Category: Advanced Transport

Elon Musk: The AI in Tesla’s Cars Will Be Able to Predict Your Destination

A Car That Knows You

Responding to a post on Twitter, Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk described how the artificial intelligence behind his company’s autonomous vehicles would be completely capable of bringing you where you want to go without asking you for a destination.

On Friday, Twitter user James Harvey suggested that Musk consider designing a vehicle that was able to simply ask you where you need to go once you hopped in. The billionaire techpreneur replied that, apparently for future Teslas, the car will be able to predict your destination most of time without you having to say a word.

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The Tesla Autopilot was one of the first working self-driving systems that ever hit the roads, first deployed on the Model S and then the Model X in 2014. Since then, the system has had a number of hardware and software upgrades and has saved lives in the process. The latest Autopilot hardware 2.0 was released on February, 2017, with a firmware update that followed in June.

Towards True Autonomy

Autonomous driving technology is surging forward thanks to the growing number of automakers, chipmakers, and even private research institutions working towards perfecting automated systems. Governments are also stepping up, either by allowing driverless car test drives or by coming up with guidelines to govern the technology. Today’s driverless systems are capable of learning enough to navigate through roads safely.

This explosion in the autonomous industry makes it easy to see why Musk is so confident in the capabilities of the next generation of self-driving cars.

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As advanced as these systems are now, however, none are classified under what the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) considers to be Level 5 autonomy — even Tesla doesn’t have that yet, something General Motors was recently quick to point out.

However, a feature dubbed as HW 2.5 — an updated Autopilot hardware coupled with a new software — is expected to come out before the end of 2017. This, according to reports, will provide Tesla the necessary upgrades to attain Level 5 autonomy, and could potentially also equip Teslas with the ability to predict your destination, if Musk’s tweets are any indication.

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The East Coast Hyperloop Might Actually Be Happening, According to Maryland’s Governor

Hyperloop Go!

For the first time in the short history of the Hyperloop, a government official has stated that the fabled East Coast project — connecting New York City and Washington D.C. with stops along the way in Philadelphia and Baltimore — is coming. In a video posted on Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan’s Twitter, when asked what he thinks about the Hyperloop the governor said, “I think it’s coming to Maryland,” and told followers to “Get hyped.”

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However, the governor may have jumped the gun a bit. In response to the story breaking, Elon Musk took to Twitter to clarify the company’s position, saying “Not ready to do a proper announcement yet, but maybe in a month or so. Maryland has been awesome to work with and just wanted to say thanks.”

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It is not clear exactly where the project stands in terms of approval, yet these messages make it seem like negotiations are going well.

Ultimate Zip Lines

Tons of speculation surrounded Musk’s announcement of his creation of The Boring Company, including that it was all a big joke. Now, it looks like the company is yet another component needed to make Hyperloop a reality.

The plan is to build tunnels under existing state highways. “The tunnels will be built primarily under existing state highways, and the state is supporting the project and will work with the company to expedite the permitting and approval process,” a representative for the Governor’s office said in an email to Business Insider.

Hyperloop could usher in the age of the supercity. The high speed pods could allow passengers to travel from New York to D.C. in as little as 29 minutes, a trip that approaches or exceeds 5 hours (depending on the route) by car, and nearly three hours by conventional train.

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Elon Musk: The Second Boring Machine is Almost Ready

Elon Musk has announced via Twitter that The Boring Company’s newest invention for tunnel excavation is “almost ready.” This, the second boring machine, will be dubbed Line-Storm, a moniker inspired by the poem “A Line-Storm Song” by Robert Frost.

Musk went on to respond to a Twitter user that asked whether The Boring Company was a real enterprise. The SpaceX and Tesla CEO confirmed that it was, and stated that a physical tunnel is being created and is growing longer every day.

The tunnel being excavated by The Boring Company is a test site for hyperloop technology. Musk has already shared images demonstrating that the underground tract is large enough for a car to pass through.

Digging tunnels via conventional means would be a big obstacle for the introduction of underground hyperloop infrastructure. Musk is confident that — with help from their new machines — The Boring Company can perform the work relatively cheaply and efficiently. It remains to be seen what kind of advantages Line-Storm offers over its predecessor, the “Godot.”

Musk has previously stated that he’s received permission from a federal official to continue to expand his hyperloop project. With a working car elevator and this new tunneling machine, it seems like all the pieces for his vision for the future of transport are falling into place.

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A New Electric Motorcycle Can Go Over 200 Miles and Charges in Under an Hour

Quick Charge

Zero Motorcycles makes some pretty fancy electric motorcycle models that can be used by both consumers and police units. With the introduction of its 2018 lineup, Zero has improved the capabilities of its bikes with a higher range and reduced charging times.

As Zero explains in its 2018 highlights post, the improvements to their electric motorcycle models are a result of the newly-revealed 6 kW Charge Tank accessory, which can be used by the company’s Zero S, Zero SR, Zero DS, and Zero DSR bikes. The new accessory enables the Zero S and DS ZF7.2 to be charged roughly an hour when plugged into a level 1 110 V outlet, while larger batteries found in the SR and DSR can be charged in around two hours using a level 2 charger.

As for the vehicles’ range, the electric motorcycle models equipped with the ZF7.2 and ZF14.4 power packs can now travel 10% farther thanks to “improved battery chemistry.” How far they can go largely depends on the area you’re in, but Zero notes the range will top out at around 223 miles.

“It’s the highest power and energy density battery in today’s transportation industry and for its size takes you farther than any other electric vehicle on the planet,” says Zero.

A Need for Speed

Riders who are all about speed will be happy to hear the new electric motorcycle models are slightly faster too. Bikes with the ZF7.2 power pack provide 11% more rear wheel torque, while the powertrains of the ZF13.0 Zero S and Zero DS have been finely tuned to offer up to 30% more power and torque. Want to quickly pass other cars and motorcycles on the road? Now you can.

According to Engadget, prices for the new 2018 models are the same as the 2017 models, with the cheapest Zero FX starting at $8,495. If you’re eyeing the base model Zero S, it starts at $10,995, though the Charge Tank will cost you another $2,295 — a high price to pay if you want to get back on the road quickly after a battery-depleting ride.

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Boeing Invests in Near Earth Autonomy to Accelerate Development of Autonomous Aircraft

Boeing Embraces Autonomous Technology

Earlier this month, Boeing acquired Aurora Flight Sciences, demonstrating the company’s commitment to incorporating autonomous technology into aircraft designs. Now, the aviation company’s HorizonX Ventures division has announced its investment in Near Earth Autonomy — a company that focuses on technologies that enable reliable autonomous flight — further solidifying its support for these burgeoning technologies.

The move marks the first investment HorizonX Ventures has made since its creation last year, but the relationship between Boeing and Near Earth doesn’t end there. In addition to this investment, the companies are partnering to work on future applications for autonomous tech in sectors like urban mobility with vehicles like flying taxis.

“This partnership will accelerate technology solutions that we feel will be key to unlocking emerging markets of autonomous flight,” said Boeing HorizonX Vice President Steve Nordlund in a statement. “We are excited to begin this partnership with a company with such a depth of experience in autonomy so we can leverage the scale of Boeing to innovate for our customers.”

Near Earth Autonomy’s Pedigree

Near Earth Autonomy is led by Sanjiv Singh, the company’s acting CEO. He co-founded the company alongside Marcel Bergerman, Lyle Chamberlain and Sebastian Scherer. Combined, they have over 30 years of experience with autonomous systems designed for land and air vehicles. Two of their most notable achievements include partnering with the U.S. Army in 2010 to develop full-scale autonomous helicopter flights and working with the Office of Naval Research to design an autonomous aerial cargo delivery platform for the U.S. Marines.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Near Earth,” said Singh. “The Boeing HorizonX investment will accelerate the development of robust products and enable access to a broader portfolio of applications for aerial autonomy.”

Flying taxis are becoming increasingly popular in the aerospace industry and many expect that they will change how people get around cities and traffic. At the forefront, we have Dubai, which tested its autonomous flying taxi earlier this year and plans to launch a taxi service before year’s end. Meanwhile, Airbus is aiming to test its electric taxi next year, with German company Lilium hoping to have a series of commercial aircraft released by 2025.

It’s an exciting time for the future of transportation, and it’s possible that soon, the concept of manually driving a car will be a thing of the past.

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This High-Tech, Solar-Powered Car May be the Future of Travel

Giving Back

In this week’s bi-annual World Solar Challenge, a Dutch team from the Eindhoven University of Technology snagged the overall win for their unique concept: a electricity-generating solar car that gives back to the grid.

According to Green Car Congress, the car, called the “Stella Vie,” was able to transport up to five people (an average of 3.4 people per kilometer traveled) using only 48 kWh of electricity. Most of the electricity used was generated on the course.

Even more impressive, the vehicle is said to be able to generate more electricity than it uses. This means that not only can it provide a clean means of transportation, but it can also allow users to feed power back into the grid. “This is the future of solar electric vehicles. When your car is parked at home it can be charging and supplying energy back to the grid,” said event director Chris Selwood in a press release.

Image credit: Solar Team Eindhoven
The Stella Vie. (Image credit: Solar Team Eindhoven)

The winner for speed, “Nuna 9,” developed by the Nuon Solar Team from the Netherlands, was first across the finish line of a more than 3,000-kilometre (1,860-mile) Australian course that extended from Darwin to Adelaide. This is the third straight win for the Nuna 9 team. Yet the overall winner of the competition takes design, practicality, energy efficiency, and innovation into account.

Eindhoven’s electricity-generating solar car might not be the speediest car on the track, but it could be a huge boon for families and the electric grid alike. “Through a smart charging and discharging system she charges the battery when the demand of energy from the grid is high and vice versa,” Team Eindhoven said in a release. “Any surplus energy generated can easily be supplied back to the .”

Solar Age

The goal of the Cruiser class is practicality, with the 12 cars in the class aiming to prove the viability of solar-powered family vehicles. More mainstream developers have also started dipping their toes into integrating solar power into their vehicles.

One solar car company, Lightyear, has emerged with the promise of practical solar-powered vehicles by 2030. Chinese solar panel manufacturer Hanergy Holding Group has also formed a Solar Vehicle Business Division equipped with four prototypes for solar powered vehicles. 

All Electric Cars: What’s My Range? [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Elon Musk of Tesla toyed with the idea of including solar panels in the roof of Tesla’s Model 3, before deciding that the company would “scrap that idea.”

Solar powered cars have a long way to go before we can expect to see them cruising on the streets. Still, the prospect of a vehicle that relies only on clean energy, coupled with the ability to feed back into the grid, leaves a lot to get excited about.

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Amazon Wants to Use Drones to Recharge the Batteries of Electric Vehicles

Amazon has been granted a patent for an ambitious new method of maintaining a charge in electric vehicles (EVs). The company wants to use drones to allow drivers to top up their vehicles without having to visit a charging station.

Drivers would request a top up from a central server, which would dispatch a charging drone to their location. The drone would then dock with the vehicle and start transferring power, without the car ever needing to come to a stop.

This solution isn’t meant to administer a full charge to the car’s battery, it would only supply enough power to get the driver to a charging station, which are still in somewhat limited supply. While charging technologies for EVs are developing quickly in leaps and bounds, it would currently be very challenging to outfit a drone with such advanced capabilities.

Better charging methods are a major priority when it comes to making EVs the norm. There are various ongoing projects looking to perfect wireless charging, including panels on road surfaces that would supply power, which have great potential — but, if nothing else, Amazon’s drones could be a great tool while these technologies continue to advance.

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Toyota Says They Will Have Intelligent Talking Cars by 2020

Bonding With Your Car

Come 2020, Toyota will begin testing its own self-driving electric cars. However, instead of simply being autonomous, they’ll also come equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) capable of having a back-and-forth conversation with the driver.

The automaker previewed their idea for intelligent talking cars at the beginning of the year, during the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Toyota showed off its Concept-i, which has an AI nicknamed “Yui,” at the core of its functionality. Yui is expected to provide a number of benefits, as well as monitor the driver’s driving patterns, attentiveness, schedule, and more.

“The interface begins with the visual representation of Yui, designed to communicate across cultures to a global audience,” explained Toyota in a press release at the time. “With Yui’s home centered on the dashboard, Concept-i’s interior emanates around the driver and passenger side and throughout the vehicle in sweeping lines, with interior shapes designed to enhance Yui’s ability to use light, sound and even touch to communicate critical information.”

As reported by Reuters, Toyota is committed to forming a relationship between driver and AI as it competes with other car manufacturers and tech companies, who have also invested in self-driving cars and AI. To that end, Toyota will invest $1 billion into advancing development on both concepts between now and 2020.

“By using AI technology, we want to expand and enhance the driving experience, making cars an object of affection again,” said Makoto Okabe, general manager of Toyota’s EV business planning division.

Outdoing the Competition

Of course, Toyota isn’t the first company that wants to use AI to augment the driving experience. Last July, Honda announced it would be partnering with Softbank to look into using AI to improve car safety. Then, in December, it unveiled its Emotion Engine, a group of AI technologies capable of exhibiting emotions that could aid drivers, such as by providing weather or traffic information in a cheerful voice.

Ford, meanwhile, invested in Argo AI back in February to boost its own AI capabilities in time for the launch of its first autonomous car in 2021. General Motors (GM) has also invested in AI startups for the some purposes, such as Nauto, which has also received funding from BMW.

“In pursuit of the profoundly transformational impact autonomous vehicle technology can have on business and society, we’ll now more rapidly be able to gather the billions more miles of real driving experience and data required to get a precise understanding of how the best drivers behave behind the wheel,” said Nauto CEO Stefan Heck in July.

Toyota will certainly have its work cut out for it when its self-driving cars are fully operational. Next to electric cars, automakers are becoming more invested in autonomous vehicles, which can only strengthen competition and lead to more innovative designs. AI capable of bonding with the driver is one idea to come from competition; it will be interesting to see what other concepts automakers pursue to come out on top.

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Canada Is Officially Testing Driverless Cars on Public Streets

Oh Canada

Canada is celebrating a technological milestone after its first official self-driving car test on public roads last week. The street test was conducted in Ottawa’s west end using technology developed by Blackberry.

The city of Ottawa announced a partnership with Blackberry’s QNX team, the operating system arm of the company which is developing self-driving vehicle software. “With support from BlackBerry QNX and its Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Center and by working closely with all our partners, we are facilitating smart initiatives and research, and fuelling innovation and job creation in Ottawa,” said the city’s mayor, Jim Watson in a press release.

The test was not run in real-life conditions as the roads were closed during the demonstration. Still, this is an important first step toward seeing the widespread integration of self-driving vehicles. As we are seeing in other areas of the world where self-driving car experiments have been or are being held, there are plenty of hurdles that stand in the way of the technology becoming mainstream.

Driverless car testing is advancing in Canada. Image Credit: Flickr

Preliminary Testing

Other cities all around the world are also welcoming self-driving car testing. Baidu, the company described as the “Chinese Google,” started test driving its cars on California roads. The California Department of Motor Vehicles has given more than 40 companies, including Uber, Apple, and Waymo permission to test vehicles in the state. Much like with Ottawa, this is a great first step but it is a far cry from the kind of legal structure we will need to allow for self-driving cars to enter and be successful in the public sphere.

To that end, a United States Senate committee recently voted unanimously to allow a bill to move forward which secures the future of self-driving cars in the country by allowing testing to commence unhindered by state governments. The bill, dubbed the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act, was passed by the House of Representatives and will soon be taken up by the Senate.

The timeline of when these autonomous vehicles will be available to the general public is not set in stone. However, as we continue to see legislation gaining support, there is the hope and likelihood that it will grow into the necessary framework which will provide the foundation this technology needs to thrive.

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General Motors Will Soon Test Self-Driving Cars in New York City

Cruise Automation wants to make self-driving cars in New York City a reality as soon as 2018. The self-driving car wing of General Motors has announced plans to test Chevy Bolts in an area of Manhattan spanning five square miles, beginning as early as next year. Previously, the company has evaluated how its vehicles perform in an urban setting by testing them out on the streets of San Francisco.

In May 2017, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo detailed a one-year pilot program that would give automakers the opportunity to apply for permission to test self-driving cars in New York starting in 2018. Cruise Automation has submitted a request, which is expected to be granted, according to a report from CNN.

Pedestrians will likely pose the greatest challenge for the Bolts let loose on the streets of Manhattan. Though, the vehicles are programmed to slow down when a human enters their path — a frequent occurrence in crowded city streets.

Up until now, the west coast has been the biggest hotspot for tests of self-driving cars — a trend that appears to be continuing: California is currently tweaking legislation that would allow autonomous vehicles to operate without a human driver, via ordinance which will go into effect next year.

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This Material Could Allow NASA Planes to Cross the Country in Under an Hour

Going Hypersonic

Within the next decade, planes could be capable of traveling across the country by hypersonic flight in less than an hour—all it would take is some boron nitride.

A key factor for a vehicle to maintain extremely high speeds is the intense amount of heat generated during travel; for example, the now-retired supersonic Concorde aircraft experienced temperatures of up to 260°F at its lazy cruising speed of 1,534 miles per hour. As such, the materials used to build these aircraft must also be able to withstand very high heat, in addition to being structurally stable and lightweight. A study conducted by researchers from NASA and Binghamton University investigated the properties of nanotubes made using boron nitride, a combination of boron and nitrogen. The study revealed it could potentially be used to make hypersonic travel—speeds above 4,000 miles per hour—possible.

Currently, carbon nanotubes are used in aircraft due to their strength and ability to withstand temperatures up to 400 degrees Celsius (752 degress Fahrenheit). Boron nitride nanotubes (BNNTs), however, can withstand up to 900 degrees Celsius (1652 Fahrenheit). They can also handle high amounts of stress, and are much more lightweight than their carbon counterparts.

The Price of Air Travel

The problem with using BNNTs is their cost. According to Binghamton University Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Changhong Ke, coating an aircraft with BNNTs would run a very high price tag.

“NASA currently owns one of the few facilities in the world able to produce quality BNNTs,” said Ke. “Right now, BNNTs cost about $1,000 per gram. It would be impractical to use a product that expensive.”

Despite the high production cost, it’s possible prices will decrease, and production increase, after more studies detail the material’s usefulness. Carbon nanotubes were around the same price 20 years ago, but are now between $10 and $20 per gram. Ke believes something similar will happen with BNNTs.

That said, don’t expect the first application of BNNTs to be for commercial aircraft. They’ll probably be used for military fighter jets first, with commercialized flights to follow after. Hopefully by then, we’ll other other ways to travel quickly: be it by hyperloop, Elon Musk’s BFR rocket, or China’s plans to build the fastest “flying train.”

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Toyota Will Test Their AI-Powered Driverless Cars in 2020

After unveiling a concept model for a new line of autonomous vehicles, Toyota expects to start testing these driverless cars in 2020. Sure, carmakers now seem to be testing their self-driving cars all the time, and governments are paving the way for these trial-runs. Toyota, however, promises that their 2020 autonomous vehicle tests will be different, as these vehicles will be powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

Toyota is supposedly combining their Concept-i cars with an AI called “Yui” — the product of spending billions on a venture capital arm meant for AI development. Yui isn’t your typical autonomous driving system. Toyota wants their AI to be able to chat with drivers and get to know them better by using their preferences, emotions, and habits, which Yui builds through deep learning.

Image credit: Toyota
Toyota is pushing the boundaries of futuristic transport. Image Credit: Toyota

“By using AI technology, we want to expand and enhance the driving experience, making cars an object of affection again,” said Makoto Okabe, general manager of Toyota’s EV business planning division, speaking to Reuters.

Yui isn’t the only notable development Toyota has in the works for 2020. The Japanese car manufacturer, in partnership with Cartivator Resource Management, is looking to bring a flying car to the Olympic games in Tokyo that year. The company is also planning to test drive their hydrogen powered trucks later this month.

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Here’s How Driverless Vehicles Will Utterly Transform How Our Cities Look

Smart City Solutions

The convergence of technology and the city is seen as a possible remedy for the challenging issues of urbanisation. Autonomous vehicles are among the most popular of many smart city solutions. Also known as driverless car technology, it could reshape our cities.

One recent prediction is that by 2040 these vehicles will account for up to half of all road travel. A growing number of studies are exploring autonomous--induced transport disruptions – “trip generation impacts.” It’s suggested these vehicles could:

  • decrease private motor vehicle ownership, congestion and air pollution;
  • increase ride sharing, road safety, access and mobility;
  • redesign or eliminate traffic signals; and
  • improve mobility for people who are “transport-disadvantaged.”

Less research has been done on the effects on urban landscapes and the development patterns of our cities. Every change in transport technology – from horse cart to coal-powered train to street car to automobile – has great impacts on our cities.

So, what might autonomous-vehicle-induced changes look like? What are their likely rebound effects on mobility?

Freeing up Road Space for Other Uses

Road networks on average occupy about 30% of a city’s land area in developed countries.

In theory,  can use road networks more efficiently and thus free up some road  if trip generation rate and population growth are held constant. This space can be redesigned for a whole new spectrum of social functions, street trees, walkways or bike lanes.

However, it is likely these vehicles will enable previously suppressed trips to be taken. The resulting increase in traffic volume will reduce the potential to free up road space for other uses.

Turning Parking Lots Into Social Uses

Autonomous vehicles will reduce and potentially eliminate the need for the significant amount of space set aside for parking in high-demand urban areas.

In these areas of high-value property, mandatory parking supply requirements will have to change. A reduction in parking lots has the potential to transform urban cores, as these spaces can be used for other activities—such as parks, more high-value activities, or affordable housing.

Business uplift resulting from higher-density activities is then entirely feasible (akin to agglomeration economies in cities). This can create more mixed-use and transit-oriented development, accelerate a trend towards inner- living and make these areas more efficient, productive and liveable.

Redesigning Building and Street Interfaces

With an autonomous-vehicle-dominated city, buildings and development will have to adapt to new patterns of traffic flow. They will need to be designed for door-to-door services – mainly accommodating the drop-offs and pick-ups at each and every site.

High-volume sites will need a bespoke interface for multiple autonomous vehicles, while lower-volume sites will no longer need kerbside parking for each development.

This scenario offers much potential to free up kerb space for other uses.

Transforming Fuel Stations Into New Land Uses

Autonomous vehicles are largely envisaged as electric vehicles charged at their overnight parking spaces. The implication is that eventually, once these vehicles dominate road transport, fuel stations will not be needed on the streets.

These locations will require remedial environmental treatment for conversion to other land uses. But once that’s done, this will open the way to alternative uses for the former fuel stations in all neighbourhoods—more convenience stores or online shopping click-and-collect locations?

This raises the question of what would be an optimal productive use for such high-profile, highly accessible sites.

Converting Domestic Garage Spaces in Suburbia

Some visions of pooled/shared ownership of autonomous vehicles suggest we will have no need to own private motor vehicles. So we will no longer need to park and garage vehicles in residential dwellings.

This could transform a substantial share of housing stock, with garages converted to other uses such as studios, rented short-term lodging, or granny flats.

In theory, driveways will no longer be needed either. These could be turned into greened front yards, spaces for children to play and residents to walk and meet their neighbours.

Alternatively, however, if the space once used for garages and access ways becomes available for buildings, this could exacerbate the trend toward larger environmentally inefficient homes.

Increasing Urban Sprawl

Autonomous vehicles have the potential to induce more , as more effortless travel becomes available to more people. This may lead to a rethinking of the convenience of proximity to the city and major employment centres.

Low-cost housing on the urban fringes has been a major driver of sprawl in cities.

By making travel cheaper and more convenient, autonomous vehicles might make the economics and practicality of sprawl more attractive.

Changing Property Values, Planning Controls and Land Supply

While “location, location, location” will remain relevant, autonomous vehicles should act to inflate property values in some neighbourhoods and depress values in others.

Easier commutes in particular will have an impact on residential property prices, and might shift preferences from properties in urban centres to those in suburban areas.

While suburbanisation might speed up, densification of urban cores might also be enhanced. We might see people with very distinctive lifestyles preferring these different locations.

Planning controls and land supply will be key instruments to control the balance between greenfield and infill developments. We need to consider how these controls are applied in this new environment to maximise social and economic benefits.

How Planners Will Manage the Disruption of Land Use

Through the convergence of automation, electrification and ride-sharing technologies, autonomous vehicles could significantly reshape real estate, urban development and city planning—as the automobile did in the last century.

This transformation also creates an opportunity for planners to make our cities more citizen-centred by bringing back the human-scale and walkable city practices that motor vehicle domination removed.

How well prepared are urban planners, however, to mitigate the disruptive impacts on our cities? Do we yet even understand what these disruptions and their implications are?

Urban planning as a profession is largely unprepared for autonomous vehicles. Planners need to be aware, smart and proactive about the potential impacts, particularly in terms of the potential for renewed urban sprawl.

A future involving widespread use of autonomous vehicles presents both land-use opportunities and challenges. Progressive outcomes will require an objective assessment of their complex land-use, economic and community influences on our evolving cities.

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Elon Musk Said the Raptor Rocket Will “Meet or Exceed Passenger Airline Levels of Safety”

The SpaceX Raptor

In 2016, the United States Air Force contracted SpaceX to begin designing and developing the Raptor prototype upper-stage engine, a bipropellant rocket engine. This design is based on SpaceX’s reusable, methane-powered Raptor engine, which is used in the upper stages of both the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. On Saturday, in an ask me anything (AMA) on Reddit, Elon Musk got candid online and answered some questions about the prototype and other Raptor design objectives.

One person asked, “Could you update us on the status of scaling up the Raptor prototype to the final size? The sub-scale Raptor prototype has a (speculated) thrust of about ~100 tons-force currently, and will be scaled up to ~170 tons-force according to your IAC/2017 design. Can you tell us more about the current status and expected (best-case) timeline of this scale-up effort?”

Musk gave a thorough response: “Thrust scaling is the easy part. Very simple to scale the [developed] Raptor to 170 tons.  The flight engine design is much lighter and tighter, and is extremely focused on reliability. The objective is to meet or exceed passenger airline levels of safety.”

“If our engine is even close to a jet engine in reliability, has a flak shield to protect against a rapid unscheduled disassembly and we have more engines than the typical two of most airliners, then exceeding airline safety should be possible,” he continued. “That will be especially important for point to point journeys on Earth. The advantage of getting somewhere in 30 mins by rocket instead of 15 hours by plane will be negatively affected if ‘but also, you might die’ is on the ticket.”

Rocket Travel

SpaceX’s reusable rockets have paved the way for cost-effective, environmentally conscious, and efficient space travel. The Raptor prototype engine is, as Musk explained in the AMA, currently on track to scale up for use in the aerospace company’s rockets. But Musk’s response, alongside his recent presentation at the International Aeronautical Congress (IAC), have added to the discussion. These updates not only confirmed that SpaceX will be able to scale up the engine, but asserted that the design will focus on human safety—all the while alluding to the possibility of casual travel by rocket.

So, is there the possibility, in the near future, that SpaceX will be marketing their rockets for casual, commercial use? It is possible. But currently, it seems SpaceX still has work to do in completing the scaling of the engine and improving the safety for riders within these vehicles. If the comments poking fun at Musk’s careful wording of potential failure are to be taken to heart, SpaceX and Musk’s priorities—the dreaded “unscheduled disassembly”—are in the right place.

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Officials: Electric Police Hoverbikes Will Soon Patrol Dubai

Police Hoverbikes

At the 37th Gitex Technology Week at the Dubai World Trade Centre, the Dubai police force announced that officers will soon be speeding around the city’s skies on electric police hoverbikes. The Star Wars-style, battery-powered hoverbikes can fly at a height of five meters (16.4 feet) and reach speeds of up to 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) per hour. The bike was co-developed for emergency response teams with Russian drone manufacturer Hoversurf, and is called the Hoversurf Scorpion.

First Sergeant Ali Ahmad Mohammad told Gulf News the Scorpion can take an officer over heavy traffic in emergencies. “The bike can also fly without a passenger and can go up to six kilometers,” he said. “It can fly for 25 minutes and can carry up to 300kg (661 lbs) of weight at a speed of 70kph.”

Alexander Atamanov, CEO of Hoversurf, took to Facebook to confirm that the company and the Dubai police have agreed to mass produce the Scorpion in the Dubai area. He also posted the above video of the police hoverbike in action.

The City of the Future

Police at Gitex also revealed other advanced technology designed specifically for police use. For example, they showed audiences a smart electric motorbike equipped with multiple cameras used to identify reckless drivers, as well as small, self-driving vehicles that patrol the city and scan for persons of interest and criminals using biometric software.

“It can recognize people in any area and identify suspicious objects and can track suspects,” Dubai Police Smart Services Department director Brigadier Khalid Nasser Al Razooqi told Gulf News. “It will be deployed at tourist destinations in Dubai. It has cameras and will be linked to the command room.”

This latest police technology advances Dubai’s reputation as the City of the Future and one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world. Dubai is already home to water jetpacks used for firefighting and a real life Robocop, but next-level technology permeates every area of life. A flying taxi service is in testing, and the 3D printed office of the future has already opened. A hyperloop and the world’s first 3D printed skyscraper will also soon happen in Dubai, which already has its own official cryptocurrency.

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A Used Tesla Model 3 Was Briefly Listed for $150,000

A Wild Tesla Model 3

On Wednesday, October 10, the first Tesla Model 3 went on sale on Craigslist. The asking price? $150,000.

The Tesla Revolution [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Only Tesla employees and company insiders are getting their Model 3s delivered ahead of regular customers, suggesting the car belonged to someone in either group. According to Electrek, the car and, presumably, the listing both belong to a Tesla Monterey employee. However, the Craigslist page has since been taken down. The listing read:

First ever Tesla Model 3 for sale. Car is lightly used with just over 2,000 miles. This is a unique opportunity to own one of the most anticipated cars ever. Skip the line of over 400,000 people and buy the car of the future now! Car is fully loaded with the 310 Mile Long Range Battery, Panoramic Glass Roof, Premium Interior, Sound System and Aero Wheels. Car has been great for the past 2,000 miles and a unique circumstance is forcing me to part with the car. Fit and finish are excellent for an early production model. This car meets all of the hype and I plan on owning another in the future.

High Demand

$150,000 is a high price, coming in at quadruple the base price of the Model 3. That said, a slowed production of the vehicles could prompt those with enough money to eagerly buy the car through whatever means present themselves; it’s not unlike Tesla fans to buy things prematurely.

Apparently, Tesla foresaw something like this happening, and added a few lines prohibiting employees from selling it to make a profit.

“Because employees are receiving special priority, all Model 3 cars prioritized to employees must be registered to you or your family member and may not be resold for more than the original price. Reservation holders will agree to these terms when their order is placed.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in July that the company should be able to produce 20,000 vehicles a month by December. It was supposed to hit 1,500 in September, but only managed to deliver 260. It’s unclear if the company still believes 20,000 a month is still achievable.

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One Nation Is Single-Handedly Inventing the Future of Transportation

What Does the Future of Transportation Look Like?

All over the world, the way people get around is changing quickly. However, it’s possible that there’s no greater hub for developing the future of transportation technology than the Netherlands.

The country is uniquely poised to facilitate this kind of work. It’s got great technological infrastructure, with complete 4G coverage that helps vehicles grab routing information and other updates quickly and efficiently. Moreover, it’s relatively small, making it easier to implement big changes to the transport network than it would be in a country like the US.

Coupled with strong governmental backing, these factors are incubating a lot of interesting projects that could have a profound effect on how the Dutch get from A to B.

From Hyperloop to Hire Cars

At the inaugural SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition in 2016, a team from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands managed to come out on top in terms of overall score. The Netherlands is a promising hotspot for research into Elon Musk’s potentially groundbreaking new form of city-to-city transport.

Hardt Hyperloop was born out of the team that aced the SpaceX competition, and the company is now looking to push forward with the first commercial route using the technology. Hardt is collaborating with some of the biggest corporations in the Netherlands in an effort to construct a large-scale test facility by 2019.

However, we’re not just seeing projects that aim to completely reimagine transport. There are also ongoing efforts to use technology to improve upon existing methods of getting around.

In a major metropolitan area, it doesn’t always make sense to own a car if it’s only going to be in use every now and again. That’s why car sharing programs are so popular — and Dutch startup Next Urban Mobility wants to go beyond what’s currently available to produce a “Netflix for transportation.”

Such a platform would give users on-demand access to hub spanning everything from cars to bicycles, public transport to delivery drivers.

Using public transport also makes things safer because there’s fewer drivers on the road, and if self-driving cars become the norm, traffic accidents and deaths caused by them could go down substantially.

Green Machines

One major focus for the organizations looking into new modes of transport in the Netherlands is sustainability. Various governments are set to enforce a ban on the sale of petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles in the next decade. Alongside that process, there’s a lot of ongoing research into other ways of making travel more environmentally friendly.

Eurocarbon is producing composite materials commonly used in the automotive industry that consume up to 40% less energy, without sacrificing anything in terms of strength and quality. Solliance is producing high grade thin film solar panels that could harvest the energy that powers tomorrow’s vehicles.

Crucially, organizations like Connekt and Amsterdam Smart City are helping to forge partnerships between people from all walks of life and companies with this kind of expertise in order to promote projects that will benefit communities. The future of transportation is going to require collaboration between various different specializations, so bringing high-spec manufacturers together with the designers and engineers that might utilize their materials is hugely valuable.

The Netherlands seems to be taking a very proactive stance on the future of transport, in all its forms. In many ways, this is a win-win — the best prospects look set to make travel easier, faster, and safer, but they should also be a major boon for the environment.

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A Global Leader in AI Promises Level 4 Self-Driving Cars by 2021

Baidu, one of the world’s largest internet and artificial intelligence (AI) technology companies, has announced plans to deliver Level 4 self-driving cars by 2021 and Level 3 vehicles by 2019. Chinese automaker BAIC group will manufacture the vehicles, while Baidu provides the software to enable their self-driving capabilities, which will be developed through their Apollo autonomous driving program.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Right now, Tesla’s Autopilot system is considered a Level 2 since it still requires that a driver monitor the car’s behavior, and experts have expressed doubts on the company’s ability to deliver higher-level autonomy within Elon Musk’s proposed timeframe.

China is a large market for Tesla’s electric vehicles, so if Baidu and BAIC Group’s partnership is able to produce Level 3 or Level 4 self-driving cars before Tesla can, Musk’s company could be facing some stiff competition in one of their strongest markets. Of course, this competition could also provide Tesla with the motivation needed to deliver on their lofty promises.

Although more and more automakers, tech companies, and even government officials across the globe are taking notice of self-driving cars, they still have numerous hurdles to overcome, both in terms of technology and in convincing the public to hand over control of their cars to artificially intelligent tech. Still, whether they hit the roads in two years or 10, self-driving vehicles are looking more and more like the future of transportation.

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Elon Musk’s Rocket Could Get You Anywhere on Earth in 60 Min. Here’s What It Would Feel Like.

Earth to Earth Flights

To get from one city to another in just 30 to 60 minutes—who doesn’t want that? SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk definitely wants it, and that’s one of the potential uses for his redesigned BFR: earth to earth flights between major cities.

Musk previewed the latest BFR update at the 2017 International Astronautical Congress in September. Designed to be Musk’s new rocket and spacecraft for Mars, the BFR could also be a suborbital spacecraft for SpaceX, said former astronaut Leroy Chiao. Essentially, suborbital spacecrafts—like Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity and Blue Origin’s New Shepard—are meant for the budding space tourism industry, and could function something like extremely high-tech, high-flying airplanes. Flying at the BFR’s 4.6 miles per second, you could get from New York to Los Angeles in just 25 minutes.

But just how would riding such a spacecraft feel? Chiao, who’s flown aboard three NASA space shuttles and a Russian Soyuz, described it to Business Insider“[L]aunch, insertion and entry would be similar to a capsule spacecraft [like the Soyuz], with the difference being in the final phase of landing,” he said.

Can You Handle It?

Chiao suggests that flying aboard a BFR won’t exactly be easy. “During launch on a rocket with liquid engines […] the liftoff is very smooth and one really can’t feel it,” he described. “Ignition of the next stage engine(s) causes a momentary bump in g-force. As you get to the last part of ascent, you feel some g’s come on through your chest, but it is not uncomfortable.”

Leroy Chiao flashes a thumbs-up on the way to launch. Chiao says earth to earth flights may not be for the faint of heart.
Astronaut Leroy Chiao on the way to the launch of ISS Expedition 10. (Image credit: NASA)

The crucial moment is when the BFR’s rocket engines separate from the spacecraft, when passengers would feel “instantly weightless.” Here’s how he describes it:

You feel like you are tumbling, as your balance system struggles to make sense of what is happening, and you are very dizzy. You feel the fluid shift [in your body], kind of like laying heads-down on an incline, because there is no longer gravity pulling your body fluids down into your legs. All this can cause nausea. As you start to re-enter the atmosphere, you would feel the g’s come on smoothly and start to build.

Then, finally the BFR lands. “[Y]ou would both feel and hear [the engines],” Chiao said. “As the thrust builds, you would feel the g’s come on again and then at touchdown, you would feel a little bump.”

If you think you can handle it, then maybe the BFR’s Earth-to-Earth travel is for you. “[T]his would not be for the faint of heart, and it is difficult to see how this would be inexpensive,” he said. Keep in mind, however, that there’s still a lot SpaceX and Musk have to figure out before this actually works. “But the one thing I’ve learned from observing Elon, is not to count him out,” Chiao added.

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Elon Musk Unveils Tesla Factory Video to Showcase Full Automation

Robots Under Pressure

Elon Musk took to Instagram to post another video of Tesla’s team of KUKA industrial robots at work building the Model 3, to showcase Tesla’s focus on automation in its development of electric vehicles. Earlier this week Musk sent out a video of Tesla’s Model 3 assembly line slowed down to 1/10th speed.

The new video, described as, “Stamping Model 3 body panels (real-time)” shows the automated process of fabricating the electric vehicle’s body at full speed. This comes amid numerous advances and controversies surrounding the automation of production. A few days ago, Jane Kim of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors established a committee dubbed the Jobs of the Future Fund, to explore how best to smooth the transition toward more automation.

Stamping Model 3 Body Panels (real-time)

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Skeptics of an automated future like World Bank Chief Jim Yong Kim warn that humans are in for a job disruption not seen since the industrial revolution, and that we’d best invest in education and health. Kim argues that intelligent automation and reactionary political elements may threaten economic development (e.g., the resistance to forces of globalization)—putting the world, Kim adds, on a “crash course.”

But billionaire entrepreneur and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson thinks we have meaningful alternatives, telling the BI Nordic reporters that a safety net provided by a basic income could help counter the effects of artificial intelligence and increased automation.

Why Elon Musk Is Sharing

Musk is likely sending out these videos in response to claims that the Model 3 is largely being built by hand, a claim which Tesla has stated to be “fundamentally wrong and misleading.” The company has been unable to keep pace with production level announced by Musk just this past summer.

11 startups building advanced robots to replace humans
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Another statement from Tesla said, “We are simply working through the S-curve of production that we drew out for the world to see at our launch event in July. There’s a reason it’s called production hell.”

We can expect more videos of Musk proving the Model 3 is in the hands of an autonomous, streamlined production line. Hopefully, soon we can see the results of the process finally translate into speedy production. The company has so far had difficulty meeting the high demand of the new model.

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Get Ready. Richard Branson is Investing in a Hyperloop.

The Startup Formerly Known as Hyperloop One

Virgin Group already has a hand in space travel through its Virgin Galactic spaceflight company, and now the group is investing in high-speed transportation. Specifically — hyperloop transportation.

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson announced earlier today that Virgin Group is investing in Hyperloop One, which recently acquired additional funding from investors last month. It’s unknown exactly how much money Virgin is spending on Hyperloop One, but it was enough to get the company to agree to a re-branding. Going forward, Hyperloop One will now be known as Virgin Hyperloop One.

Despite the name change, the transportation startup’s goals remain the same. It will continue to develop and test its hyperloop pod and tracks as well as investigate the viability of previously announced routes.

Sustained Interest

TechCrunch notes that included in the re-branding, Virgin Hyperloop One will now be associated with Virgin Group’s other projects. Hyperloop now has a powerful billionaire with an interest in the future backing it, which can go a long way when trying to introduce a new concept.

“Ever since our creation, Virgin has been known for disruption and investing in innovative companies,” said Branson in a blog post. “From our airlines to our trains to our spaceline, we have long been passionate about innovation in transport too, especially the development of technology that could transform people’s lives. This is just the latest example.”

Branson went on to explain how he’d recently visited the DevLoop test site outside Las Vegas to get a first-hand look at the technology involved in Hyperloop. At the time, the pod was able to reach a top speed of 310 km/h (192 mph) with a peak acceleration of 1.48 Gs – the equivalent of going from 0 to 60 mph in 1.85 seconds.

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Autonomous Cars Will be on California Roads in 2018 — Without Human Drivers

Autonomous Cars Hit the Road

Autonomous cars are already on the road in California, as 42 companies including General Motors, Google/Waymo and Zoox are testing 285 self-driving cars in various cities. However, thus far, all of them have had humans inside them at all times. That’s about to change.

At the moment, requirements promulgated by the California Department of Motor Vehicles insist on the human driver for safety reasons. However, at some point that flesh and blood security blanket has to go in order to achieve truly reliable, proven autonomous technology. With this line of thinking in mind, the DMV released a proposal for updating the regulations for autonomous vehicles. The changes would allow companies to deploy autonomous vehicles without drivers on public roads, and they should be in place by June of 2018, if not sooner.

Image Credit: zombieite/Flickr
Image Credit: zombieite/Flickr

Meanwhile, Congress is slowly making progress around the issue of autonomous
vehicles. California has always served as a sort of laboratory for testing innovative laws, especially in the realm of tech. If California has driverless cars on the road before Congress acts in a definitive way, and these trials go well, it may well determine what comes next.

California’s new regulations also raise the price of testing permits from $150 a year to $3,600 for two years, and prohibit testing companies from charging riders fees for being passengers in testing vehicles. They also require testing companies to notify local authorities about any tests they undertake without drivers, including providing them with specific details about which roads and vehicles will be involved in the testing.

There is always the chance that the federal government will either refuse to follow California’s example or act before there’s an example to follow. If they set national rules for autonomous vehicles, state laws like the new California regulations will be preempted. However, if we’ve seen anything as we’ve navigated the quickly-changing autonomous driving landscape, it’s that predictions often fail — so we’ll just have to wait and see where the (driverless) road takes us.

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Mitsubishi’s New Vehicle Warning Signals Are Projected Onto the Road

Japanese car company Mitsubishi has announced its new Safe and Secure Lighting system, which utilizes a mixture of symbols projected on road surfaces and electronic car displays to signal vehicle warning signals, movement and actions.

For example: if a driver is backing up, the system projects a series of large illuminated arrows, signaling the backward movement to pedestrians and other vehicles. The system also can inform pedestrians and bicyclists when a vehicle occupant is opening a door, a welcome feature for the rising cycling community. The system is activated automatically, based on occupant actions, so drivers don’t have to worry about learning an entirely new way to signal.

Image credit: Mitsubishi
Image credit: Mitsubishi

The company’s press release states, “According to research, 60 percent of pedestrian fatalities on roads occur at night, so illuminated projections that are clearly visible to pedestrians in the dark are expected to help reduce such fatalities.”

This system could also be a precursor to a new set of signals for autonomous vehicles to help them integrate into modern roads, which will have a mixture of traditional and autonomous vehicles. Signaling what moves the cars intend to make could help reduce future accidents between self-driving cars and conventional drivers.

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A Camera That Sees Around Corners Could Help Improve Self-Driving Cars

Many of today’s self-driving cars use automated systems that work in tandem with a collection of sensors and cameras. For example, Tesla’s Autopilot relies on radar and other sensors as well as a suite of eight cameras. However, none of these cameras can tell the driverless car what’s around a corner — an ability that researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed with a new camera system they call CornerCameras.

In a study published online, these researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) described the algorithm behind CornerCameras. Where regular vision, whether it be biological or mechanical, relies on light, CornerCameras captures subtle changes in lighting. Specifically, they spot what the researchers called “penumbra” — a shadow created by a small amount of light that’s reflected on the ground directly at the camera’s line of sight from objects obscured around a corner.

CornerCameras is able to piece together the subtle changes from these shadows into some sort of image, which it uses to tell the location of the object. “Even though those objects aren’t actually visible to the camera, we can look at how their movements affect the penumbra to determine where they are and where they’re going,” lead author Katherine Bouman said in a press release.

It’s fairly obvious how such a system could improve the ability of autonomous vehicles to see on the road. “If a little kid darts into the street, a driver might not be able to react in time,” Bouman added. However, currently, CornerCameras needs to make some improvements. For one, the technology doesn’t work in extremely low light conditions and the algorithm gets confused by changes in lighting. “While we’re not there yet, a technology like this could one day be used to give drivers a few seconds of warning time and help in a lot of life-or-death situations.”

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NVIDIA Has Designed a Compact AI Computer to Drive Fully Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous Power

NVIDIA used to be known primarily for facilitating awesome graphics for equally outstanding video games. While the chipmaker is still in the graphics processing unit (GPU) business, they’ve since expanded their client base to include manufacturers of automated driving systems. Now, NVIDIA has announced that they’ve developed the first artificially intelligent (AI) computer capable of supporting fully autonomous vehicles.

Autonomous Car Forecasts: When Will They Actually Be on Our Roads?
Click to View Full Infographic

To be classified as Level 5 under the definition provided by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), a vehicle must rely solely on a suite of powerful sensors and cameras to collect and send real-time data to its built-in computer system, enabling the vehicle to navigate completely sans any input from a human driver.

This requires an enormous amount of computing power, but according to NVIDIA, their NVIDIA Drive PX Pegasus advanced AI computing platform can handle all of these processes and more. In fact, they claim it is capable of more than 320 trillion operations per second, a performance 10 times that of its predecessor, NVIDIA Drive PX 2.

Make Way for the Taxis

Pegasus is remarkable not only for the amount of power it can deliver, but also for its ability to make driverless vehicles more energy efficient. At just about the size of a license plate, it is much smaller than the AI computers currently used in self-driving cars and requires far less power. As the auto industry continues to shift toward electric vehicles, this decreased strain on battery life is most welcome.

Fully autonomous vehicles have the potential to save lives, but numerous obstacles must still be overcome before they reach our roads. The systems guiding these vehicles must be rigorously tested and retested until they are essentially fool-proof, and the proper infrastructure and regulations to support autonomous systems must also be established.

Once all of these pieces are in place, however, NVIDIA founder and CEO Jensen Huang expects fully autonomous vehicles to transform the transportation experience.

“Driverless cars will enable new ride- and car-sharing services. New types of cars will be invented, resembling offices, living rooms, or hotel rooms on wheels,” he said in a NVIDIA press release. “Travelers will simply order up the type of vehicle they want based on their destination and activities planned along the way.”

NVIDIA expects to make the Pegasus available to their partners by the second half of 2018, so while we might still have several hurdles to surmount on the road to Level 5 autonomy, by the end of next year, a computer capable of supporting such systems won’t be one of them.

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GM Expert Calls Elon Musk “Full of Crap” for Saying Teslas Can Achieve Level 5 Autonomy

Truly Autonomous?

General Motors (GM) recently made headlines by unveiling plans to beef up their electric vehicle (EV) lineup. Now, the veteran carmaker is again in the spotlight, this time for taking a swing at Tesla and Elon Musk.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

While speaking to Australian news outlets in Detroit last week, GM’s director of autonomous vehicle integration Scott Miller criticized Tesla’s CEO for claiming that his company’s vehicles are capable of Level 5 autonomy.

“The level of technology and knowing what it takes to do the mission, to say you can be a full Level 5 with just cameras and radars is not physically possible,” said Miller. He went on to add that Musk is “full of crap.”

Tesla-GM Clash

In 2014, the U.S.-based Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) released their J3016 document detailing the levels of automated driving technology. Level 5 represents completely driverless vehicle technology, but at present, most — if not all — self-driving cars fall under Level 3 (conditional autonomy). Miller doesn’t believe Tesla’s current Autopilot system has the hardware and software necessary to guarantee Level 5 autonomy.

“To be what an SAE Level 5 full autonomous system is, I don’t think he has the content to do that,” Miller told the Australian press. “I think you need the right sensors and right computing package to do it. Think about it. We have LIDAR, radar, and cameras on this… [To] be Level 5, you should have redundancy.”

As for his own company, GM was the first automaker to mass produce autonomous cars, and just yesterday, they acquired a LIDAR developer to push their self-driving car technology forward. According to Miller, GM expects to be able to produce Level 4 autonomous cars “within quarters” and plans to first introduce these vehicles in ride-sharing systems.

The debate between Tesla and GM on what a self-driving system must include in order to achieve Level 5 autonomy can only help the industry by pushing research and innovation. The more automakers we have competing to create next-level autonomous systems, the sooner the public gets to reap the benefits of safer roads and a little extra downtime during the morning commute.

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Elon Musk Shows Model 3 Production in Slow Motion

Elon Musk took to Instagram to show off a video of his Model 3 production line slowed down to 1/10th of its normal speed. A later tweet clarified that the production line itself was slowed down, the video was not edited to show the line in slow motion. Musk stated that that line is “slowed down right now to confirm build consistency and so that a person can stop the robots in time if something goes wrong.”

The Model 3 body line slowed down to 1/10th speed

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The video was likely produced in response to reports of Tesla’s inability to keep up with production goals for its newest model of electric vehicles. Musk announced a plan to launch 20,000 Model 3 units per month by December, adhering to a gradual buildup strategy. Most recently, the company was supposed to see production up to 1,500 vehicles by the end of September but was only able to deliver 260.

Musk, during the Q2 2017 earnings call with investors, urged them to not get caught up in the low numbers citing an “exponentially growing production ramp.”

Futurism predicted a rough road ahead for Telsa after the initial release of the Model 3.  Musk and all at the company have their work cut out for them as they continue to attempt to meet the high demand for the Model 3.

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According to Reports, Fully Driverless Cars Are Just a Few Months Away

Your Minivan Is on Its Way

Waymo, Google’s vehicle division that focuses on driverless cars, is preparing to launch a new ride-sharing service within the next few months, according to a report from Ars Technica via The Information.

Citing two sources familiar with the company’s plans, The Information states Waymo’s service will be “powered by self-driving vehicles with no human ‘safety’ drivers,” and may arrive as soon as this fall. The service is expected to launch in the suburban city of Chandler, Arizona (near Phoenix,) which certainly make the most sense, seeing as how the self-driving company has done extensive testing there this year.

There’s no clear indication that Waymo will actually hit this vague release window, and there are several factors that could impede the service’s progress or its expansion to other areas. For starters, their autonomous cars apparently have trouble making left turns, especially when no green arrow traffic signal is present. Cul-de-sacs and shopping mall parking lots have also confused the vehicles, the latter since they’re sometimes poorly represented on Waymo’s 3D maps.

A two-seater driverless car from Waymo.
Waymo’s self-driving two-seater vehicle. Image Credit: Waymo

Beyond that, the vehicles’ ability to call human operators for advice on confusing scenarios has resulted in them holding up traffic. This has reportedly happened in Phoenix, which is a little concerning — if they have performance issues in areas they’re familiar with, how are they expected to perform in areas where they haven’t been tested?

“When Waymo tested in Phoenix earlier this year, drivers sometimes had to take over the wheel to prevent the cars from holding up traffic because it took too long for humans in the command center to answer the cars’ requests for help,” writes The Information. Of course, since these issues occurred earlier in the year, they may have already addressed through further testing or Intel’s recent involvement. Waymo may also intend to hire and train more human operators.

Impending Launch of Driverless Cars

Despite the technical issues, Ars Technica notes these are problems a company only worries about when they’re on the verge of launching something in the near future, not something that’s years away. Furthermore, Waymo’s concerns can be taken as a sign of the company’s overall investment in self-driving technology, and its belief in their service’s potential to work and benefit society.

Waymo isn’t the only company testing their cars and service, as GM and Lyft have also been testing their own vehicles, but someone has to be the first to officially launch a commercial product. Even if it misses its reported release this fall and rolls out next year, Waymo would still be ahead of its competitors; Mercedes-Benz’s service isn’t coming until 2020, while the recent Ford and Lyft partnership won’t allow the use of autonomous cars until they’ve been fully tested.

If autonomous cars are going to impact the way we drive and save lives, they need to be available to more people. Waymo’s upcoming service could be the one that finally kicks off that change.

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Elon Musk Postpones Reveal of Tesla’s Electric Semi

A Slight Delay

Today Elon Musk tweeted that the Tesla electric semi would now be unveiled later than originally planned on November 16:

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Musk cited the need to divert resources to fix bottlenecks in Model 3 production as one of the reasons, telling followers that they are now “deep in production hell.” He also pointed out that the production ramp for the Model 3 is an exponential curve, and that each day makes a difference in terms of when non-employee reservation holders can expect to see their Model 3s: “Literally every day makes a big difference.”

Musk confirmed that late October is a possibility for these reservation holders, but not a certainty. Musk also mentioned that the semi reveal date is being pushed back so that the company can increase battery production for areas affected by natural disasters, including Puerto Rico. Musk and Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, began making plans for Tesla to help rebuild the island’s electrical infrastructure on Twitter on Friday.

Electric Semis

The world continues to eagerly await the electric semi. Experts have asserted that the truck will totally disrupt the auto industry, and that diesel companies who don’t respond to the coming changes in the industry — which have been deemed unstoppable — will be left behind. Long haul trucking is responsible for around 20 percent of the transportation industry’s greenhouse gas emissions.

With autonomous capabilities, vehicles like the electric semi will do more than help us clean up our emissions act. They will render the transportation industry far safer, ending the trend of long haul trucking being a dangerous profession. Whether the November date is the final word or not, the electric semi is coming soon, and when it does it will be saving lives.

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Boeing Just Took a Major Step Toward Autonomous Electric Flights

Aeronautics giant Boeing is acquiring Aurora Flight Sciences, a company focused on the development of autonomous electric aircraft. The move confirms Boeing’s commitment to bringing their first self-flying commercial passenger vehicle to reality.

Aurora won a significant amount of acclaim in 2016 when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded them a contract to help build the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) X-Plane. Uber also enlisted Aurora Flight Sciences’ help on their Uber Elevate flying taxi project.

The acquisition will bring together the expertise of a proven autonomous electric aircraft maker that has built and operated more than 30 pilot-free vehicles in their 20 years of existence and the financial muscle of Boeing, which has been invested in aeronautics for more than a century. This melding could very well lead to the first fully autonomous electric aircraft.

The development of flying vehicles is likely to continue trending upward, especially now that Boeing has been announced as the sponsorship of a $2 million contest to deliver the next generation of flying machines. Airbus, another aviation giant, is also working on VTOL taxis, which could be flying high as soon as next year, so we shouldn’t have long to wait before personal transportation gets a major lift skyward.

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National Transport Commission Says People in Autonomous Cars Should be Exempt From DUI Laws

Drink and Drive

Australia is generally considered to be a pretty relaxed place. You can go to work in Australia dressed in what other countries might consider to be rather casual attire. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, then, that the Australian National Transport Commission (NTC) has deemed it necessary for self-driving car owners to be exempt from the nation’s traditional driving-under-the-influence (DUI) laws for both alcohol and drugs.

In a new report called Changing driving laws to support automated vehicles, the NTC said that asking autonomous vehicle owners to be sober before getting in their vehicles is unnecessary and defeats the purpose of owning a self-driving car. “The situation is analogous to a person instructing a taxi driver where to go,” according to the NTC.

“One potential barrier to receiving the full benefits of automated vehicles would be to require occupants of automated vehicles, who are not driving, to comply with drink-driving laws,” the report added. “This would create a barrier to using a vehicle to safely drive home after drinking.”

This makes sense if you think about it. After all, driverless vehicles are exactly that — driverless. In theory, under Level 5 autonomy, a self-driving car doesn’t require intervention from a human operator. The NTC isn’t too lax about applying rules, however. “A risk of providing exemptions is that an occupant may subsequently choose to take over driving the vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” they said in the report. “If this occurred, they would become the driver of the vehicle and drink and drug driving [offenses] would apply.”

Saving Lives is the Point

More than just a wonderful display of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, autonomous vehicles are primarily designed to make roads safer. In the U.S. alone, some 30,000 to 40,000 people die from car accidents each year, and about 90 percent of these cases are due to human error. In Australia, car crashes claim around 1,300 every year, and most of these are also caused by human error.  By introducing driverless cars, we remove the greatest risk on the roads and experts think this can happen as early as 2020.

Some might worry that exempting driverless cars from DUI laws could cause problems and endanger more lives. The NTC, however, was clear about which cars and drivers would get the exemption. “Any exemptions should not apply to the fallback-ready user of a vehicle with conditional automation,” the report noted. “A fallback-ready user is required to be receptive to requests to intervene or system failures and must take over the dynamic driving task if the ADS cannot perform it.”

Now presently, most, if not all, of today’s self-driving cars are considered to be vehicles with conditional autonomy (Level 3). What the Australian NTC’s report suggests would only work when the technology is perfected and fully autonomous. The NTC made it clear that it’s exempting autonomous vehicles from DUI laws so as not to hinder the development of the technology.

“To hold the human responsible may restrict the introduction of automated vehicles into Australia and unnecessarily deny or delay the many potential benefits of the technology,” the NTC said. Currently, multiple states in Australia have allowed car makers to test self-driving vehicles on the roads.

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Airbus’ Electric Flying Taxis Are Set to Take to the Skies Next Year

Fast, Affordable, & Environmentally Friendly

Airbus is aiming to put its flying taxi, the CityAirbus, into operation next year, as confirmed by the company earlier this week. The announcement comes after a successful full-scale ground test of the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicle’s propulsion system.

CityAirbus is entirely battery-powered (with electric 100 KW Siemens motors), uses a four propeller design to navigate through crowded cities and other dense environments, and can comfortably carry up to four people “in a fast, affordable, and environmentally friendly way.”

A complete breakdown of the CityAirbus. Image Credit: Airbus
A complete breakdown of the CityAirbus. Image Credit: Airbus

“We now have a better understanding of the performance of CityAirbus’ innovative electric propulsion system, which we will continue to mature through rigorous testing while beginning the assembly of the full-scale CityAirbus flight demonstrator,” says CityAirbus chief engineer Marius Bebesel.

Hailing a (Flying) Taxi

The flying taxi’s first test is scheduled for the end of 2018, and it will be piloted remotely before a human pilot is assigned. When it is commercially available for use, it will travel along fixed routes at a top speed of 120 km/h (74.5 mph). While Airbus would like to make it fully autonomous, they’re starting with pilots to “to ease certification and public acceptance.”

Expect to see more flying taxis and services within the next few years as the technology is further developed and tested. German startup E-volo, for example, also has plans to launch a taxi service next year, while Uber has promised to introduce their own flying taxis by 2020. Dubai recently had a successful test of its autonomous Volocopter, which is also meant to be used in urban areas — albeit for shorter, 30-minute trips. Lastly, there’s the German company Lilium, which just received an additional $90 million to develop their all-electric flying taxi, with the intent to have a series of commercialized aircraft by 2025.

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A Unanimous Vote Just Approved Legislation to Allow Self-Driving Cars in the U.S.

Legislation Aids Innovation

Today, inside the halls of the U.S. Senate, a committee unanimously approved legislation which secures a future for self-driving cars in the country — or at least lets carmakers test their autonomous driving systems with little to no hindrance from state governments. Dubbed the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act, the bi-partisan bill has moved forward with today’s vote.

Originally, as it was drafted by Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and U.S. senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the bill contained a provision that allows car makers to field test 100,000 vehicles per year that are exempt from current safety standards. The number of vehicles comes from a similar bill that’s already been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. The provision that the Senate committee approved today, which was introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), reduces the number to 80,000.

Still, it’s a workable number that would give autonomous vehicle manufacturers a huge leeway to test and gather data for the advancement of self-driving vehicle technology. “The most important part of this legislation is it allows for innovation,”  Sen. Peters said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “This is cutting-edge technology that is advancing extremely fast. It’s going to happen a lot sooner than people realize. This is not decades — it’s a matter of a few years.”

A Driverless Future

The positive reception of this self-driving car bill, both in the House and in the Senate, shows how U.S. lawmakers are open to boundary-pushing, life-saving technology. Data suggests that 90 percent of car crashes in the U.S., which takes roughly 40,000 lives every year, are due to human error. In addition to preventing crashes, some experts even predict that self-driving cars could eliminate traffic congestion by 2030.

Proponents of the bill in the Senate, however, said that concessions are necessary. The approved version has reduced the original bill’s provision for exempted cars in the first year of enactment from 50,000 to 15,000, and in the second year from 75,000 to 40,000, increasing to an annual 80,000 cap in the third year with no limit in the fourth.

To clarify, the bill allows for exemptions only in so far as manufacturers can show that self-driving vehicles are as safe as those already on the roads. But, while promising, Thune and others think that the bill has left out truck drivers who are part of another important industry that’s ripe for self-driving technologies.

“I do understand their anxieties,” Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.) told the Detroit Free Press, speaking about those hesitant to include autonomous trucks in the bill, “but we ought to be including large trucks. Large trucks are particularly likely to be involved in these fatal crashes… I really think we’re missing the boat here.”

At present, several U.S. states already allow car makers to test self-driving vehicles on their roads. Uber’s been testing driverless cars on Californian roads, despite previous hesitations and back in June, Washington state governor Jay Inslee allowed autonomous cars to run without drivers. Detroit has also embraced self-driving cars since July of this year.

The U.S. Senate is expected to put the bill to vote soon.

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This Image May Be Our Very First Glimpse of Tesla’s New Semi

Thanks to some internet sleuths over at Reddit, we may have our first real-world glimpse of Tesla’s upcoming electric semi truck. With only a little more than three weeks until the October 26th unveiling date announced by CEO Elon Musk via Twitter last month, this is a promising development.

Photo: Reddit
Photo: Reddit

The photo shows a truck which looks similar to the mysterious photo released at Musk’s TED conference appearance in April. The truck in the most recent photo resembles the design of the original photo’s silhouette. Tesla was asked to comment but would only state, “Tesla’s policy is to always decline to comment on speculation.”

The semi truck’s range was allegedly leaked back in August by a Syder System Inc. executive who claimed a proposed range of 321-483 kilometers (200-300 miles) on a single charge. It will also be an important first move toward automating the shipping industry, which can help to increase efficiency and prevent accidents caused by overworked drivers or other human factors.

Tesla has swept through the electric vehicle industry, completely revolutionizing how we can get around. If Tesla’s more commercial offering takes off similarly to its personal transport models, we can expect a rapid transformation of how goods are transported that could even boost the adoption of electric vehicles across the spectrum as infrastructure is put in place to support the boom.

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Ford Takes Aim at Tesla With “Team Edison”

Team Edison

Electric vehicles are becoming more and more popular, and auto manufacturers are taking notice. Now, Ford has set up a group known as “Team Edison” to spearhead its efforts to carve out a place for the company in the growing EV market.

“The idea is to think big, move fast, and make quicker decisions,” said Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification, in an interview with Reuters. He stated that the team “will look holistically at the electric vehicle market.”

The fact that the group has been dubbed Team Edison is a clear shot at Tesla, their main EV competition: Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were famously embroiled in a heated rivalry stemming from the War of Currents.

Tesla has been ahead of the curve when it comes to fielding electric autos, but Ford seems to be confident that its international prominence will help it compete. Team Edison will be based in Detroit, Michigan, but is set to collaborate with EV teams situated in Europe and China.

Adapt or Die

The popularity of electric cars has been trending upward, which means established auto manufacturers will need to adopt new technologies if they want to stay relevant. A host of countries have pledged to ban the sale of gas- and diesel-powered passenger vehicles in the not-too-distant future, so it’s high time that these companies prepare for what’s coming next.

Volkswagen has plans to offer electric versions of all of its models by 2030. General Motors expects to launch twenty all-electric cars by 2023. Mercedes’ parent company recently announced its plans to make a major investment in EV production. When their initial investment of $1 billion was challenged by Elon Musk, the company said they would, in fact, commit to investing $10 billion.

One thing is for sure: the automotive industry is changing. Ford is wise to establish Team Edison now to ensure the company doesn’t get left in the dust.

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A New Hyperloop One Route Has Been Proposed for Missouri

Less than a month after Hyperloop One announced the ten viable routes for its transportation system, several groups have come together to form a new partnership focused on exploring the possibility of building a Hyperloop route linking Kansas City, Columbia, and St. Louis.

The collaboration, officially called the Missouri Hyperloop Coalition, brings together the Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT), the St. Louis Regional Chamber, the KC Tech Council, the University of Missouri System, and the Missouri Innovation Center in Columbia. The coalition believes a Missouri Hyperloop route would benefit over 5 million residents, enabling them to reach a number of universities, businesses, and research hubs in less than 25 minutes.

The state of Missouri proposed the route to Hyperloop One two years ago, but to truly prove the route’s potential success, the coalition is currently trying to secure between $1 – 1.5 million to fund a proper study.

Missouri isn’t the only state that wants to introduce a new route. Shortly after Hyperloop One announced the aforementioned route winners, the company and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) revealed a new partnership to study the possibilities and benefits of a route joining Cheyenne to Pueblo.

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The World’s First Fully Unmanned Train Is Officially in Operation

Ahead of China’s own autonomous train reveal, mining corporation Rio Tinto have given the world its first fully-autonomous train, and it’s currently in operation in Western Australia.

Mining corporation Rio Tinto, which also developed the train, announced earlier this week the train had successfully completed its first unmanned mission, traveling nearly 100 kilometers (62 miles) without a person on board.

“Rio Tinto is proud to be a leader in innovation and autonomous technology in the global mining industry which is delivering long-term competitive advantages as we build the mines of the future,” said Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive Chris Salisbury, in a statement. “New roles are being created to manage our future operations and we are preparing our current workforce for new ways of working to ensure they remain part of our industry.”

The mission, located at Rio Tinto’s iron ore operations in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, is the first big step in the company’s plans to have a fully autonomous train network. It’s used autonomous trains since early 2017, with about 50 percent of its train operations being completed autonomously, but with drivers present at all times.

Rio Tinto hopes to have a fully autonomous train network by late 2018, but will have to meet Australia’s safety and acceptance criteria first, as well as acquire the necessary regulatory approvals.

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Mexico Wants to Build a Hyperloop That Cuts a Six-Hour Trip Down to 45 Minutes

Back in September, a team working on developing a hyperloop for Mexico following a Mexico City-Guadalajara route was declared one of the 10 winners of the Hyperloop One Global Challenge. Their proposal has since been dubbed the Mexloop, and it is now a collaboration between Mexican studio FR-EE and engineering firms Arup and Sener.

This Infographic Highlights All You Need to Know about the Hyperloop
Click to View Full Infographic

The Mexloop will cut the six-hour trip from Mexico City to Guadalajara down to just 45 minutes, with stations built near airports and rail freight hubs, as well as metro and commuter rail stations. The Mexloop will pass through Querétaro and León to maximize existing transport infrastructure.

“A Hyperloop portal connected to the city’s light rail and transit line could shift more travelers to environmentally friendlier options and strengthen the city’s transit-oriented development strategy,” Hyperloop One research analyst Darryle Ulama wrote in a blog post. “Linking Mexico’s two powerhouse urban economies would also result in transformative social and economic impact for the entire central region.”

If everything goes according to plan, the Mexloop team and Hyperloop One hopes their system will have serviced 68 million people by 2020.

Hyperloop One recently received $85 million in funding to bring their plans, including the Mexloop, to fruition. However, they’re just one of several startups currently working on developing these futuristic pods that were first brought to the world’s attention by SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk in 2012.

Musk himself is now working on a hyperloop system that would be paired with his tunnel-digging venture, the Boring Company. Meanwhile, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) is in talks to bring the futuristic transport system to India.

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Is Elon Musk’s Fast Earth Travel via Rocket Possible?

Commercial Rocket Travel

Towards the end of his talk at the recently concluded International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2017) held in Adelaide, Australia last week, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk mentioned an “unexpected” application of their new rocket technology. “If we’re building this thing to go to the Moon and Mars, then why not go to other places on Earth as well?” Musk asked on Friday.

Instead of just ferrying humans to Mars, the new BFR could cut travel time between the world’s major cities to just 30 minutes, more or less. In an Instagram post featuring the teaser video, Musk said that the idea is to “Fly to most places on Earth in under 30 mins and anywhere in under 60 [mins].”

While that certainly is appealing — and it does look nice on video — it raises a number of questions. Let’s consider some of them.

Feasibility and Affordability

One of the reasons SpaceX designed a new BFR was to cut down on costs, and potentially change the company’s revenue scheme. Sending people to Mars would already be rather expensive — won’t sending people from New York to Shanghai via rocket be equally so?

We know that the flight won’t cost the same as getting to Mars, which is $10,000 according to Musk. He estimates the ticket cost of one such rocket flight to be “about the same as full fare economy in an aircraft.” A quick Google search would show that the cheapest economy airline travel from New York to Shanghai costs about $435. Going by what Musk revealed about the BFR, it supposedly has a cabin capacity similar to that of an Airbus A380, which can carry more than 850 people. Doing the math, SpaceX could earn somewhere around $370,000 per rocket flight.

Sounds good enough, right? That’s until you consider how much it costs to launch a rocket. Currently, SpaceX says that one Falcon 9 launch cots about $62 million. Assuming that a commercial Earth-travel BFR would cost about the same, earning less than $400,000 per flight doesn’t seem like a sound business choice.

Image credit: SpaceX, screenshot
Image credit: SpaceX, screenshot

That’s assuming SpaceX can get this whole set-up to work, in the first place. “You can’t fly humans on that same kind of orbit,” Brian Weeden, program planning director at Secure World Foundation, told The Verge. “For one, the acceleration and the G-forces for both the launch and the reentry would kill people. I don’t have it right in front of me, but it’s a lot more than the G-forces on an astronaut we see today going up into space and coming back down, and that’s not inconsiderable.” Humans aren’t immune to the stresses of spaceflight, radiation exposure included, even at short lengths.

Then there’s the question of logistics. Musk isn’t the first to propose commercial space transportation. The U.S. Department of Transportation published a report in 2010, as a result of considering a supersonic Concorde airliner. The report explains the financial, technological, and regulatory risks of this mode of transport. We’re in 2017 now, though, and technology has seen significant advances. Regardless, the same passenger safety concerns hold.

We’re not shooting the rocket down before it even takes flight. Musk has yet to give a timetable for when this would be available, but it’s probably around the same time SpaceX plans to land on Mars — some time between 2022 and 2024. Maybe by then SpaceX will have developed the technology and the strategy to zoom past these hurdles.

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Boeing is Sponsoring a $2 Million Competition to Bring Us Real Jet Packs

Real-Life Rocketeers

A Boeing sponsored contest is looking to reward the developers of a functional jet-pack with $2 million. The new contest was announced at the SAE 2017 AeroTech Congress and Exhibition in Fort Worth, Texas. It was conceived by entrepreneur Gwen Lighter, chief executive of the company GoFly, who told The Verge, “There is no dream that is more universally shared than that of soaring through the skies. It unites us all.”

The contest will be held in three phases, with the first phase awarding ten semi-finalists $20,000 prizes each based on their written technical specifications. The second phase will then give four finalists $50,000 prizes based on revised specs and their prototype. Finally, a single grand prize-winning team will take home a $1 million prize based on the results of a Final Fly-Off competition, which will be judged by experts from Boeing and other aerospace organizations. According to the Washington Post, the winning jet pack must light enough to be lifted by hand or on a hand truck, carry a 200-pound person (or dummy) for at least 20 miles without refueling, be easy-to use, and be safe, with no pilot withstanding forces more than 5 g.

Next Generation

The competition hopes to attract a younger crowd, and to pull minds toward the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) field as opposed to other areas in the tech sector. Mike Hirschberg, executive director of the American Helicopter Society, told The Verge, “Really it’s about inspiring the next generation of aerospace engineers, scientists, and technicians so they don’t all go to Google.”

Along with flying cars, personal jetpacks have moved from the realm of science fiction to reality with the rapid development of new technology: improved batteries, lightweight drones, and easier production methods like 3D printing. Just this past March, the first civilian pilots took flight in a jetpack developed by Jetpack Aviation.

Lighter said, “At the end of our two-year competition, we hope we have new technology and frankly a whole new industry, where we have a mini Ford and a mini GM and a mini Chrysler at the start of the automotive industry, except now we have those mini companies at the start of a personal flying device industry.”

The future of transportation is teeming with ideas, reliant on the execution of some (formerly) sci-fi level technologies. We may be closer to living The Jetsons than ever before.

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Ford and Lyft Announce Partnership to Bring Self-Driving Cars to the Masses

Ford Gets a Lyft

This week, Ford and Lyft announced a new partnership in which both companies will work together to bring self-driving cars to the ride-hailing service and its users.

In order to achieve this goal, teams from both companies will begin working together to develop software that will allow Ford’s vehicles to operate with the Lyft mobile app.

Ford’s self-driving vehicles, as well as its traditional vehicles, will be added to Lyft’s network, but users won’t be able to use the former just yet. Over at Medium, Sherif Marakby, Ford’s Vice President of Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification, explained that autonomous vehicles won’t be available “until we are certain our technology delivers a positive, reassuring experience where we can gain meaningful feedback.”

Marakby did not provide a timeframe for when the self-driving cars would be accessible, but the end goal is for autonomous cars and human drivers to operate side-by-side.

Ford isn’t the only automaker Lyft is working with, as the company has also partnered with GM to build a separate fleet of self-driving vehicles; which is also different from Lyft’s own self-driving initiative that’s already arrived in San Francisco.

“We strongly believe that leaders across industries should work collaboratively to introduce self-driving technology in a way that positively impacts our cities,” said Lyft in a blog post. “Our two companies share a core belief that the future of transportation will meaningfully reshape how cities are designed, and improve the lives of people who live there.”

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Senate Approves Legislation to Get Self-Driving Cars On U.S. Roads

Paving the Way

United States roadways are one step closer to being traversed by driverless cars: on September 30, the Senate announced that it had reached an agreement to lift some of the regulations on manufacturers that made it harder to get self-driving cars on the road.

“While this Senate self-driving vehicle legislation still has room for further changes, it is a product of bipartisan cooperation we both stand behind,” said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who introduced the legislation, in a joint statement.

The original bill that Peters and Thune took to the Senate, known as the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act, was broad-reaching. In addition to removing barriers to manufacture, the bill proposed enhanced safety oversight of manufacturers, as well as guidance for state and local research on traffic safety and law enforcement challenges. It proposed to strengthen cyber-security policies to protect the information and safety of drivers. The bill also included measures on automated trucking, consumer education, and protections for drivers with disabilities.

Autonomous Car Forecasts: When Will They Actually Be on Our Roads?
Click to View Full Infographic

On October 5, the Senate will announce which provisions were retained in the approved legislation.

The bill is expected to utilize some provisions from a similar bill that was passed in the House of Representatives earlier in September. That bill allowed manufacturers to produce an initial load of 25,000 cars in the first year. After three years, if they can prove that AI vehicles are at least as safe as human-directed cars, that will increase to 100,000 annually.

Jobs and More

American policymakers and manufacturers alike have been hurrying to get aboard the self-driving train—so to speak. Around the country and the world, self-driving cars are rapidly multiplying. The UK will be testing “platoons” of driverless semi trucks by the end of next year. Uber already uses them to pick up passengers in Pittsburgh and Arizona, Lyft is introducing them in San Francisco, and the city of Sacramento is seeking to make their city a driverless car testing ground. Tesla CEO Elon Musk even believes that most cars in production will be autonomous within ten years.

Yet the legal framework still isn’t in place for this transportation revolution.

“Self-driving vehicles will completely revolutionize the way we get around in the future, and it is vital that public policy keep pace with these rapidly developing lifesaving technologies that will be on our roads in a matter of years,” said Senator Peters, in his statement on the original bill. He emphasized that the industry has the potential to create thousands of new jobs.

Given that approximately 93% of all accidents have been attributed to human error, the senators and others have emphasized that self-driving cars aren’t just a job creator or a cool way to get around—they could save millions of lives.

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The Workhorse W-15 Runs on Panasonic OEM Lithium Ion Battery Cells

Workhorse W-15 is the first electric pickup truck, that will beat the Tesla EV pickup to market by several years, the has an all-electric range of 80 miles and there is also a gasoline engine that works as a generator for longer trips.

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100,000 “Smart” License Plates May Be Hitting U.S. Roads Next Year

License Plates are Evolving

For the last few years, our cars have been undergoing a transformation. Tesla has pioneered autopilot and fully-electronic technology. Automobiles that can fly have become publicly available and ready for worldwide testing.

However, one element of the world’s favorite form of transportation has remained relatively unchanged for the past century: the license plate. Since 1903, this thin metal tag for identifying cars and their registered owners has represented a time capsule of Roosevelt-era technology and regulatory structure.

Until now.

Enter the Reviver license plate (rPlate), which has the appearance of a Kindle tablet turned horizontally. It is capable of wireless connectivity, allowing it to displaying instantly updated registration information as well as individualized plate styles, Amber alerts, and more. About 100,000 of these plates are scheduled to hit roads in select states next year.

Transportation Technology

The ability to instantly update registration status means that constantly updating stickers could be a thing of the past. It could also allow states to set up month-by-month payment options. The digital plate could also be programmed to connect with smart parking apps and services and display parking status, potentially making parking meters a thing of the past.

A big draw of the plate may be its part in protecting against theft, as it is designed not to work if it’s separated from its car. The option to personalize license plates will also be tantalizing to some car owners, as it will allow drivers to update their plate to support various causes, or simply show their styles in different ways.

However, the rPlate could have a significant downside. The company is only releasing the plates in states with warmer climates at this point, which may mean that they have issues operating in cooler temperatures. Hopefully, these plates will continue to evolve to be able to withstand harsher temperatures, allowing everyone to take advantage of the technology.

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Elon Musk Plans to Make City-to-City Rocket Travel A Reality

Earlier this week, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk teased “unexpected applications” for the company’s interplanetary transportation technology, set to be detailed during his presentation at the International Astronautical Congress. We now know what he was referring to — ultra-fast long-distance travel right here on Earth.

SpaceX’s BFR will be capable of taking astronauts to the Moon and Mars, but it’s also set to dramatically reduce the time it takes to travel between major cities. Musk claims that it could be used to travel anywhere on Earth in less than an hour.

Travelling between New York City and Shanghai will apparently take just 39 minutes. Passengers could head to Dubai from London in just 29 minutes or make it from Los Angeles to Toronto in 24 minutes.

Despite the BFR’s incredible speed — the craft would reach 18,000 miles per hour at its peak — the ride would be pretty comfortable, according to Musk. In a tweet posted shortly after his presentation, he explained that the ascent would feel like a “mild to moderate amusement park ride,” and the journey itself would be smooth, peaceful, and silent right up until landing.

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Russian Defense Company Unveils One-Person Flying Car

Lift Off

The concept of flying cars or hover cars has been around for decades, and in recent months we’ve seen such designs and test vehicles from Toyota, DeLorean Aerospace, PAL-V, and even Google co-founder Larry Page. Yet another design making headlines recently is from Russian defense company called Kalashnikov.

Kalashnikov, part of the larger Russian company Rostec, debuted their vehicle earlier this week to show off its design and capabilities. As reported by Popular Mechanics, its body consists of a simple metal frame with a set of eight rotors used to lift it off the ground. A pair of joysticks are used to control the craft, while a set batteries found beneath the rider’s seat provide the necessary power. In the future, a shell may be built around the frame that keeps the rotors out of harm’s way, but still exposed enough to operate properly.

Using electricity makes it lighter than a craft that relies on gasoline or a diesel engine, but as noted by DefenseNews, the batteries probably only enable it to fly for about 30 minutes before it needs to land. This time limit may place unwanted restrictions on how much it can carry, or what tasks it could perform.

One potential use would be scouting for the military. It could also be used to make deliveries. As of now, its purpose is mostly speculative, as Kalashnikov has yet to specify an end goal. For now, we’ll have to wait and see where the flying car’s development takes it.

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Aston Martin is Designing a Three-Person Luxury Submarine

Luxury Sub

The name Aston Martin is often associated with luxury cars, but if the company gets its way, it will also be a company that designs luxury submarines.

This week, the company announced a new design for a luxury submersible vehicle it’s currently calling Project Neptune. Designed in collaboration with submarine maker Triton Submarines, Project Neptune is meant to combine the best of Triton’s diving and submarine operation experience with Aston Martin’s luxury design and craftsmanship.

To ensure it truly captures the identities of both companies, the luxury sub will be based on one of Triton’s existing three-person submarine platforms, which Aston Martin will use as a starting point to explore new designs and features. A concept image of Project Neptune depicts a sleek design, with a bubble-like cockpit at its center that provides a nearly 360 degree view.

Concept image of Project Neptune. Image Credit: Aston Martin
Concept image of Project Neptune. Image Credit: Aston Martin

“We have used forms and proportions that express the same devotion to design, engineering and beauty that shape our cars, such as the Aston Martin Valkyrie hypercar project,” said Aston Martin executive vice president Marek Reichman.

The submarine isn’t being built just yet, though, so it will probably be some time before we it’s “periscope up” Project Neptune. When it does get made, however, it will be “an exclusive, strictly-limited edition vehicle.” In other words, it won’t be cheap — so you’ll want to start saving up now.

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Elon Musk Jokingly Takes Credit for Daimler’s $10 Billion EV Investment

Elon Musk stirred up some friendly competition via Twitter when he responded to a USA Today article discussing Daimler’s bet on electric vehicle (EV) technology. Musk said that the “$1 billion bet” the company was putting into taking on Tesla was not enough for “a giant” like Daimler and that it was “off by a zero.”

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Daimler didn’t take issue with Musk’s criticism. In fact, they pointed out that the headline of the piece was missing the point, and that they’re investing that extra zero, more than $10 billion, into the next generation EV, plus another billion into batteries:

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When a Twitter user pointed out that Musk wasn’t really the force behind Daimler’s $10 billion investment, and that the investment preceded the criticism, Musk responded by joking that he actually had caused the investment:

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This could technically be just a joke, or, as TechCrunch points out, a reference to Tesla’s pioneering work with EVs — the reader can interpret it to their liking.

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California is Considering a Ban on the Sale of Non-Electric Cars

The Road Ahead

Officials in California are considering whether a ban on the sale of gas- and diesel-powered cars could help the state meet its climate goals. However, this policy is at least a decade away from being enforced,  if it does come to pass.

All Electric Cars: What’s My Range? [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

“There are people who believe, including [some of those] who work for me, that you could stop all sales of new internal-combustion cars by 2030,” said Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board, in an interview with Bloomberg. “Some people say 2035, some people say 2040…it’s awfully hard to predict any of that with precision, but it doesn’t appear to be out of the question.”

Around the World

California would follow in the footsteps of several different countries around the world by putting a ban on the sale of vehicles powered by fossil fuels. China is taking such measures into consideration, the UK recently announced plans to introduce legislation in 2040, and France is aiming to put new regulations in place on a similar timescale.

However, California’s decision to ban the sale of new gas- and diesel-powered cars would arguably be just as effective on the auto industry as many of the countries contemplating similar action, because of the its already-existent market size. More than 2 million passenger vehicles were registered in the state over the course of 2016 — more than were registered across all of France in the same timespan.

Moving away from fossil fuel vehicles will certainly be a great boon for the environment. The question is lies in how the auto industry is going to make electric cars cheap enough to spur adoption before these proposed bans are put in place.

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By 2023, Tesla Could Have Millions of Cars on the Road

Hit the Road, Tesla

More and more Tesla vehicles are predicted to hit the road in the coming years — and that may give the company a serious edge in the competition to develop better, smarter self-driving cars.

More than 200,000 Teslas are on the road right now, each providing the company with data it can use to improve its machine-learning technology. However, now that the Model 3 is in production, the number of Teslas on the road could explode. Business Insider reports that Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas told clients, in a note on September 26, that he believes that the company will hit as many as three million Teslas on the road by 2023. We’ll already have 300,000 Teslas on the road by the end of 2017, and a predicted 531,000 by the end of 2018.

“With the launch of the Model 3, we forecast the Tesla car population to multiply three times by the end of 2019,” Jonas said in the note, according to Bloomberg. “It has been generations since the investment community witnessed such a high growth rate in the population of a single auto firm,” Jonas continued, and added that by 2040, there could be 32 million Tesla vehicles in use.

Image Credit: Tesla
Image Credit: Tesla

Tesla’s machine learning technology advances its algorithms based on experience. This provides massive amounts of data with many, varied examples, allowing the algorithms to improve. This kind of data is critical to improving self-driving technology. With more Teslas on the road, the data will be rolling in, and the system will improve much faster, offering the company a tremendous competitive advantage.

Jonas emphasized that as the population of Tesla cars grows, so does the accumulation of their combined miles traveled, helping to train the Tesla machine learning network faster than competitors. “We estimate that Tesla’s cars travel a bit more than 7 million miles per day, a figure we forecast to reach 100 million miles by the 2023 or 2024 time frame, a level on par with what we estimate Uber’s fleet is executing on a daily basis today,” he said in the note. “In our view, firms that can capture sufficient quantity and quality of miles data will be in a strong position to develop competitive autonomous transport networks.”

Business Insider reports that Elon Musk is expected to produce more details about the “Tesla Network” and the planned car sharing program sometime this year.

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Dubai Says They Successfully Tested the First Autonomous Flying Taxi

Dubai is looking to stand out as a high-tech hub in its region. A test flight of what is said to be the world’s first drone taxi service was conducted in the United Arab Emirates city on Monday. An unmanned craft, developed by German drone maker Volocopter, was successfully tested in a ceremony put on for Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed.

Image credit: Volocopter
Image credit: Volocopter

The Volocopter vehicle is a two-seat, eighteen-rotor vehicle, which takes off and lands vertically. The vehicle is meant to fly autonomously for up to 30 minutes, making it ideal for short-distance urban travel. The goal of the project is to grow into an Uber-like platform where users can pull out their phones and order a ride at the nearest “voloport.” The vehicle is equipped with a number of fail-safes in the event of something going wrong. Items like extra batteries, rotors, and parachutes ensure passenger safety.

In a press release from the government of Dubai’s media office, HH Sheikh Hamdan said, “This is another testament to our commitment to driving positive change. We are constantly exploring opportunities to serve the community and advance the prosperity and happiness of society.”

Flying vehicles have recently made a resurgence as a viable means of transportation in the future. Some truly big names like Larry Page’s (of Google fame) Kitty Hawk, and Uber’s own flying taxi plans are in the running to develop the first flying car options.

 

Disclaimer: The Dubai Future Foundation works in collaboration with Futurism and is one of our sponsors.

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China is Getting the Largest Tesla Supercharger Station in the World

The great push to upgrade to more electric vehicle (EV) friendly infrastructure is underway. A set of photographs obtained by Electrek show an enormous Tesla Supercharger station being built underground at the Lilacs International Commercial Centre in the Pudong district of Shanghai. The station will house 50 Superchargers, making it the largest known Supercharger station in the world.

Tesla has previously announced a goal of installing 10,000 Superchargers around the world, with 1,000 planned for China alone. Additionally, the company recently announced plans to introduce smaller Superchargers to cities to help expand the ease of owning a Tesla.

Image Credit: Max Pixel

The expansion of Supercharger accessibility is one of the key factors in allowing Tesla’s influence to spread across the car buying world. As using and recharging electric vehicles becomes easier, it will also become easier for consumers to buy into the technology. Tesla is working to expand accessibility by making their cars (relatively) more affordable, like with their Model 3 offering.

More accessibility will help to expand EV adoption. And while Tesla vehicles are not currently capable of truly driverless operation, improving autonomous capabilities is one of the company’s major goals. The combination of the added safety of autonomous driving and environmental consciousness will help to usher in a new era in personal transportation.

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Hyperloop One Now Has $245 Million to Make the Transportation System a Reality

Hyperloop One announced the conclusion of a new round of funding on September 21, revealing an additional $85 million was received from investors, including DP World, Caspian VC Partners, WTI, and OurCrowd.com. This new investment puts the company at $245 million raised since it was launched in 2014.

As reported by Recode, this also brings Hyperloop One’s total valuation to $700 million.

“We initially targeted $50 million and ended up raising $85 million instead,” said Hyperloop One co-founder Shervin Pishevar in a statement. “We’ve proven that our technology works and that Hyperloop One is the only company in the world that has built an operational Hyperloop system. As we move towards the commercialization of our technology, we’ll continue to work with governments and embrace public-private partnerships to re-imagine transportation as we know it.”

The announcement came nearly a week after Hyperloop One’s Global Challenge ended and the company revealed the 10 potential routes for its transportation system, including Chicago-Columbus-Pittsburgh (U.S.), Miami-Orlando (U.S.), Toronto-Montreal (Canada), and Edinburgh-London (UK).

Hyperloop One isn’t the only company making progress on the hyperloop concept. In August, Tesla CEO Elon Musk stated his Boring Company received permission to extend its test tunnel, and has also been approved to begin building a hyperloop tunnel from New York to Washington D.C. The latter, however, was later revealed to only have been a verbal approval, and that it would need more time before becoming official.

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Soon, Uber Won’t Be Allowed to Operate in a Major Urban Metropolis

License Revoked

Starting September 30, Uber will be an unlicensed ride-hailing service in the city of London, as Transport for London (TfL), the city’s transportation authority, has deemed the company and its service don’t meet the standards for licensing.

In a press release, TfL said the company is “not fit and proper,” citing several problems that have been handled poorly by Uber that show “a lack of corporate responsibility.” Specifically, TfL points to the way that Uber handles background checks, reports of criminal offences, medical certificates, and its use of Greyball — tracking software that has sometimes been used to prevent officials from undertaking regulatory or law enforcement duties.

Uber has 21 days to appeal the decision. Uber London general manager Tom Elvidge made it clear to the BBC that they intend to fight back, saying the decision affects thousands of Uber drivers in the city, as well as the 3.5 million people who rely on the service to get around.

History Repeats Itself

“By wanting to ban our app from the capital, Transport for London and the mayor have caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice,” Elvidge told the BBC. “If this decision stands, it will put more than 40,000 licensed drivers out of work and deprive Londoners of a convenient and affordable form of transport.”

The Future of Transport: 24 Astounding Facts About Uber
Click to View Full Infographic

This isn’t the first time Uber has been banned from a major city or left on their own. In 2016, both Uber and Lyft left the Austin, Texas, following differences in opinions related to driver fingerprint background checks, though they both came back to the area earlier this year. Italy, meanwhile, banned the service in April, calling it “unfair competition for taxis in Italy.”

MIT’s The Download states the loss of business in London would be a huge blow to the ride-hailing company, though it’ll still be able to operate while the appeal process plays out. It could be a long, drawn-out process, but hopefully Uber and Transport for London can come to an agreement, with the former finally deciding to change its ways for the better.

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Transportation Systems That Were Too Far Ahead of Their Time

If there is one thing that Elon Musk’s Hyperloop has shown, it’s humanity’s relentless desire to make transport faster, cheaper and simpler for all. Revolutionizing transit is far from simple, however. From the rise of the automobile to supersonic jets that are trying to cut transatlantic flight times in half, countless modes of transport have fought for domination, leaving systems that were ahead of their time in the dust. It’s these ambitious and expensive projects whose inventors dared to dream that inspired modern transit systems of today.

1776 — David Bushnell’s Turtle

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

During the Revolutionary War, David Bushnell — an American inventor — built the world’s first underwater vessel, meant for use in active combat. Dubbed the “American Turtle,” it was meant to be able to deliver underwater mines with a passenger on board. The nut-shaped oak structure was able to rise and submerge, and move forward and backward. An interior chamber could be filled with water to control buoyancy, and a vertical propeller on the roof helped it ascend in the water. All attempts of using the Turtle in active combat against the British Royal Navy failed, however, and the designs were only revealed to the public later by Thomas Jefferson in a lecture in 1787.

1870 — Beach’s Pneumatic Underground Railway

Image Credit: nycsubway.org

Predating the New York City subway, the Beach Pneumatic Transit was a 95 meter (312 feet) long subway line that opened in 1870. Rather than propelling cars through tunnels using conventional engines, Beach’s concept was based on the idea of a pneumatic system that used air to push the cars along the tunnel. A lot of questions remain about the feasibility of such a system on a larger scale, and no further tunnels beyond the initial demonstration were ever built.

1895-1909 — The Hotchkiss Bicycle Railroad

Image Credit: Sunday Post

The peculiar bicycle commuter rail called the “Bicycle Railroad” was invented by Arthur Hotchkiss in the late 19th century. After finding an investor in 1892, the first 1 meter (4 feet) high, 3.2 kilometer (2 mile) metal track was built to connect Smithville to Mt. Holly in New Jersey. With one large wheel in the front and a small one behind, up to two passengers could glide on carts along the track, cutting down on the conventional commuting times while moving at almost 30 km/h (19 mph). Admission cost ten cents, but marshy weather, lots of mud, and farm animals hindered a smooth ride. It eventually became increasingly unpopular, and the Railway went bankrupt in 1898.

1900 — The Trottoir Roulant at the Paris World’s Fair

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Built for the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris, a mechanical sidewalk was installed and opened to the public. Running at up to 10km/h (6mph), the “wooden serpent” carried visitors a quarter mile through Paris, up to thirty feet above the ground. With sweeping, panoramic views of the Eiffel Tower, the moving sidewalk made sure visitors did not tire themselves out while enjoying the World’s Fair’s impressive number of sights. Balancing posts made sure that nobody toppled over while getting off and on. It was allegedly capable of moving 31,680 passengers per hour.

1929 — Bennie Railplane

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Bennie Raiplane was a monorail-like transport system from 1929 that used suspended rail cars hanging from a single rail with wheels underneath for stabilization. Electric motors powered propellers at each end for acceleration. Passengers were supposed to be able to travel at top speeds of 241 km/h (150 mph), cutting down the time it took to travel from Glasgow to Edinburgh to just 20 minutes. A 1930 test track was built as a proof-of-concept, but due to recovery from the Great Depression and with WWII around the corner, inventor George Bennie never found financial backing.

1956 — The Viberti Golden Dolphin

Image Credit: Histografy

This high-speed touring coach was allegedly capable of traveling at 201 km/h (125 mph) thanks to its 400 horsepower gas turbine engine. The Italian super-bus never became a reality, but is part of a long list of futuristic bus concepts of the era that aimed to transform coach travel throughout the Post-War era.

1962 — Gyroscopic Monorail

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Brennan Gyro-Monorail was created by Australian inventor Louis Brennan around the turn of the century. Two large, vertical gyroscopes mounted side by side spun in opposite directions to keep the single-rail train level. While the design was tested with 40 soldiers on board (see image above) in 1909, the design had a number of challenges to overcome — each car had to be outfitted with its own pair of gyroscopes and with friction from only a single monorail track, a lot more power was required to pull additional cars. And that’s not to mention the catastrophic failure that would result from a single gyroscope failing.

1964 — Skybus

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Skybus (or its much less catchy name — Transit Expressway Revenue Line) was an attempt to revolutionize rapid transit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Autonomous buses were to ride on top of a concrete track above regular road traffic, day in and day out. A 2.85 km (1.77 miles) demonstration track was constructed in 1965 for the Allegheny County fair — even Walt Disney himself came to try it out. The project turned out to be too expensive and ambitious, and plans for construction in Pittsburgh were scrapped.

1965-1974 — Aérotrain

Image Credit: pb+/YouTube

The Aérotrain was a French hovertrain developed in the mid-sixties for high-speed travel, designed to overcome the need for complex and expensive magnetic levitation. A number of test tracks were built around France throughout the 60s and 70s, the longest measuring 20 km (12.43 miles) in Loiret, France. Compressors on board forced air underneath the train, while aircraft engines fastened to the back took care of acceleration. The train moved along an inverted-T shaped track. After failing to attract investors and with the surging popularity of the TGV (a high-speed train network in France, still in use to this day), the unique project was abandoned in 1977.

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Tesla to Discontinue Its Cheapest Model S

Anyone on the fence about buying the Tesla Model S 75 with rear-wheel drive should make a decision soon, because Tesla will discontinue that model after Sunday, September 24.

The company told Electrek in July it would say goodbye to the cheapest Model S, but didn’t give a specific date. Now, both Electrek and Business Insider are reporting this Sunday to be the cut-off date.

At $69,500, the rear-wheel drive Model S 75 was the most affordable Tesla vehicle available, but it’s now on its way out to make room for the currently in-production Model 3. Starting at $35,000, the Model 3 will soon be the only vehicle Tesla offers with single rear-wheel drive.

“Model 3 is a smaller, simpler, more affordable electric car,” Tesla explains on the Model 3 page. “Although it is our newest vehicle, Model 3 is not “Version 3” or the most advanced Tesla. Like Model S, it is designed to be the safest car in its class.”

If consumers want a Model S, they’ll have to choose between the 75D, 100D, and P100D, which are all dual-motor all-wheel-drive sedans; the 75D will become the cheapest Tesla model at $74,500.

This isn’t the first time Tesla has discontinued one of its cars. In 2016, both the 85-kWh Model X and the rear-wheel drive 90-kWh Model S were cut off to make room the current Model S line-up.

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Imagine Taking an Uber with a Robot Driver. We’re Not Far Off

90-10 Split

Since Google announced its first self-driving car prototypes back in 2012, people have been speculating how new technologies, AI, and automation may impact the global economy (entire books have been written on the subject).

It’s hard not to spend some time wondering what’s going to happen to the millions of truck and taxi drivers that are now roaming the streets, once this technological wonder becomes available to the masses. Will they all be out of a job? How are we to cope with such an event, especially at a time where governments are not exactly floating in cash ; most are plagued by crippling national debt.

I have long suggested that we should explore and experiment with Universal Basic Income as a means to potentially restructure our society and overcome the looming problem of technological unemployment. I am not alone in thinking this. Over the years, Silicon Valley billionaires and internet entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Sam Altman, and Mark Zuckerberg have taken a similar position.

When I first started giving lectures on this in 2012, audiences were split 90–10. The majority believed technological unemployment was a non-issue, which we could easily solve like we did with the past industrial revolutions. Today, the ratio is still 90–10 — but reversed.

However, while many have come around when it comes to the systematic loss of jobs, I find that most people don’t have a full grasp of the profound implications that an automated economy is going to bring. To explain it, perhaps there is no better and clearer example than autonomous vehicles.

I will attempt to show how a single innovation is going to completely disrupt not one, but several industries, with non-obvious rippling effects in almost all facets of our daily lives. For the sake of brevity, I’ll start referring to self-driving cars and the more general concept of autonomous vehicle — which includes cars, trucks, taxis, buses, vans, pods, trains, drones, and whatever comes next — as robocars.

What Are Robocars?

SAE defines the levels of driving automation as follows:

0    No Driving Automation
1    Driver Assistance
2    Partial Driving Automation
3    Conditional Driving Automation
4    High Driving Automation
5    Full Driving Automation

I consider robocars to be level 5: full driving automation.

Once car manufacturers and software companies fix the remaining technical issues (5 years give or take, Tesla is almost there already), regulation catches up (will taker a bit longer), and we adapt our infrastructure to accommodate them (a bit longer still), I predict most if not all new cars will be robocars.

Once the first fully electric, fully autonomous robocar fleet enters the market, innovation will speed up, creating a virtuous cycle that will accelerate robocar adoption. At that point, there will be no point in building non-robocars, except for very niche markets (like sports).

Imagine This

The advent of cars transformed our lives much more than people at the time could have anticipated. They transformed cities, gave birth to the suburbs, and engineered a social revolution. Their impact on society and the environment is so profound that it is difficult to comprehend what life was like before they came — though, we can get a glimpse from movies and books depicting our pre-car past.

The real revolution will unfold in non-obvious ways, as emergent properties of a new complex system that we’ll put in place, which will create new possibilities and opportunities we probably can’t even think of at the moment. For example, what happens when not only robocars become widespread, but when the entire transportation ecosystem around them also changes accordingly?

Imagine this: you live in Rome. It’s a warm, sunny morning, you’re drinking a nice cappuccino at your house outside the city, when you get a call from a friend of yours living in Paris. He’s inviting you a party.

You request a robocar, and within 20 seconds it comes to pick you up. As you slide in and make yourself comfortable, the car has already planned the entire journey, including the wireless charging routes to make sure it doesn’t need to stop at any point  (unless you want to ). It’s also stocked with the entertainment you like, a list of friends you might want to invite, and the work you wanted to catch up with before the end of the day.

As you approach the main transportation hub, your robocar seamlessly enters inside a Hyperloop capsule — without reducing its current speed — sliding in one of the many evacuated tubes that connect to the larger hub. You accelerate to faster than the speed of sound, yet you don’t feel much of a difference. You continue making video calls, talking to friends, reading, and generally enjoying the trip. Less than an hour later you find yourself in front of your friend’s house in Paris, ready for the party.

During this time, you didn’t have to deal with tolls or traffic. You didn’t have to get out of the car, charge it, speak to the police or show your passport. The robocar is equipped with with biometric identification, (which you could also decide not to use). You remember back in the day, when going from one side of the city to the other  to see your girlfriend (a mere 15 km ) would sometimes take more than an hour, and how that over time took a toll on your relationship. Now, going to a city 1,500 km away seems like it’s around the corner. You can literally hop in, watch an episode of Game of Thrones, and you’re there.

If this scenario seems too far fetched, it’s due a lack of imagination. As we speak, companies and startups are building each individual piece of technology to make this happen.

Safer

Robocars are filled with sensors. Different manufacturers use a combination of cameras, lasers, infrared, RADAR, LiDAR, ultrasonic, wheel speed sensors, passive visual, sonar, GPS, accelerator, gyroscope, temperature, humidity, and a bunch more.

Robocars can see and move around in rain, fog, and at night with no lights on. They can sense other robocars. They don’t need traffic lights. They can see 360 degrees and be aware at all time of things we won’t ever be able to see. Nearly 1.3 million people die in road crashes each year, an average of 3,287 deaths a day. An additional 20–50 million are injured or disabled. Every. Single. Year.

Robocars can easily bring that number down 90%, and in the long run I predict over 99% — a factor of 100. The reduction of car accidents brought by the introduction of fully autonomous vehicles will be even more dramatic and sudden than that of airplanes. In time, I predict that driving will become illegal, and be relegated to specific areas for driving enthusiasts. Just like hunting; a sport for the few.

Robocars won’t even be built with a steering wheel, because it will be an obsolete element of design that won’t serve any purpose. They will be redesigned from scratch, allowing us to do a variety of things inside, becoming more like an extension of our homes.

Cheaper

The biggest costs of cars are gas, insurance, maintenance (or, when you take a taxi the driver). Robocars bring all of these costs down to practically zero. With 90% fewer accidents, insurance costs will drop 90% or more. Autonomous driving means you don’t need to pay for a human being behind the wheel, which is by far the biggest cost when one takes a taxi.

Robocars will be electric, and if you create your own electricity using solar PV or other methods, the cost of taking a trip will be practically zero. Electricity generation from solar is now cheaper than coal and gas in many countries, and this trend will continue in the future, bringing the cost down exponentially. Electric cars are still not mainstream due to mainly two reasons: range and cost. Both are improving exponentially, thanks to better battery technology and car design.

Robocars can leapfrog and overcome these obstacles much faster than normal electric cars would. An organized fleet of robocars can be incredibly efficient at organizing routes and switches. You will not need to plan for long trips, look at the available charging stations along the way, or remember to charge your car during the night. Robocars can do that automatically, so that you never have to think about it.

Whether you have to do 10km or 10,000km, it doesn’t matter. It’s just something you will never be concerned with. A robocar will know which station to approach and at which time, it will come close to the appropriate replacement robocar whenever needed and open both doors for you. All you have to do is get out of one robocar and hop in the other every few hundred kilometers. All in all, the process will take about 5 seconds — much less than would you’d need with any gasoline car and its refueling requirements.

Electric cars are also more reliable and require less maintenance. They are much simpler, have fewer parts, and can do most of their diagnostics via software, which can be regularly updated and controlled remotely. Robocars don’t have to wait for electric vehicles to match the range of gasoline cars, or to even become as cheap. The combined benefits of better logistics and reduced maintenance can make cost and “range anxiety” an obsolete problem.

Flexible, Personalized

Robocars will also adjust to the needs of the individual person. It’s estimated that most cars move around with a single person inside, a huge waste of space and resources. The average midsize car weighs 1,590 kilograms. The average human is 63kg. We essentially use a huge amount of energy to accelerate incredibly heavy objects, which take large amounts of space and weigh more than 20 times what they should be carrying.

Aside from the failure to properly organize logistics with car pooling, the biggest issue is that we buy cars that are one-size fits all. We expect to be able to use them in cities, mountains, to bring kids to school, to go to work by ourselves, and to venture out for a weekend at the lake with friends. Also, we want to feel safe, so we buy increasingly bigger and more inefficient cars. This creates a vicious cycle.

With robocars, we don’t need to buy one that fits all sizes and uses. We can just order the robocar we need, when we need it, at a fraction of the cost. For a trip alone, we could use single-occupant robocars, which are incredibly efficient and can zip around with ease anywhere in the city. If we’re with a group of friends, we could share a small van. And if we like to travel in luxury, we can do that as well. In other words: robocars can be much cheaper, reliable, flexible, and comfortable than regulars cars, even if they have higher upfront costs and can’t drive as far. They are better in every regard from day one. A lot better.

Faster

One of the main reason robocars are not already roaming the streets is the same reason we have traffic jams. Streets are filled with stupid, reckless humans at the wheel of coffin-shaped metal boxes, whizzing about inefficiently and dangerously. We can’t even seem to manage to follow the simplest of rules, and we constantly cause unnecessary traffic jams and accidents. If we simply kept the proper distance between cars, we could get rid of phantom traffic jams, which are infesting our highways.

A new study out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suggests that the addition of just a small number of autonomous cars can ease the congestion on our roads. The presence of just one autonomous car reduces the standard deviation in speed of all the cars in the jam by around 50 percent, or a factor of 2. If all cars were autonomous, they could effectively communicate with each other, eliminate almost 100% of traffic jams, and always cruise at full speed, thus reducing commuting time by a factor of 10 at the very least.

Fewer

Robocar rides will be cheap and ubiquitous. Unless you live in a remote, rural area, you will never need to buy a car. You might want to, but you won’t need to. In cities and towns, fleets of robocars will be constantly moving around, ready to pick up anyone in need. And because they are connected and can talk to each other at the speed of light, they can organize logistics much better than we ever can or will.

A variety of advanced algorithms will optimize the number of cars required, predict flows, incoming demand, be linked to weather stations and sensors on the roads. IoT, Big Data, and Deep Learning will play a huge role in this, feeding each other in a virtuous cycle. More cheap and ubiquitous sensors around the cities means more (and better) quality data, which can train the algorithms to become more accurate.

In time, people will realize that owning a car in cities is not a good thing, but a drag. The younger generation already realized this, and is relying more on car sharing and public transport. Robocars offer all the pros and none of the cons. They will blow every other means of transportation out of the water.

Greener

This is a no-brainer: with 90% fewer cars on the road, it follows that there will be a significant reduction in emissions as well. However, the relationship might not be proportional. Because cars spend most of their time idle doing nothing, they’re wasting valuable space, but they’re not emitting anything while sitting there. Robocars, on the other hand, would be constantly moving people around to optimize use. This would increase emissions per car, but not per capita – that would roughly stay the same.

Now let’s factor in the other variables: because of the dramatic decrease in traffic and the optimized routes, we should expect an improvement in congestion of at least 4x — perhaps even 10x.

But we haven’t even scratched the surface. The biggest reduction in emissions will come from the switch to electric vehicles. Electric cars have virtually zero emissions, both of CO2 or harmful pollution, unless one used to create them (which is more or less equivalent to that of regular cars). The combined effect of better logistics, the elimination of traffic jams and the switch to electric will bring emissions down 10–1000x.

More Free Land Area

It’s estimated that in the U.S. there are 8 parking spots for every car, covering up to 30% of our cities. Just let that sink in. Eight parking spaces for every single vehicle. This is an insane number, considering that for over 95% of the time cars are parked without doing anything at all. Robocars will eliminate the need for most parking spaces, and the few that remain can be used as temporary switch-locations.

This will free up to 27% of all land currently assigned for parking in cities, which we can finally turn into parks, making our cities more livable, beautiful, and healthy.

Faster Adoption

A startup is a company that can grow and scale to a very large audience very quickly, and can do so consistently. Growth is fueled primarily by how big and how significant your key market differentiator is. The bigger the problem and the better the solution, the faster the growth. Startups are complicated beasts, but that’s really the essence. In short, we say “How much better is your product relative to the competition?”

If you provide a 10% improvement, you’ll probably never grow fast. Simple barriers to entry may be enough to discourage people to switch and begin using your product. If you offer a 90% improvement over the old technology, now we’re talking. That’s a 10x, which is often enough to have a clear key market differentiator and create entire new, billion-dollar markets.

Let’s have a look at how robocars play out in the startup equation:

  • > 90% safer

  • > 90% cheaper

  • > 90% greener

  • 90% faster

  • 90% fewer cars

  • 90% fewer parking spaces

  • = > 1,000,000x improvement

Each of these individual reasons would be enough to justify a switch to robocars, because each is 10x better relative to the old technology. Put together: Robocars represent at least million fold improvement.

If robocars are 90% safer, it means we can expect only 10% of the accidents than the past. In reality, as our algorithms and sensors become exponentially more accurate and we gather more data, experts project a 99% reduction or more. In a few of decades, death by automobile accidents could become as rare as being struck by lightening.

These are all conservative estimates. I could pick almost any of the reasons described above and make a case as to why each represents really a 99% improvement — or a factor of 100 — and not a “mere” 90%. A million fold improvement is in fact conservative. Very conservative.

Learning From History

Think of the last time something like this happened: 100 years go we used horses to move around. Then the first commercial cars arrived. They didn’t go much faster than horses, but they were much easier to maintain (no manure to take care of), they could carry more people in a smaller space (an integrated system as opposite to having a separate carriage to attach), and could be left alone without having to constantly feed them (they primarily needed fuel, which could be put in when necessary).

All in all, cars offered a 10–20x improvement over horses, yet the transition only took 20–30 years. Very soon, owning horses became a sport or a passion, not a means of transportation.

But perhaps the greatest advantage was that cars were an upgradable technology. If a new engine was invented, you could plug that in and get more power, ceteris paribus (leaving the rest unchanged). With horses, if you wanted more power, you had to purchase another horse and add it to the group, effectively doubling your spending, as well as your maintenance efforts and costs.

Robocars can be streamlined, updated wirelessly, and can drive themselves to the nearest maintenance center whenever needed. They offer a lot more advantages relative to cars than cars did relative to horses.

A Thought Experiment

Ask yourself this: You get a message from your friend to come to her place. She lives on the other side of town. Would you rather drive for more than an hour, be in agonizing traffic, spend $20 (all inclusive of insurance, gas, car usage), risk getting into an accident — only to spend another 10 minutes looking for parking and spending another $10?

Or, would you rather order a robocar, hop in, watch a YouTube video or take a nap in great comfort, have fun, be safe, and get out 10 minutes later, while spending $3 or less?

                CAR    ROBOCAR

Time spent        1h30m        10m
Comfort level      2/10       9/10
Safety level       1/10       9/10
Money spent         $30         $3

100 years ago, cars represented a mere 10x-20 improvement over horses, yet they conquered the market in 2–3 decades. Robocars represent a million fold improvement over cars. How long will it take for them to replace all vehicles on the road?

The Obtainable Market

The driver’s license is in decline, especially in the younger generation. Among teenagers, just 24.5 percent of 16-year-olds has a license, a 47-percent decrease from 1983, when 46.2 percent did.

When asked why, people aged 18 to 39 said they were “too busy or not enough time to get a driver’s license” (37%), or that “owning and maintaining a vehicle is too expensive”(32%), or they were “able to get transportation from others” (31%).”

Young people don’t like to get a driver’s license. We don’t like to own a car. We don’t want to maintain it. We want to move from point A to point B with the least amount of hassle and the most comfort. As public transportation became more ubiquitous, faster, and cheaper, we chose to use more of that. When Uber and other startups made it easier to take a taxi, we made use of them.

When a new startup offers fully autonomous electric robocars, where the trips cost 10 times less, and are safer and more comfortable than regular old vehicles, the choice becomes pretty obvious. Companies that will fully embrace robocars as a service will quickly dominate the automotive market and create a trillion-dollar global industry. Robocars will allow not only adults without a license to move around, but also the elderly and people with disabilities.

While we’re at it, why not children? The main reason parents don’t trust children to take public transportation is because they don’t feel it’s safe enough for them. While the vehicle itself may be relatively safe — at least as much as the car they drive — they don’t like the idea that their young child could be harassed by random strangers (or worse).

With robocars, this concern becomes null. Parents can call the robocar to their house and see their child get in. They can choose not to allow the car to pick anyone else up, and go directly to the school, football practice, or their friend’s house. They can track every movement on their smartphone, and even check how the kid’s doing from a security cam installed in the car, which will only turn on in certain circumstances, with the consent of the user, giving special access to parents with small children to monitor how they’re doing.

Because the costs of running the car will drop exponentially, so might the margins for companies. Since we don’t need to pay attention to the street, we can do other things. I predict that in the future, entertainment and third party services will become the most lucrative business in the automotive industry. This will open up entirely new markets, creating incentive for companies to join the robocar ecosystem.

The Takeaway?

Robocars will make our street safer. With fewer accidents, they will save millions of lives every year from preventable deaths and injuries. They will make our cities greener. They will be fully electric, powered by renewable energies, and we’ll need less of them moving around. They will make us healthier.

By reducing the need for parking, they will allow 27% of the space currently occupied in cities by parking and soulless concrete to become parks we can enjoy, taking walks and playing with friends, while breathing cleaner air. They will make transportation cheaper and more convenient. They will empower the disadvantaged, making personalized and ubiquitous transportation available to virtually everyone on Earth, including children, the elderly, the poor, and people with disabilities.

They will save us time. Every year, billions of hours of cognitive potential is wasted on mostly useless, tedious, and inefficient tasks. It will free our cognitive capacity to pursue greater things. Then again, if you really like driving and can’t do without it, you can always do it in VR while inside a robocar.

The Future

How will our lives change once this becomes possible? Will we still decide to live in overcrowded cities, if we can get to any nearby point quickly, easily, hassle-free, and inexpensively? Perhaps we might see a new major shift in urbanization. As barriers to freely move are demolished, so will the need to squeeze in overcrowded, expensive and unhealthy city centers.

Robocars might change the entire landscape of the world, how we build our homes and cities, how we live, and how we interact with one another. This is how a single technology can profoundly impact not just the automotive industry, but the transportation sectors at large, the housing market, the job market, the entertainment industry, insurances, the communication sector, our laws regarding immigration, border control, our cities, our landscapes, and how it will empower entire segments of the population that currently don’t have the freedom to move. Just one technology.

Now think of everything else that’s coming: Genetic engineering. Ubiquitous sensors. Internet of things. Artificial Intelligence. Nanotechnology. These are not just buzzwords. They are not far-away science fiction. They are very real, they’re coming, and they’re going to change our lives in ways we can’t even comprehend. The future awaits.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been edited and condensed for syndication. Federico Piston is an author, angel investor, technologist, and researcher. He works with Hyperloop TT, building the future of transportation, and consults for large companies on innovation and exponential tech.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Futurism or its affiliates.

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Tesla Is Allegedly Partnering With AMD to Build Its Own Autonomous Chips

Rumors have been swirling that Tesla is looking to build its own chip to operate future self-driving vehicles. Now, a new report from CNBC adds more evidence to that speculation. CNBC cites a source familiar with the matter who claims, “The carmaker has received back samples of the first implementation of its processor and is now running tests on it.” Furthermore, Sanjay Jha, CEO of GlobalFoundries, a semiconductor foundry, listed Tesla as an example of a company working with chip fabricators. The company has since responded that “Tesla has not committed to working with us on any autonomous driving technology or product,” and Jha’s comments were reported to be out of context.

Image credit: Automobile Italia/Flickr
Image Credit: Automobile Italia/Flickr

It became evident that Tesla was interested in building their own chip when they hired chip architect Jim Keller, who has previously worked for AMD and Apple. Since Keller’s hiring, Tesla has also brought on other big talents from AMD like director Ganesh Venkataramanan, Bill McGee, a principal hardware engineer, and Dan Bailey, a system circuit design lead. The source added that there are as many as 50 others working under Keller on this project.

Tesla’s current autopilot systems are running on chips made by GPU makers Nvidia. The move to make their own chip would help to make Tesla more self-reliant for its processing needs. The company is aiming to create vehicles that are truly autonomous, and building their own chips will give Tesla more control over the direction that development takes and complete ownership of the resulting technology.

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Intel Can Provide Waymo’s Vehicles with the Power to Reach Full Autonomy

When Intel Met Waymo

Intel and Alphabet’s self-driving division Waymo announced on September 18 a new partnership that would see both companies working together on self-driving car technology in the future. As noted by Reuters, the move marks a first for Waymo, which has done most of its development internally.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

“With so much life-saving potential, it’s a rapid transformation that Intel is excited to be at the forefront of along with other industry leaders like Waymo,” said Intel’s Chief Executive Officer Brian Krzanich in a statement.

As a result of the collaboration, Waymo’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans are now equipped with Intel’s own technology used for sensor processing, general computing, and connectivity. With Intel, Waymo’s autonomous cars have covered more ground than any other fleet of autonomous cars currently in operation, acquiring over 3 million miles of cumulative road travel — Waymo’s actual mileage is higher than this, however, as the company reached 3 million miles on its own by May, and that’s after all the progress it made in 2016.

Onward to Full Autonomy

“As Waymo’s self-driving technology becomes smarter and more capable, its high-performance hardware and software will require even more powerful and efficient compute [sic],” added Krzanich.

Krzanich went on to explain that by working together, Intel can provide Waymo’s vehicles with the necessary processing power to reach level 4 and 5 autonomy — the highest levels of self-driving, in which the vehicle’s systems are in control of nearly every aspect of the driving experience and neither need, nor expect, human input.

Waymo began testing it’s self-driving vehicles in Phoenix, Arizona in April as part of its Early Riders Program. Those accepted were able to incorporate the cars into their daily lives, before sharing their opinions with the company. People can still sign up for the program, though Waymo notes it’s only taking a few groups at a time.

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DARPA’s Autonomous System Can Fly and Land a Helicopter with Just a Tablet

Like a big drone with two rotors, a Sikorsky S-76 commercial helicopter successfully traveled and landed without a pilot actually touching the flight controls inside the aircraft. The demonstration, performed in January 2016, was part of a program developed by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) called Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS).

The video published back in May 2016 shows a Sikorsky S-76 tandem rotor chopper equipped with an autonomous flight system to serve as a Sikorsky Autonomous Research Aircraft (SARA) as part of DARPA’s ALIAS program. This $8-million research was awarded to Lockheed Martin company Sikorsky to test autonomous aircraft flight.

“ALIAS envisions a tailorable, drop-in, removable kit that would promote the addition of high levels of automation into existing aircraft, enabling operation with reduced onboard crew,” according to Graham Drozeski from DARPA. “Easy-to-use touch and voice interfaces would facilitate supervisor-ALIAS interaction.”

For phase 1 of the project, a chopper fitted with an ALIAS kit successfully completed a 48.2-kilometer (30-mile) autonomous flight and landing using just a tablet computer. For phase 2, DARPA demonstrated how an ALIAS kit can work in existing aircraft fleets, installing it in a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter and a Cessna 208 caravan airplane.

A third phase is planned which would demonstrate and enhance ALIAS’ capabilities to respond to contingencies while lessening pilot workload. “ALIAS would also provide a platform for integrating additional automation or autonomy capabilities tailored for specific missions,” Drozeski added. Though designed to enhance automated military aircraft, it’s not difficult to imagine the technology behind ALIAS being used in commercial autonomous flights.

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Intel and Waymo Have Teamed Up to Roll Out Fully Autonomous Vehicles

Intel announced on Monday that it’s partnering with Waymo, the self-driving car division of Google parent company Alphabet, to develop its autonomous vehicle technology. This new team seeks to bring Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy (or full driving autonomy, according to the Society of Automotive Engineers) to Waymo’s driverless vehicles using the computing power from Intel’s processors.

Waymo’s already using technology developed by Intel in its latest driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans — from their sensor processing to overall connectivity. Now, they want to make it more official. “By working closely with partners like Intel, Waymo’s vehicles will continue to have the advanced processing power required for safe driving wherever they go,” Waymo said in a Medium post about the collaboration.

“Intel’s collaboration with Waymo ensures Intel will continue its leading role in helping realize the promise of autonomous driving and a safer, collision-free future.” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich wrote in a short editorial. This, as well as growing government support for self-driving cars, will make help make the safer roads of the future a reality. Indeed, autonomous cars are expected to decrease deaths caused by road crashes, which claim some 30,000 to 40,000 American lives each year. 90 percent of which are due to human error.

“I fully expect my children’s children will never have to drive a car,” Krzanich added. “That’s an astounding thought: Something almost 90 percent of Americans do every day will end within a generation. With so much life-saving potential, it’s a rapid transformation that Intel is excited to be at the forefront of along with other industry leaders like Waymo.”

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5 Futuristic Ways to Beat Traffic

Transportation (R)Evolution

Electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles, coupled with advanced autonomous systems, are shaping the future of passenger transportation. These technologies will define daily commuting experience to be more sustainable, clean, and safe. If there’s one problem autonomous EVs aren’t excepted from just yet, however, it’ll be heavy traffic.

No matter how clean and safe your car is, if you find yourself in a traffic jam, well…you’re stuck — unless your car can fly or you’re traveling underground. Luckily, there are some that want to do just that.

Flying Taxis: Uber and Volocopter

Everyone wants a flying car, ever since The Jetsons showed us that it’s an ideal mode of transportation for the family. Flying cars are no longer just in the realm of science fiction, though. A number of companies have been working on their versions of flying cars, and ride-hailing company Uber is only one of them.

Uber wants to employ a network of flying taxis in Dallas, Texas and Dubai, UAE by 2020. This Uber Elevate project would use vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles to ferry passengers. German startup Volocopter is also working with Dubai city officials for a similar project, with a test-run slated later this year.

Image credit: Volocopter

Kitty Hawk — A Different Flyer

Google co-founder Larry Page has been rumored to be working on a flying car for some time. Well, back in April, a startup funded by Page called Kitty Hawk revealed its concept for an “all-electric aircraft” designed for traveling over water. It requires no license to operate, and the company says people can figure out how to operate one “in minutes.” A commercial version of this flyer is expected before the end of the year.

 

Underground Travel: The Boring Company and the Hyperloop

If like serial entrepreneur Elon Musk you think flying cars won’t do the trick, there are a couple of ideas you might consider. Instead of going over congested roads, Musk suggests we go under. His tunnel-digging startup the Boring Company is doing just that, by building a unique transportation system that runs in underground tubes equipped with “electric sleds” designed to ferry vehicles and people.

The Boring Company’s already dug a portion of its initial tunnel under Los Angeles, and it plans to continue digging.

Speaking of tunnels and tubes, an idea that the Boring Company and a number of other startups are also exploring is the hyperloop. Among all these futuristic transportation concepts, the hyperloop has probably generated the most buzz in the last couple of years.

This super-fast transport is somewhat like the train of the future — capable of cutting hours of travel down to mere minutes. Plans for a hyperloop are in the works in several states of the U.S., Canada, and in Europe, Dubai, India, and South Korea.

It’s been said that the more unnoticed the medium, the more effective communication becomes. Travelling can be fun, but no one likes to be constantly interrupted by the stop-and-go repetition of congested traffic, and the unreliable (im)patience of mutually-frustrated peers. As globalization cements the anthropocene, the quicker and easier it is for humans to traverse the distances between one another, the more effective we can be at carrying our civilization into the 21st century.

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From Car to PLANE in 3 Mins

AeroMobil is a Slovak flying car company that is currently set to begin the pre ordering process on vehicles that will deliver by 2020. The vehicles can transform from car to plane in under three minutes, are outfitted with their own parachutes, and can travel up to 224 mph in air. They’re insanely expensive though. Is it possible that this kind of tech could ever become widely normalized?

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Volvo Has Pioneered the Autonomous Garbage Truck

Volvo Group, together with Swedish waste and recycling specialists Renova, is testing a pioneering autonomous refuse truck that has the potential to be used across the urban environment.

The project explores how automation can contribute to enhanced traffic safety, improved working conditions and lower environmental impact.

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PAL-V Just Announced Plans to Travel Around the World in a Flying Car

Pioneering a New Field

Welcome to the new frontier in advanced transportation. In an exclusive interview with Futurism at World’s Fair Nano this weekend, Mark Jennings-Bates, the vice president of sales at PAL-V International B.V., unveiled his plans to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a flying car.

As Jenning-Bates told Futurism, he hopes the voyage will start in San Francisco and then (as it is customary in circumnavigation) arrive back somewhere around San Fran. While Jennings-Bates will be piloting his own flying car, another pilot will be accompanying him in a second. Since PAL-V intends to film the trek, they expect it to take about 90 days, though Jennings-Bates believes it could be done in around 60.

The greatest stress poised by this voyage will be keeping an eye on the fuel gauge. PAL-V’s vehicle, called the Liberty, has a range of 1,315 km (817 mi) in driving mode and 499 km (310 mi) when flying. These limits have already been pushed by Bate’s accompanying pilot over a particularly difficult stretch of Greenland — one that the flying car should have just enough gas to manage. But only just.

The pilot told Jennings-Bates that this part of the trek — what with the need for constant, stressful fuel calculations — is “the most nerve-wracking experience you’ll ever have.”

While PAL-V has not yet made an official announcement on a target date for this feat, the trips plans are well underway.

The Vehicle That Could Launch an Industry

PAL-V is a Dutch company that was conceived in 2001 with the goal of engineering a road-friendly aircraft. The PAL-V team tore through a number of designs before they finally made a breakthrough in 2005.

“We’ve really just innovated two older products, put them together, and created something new that works within today’s rules,” Jennings-Bates said.

At this point, a technology called “DVC tilting” was finally able to enable safe driving, while at the same time allowing the vehicle to maintain a high center of gravity and narrow aerodynamic shape necessary for flying. PAL-V married this with a Gyroplane (a precursor to helicopter), which was selected because it’s simple, safe to learn to fly, and folds up nicely. Combing these two techs allowed the engineers to make vehicle that is both road and sky safe.

The concept was tested in 2012 with PAL-V’s first flight of the flying car prototype in 2012 — which was a success. From there, PAL-V developed the commercial version and launched production. Today, the PAL-V Liberty is available for preorder (at a cost of between $399,000 and $599,000) with expected delivery times starting as soon as 2018.

Bringing Flying Cars to Everyone

And it is this aspect — the marketability of flying cars — that Jennings-Bates sees as a major challenge to the industry. “We’ve seen cars fly a few times, but nobody’s sold very many of them,” Jennings-Bates said.

PAL-V is attempting to overcome this challenge by holding fast to two guiding principles — to make a vehicle that is safe and relatively easy to learn to operate. “Whilst it looks like a helicopter, it’s actually much more simple than a helicopter,” Jennings-Bates said. “If you talk to a gyroplane instructor, they’ll often tell you they have students who can fly solo in 5-8 hours of training.”

In addition to the PAL-V training those looking to buy a Liberty will undergo, they would also need both a driver’s and pilot’s license. Those are just the requirements under current laws — which were, admittedly, not exactly designed with flying cars in mind.

“That’s always been the missing piece of the puzzle,” Jennings-Bates said, regarding legislation. “How do we get it certified to be able to use it?” PAL-V has achieved their success in this area by designing from the ground-up, which meant they could design in accordance with regulations, thereby streamlining the process.

However, much more could be done to clarify standards for both those who design flying cars and those who operate them. And, with the increase visibility of this technology that a global circumnavigation could bring, perhaps governments will be spurred to make the necessary regulatory updates to allow flying cars to revolutionize our commutes.

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Tesla Patent Reveals Possible Plans for a New Battery Swapping Station

Replacing the Batteries

A recently filed patent may hint at Tesla’s plans for the future, specifically, how the company intends to provide Tesla owners with the ability to swap out battery packs.

The patent, filed in May, details a battery swapping system in which a Model S or Model X would be driven onto a ramp or lift before being raised to a predetermined height. Technicians assigned to the station would then be able to assist with the machine’s operation and swap the battery for a fully charged one. From start to finish, the entire process would take about 15 minutes.

Tesla is already expanding its supercharging stations to Boston, Chicago, and parts of South Australia. Typically, a recharge can take about 30 minutes, while the smaller charges coming to Chicago and Boston need 45-50 minutes.

“This can provide a more rapid way of replenishing the electric energy for the electric vehicle and can enable electric vehicles to travel essentially nonstop on long road trips,” reads the patent.

 

An image of how the battery swapping system could look. Image Credit: Tesla
An image of how the battery swapping system could look. Image Credit: Tesla

A Second Attempt

This isn’t the first time Tesla has considered introducing battery swapping stations. In 2014, the company launched a pilot program that would allow people to swap their car’s battery in about three minutes, but it required an appointment to be made beforehand. At the time, Tesla believed future iterations of the service would take less than a minute, as the process became more automated.

TechCrunch notes that, despite the patent only mentioning the Model S and Model X, the stations could be of benefit to other Tesla vehicles, too. The company’s self-driving semi truck, set to be officially revealed on October 26, would be one model that would certainly benefit from being able to have its battery exchanged mid-trip. If the battery swapping system is truly faster than a supercharging station, it could also reduce the semi’s own travel time.

The existence of the patent doesn’t mean Tesla has plans to work on the project, however. We’ll have to wait and see if the company thinks it’s worthwhile to pursue.

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90 Percent of Vehicles in the U.S. Could Be Electric by the Early 2040s

Horses for Courses

A new study by researchers from the International Monetary Fund and Georgetown University suggests that electric vehicles might be more popular that their gas- and diesel-powered equivalents sooner rather than later. Their findings suggest that by 2040, it’s possible that 90 percent of passenger vehicles in the US, Canada, Europe, and similarly wealthy nations could be electric.

The study compared the seemingly imminent transition to electric vehicles to the shift from horses and buggies to cars in the early 20th century. Despite driving being quite unlike steering a buggy — and the fact that buying a car was of equivalent expense to the average person as buying a $137,000 auto would have been in 2015 — it only took ten or fifteen years for horses and buggies to be replaced as the primary mode of transport.

All Electric Cars: What’s My Range? [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

The researchers investigated two scenarios; one based on how quickly the public adopted Henry Ford’s Model T cars, and the other based on the pace at which they abandoned the horse and buggy. A significant number of people started using public transport at this time, so it wasn’t a case of every horse and buggy that was put out of commission being replaced by a Model T.

Based on the latter metric — referred to as the slow-adoption scenario — electric vehicles will make up 5 percent of all vehicles in the US by the end of the 2020s, a figure that will rise to 36 percent by the early 2040s. If the fast-adoption scenario comes to pass, 30 percent of vehicles will be electric by the late 2020s, and a staggering 93 percent will be by the early 2040s.

Shifting Gears

Other studies have predicted a slightly slower rate of adoption. For instance, Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects that only 54 percent of new car sales in 2040 will be electric. However, the consensus seems to be that gas- and diesel-powered cars are on their way out, even if it’s difficult to determine how long the changeover will take.

The cost of electric vehicles will be a huge factor in how quickly things progress. Tesla’s Model 3 could be a gamechanger, with its price tag of $35,000 — assuming that the company can fulfill the massive demand.

Other automakers are also getting in on the action. Volkswagen recently stated its intention to offer electric versions of its entire fleet by 2030, and high-end manufacturers like Porsche are prepping their own electric vehicles.

The auto industry is preparing for major upheaval, but government bodies are doing everything in their power to ensure these changes come to pass quickly. The UK will ban new gas- and diesel-powered cars in 2040, and China is working on a timetable for similar legislation.

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Here Are the Ten Winning Route Proposals from Hyperloop One’s Global Challenge

Route Planner

In May 2016, Hyperloop One kicked off its Global Challenge, an open call for scientists and engineers to submit their proposals for where Hyperloop routes should be implemented. Now, the company has announced the ten winning teams.

Hyperloop One will now work with the groups that submitted these proposals to investigate how viable each route is. The full list of winners is as follows:

  • US: Cheyenne-Denver-Pueblo
  • US: Chicago-Columbus-Pittsburgh
  • US: Miami-Orlando
  • US: Dallas-Houston
  • UK: Edinburgh-London
  • UK: Glasgow-Liverpool
  • Mexico: Mexico City-Guadalajara
  • India: Bengaluru-Chennai
  • India: Mumbai-Chennai
  • Canada: Toronto-Montreal
Image Credit: Hyperloop One
Image Credit: Hyperloop One

“Our successful test this summer made Hyperloop a reality, and now we’re ready to bring our hyperloop system to the world,” said Shervin Pishevar, the co-founder and executive chairman of Hyperloop One in a press release.

This contest has also fostered public-private partnership between Hyperloop One and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). With support from engineering firm AECOM, the two organizations will embark on a feasibility study in Colorado.

High Speed

The purpose of the Hyperloop One Global Challenge was very simple — to accelerate the preliminary work needed to bring about a practical implementation of the company’s technology. Any of the ten proposed routes, or the partnership with CDOT, could potentially produce the first operational, publicly accessible hyperloop track.

When Elon Musk first published his Hyperloop Alpha paper in 2013, the idea seemed likely to be many years from becoming a reality. Last month, Hyperloop One CEO Robert Lloyd stated his intent, in an interview with The Next Web, to have at least three hyperloops completed around the world by 2021.

It’s easy to see why the company is eager to push forward, as Musk is forging ahead with an alternative futuristic transport vision via The Boring Company. It seems more than likely that we’ll see a functional hyperloop route sooner rather than later — the question is, who will be behind it?

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The World’s Biggest Smartphone Maker Is Investing $300 Million in Autonomous Car Tech

Samsung Galaxy Cruiser

Yesterday, Samsung turned heads with an announcement that they will be investing heavily in the automotive industry via not one, but two new projects.

First, the company known for a variety of electronics, but especially smartphones, revealed that they have launched a $300 million fund (Samsung Automotive Innovation Fund) to back startups and other ventures helping shape the future of the industry. TTTech, an Austrian developer of automotive software, is the first recipient of money from the fund, with Samsung allocating nearly $90 million toward their projects.

Image credit: Harmon
Image credit: Harmon

That wasn’t the only announcement, though. Last year, Samsung acquired Harman, a company that creates auto and audio products, and now, they’ve revealed that they’ll be putting that acquisition to use through an initiative to develop connected auto tech.

“During this period of extraordinary transformation in the automotive industry, we are excited to play a leadership role in supporting and shaping the future of smarter, more connected vehicles,” Young Sohn, President and Chief Strategy Officer of Samsung Electronics and Chairman of the Board of HARMAN, said in a statement.

Automotive Disrupt

A huge electronics company like Samsung investing so heavily in automotive ventures may come as a surprise to some, but it’s becoming increasingly common for tech companies to put money into the future of this industry.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Apple, Google, and Baidu are even going so far as to work on developing their own autonomous vehicles, investing huge amounts of money into R&D and the recruiting of the talent necessary to make their lofty goals a reality.

The opposite is true as well. Many huge automotive companies are investing in tech companies. For example, GM has teamed up with Lyft to develop a fleet of self-driving taxis.

This level of significant financial investment coming from both ends is poised to greatly benefit drivers. “Automotive advances like autonomous controls and advanced driver assistance systems will have a profound impact on society — from transforming urban spaces to bringing mobility to aging populations,” according to Sohn.

Clearly, this is the future of personal transport, and a spirit of collaboration and innovation is key to bringing the best product to the consumer.

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This Video Compilation of SpaceX’s Failed Landings Shows They’ve Embraced Lessons Learned

It’s Not Easy

More than two decades of the mid-20th century was dedicated to seeing humans in space. The world’s two biggest superpowers (figuratively) duked it out from 1957 – 1975 to gain supremacy in space technology. This era was, of course, defined by its successes — but these successes may not have been possible without the lessons learned from its disasters. The entire process was filled with dangerous attempts, made even more so by an incomplete understanding of the mechanics that make space travel possible. For example, on January 27, 1967, the three-astronaut team of Apollo 1 died horrifically in a routine ground test of their capsule.

Today’s incarnation of the space race has yet to reach the point where astronauts are involved, but we have plenty of examples of failed launches and landings. Just as our Cold War ancestors did before us, current engineers and scientists are learning from their mistakes to ensure that our species reaches both literal and figurative new heights.

Space Race 2.0

SpaceX likely realizes the utility of taking failures and learning from them. This is why they can post a video like the one above, which takes a lighthearted look at millions of dollars going up in flames. According to the BBC, the global space economy now sits at a whopping $329 billion, with three-quarters of the money coming from the private sector, a drastic change from the government-funded initiatives during the Cold War.

Yesterday, SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk speculated that his company’s plans to continue working toward reusable rocket parts will eventually drop costs of launches by more than a factor of 100. These improvements and other upcoming innovations, like the Falcon Heavy and the manned Dragon missions, are made possible by the mistakes made at these early stages.

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Samsung’s New Electric Car Batteries Boost Range to 600 Kilometers

Travel Farther

At the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA Cars 2017) in Germany earlier this week, Samsung SDI — the battery-focused division of Samsung — unveiled a new multi-functional battery pack capable of increasing the current range of electric vehicles. As explained by the Korean company, the battery enables cars to go between 600-700 kilometers (372-4343 miles), provided the right number of modules are installed.

“Its users can change the number of modules as they want as if they place books on a shelf,” says Samsung. “For example, if 20 modules are installed in a premium car, it can go 600 to 700 kilometers. If 10 to 12 modules are mounted on a regular sedan, it can run up to 300 kilometers. This pack is expected to catch the eyes of automakers, because they can design a car whose mileage may vary depending on how many modules of a single pack are installed.”

Image Credit: Ross Brimble

Electrek explains that automakers like Nissan and GM have been using prismatic cells in their battery packs. Samsung SDI began developing new “2170” cylindrical cells earlier this year, following the footsteps of Tesla, which was the first to do so with their “2170” battery cell.

In Competitive Context

No other details for the new battery pack were disclosed at the event, but it’s still an impressive range compared to what existing electric vehicles are capable of. The Tesla Model S, for example, is expected to have a range of 416 kilometers (259 miles), while the Chevy Bolt has an estimated range of 383 kilometers (238 miles) — a recent test conducted by Consumer Reports says otherwise, however.

Upcoming electric vehicles like the recently revealed 2018 Nissan Leaf are good for 241-257 kilometers (150-160 miles), while the highly-anticipated Tesla Model 3 is said to have a range of 354-498 kilometers (220-310 miles). We’ll have to wait and see how well Samsung’s battery performs in a realistic environment.

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Rolls-Royce Might Build the World’s First Autonomous Naval Vessel

From Cars to Ships

Rolls-Royce, a brand typically associated with luxury cars, may soon have ties to sophisticated naval ships.

High Tech Transports: Future Ships
Click to View Full Infographic

Yesterday the company revealed its desire to build an autonomous naval ship that would reduce the risk to crews, as well as cut down on operating costs. Coming in at 60 meters (196 feet) long, the ship would be able to reach speeds above 25 knots (28 mph), travel over 3500 nautical miles, and operate for over 100 days as it completes patrolling & surveillance, mine-detection, or fleet-screening missions.

A fully-electric 1.5MW propulsion system comprised of two Rolls-Royce MTU 4000 Series generators would provide the ship with around 4MW electrical power. A series of solar panels and 3000 kWh of energy storage would allow it to loiter around for as long as necessary, while also collecting additional energy.

A combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and sensors will be implemented to operate the vessel, with multiple systems and tools installed to allow the ship to gracefully switch between roles mid-mission.

A concept of Rolls-Royce's autonomous ship detecting an object before switching to surveillance. Image Credit: Rolls-Royce
A concept of Rolls-Royce’s autonomous ship detecting an object before switching to surveillance. Image Credit: Rolls-Royce

“The operational profile of these platforms will be more complicated than commercial unmanned vessels,” says Benjamin Thorp, general manager of Rolls-Royce Naval Electrics, Automation and Control. “They will be expected to sail from A to B on patrol, avoiding ships and other navigational hazards.

“At some point between A and B, they will detect something, maybe a submarine, and the mission will change to tracking and surveillance. The power and propulsion system will then need to adopt an ultra-quiet mode to avoid detection.”

Impact On Naval Fleets

Unmanned ships are not expected to replace manned ships, however. They will instead be mixed in with current fleets to offset operational costs — autonomous ships will be used for single-role missions, while crewed ships will handle missions requiring multiple roles. There’s also potential for models that are used solely to carry cargo.

As noted by Engadget, Rolls-Royce hasn’t revealed any partnerships yet, but has said there’s been an increased interest from major navies. The company has been leading the discussion about autonomous ships this year, and expects to see unmanned vessels incorporated into navy fleets over the next 10 years.

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Two New Tire Concepts Use Tech to Make Your Next Car Safer

Continental Tires has developed a series of smart tires that can warn drivers of and even automatically adjust to dangerous conditions.

Each year, 800 deaths due to vehicle collisions caused by winter weather conditions (sleet, snow, freezing rain, etc) occur in the United States. Continental’s new tire technology concepts, ContiSense and ContiAdapt, will help drivers deal with these conditions, and even features degrees of automation.

ContiSense tires will be equipped with sensors that are able to read external and internal conditions — communicating them directly to a driver’s smartphones. The technology allows a warning to be sent in the event of tire damage far faster than current tech, which doesn’t trigger a warning until the tire pressure has already started to fall. ContiSense’s technology allows data to be transmitted via electrically conductive rubber to a sensor, or via Bluetooth to the user’s phone.

Similarly, ContiAdapt tires are able to automatically adjust tire pressure and rim width in response to changing road conditions in real time. The system offers four different default settings for “wet, uneven, slippery and normal conditions.” The tires can take in information from the environment and adapt to the safest driving surface.

Technology is completely revamping how we drive. From electric cars to cars that drive themselves, technology is ensuring that the future of personal transport is cleaner, safer, and more readily available to all.

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Japan is Testing Driverless Buses to Help the Elderly Get Around

 

Robot Shuttle

Japan is bringing autonomous vehicle technology to rural areas of the country where a majority of the population is over the age of 65.

Nishikata, Japan, 115 km (71 miles) from the capital of Tokyo, is one such area. Roughly one-third of its small population ofvc 6,300 people are elderly, and with limited buses and bus drivers, it can be difficult for these residents to get around.

Enter the Robot Shuttle, a six-seat driverless bus from game developer DeNA Co, which recently entered the world of self-driving vehicles. During the initial testing, which began in September, the bus transported people from a service area to a municipal complex with healthcare services.

As reported by Reuters, the bus goes a slow and steady 10 kph (6 mph), though some test participants would like to see it go faster and reach speeds of 40 kph (25 mph). It’s an understandable request — if someone has a desire to get somewhere quickly, such as a hospital, 10 kph wouldn’t be nearly fast enough.

Additional Services

“Smaller towns in Japan are greying even faster than cities, and there are just not enough workers to operate buses and taxis,” said Hiroshi Nakajima, DeNA Co’s automotive director. “But there are a lot of service areas around the country, and they could serve as a hub for mobility services.”

DeNA's Robot Shuttle and how it works. Image Credit: DeNA
DeNA’s Robot Shuttle and how it works. Image Credit: DeNA

We typically think of self-driving cars as only being used in cities and autonomous driving services as only being used by a younger population. DeNA Co’s testing is proving that the concept can be used by more than this small, young population, even potentially being more beneficial to the elderly.

One test rider, Shizu Yuzawa, 77, said she’d be open to using services like the Robot Shuttle in the future. She explained that she worries about being unable to travel when she can no longer drive.

The bus is also being tested under various road conditions, and to see how people crossing in front of the vehicle react to its warning signal.
Depending on the results of these tests, Japan’s government will convert highway rest stops into hubs that elderly residents can be picked up from. One day they may be able to use the service to travel to medical, retail and banking destinations. Iwelll goes will, additional self-driving services could be launched in other rural communities by 2020.

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As Your Car Becomes More Like an iPhone, Get Ready to Update Its Software Regularly

Over-the-Air Updates

In response to millions of people fleeing Florida in the face of Hurricane Irma, Tesla has “flipped a switch” in some of its cars to temporarily extend their range.

Tesla cars receive software updates much like an iPhone does – via the internet in an update process called “over-the-air” or OTA updates. It’s one of the only car companies that can do this with their cars, regularly sending updates to fix security flaws or update autonomous driving capabilities.

Contrast this with the approach taken by Chrysler, which sent out USB sticks with a safety update to 1.4 million vehicles after hackers showed they could remotely take control of a Jeep. With such USB updates, there was really no way of knowing whether the updates had been applied properly or even got to the right person.

Your Car Is a Collection of Computers on Wheels

Most people don’t realise just how much of a car’s function is controlled by computer processors. The average car has between 25 and 50 different processors, with cars from BMW and Mercedes having around 100 processors each.

Image Source: Tesla

These processors control everything from advanced engine features to braking, automatic parking, collision detection, entertainment, navigation and security. As cars become more intelligent, they are coming to rely on increasingly sophisticated software.

Most of these processors have software that, at the moment, can only be updated by taking the car into to an authorised dealer. Car recalls have become a multi-billion dollar expense for the car industry and a major inconvenience for owners.

For this reason, over-the-air updates will be coming to most cars in the near future. General Motors recently announced that it would start to deliver updates to its cars using GM’s OnStar network. Bosch, one of the leading companies delivering electronics and processing to car manufacturers, is gearing up to deliver secure over-the-air capabilities to cars through a subsidiary, Escrypt.

It is estimated that 180 million cars will be built with this capability in the next five years.

Despite the recent interest, car manufacturers have been wary of updating vehicles in this way. There was concern that too many things could go wrong during the update, leaving the car un-drivable.

Security has also been a concern. Hackers could potentially intervene and substitute malware during the update, for example, with potentially lethal consequences.

How Do Over-The-Air Updates Work?

The process of updating a car turns out to be not that dissimilar from updating an iPhone.

In fact, the acceptance of over-the-air updates for a car starts with the fact that people are more familiar and comfortable with updating a smartphone. They understand that the process can’t be interrupted and the phone must have enough power, for example.

From the technological perspective, the update is encrypted and is accompanied with appropriate signatures that get checked and accepted by special security hardware on the car, called a hardware security module.

The updates are transmitted over secure connections and special software on the car is able to receive the update and apply it. If something goes wrong, the system needs to be able to roll the update back and leave the original version of the software intact and operating.

The arrival of more autonomous driving capabilities in cars will make updates essential, as with the case of Tesla. While these updates could be done at an annual service, the demands of autonomous driving will require more frequent updates of software.

At the same time, consumers are becoming sophisticated enough to be able to manage these updates themselves.

There Will Still Be Some Turbulence to Overcome

The challenge for companies wanting to move to over-the-air updates may not just be a case of car manufacturers moving too slowly. Traditional car dealers may see this as a way of cutting them out of the loop, and may resist any regulations allowing these types of updates outside of a normal service.

Other potential barriers may come from regulators. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has a task force looking at cybersecurity and over-the-air updating in motor vehicles.

One area of concern for this group is that if a vehicle has been certified by a country’s motor vehicle safety standards, what happens if it receives an over-the-air update that changes how it performs? Does this render its certification invalid? This might be the case especially if the vehicle’s emissions change as a result of the software update.

Another challenge that may give car manufacturers pause is that if a car can be updated with new features using a simple software update, will customers hang onto the cars for longer and not upgrade their cars quite so often?

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VW Just Said They’ll Have Electric Options for All Models by 2030

Cleaning Up Their Act

Volkswagen (VW) has announced plans to offer an electric version of each of their 300 car models by 2030. The automaker will invest €20 billion ($25 billion) in the project and has plans to invest another €50 billion ($59.8 billion) on batteries.

“Customers want clean vehicles,” VW chief Matthias Mueller told the BBC at the Frankfurt Motor Show. “People want to have clean air, and we want to make our contribution here.”

VW is the first major auto manufacturer to make this kind of commitment to electric vehicles. However, other companies are taking similar steps — Mercedes-Benz has stated its intent to offer electric or hybrid versions of all its cars by 2022.

German automakers are in a race to clean up their act following the recent emissions scandal, which was predominantly centered around VW but also affected the likes of Mercedes. In August, Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the country would eventually ban the sale of new diesel German vehicles, although no timeline was set.

Since the auto industry is Germany’s biggest export, and it accounts for some 800,000 jobs, it’s crucial that the sector finds ways to reduce its reliance on diesel.

Fuel for Thought

The world is shifting toward electric vehicles, but it’s proving to be a gradual process. For economic and practical reasons, we can’t expect cars powered by traditional fuel sources to disappear overnight.

“There will be a coexistence between internal combustion engines and electric drive systems for a certain period,” Mueller said to the BBC. “I can’t tell you how long that will be.” However, it seems that governments, not automakers, will be in control of the schedule.

This week, China’s deputy industry ministry confirmed that the country is working on a timetable to cease the production and sale of gasoline-powered cars. Earlier this year, France committed to a cut-off date of 2040, and the UK followed this lead not long afterward.

Electric vehicles are certainly becoming more widely used, both for personal transportation and in industrial applications. As the technology becomes more popular, we’re seeing further advances in their capacity to make driving more eco-friendly.

China remains the leader in terms of electric vehicles on the road, but a shift is taking place all around the world.  One recent report indicated that petrol and diesel vehicles will have been outpaced in Europe by 2035 — which certainly seems in line with the timeline VW has in place for its transition.

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Here’s the First Look at Mercedes’ New $2.7 Million Hypercar

On Monday, Mercedes-AMG unveiled its long-awaited Project One hybrid hypercar concept ahead of the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show.

The Project One is packed with technology from the company’s back to back to back World Championship-winning Formula One team.

“Motorsport is not an end in itself for us. Faced with intense competition, we develop technologies from which our production vehicles also subsequently benefit,” Mercedes-Benz chairman Dr. Dieter Zetsche said in a statement.

“We are drawing on our experiences and successes from three constructors’ and drivers’ world championships to bring Formula 1 technology to the road for the first time: in Mercedes-AMG Project ONE.”

Mercedes AMG Project OneMercedes-Benz

At the heart of the Project One is a hybrid drive unit lifted directly from Mercedes-AMG’s Formula One racer. In total the drive unit can produce more than 1,000 horsepower.

The system consists of a 1.6 liter, turbocharged V6 engine with an atmospheric red line of 11,000 RPMs. The engine’s crankshaft is attached to an electric motor that can virtually eliminate turbo lag while generating electricity by harnessing the engine’s kinetic energy. In Formula One circles, this electric motor is called the Motor Generator Unit Kinetic or MGU-K. The engine and MGU-K duo drive the rear wheels while producing more than 670 horsepower.

Mercedes AMG Project One The Mercedes-AMG Formula One-based drive unit. Mercedes-Benz

The engine features a split turbocharger design that keeps the hot exhaust gasses that power the turbo away from the compressor, thereby leading to more power through cooler and denser air being fed into the engine. The two sides of the turbo are connected by a shaft, which itself is equipped with a 121 horsepower electric motor capable of powering the compressor in case there isn’t enough boost coming from the exhaust gasses. The folks in F1 call this electric turbo the Motor Generator Unit Heat or MGU-H.

Additionally, Mercedes installed two electric motors, each producing more than 161 horsepower, on the front axle of the Project One, thereby giving it a virtual all-wheel-drive system with true torque-vectoring capabilities.

That’s right, the Project One has one engine and four electric motors.

Mercedes AMG Project OneMercedes-Benz

The Project One features an automated AMG-Speedshift eight-speed manual transmission.

And the performance figures are staggering. Mercedes-AMG declined to release a 0-60 mph acceleration time. However, the company claims the Project One can reach 124 mph in less than six seconds and reach a top speed of more than 217 mph.

With a full lithium-ion battery pack, the Project One has an all-electric range of 25 miles.

Mercedes AMG Project OneMercedes-Benz

All of this advanced Formula One technology comes at a price. The Project One starts at €2.275 million or $2.72 million with production cars expected to arrive sometime around 2019.

Sadly, if haven’t ordered one, you are already too late. All 275 production Mercedes-AMG Project Ones have been spoken for.

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The World’s First Ethical Guidelines for Driverless Cars

A World First

Humans before animals and property. No discrimination as to who should survive. Safeguards against malicious hacking.

Image Source: Waymo

These are just some of the world-first ethical rules being implemented in Germany regarding how autonomous vehicles are to be programmed.

The federal transport minister Alexander Dobrindt presented a report on automated driving to Germany’s cabinet last month. The report is the work of an Ethics Commission on Automated Driving, an expert panel of scientists and legal experts.

The report notes the technological advances being made to increase automation in cars to make them safer and reduce accidents, but it adds:

Nevertheless, at the level of what is technologically possible today […] it will not be possible to prevent accidents completely. This makes it essential that decisions be taken when programming the software of conditionally and highly automated driving systems.

The report lists 20 guidelines for the motor industry to consider in the development of any automated driving systems. The minister says that cabinet has adopted the guidelines, making it the first government in the world to do so.

The report allows German car makers to maintain their technological lead, setting a strong example for the rest of the world to follow.

Automated Driving Is Safer

The moral foundation of the report is simple – since self-driving vehicles will cause fewer human deaths and injuries, there is a moral imperative to use such systems since governments have a duty of care for their citizens.

So what are some of the situations the report considers?

If an accident cannot be avoided, the report say human safety must take precedence over animals and property. The software must try to avoid a collision altogether, but if that’s not possible, it should take the action that does least harm to people.

The report also recognises that some decisions could be too morally ambiguous for the software to resolve.

In these cases, the ultimate decision and responsibility, at least for now, must be with the human sitting in the driver’s seat, as control is swiftly transferred to them.

If they fail to act, the vehicle simply tries to stop. In the near future, as capability improves, vehicles might well become fully autonomous.

It’s acknowledged that no system is perfect. If harmful outcomes cannot be reduced to zero, at least it will be below the current human level.

If a collision is unavoidable, the report say systems must aim for harm minimisation. There must be no discrimination on the basis of age, gender, race, physical attributes or anything else of any potential accident victim.

All humans are considered equal for the purposes of harm minimisation.

This makes the famed Trolley Dilemma irrelevant in as much as the software is not allowed to prioritise an individual’s relative worth.

Who Is In Control?

The report mentions the possibility of fully autonomous systems, but recognises that the technology is not yet capable of solving tricky “dilemma situations” in which the vehicle has to decide between the lesser of two evils.

As the technology becomes sufficiently mature, full autonomy will be possible.

According to the report, at all times it must be known who is driving – human or computer. Perhaps by means of scanning their license, everyone who drives a vehicle must first be validated as being legally qualified to drive that class of vehicle.

The vehicle should have an aviation-style “Black Box” that continuously records events, including who or what is in control at any given time.

In the event of an accident involving an autonomous vehicle, an investigation should be carried out by an independent federal agency to determine liability.

The driver of a vehicle retains their rights over the personal information collected from that vehicle. Use of this data by third parties must be with the owner’s informed consent and with no harm resulting.

The threat of malicious hacking any autonomous driving system must be mitigated by effective safeguards. Software should be designed with a level of security that makes malicious hacking exceedingly unlikely.

As for the set-up of a vehicle’s controls, they must remain ergonomically optimal for human use, as they are in a conventional car.

The vehicle can react autonomously in an emergency, but the human may take over in morally ambiguous situations. The controls should be designed to smoothly and quickly make the transfer.

The report says the public must be made aware of the principles upon which autonomous vehicles operate, including the rationale behind any of those principles.

This should be incorporated into school curriculums so that people understand both the how and why of autonomous vehicles.

A Good Start, But A Work-In-Progress

The guidelines will be reviewed after two years of use. Doubtless there will be fine tuning in the light of experience, in this the first of many reviews in the years and decades to come.

The guidelines are solidly reasoned and comprehensive enough to provide a legal basis for German car-makers to move forward with their plans.

The ConversationSince other countries appear to have taken a wait and see position on such legislation, they may well decide to follow Germany’s example, and not for the first time.

This would be no bad thing, since a piecemeal approach from one country to the next would be in no-one’s interests.

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China is Working on a Timetable to Ban the Production and Sale of Non-Electric Cars

Hit the Brakes

The Chinese government is working on a plan to halt the production and sale of cars powered by fossil fuels. Given that the country sees more cars bought and sold than any other, this could have a huge impact on the global electric auto industry.

Deputy industry minister Xin Guobin stated that officials are working on a timetable for the change, speaking at an automotive industry forum on 9 September. While the shift away from gasoline-powered vehicles will obviously help with the country’s far-reaching ecological efforts, it would also contribute to its attempt to curb a growing reliance on imported oil.

China is already the biggest market for electric autos, having surpassed the US in 2016. In 2015, sales of electric-powered and hybrid vehicles swelled by 50 percent, accounting for 40 percent of worldwide sales.

Authorities have been proactive in encouraging this growth, investing billions in research and programs to spur adoption. Starting next year, auto manufacturers will be required to ensure that 8 percent of their output is comprised of electric vehicles and hybrids, with that proportion rising to 10 percent in 2019, and 12 percent in 2020.

Electric Avenue

China is not the only country that’s preparing to enforce constraints on the manufacture of gas-powered cars in an effort to encourage more eco-friendly alternatives. France committed to putting a ban in place by 2040 at the beginning of July, and the UK followed suit just a few weeks later.

However, it should be noted that these measures don’t extend to decommissioning gas-powered vehicles that are already out on the roads. China’s goal is to hasten the transition to electric autos, but there hasn’t been any mention of banning vehicles that were sold before the restrictions were put in place.

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Tesla Boosted The Range of Cars in Hurricane Irma’s Path

Evacuation Assistance

Tesla drivers who might have been affected by Hurricane Irma have been given a helping hand from the company. The automaker issued a software update that temporarily increases the driving range of the 60kWh versions of its Model S and Model X cars situated in the path of the hurricane.

The Tesla Model S. Image Credit: Tesla
Promotional image of the Tesla Model S. Image Credit: Tesla

Previously, these vehicles were limited to a driving range of around 210 miles on a single charge. Thanks to the automatic update, this should be increased to 249 miles, which should hopefully have made things easier for anyone attempting to evacuate the area.

Reports of the change initially came in via users on the Tesla forums and the Tesla subreddit, but the company has since confirmed that it was an intentional measure. The driving range of these cars is expected to be put back to normal on September 16.

Over the Air

It might seem strange that Tesla is able to upgrade the capabilities of its vehicles via software update. However, the company is really removing a limitation, rather than upping their driving range outright.

When Tesla decided to start offering a cheaper 60kWh version of certain models, it turned out to be more practical to use a 75kWh battery and limit its range via software. Owners can actually make the upgrade whenever they want — but it typically costs upwards of $5,000.

Even without Tesla’s helpful gesture, electric vehicles are proving to be a boon to drivers caught in the path of Hurricane Irma. Gasoline shortages across Florida are causing difficulties for motorists, with reports indicating that 60 percent of gas stations in Gainesville are without fuel, and 40 percent having run dry in Miami, as millions of residents evacuated their homes.

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New Drone Footage Shows Just How Huge Tesla’s Gigafactory Really Is

It looks like there is a lot of action going on at Tesla‘s giant Gigafactory.

The factory, which is located in Sparks, Nevada, is where Tesla is producing the battery cells for its electric cars and drivetrains for its Model 3, the company’s first mass-market electric car.

Tesla aims to ramp up production of its Model 3 to some 20,000 units per month by December and some 10,000 units per week in 2018, CEO Elon Musk has said.

But in order for the company to meet these lofty goals, it must also ramp up battery cell production.

That’s where the Gigafactory comes in.

New drone footage posted by YouTube user California Phantom last Thursday captures the factory’s massive size, but it also appears to show a lot of work happening at the factory. Scroll down for a closer look:

Tesla’s Gigafactory is located on a 3,000-acre lot of land in Sparks, Nevada.

Image Source: California Phantom/YouTube

And as you can see, the company needs that land not only for its giant factory, but also for parking so that it can accommodate its growing number of employees.

Image Source: California Phantom/YouTube

Construction at the factory has come a long way in just a few months. This shot of the factory’s roof was taken in December.

Image Source: YouTube/Matthew Roberts

It doesn’t look like there’s been much more expansion of the main building externally since December, but the footage does appear to show a much busier atmosphere, suggesting there’s some expansion going on inside.

The Gigafactory will be more than five million square feet (including several floors) once it’s completed, and it will be capable of producing more battery cells than any other lithium ion battery factory in the world, Musk has said.

Image Source: California Phantom/YouTube

Check out more footage of the factory in the video below:

 

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Flying-car Company Aims to Make On-Demand Air Taxis Happen by 2025

Flying Cars

This past April, German company Lilium Aviation enjoyed a successful flight test of its full-scale prototype flying car. Now, the company behind this vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft has made more significant progress in building the business as this technology develops. Specifically, Lilium has hired two new executives who will focus on scaling the business as it advances successful commercial applications for its VTOL planes and on-demand air taxis.

Image Credit: Lilium
Image Credit: Lilium

Executive Remo Gerber will serve as Lilium’s chief commercial officer. Gerber has experience both in physics and managing a ride-hail business. It is this latter experience that he might be calling on more in his new role, as he will be instrumental to the success of Lilium’s long-term plan to become the flying version of Uber by creating an on-demand network of VTOL jets. The jets would take off and land from pads throughout cities where passengers could hail rides. In true startup style, Gerber will also be wearing the CFO/COO hat and managing finances and investor relations. Gerber told Recode that Lilium is “laser focused” on bringing its VTOL jets to market and the business is already starting to collaborate with regulators and commercial partners.

Ready To Transform Transportation

Lilium may not be the only company on the market with a dream of making this kind flying car service a reality. It is competing against the likes of Larry Page-backed Kitty Hawk and Uber. However, Lilium has the distinct advantage of a proven business concept and $11.4 million raised in venture capital.

Image Credit: Lilium
Image Credit: Lilium

Lilium plans to manufacture its aircraft in-house, which brings us to the other new executive: Dirk Gebser, who will serve as VP of production. Previously, Gebser served as VP of assembly at Airbus for two models and was also the director of manufacturing engineering at Rolls-Royce. At Lilium, Gebser will be lending his experience to the company as it strives to meet its 2019 deadline for launching its first crewed flight. Meanwhile, Uber hopes to demonstrate the abilities of its flying cars in Texas and Dubai by 2020. As more and more new modes of transportation come to market, we can expect to see a lot of progress in the field of flying cars.

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Will Wireless Connections Between Autonomous Vehicles Make Them Safer?

Life-Saving Automation

With vehicular deaths in the United States spiking – new data shows a 14 percent rise over the past two years, the first such rise in 50 years – the search for solutions is urgent. Crashes on American roads claim 1,000 lives every nine days.

In a recent article in The New York Times, “A Public-Health Crisis That We Can Fix” (7 March 2017), the writer, David Leonhardt, argued persuasively that distracted driving due to smartphone use is the leading cause of this spike.

Leonhardt suggested that if automation has brought U.S. airline deaths to virtually zero, why not apply it to create driverless cars?

Setting aside for the moment the irony of using wireless communications to prevent deaths ostensibly due to wireless communications, let’s examine the proposition. Certainly, driverless cars have been receiving significant attention due to their promise of increased safety and, tragically, because last year an engineer in a trial run lost his life in a driverless vehicle crash.

How far apart are the promise and the current development of driverless cars? As an engineer working on future wireless communications technologies, I can provide perspective on the challenges in technology, policy and standards that lie between the promise and performance of driverless vehicles.

The Tesla Revolution [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Cars, Electrification, and Communication

The electrification of vehicles already allows a vehicle to closely monitor its own performance and the condition of its components, increasing safety by notifying the driver of trouble or impending trouble. “Connected” vehicles are in touch with cellular networks, the cloud and/or cloud-based service offerings, including diagnostics, maps, infotainment and roadside assistance, to name a few.

Then there is the “driverless” vehicle. These are still on the drawing board and in occasional trials on public roadways, at least in the U.S. and the UK. Roughly two schools of thought guide their development. One has the driverless vehicle depending on sensors along its route. The other, truly “autonomous” option describes a vehicle equipped with enough artificial intelligence (AI) to sense its surroundings, communicate with other vehicles in its vicinity for collision avoidance and make independent decisions on its navigation. The possibility of a hybrid of these two approaches remains in play.

Situational Awareness Needed

We know that one famous automaker is exploring the combined use of radar and a computer-based vision system for the situational awareness needed to pilot an autonomous vehicle. Another company, famous for its algorithms, is basing its navigational and decision-making system on Lidar (light detection and ranging), which involves a car-top unit that develops a precise map of its surroundings as it progresses down the road.

In both cases, the vehicle requires situational awareness to navigate the desired route and avoid obstacles and collisions. I’ve written about some of the challenges in “Situational awareness key to safe, self-driving cars,” Commonwealth Magazine (30 October 2016).

Though onboard technology for autonomy is also required, such a vehicle will likely communicate with similar vehicles in its vicinity to inform and expand its situational awareness. Whichever technology is used to provide situational awareness, some form of AI is needed to process and act on the incoming data to make driver-like decisions.

Clearly, there is little if any room for error in such a system. And just as technology options exist for situational awareness, options exist for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and, ultimately, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications.

Thus a key question remains: how can we develop wireless connections between autonomous vehicles that are so reliable we’ll stake our lives on it?

7 Benefits of Driverless Cars
Click to View Full Infographic

5G and Wi-Fi

With connectivity as the new goal to make driverless, autonomous vehicles a reality, what exact technology or technologies will deliver it? And what information would be shared between vehicles? These remain open questions, but let’s look at two leading candidates: 5G and dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) that depends on a variant of Wi-Fi known as IEEE 802.11p™ may well provide the wireless communication protocol(s). One requirement, apart from reliability, will be low latency. Information between multiple, perhaps hundreds of moving vehicles, must get information from A to B with super-low latency, say, 1-2 milliseconds. Another consideration is whether the radio spectrum is available and possesses sufficient bandwidth to carry these bursts of data at speed and scale.

5G is in its infancy, but its many expected innovations over what’s available today will include extremely high data speeds, significantly lower latency and increased network flexibility that may go a long way to solving some – though perhaps not all – of the challenges inherent in autonomous vehicles, including V2V communication. I’m personally skeptical that 5G in its cellular configuration – that is, vehicle-to-cell-tower-to-vehicle – will provide the super-low latency needed to avoid collisions, but 5G capabilities may work for relatively short-range V2V. 5G’s performance may be impacted by having many vehicles in dense traffic attempting to communicate simultaneously – precisely when safety measures are most needed. 5G’s journey to fruition will have to include favorable public policy and standards to support it.

In contrast, the IEEE 802.11p™ standard has been ratified and commercial off-the-shelf products are available. The main technological difference between 5G and IEEE 802.11p is that the latter relies on what we call a “contention base.” It’s akin to Wi-Fi performance. Anyone can log on, but the data speeds aren’t extremely fast. Both technologies have their supporters. It is conceivable that a hybrid approach could use the best of both methods for V2V connectivity.

Searching for Spectrum

Though the communications technologies for data exchanges between vehicles is currently in flux, one constant is the need to transmit that data over the airwaves, so sufficient spectrum is a must. Since 1999, the Federal Communications Commission has allocated 75 MHz of wireless bandwidth around 5.9 GHz for vehicular communication in the U.S. Due to underuse by the automotive industry up until now, this bandwidth is under pressure for use by other industries, even though we’re now seeing how it should be used by driverless vehicles. Still, such a narrow band might be swiftly overcome by the amount of data transmitted by driverless vehicles in traffic.

One possible solution to that challenge involves spontaneous access to wireless spectrum, which is a problem I’ve studied for a dozen years. It remains a challenge without a firm solution. I think that 5G’s support for something known as cognitive radio offers a potential solution. Cognitive radio would enable a vehicle to locate and lock in on available spectrum, whether it’s dedicated for vehicular communications or is simply unused at the exact moment a vehicle needs spectrum to communicate. And one model for algorithms that can perform this task comes from studies of bumblebee communication. Bumblebees act both in concert and individually as they seek the best source of nectar. A brief explanation of this concept is offered in “Cars Could Follow the Flight of the Bumblebee,” published by IEEE Spectrum (3 December 2015).

Laws and Ethics for Autonomous Cars
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Solutions Bring Spin-Off Benefits

Ultimately, we’ll need to figure out how to accomplish all these actions on a highly dynamic topology, meaning numerous cars moving in different directions at various speeds. This remains a pressing research and development issue that will take at least a half-decade to resolve.

If the use of wireless communications tempts humans to distraction, perhaps it’s fitting that it can also offer a solution to make our roads safer. And if we can solve the challenges of mobile communications between a multitude of fast vehicles, we can apply those solutions in other areas, including the Internet of Things (IoT), which promises to connect a gazillion devices. Safer roads are just the beginning of a longer journey.

Alex Wyglinski is president-elect, IEEE Vehicular Technology Society, Associate Professor of electrical and computer engineering and Director of the Wireless Innovation Laboratory at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Futurism or its affiliates.

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Experts Warn That Autonomous Cars Could Make Us Reckless Drivers

Giving Cars Control

The integration of autonomous cars into society appears inevitable. A number of companies and organizations, including Tesla and Apple, are already testing them on roads, and others, such as GM and Uber, are looking for ways to merge self-driving cars and the growing rideshare industry.

Once all the kinks are worked out, fully autonomous systems will allow drivers to do other things during their travels, such as sleep, eat, or text. However, some are concerned that driver-assist technologies are having an adverse effect on our ability to drive right now.

While cars that can travel across the country without any human input are on the way, they aren’t yet available. However, specific technologies that can handle tasks like checking a driver’s blindspots, making sure they stay in their lane, and ensuring they don’t rear-end the car in front of them are.

The problem is that relying on these systems can make drivers less likely to consider those tasks when they get behind the wheel of a car. The effect of this many not be immediate, but gradually, our driving capabilities will be impacted.

“There are lots of concerns about people checking out and we are trying to monitor that now,” Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told Bloomberg. “Everything we do that makes the driving task a little easier means that people are going to pay a little bit less attention when they’re driving.”

According to Bloomberg, the automotive industry is desperate to come up with ways to keep drivers-turned-passengers engaged and focused on their surroundings while their car handles an increasing larger share of the work, and several manufacturers are already making progress.

Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist brings a car to a stop if the driver doesn’t grab the steering wheel for over 30 seconds, while Audi’s “Traffic Jam Assist” feature gives a driver 15 seconds of hand-off driving before audibly warning them to place their hands on the steering wheel.

Conversely, GM’s Super Cruise eye-tracking technology doesn’t require that drivers keep their hands on the wheel, but it does force them to keep their eyes on the road. The system will pull the car over if the driver doesn’t respond to prompts to return their attention to the road soon enough.

Saving Lives

Even if autonomous systems do negatively impact our ability to drive, the trade off may be worth it. Nearly 30,000 people in the U.S. alone die from traffic accidents each year, and upwards of 2 million people are injured.

Even though laws meant to prevent distracted driving practices — texting or talking on phones, eating, fiddling with the radio, etc. — are on the books, not everyone abides by them, and in 2015 alone, nearly 3,477 people died as a result of distracted driving.

7 Benefits of Driverless Cars
Click to View Full Infographic

Meanwhile, numerous reports indicate that self-driving cars could be safer than human drivers, and they are most effective without any human input.

Earlier this year, the California Department of Motor Vehicles tracked the performances of autonomous cars from 11 companies, revealing a reduced number of incidents compared to their performance in 2016. Many of the incidents and accidents that were reported were caused by bad weather, debris on the road, or construction — not the technology of the autonomous cars.

Some of the most notable experts in the fields of science and technology think self-driving cars are worth the investment and much safer than their human-operated counterparts.

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said that those skeptical of autonomous cars are slowing progress and “killing people,” while astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explained in a tweet in June that car accidents will eventually become the leading cause of death if autonomous systems aren’t adopted: “When we cure all disease & stop aging, the leading cause of death will be Car Accidents, unless we develop Self-driving Cars.”

Autonomous cars may impair our ability to drive, but if they are able to meet the safety expectations of people like Musk and Tyson, that may be a fair price to pay.

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China Is Reviving the World’s Fastest Train

China once held the title for the world’s fastest train, but a devastating crash in 2011 forced the country to slow down their transits, lest they experience another tragic event.

Next month, however, China will regain is lost title, as it plans to introduce several new bullet trains that will move at the speeds necessary to once again be the world’s fastest. Prior to the aforementioned accident, China’s bullet trains traveled at 350 km/h (217 mph), but were then reduced to 250-300 km/h (155-186 mph).

Come September 21, when the new trains are up and running, speeds will return to 350 km/h, but will be capable of going 400 km/h (248 mph). For comparison, the still-in-development Hyperloop One recently reached speeds of 308 km/h (192 mph), though the plan is to hit 402 km/h (250 mph) while still in testing.

Railway workers pose next to one of China’s new bullet trains. Image Credit: Chinatopix Via AP

Zhao Jian, Beijing Jiaotong University professor and a leading researcher on China’s high-speed railway network, told the South China Morning Post that in order to avoid more accidents at higher speeds, the railway operator will need to reduce the number of trains in use at one time.

According to the Associated Press, China has laid over 20,000 kilometers (12,400 miles) of high-speed rail, and intends to add another 10,000 kilometers (6,214 miles) by 2020. To date, over $360 billion has been spent on the railway’s creation.

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Ford May Soon Be Fully Committed to Electric Vehicles

Ford’s plans for electric vehicles could take a turn for the better under its new leadership, as speculated by Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas.

Electrek reports that Jonas recently sent a new note to clients, in which he explains where the car manufacturer could go following the appointment of Jim Hackett as the company’s new president and CEO.

“We expect Ford to go ‘all-in’ on EVs. With an emphasis on pure EV,” writes Jonas. “Hybrids? Not so much. Prior management was vague with how its $4.5b investment in ‘electrification’ would be allocated. We are hopeful for a significantly upgraded level of transparency, given the pace of change in EV adoption and expenditure worldwide.”

ford electric cars transportation
Ford’s Transit Connect Hybrid Taxi. Image Credit: Ford

Other companies like Chevrolet, Tesla, Honda, and Porsche have released, or have plans to release, electric vehicles. Ford has spoken about releasing electric cars in the past, such as the F-150 Hybrid and Mustang Hybrid. Alongside these, Ford has also said it’s developing a fully-electric SUV and two electrified police vehicles.

Despite his optimism, and Ford’s previous announcements, Jonas is not confident in the company investors’ support the initiative.

“We expect Ford’s next strategy to be more open to partnerships, new structures and entities, and a far greater emphasis on all-electric powertrains. However, we are not convinced investors are prepared for the required sacrifice to near term profit.”

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Tesla Drivers Will Soon Be Able to Access Their Preferences From Any Vehicle

Elon Musk has teased a major new feature for Tesla vehicles via his Twitter account. The company is planning to switch to a profile-based system that would allow drivers to access their preferences from any vehicle in the world.

A Tesla owner tweeted Musk a question about the possibility of setting a different work location for separate drivers sharing the same car. The CEO responded with talk of a plan to move “all info and settings” to a cloud-based server, making them accessible from anywhere and any vehicle.

Musk is well known for using his Twitter account to share everything from news on the future of his business to his opinions on the progression of technology as a whole. In the last few weeks alone, he’s used social media to reveal future plans for Hyperloop and state his concerns about the dangers of artificial intelligence.

However, in this case, he stopped short of announcing when this functionality would be made available. Now, in the past, Musk has used Twitter to brief drivers on when new firmware updates would be distributed, so it’s likely that this information will be dispersed on twitter when the time is right.

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Volkswagen’s New Electric Minibus Will Hit the Road in 2022

The Microbus is Back

On August 19, Volkswagen announced at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California that its electric microbus, the I.D. BUZZ concept car, will go into production. The new microbus will debut in dealerships throughout China, Europe, and North America in 2022, after the compact four-door version arrives.

“After the presentations at the global motor shows in Detroit and Geneva, we received a large number of letters and emails from customers who said, ‘please build this car’,” Volkswagen CEO Dr. Herbert Diess said at the event. Diess explained to attendees that the location of the announcement was deliberately chosen: “The Microbus has long been part of the California lifestyle. Now we’re bringing it back by reinventing it as an electric vehicle.”

New Tech, Classic Style

The production model I.D. BUZZ will feature all of the benefits of electric drive components, including a long wheelbase and lots of interior space. According to a CNET reviewer who drove the bus, its doors open and close automatically, like Tesla’s Model X, and with a 0-60 acceleration in under 5 seconds, it has the speed to match other electric vehicles— not that anyone driving one will be in much of a rush. The battery pack has a range of around 270 miles, on par with the Model X and the Chevy Bolt, and more than the Tesla’s Model S. The nearly flat front of the classic VW microbus will be retained, because the batteries will be mounted in the floor of the vehicle, just as they are in the concept version shown in Detroit in April.

The I.D. BUZZ is designed for multiple purpose: as a passenger vehicle, but also to carry freight just as the classic T2 did. “Along with a minibus version, we’ll also be offering an I.D. BUZZ CARGO variant for zero-emissions delivery of goods,” Volkswagen’s CEO of Commercial Vehicles, Dr. Eckhard Scholz said at the event. “With Level 3 autonomous capability, this is an ideal concept for an electric van, particularly for delivering packages and goods to the inner cities.”

The iconic VW microbus has a long history in America. It began production in 1950, and by the late 1960s had become a symbol of the hippie counterculture, with enough space to transport groups to rallies, concerts, and anyplace else. This new version of the classic retains a lot of this classic style and nostalgia, with maximum space utilization and recognizable elements of the beloved microbus style. The I.D. BUZZ will also incorporate various design ideas from the concept car, including interactive connectivity, multi-variable seating, and highly automated driving. It’s the hippie’s choice for the electric car revolution.

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Mercedes-Maybach Just Revealed a New Luxury Electric Convertible

Luxury & Efficiency

In the last few years, electric vehicles (EVs) have come a long way, with carmakers like Tesla, Chevrolet, Volkswagen, and many others developing efficient, sleek, new models. Currently, Tesla is leading the pack, launching both luxury and more affordable models that range from sedans to semi trucks. But other companies are hot on Tesla’s trail, eager to reveal their impressive, energy efficient models.

This past Friday, Mercedes-Maybach launched its new concept vehicle, the Vision 6 Cabriolet, at the 2017 Monterey Car Week in California. The concept car is a glamorous, luxury convertible that runs 100 percent on electricity.

Image Credit: Mercedes-Benz
Image Credit: Mercedes-Benz

Gorden Wagener, Daimler AG chief design officer, said in a Mercedes-Benz press release, “The Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet takes modern luxury into the realms of the ultimate in luxury and is the perfect embodiment of our design strategy. Breathtaking proportions combined with a luxurious haute couture interior help to create the ultimate experience.”

Image Credit: Mercedes-Benz
Image Credit: Mercedes-Benz

Future of EVs

The vehicle has 750 horsepower and can go more than 320 km (200 miles) on a single charge. This new model is a brilliant follow-up to the previous Vision 6 Coupe, which was unveiled last year. The new model has a boat tail end, and is almost 6 meters (20 feet) long, giving the car an appearance akin to a luxury yacht.

The Tesla Model 3 has an estimated demand of over half a million, and Elon Musk recently leaked information about the impressive long-range capacity of the vehicle. While Tesla is continuing to produce quality options, competition from more affordable and even equally luxurious models isn’t necessarily a bad thing for consumers. And with this luxurious option scoring high on performance, efficiency, comfort, and — most obviously — style, it gives a big boost to the future of EVs.

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The Wireless Charging of Moving Electric Vehicles Just Overcame A Major Hurdle

Electric Cars

If electric cars could recharge while driving down a highway, it would virtually eliminate concerns about their range and lower their cost, perhaps making electricity the standard fuel for vehicles.

Now Stanford University scientists have overcome a major hurdle to such a future by wirelessly transmitting electricity to a nearby moving object. Their results are published in the June 15 edition of Nature.

Professor Shanhui Fan (left) and graduate student Sid Assawaworrarit have developed a device that can wirelessly charge a moving object at close range. The technology could be used to charge electric cars on the highway, or medical implants and cellphones as you walk nearby. (Image Credit: Mark Shwartz/Stanford University)

“In addition to advancing the wireless charging of vehicles and personal devices like cellphones, our new technology may untether robotics in manufacturing, which also are on the move,” said Shanhui Fan, a professor of electrical engineering and senior author of the study. “We still need to significantly increase the amount of electricity being transferred to charge electric cars, but we may not need to push the distance too much more.”

The group built on existing technology developed in 2007 at MIT for transmitting electricity wirelessly over a distance of a few feet to a stationary object. In the new work, the team transmitted electricity wirelessly to a moving LED lightbulb. That demonstration only involved a 1-milliwatt charge, whereas electric cars often require tens of kilowatts to operate. The team is now working on greatly increasing the amount of electricity that can be transferred, and tweaking the system to extend the transfer distance and improve efficiency.

Driving Range

Wireless charging would address a major drawback of plug-in electric cars —  their limited driving range. Tesla Motors expects its upcoming Model 3 to go more than 200 miles on a single charge, and the Chevy Bolt, which is already on the market, has an advertised range of 238 miles. But electric vehicle batteries generally take several hours to fully recharge. A charge-as-you-drive system would overcome these limitations.

tesla model 3 electric vehicles
The Tesla Model 3.

“In theory, one could drive for an unlimited amount of time without having to stop to recharge,” Fan explained. “The hope is that you’ll be able to charge your electric car while you’re driving down the highway. A coil in the bottom of the vehicle could receive electricity from a series of coils connected to an electric current embedded in the road.”

Some transportation experts envision an automated highway system, where driverless electric vehicles are wirelessly charged by solar power or other renewable energy sources. The goal would be to reduce accidents and dramatically improve the flow of traffic while lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Wireless technology could also assist GPS navigation of driverless cars. GPS is accurate up to about 35 feet. For safety, autonomous cars need to be in the center of the lane where the transmitter coils would be embedded, providing very precise positioning for GPS satellites.

Magnetic Resonance

Mid-range wireless power transfer, as developed at Stanford and other research universities, is based on coupling. Just as major power plants generate alternating currents by rotating coils of wire between magnets, electricity moving through wires creates an oscillating magnetic field. This field also causes electrons in a nearby coil of wires to oscillate, thereby transferring power wirelessly. The transfer efficiency is further enhanced if both coils are tuned to the same magnetic resonance frequency and are positioned at the correct angle.

However, the continuous flow of electricity can only be maintained if some aspects of the circuits, such as the frequency, are manually tuned as the object moves. So, either the energy transmitting coil and receiver coil must remain nearly stationary, or the device must be tuned automatically and continuously — a significantly complex process.

To address the challenge, the Stanford team eliminated the radio-frequency source in the transmitter and replaced it with a commercially available voltage amplifier and feedback resistor. This system automatically figures out the right frequency for different distances without the need for human interference.

“Adding the amplifier allows power to be very efficiently transferred across most of the three-foot range and despite the changing orientation of the receiving coil,” said graduate student Sid Assawaworrarit, the study’s lead author. “This eliminates the need for automatic and continuous tuning of any aspect of the circuits.”

Assawaworrarit tested the approach by placing an LED bulb on the receiving coil. In a conventional setup without active tuning, LED brightness would diminish with distance. In the new setup, the brightness remained constant as the receiver moved away from the source by a distance of about three feet. Fan’s team recently filed a patent application for the latest advance.

The group used an off-the-shelf, general-purpose amplifier with a relatively low efficiency of about 10 percent. They say custom-made amplifiers can improve that efficiency to more than 90 percent.

“We can rethink how to deliver electricity not only to our cars, but to smaller devices on or in our bodies,” Fan said. “For anything that could benefit from dynamic, wireless charging, this is potentially very important.”

This article was provided by Stanford University. Materials may have been edited for clarity and brevity. 

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