn’t backed down from its ride-hailing plan either, though it may be some time before a truly autonomous taxi service hits the streets. Waymo plans to station a human chaperone in each taxi, and the cars will operate within a set area where the streets have been thoroughly mapped. Early adopters will (maybe) be able to hail a ride in Waymo’s fleet of autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans at the end of the year, but the company eventually hopes to roll out 20,000 electric Jaguar-built SUVs by 2020.
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Uber shuts down self-driving car business in Arizona after investigators release findings

Uber announced yesterday that it would be canceling any future autonomous vehicle endeavors in Arizona, abruptly terminating all 300 of its employees in the state (most of them test drivers). The move follows the release of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) findings that the car involved in the fatal crash on March 19 in Tempe, Arizona, detected someone crossing but failed to brake. Uber had previously voluntarily suspended all of its self-driving testing until the review, involving the NTSB, National Highway Traffic Administration, and the Tempe Arizona Police Department, had concluded. While the ride-sharing company had intended to put its robot cars back on the streets in Pittsburgh, California, and Arizona, it appears that the return to the road may be scaled back. After canceling any future plans for Arizona, Uber will only definitively resume testing in Pittsburgh; talks between the company and California’s regulators are reportedly ongoing. “We’re committed to self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the near future," said Uber. "In the meantime, we remain focused on our top-to-bottom safety review, having brought on former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture.” The NTSB’s preliminary report, available in full here, doesn’t paint Uber in a flattering light. The safety board discovered that, as speculated earlier this month, the self-driving vehicle detected pedestrian Elaine Herzberg but failed to act. In the report, the NTSB writes that the car recognized that there was an obstacle in the road a full 6 seconds before the crash, but that the emergency braking feature had been disabled. Emergency braking is a tightrope that self-driving cars have to navigate; if the braking threshold is set too high, then the car will stop for “false positives” (ie, a plastic bag, a branch in the road) and create a choppy ride. If the threshold is set too high, the ride will be smooth but the car might plow through obstacles in its way, real or imagined. According to the NTSB’s report, “Emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior. The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action. The system is not designed to alert the operator.” As Uber scales back its autonomous ambitions on the ground, the company is still pushing ahead in the race to conquer the skies.
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Uber reveals flying taxi prototype and aims for 2023 launch

Uber’s flying taxi service is one step closer to getting off the ground after the ride-sharing company unveiled its latest flying car concept at their second annual Elevate conference in Los Angeles. The final design isn’t set in stone, but this new prototype is a template for the company’s five manufacturing partners to build off of. Elevate, also the name of Uber’s flying taxi business, wants to let passengers hail a flying car via app and hop from one rooftop sky port to another. Designing a quiet, electric urban helicopter is no small technical feat, and Uber’s latest proposal shows something of a cross between a jet, drone, and helicopter that’s capable of vertical takeoffs and landings (eVTOL). The shuttles will seat four, though they’ll have to be autonomously driven for Uber to make a profit; otherwise two of the seats would go towards a pilot and co-pilot. To make the trips affordable, Elevate will introduce a model similar to Uber Pool, where customers can share a ride that’s going in the same direction and split the cost. Elevate expects its flying cars to hover around 1,000 to 2,000 feet off the ground and travel at 150- to 200-miles-per-hour, and has thrown out several reference models for its aerospace partners, Karem, Embraer, Pipistrel, Aurora Flight, and Bell as platforms to build off of. The latest model, first shown yesterday, would use four sets of stacked rotors for vertical lift and a tail-mounted rotor for thrust. Karem, the latest company to join Elevate, wants to build a working prototype of its eVTOL by 2020 and put them into commercial use by 2023. It might seem ambitious, but it’s a target that Elevate’s other partners are also aiming for. The infrastructure hurdle is another significant challenge that Uber will have to overcome if it really wants to make this system a reality. Besides having to actually develop software for the autonomously flying shuttles (something Uber has struggled with on the ground), the sky ports themselves and an unmanned air traffic control system will need to be built out. Elevate will be getting a bit of a boost in that department, as the company recently teamed up with NASA and the US Army to bring its ridesharing dreams to the sky.