Transportation

Lyft Says Nearly 250K of Its Passengers Ditched a Personal Car In 2017 (techcrunch.com) 59

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Lyft has a new report out detailing its "economic impact" for 2017, and the document includes a lot of stats on its performance throughout the year. The ride-hailing provider claims 375.5 million rides for the year, which is 130 percent growth measured year-over-year. It served 23 million different passengers, itself a 92 percent YoY increase, and had 1.4 million drivers on the platform -- 100 percent growth vs. its total for 2016. Lyft is making some especially strong claims regarding its impact on car ownership trends: In 2017 alone, it said that almost a quarter of a million passengers on its platform dropped owning a personal vehicle, due to the availability of ridesharing specifically. Fifty percent of its users also report driving their own car less because of Lyft's service, and a quarter of those on the platform say they don't feel personal vehicle ownership is that important anymore. The ride-hailing company also found attitudes generally favorable towards self-driving vehicles and their use: 83 percent of Lyft passengers surveyed by the company said they'd be open to hailing and riding in a self-driving vehicle once they're available.
Transportation

Uber Says UK Drivers Will Take Mandatory Breaks (cnet.com) 33

Uber is introducing a new policy on drivers' hours across the UK next week, which it says will help to increase safety for drivers and passengers. From a report: Drivers for the ride-hailing service will have to take a continuous six-hour break after the time spent on trips with passengers and on their way to pickups reaches 10 hours. The company announced the decision Tuesday, saying it believes this move is an industry first in the UK. The company has been criticized in the past over its handling of workers' rights and has faced resistance in the UK. Uber lost its license to operate in London in September. In October, a London court ruled that its drivers should be classified as employees instead of as contractors
Businesses

Airbus A380, Once the Future of Aviation, May Cease Production (nytimes.com) 258

The days may be numbered for the world's largest passenger aircraft. An anonymous reader shares a report: Airbus, the European aerospace group that makes the A380 superjumbo, said on Monday that it would have to end production of the plane if its only major customer, Emirates, did not order more (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). The admission by John Leahy, the company's chief operating officer, was the latest indication that Airbus miscalculated more than two decades ago when it bet that clogged runways would create demand for larger planes that could deliver more people with fewer landing slots. Instead, airlines bypassed the major hubs and ordered midsize planes that could fly directly between regional airports.

[...] When Airbus started delivering the A380 a decade ago, after spending $25 billion to develop it, the company based near Toulouse, France, saw the plane as the solution to airport congestion and to increased demand for air travel. Only so many planes can land at an airport in any given day, so Airbus reasoned that planes carrying more people would allow airports to absorb more passengers. The A380 can carry more than 500 passengers while also offering amenities like showers, first-class suites and a bar.

Businesses

Ford is Throwing $11 Billion at Its Electric Car Problem (theverge.com) 171

Ford said on Monday it will boost its investment in electric vehicles to $11 billion in the next five years, more than doubling a previous commitment. Company's chairman Bill Ford said the car maker would have 40 hybrid and fully electric vehicles in its range by the same period. It comes as countries around the world put more pressure on car makers to rein in carbon emissions. From a report: It was a dramatic escalation in Ford's crosstown rivalry with General Motors, which has seen its stock prices rise thanks to its commitments to both electrification and autonomy. GM has said it plans to roll out at least 20 new electric cars by 2023, a goal that puts it in a position to bring battery-powered driving to the mainstream. Last week, it unveiled a concept autonomous car without steering wheel or pedals. Meanwhile, the Blue Oval has had a challenging 2017. It remains strongly profitable, but its sale are stagnant, its costs have increased faster than expected, and its margins have failed to meet targets.
The Military

Russian Military Base Attacked By Drones (bellingcat.com) 182

A Russian military base in Syria was recently attacked -- 20 miles from the frontline. The only video of the attack is from a Facebook group for a nearby town, which identifies the noises as an "anti-aircraft response to a remote-controlled aircraft," while the Russian Ministry of Defence claims at least 13 drones were involved in the attack, displaying pictures of drones with a wingspan around 13 feet (four meters).

Long-time Slashdot reader 0x2A shares a report from a former British Army officer who calls drones "the poor man's Air Force," who writes that the attack shows "a strategic grasp of the use of drones, as well as a high level of planning." The lack of cameras on the drones suggest that they are likely pre-loaded with a flight plan and then flown autonomously to their target, where they dropped their payload en masse on a given GPS coordinate... The lack of any kind of claim, or even rumours from the rebels, indicates that whoever is producing these drone and launching these attacks has a high level of discipline and an understanding of operational and personal security...

Although some regard the threat from commerical off-the-shelf and improvised drones as negligible, they have the power to inflict losses at both a tactical and strategic level... Although the plastic sheeting, tape and simple design may belie the illusion of sophistication, it seems that the use of drones, whether military, commerical off-the-shelf or improvised, is taking another step to becoming the future of conflict.

The article notes there's already been four weaponized drone attacks in Syria over the last two weeks, which according to CNBC may be part of a growing trend. "Experts said swarm-like attacks using weaponized drones is a growing threat and likely to only get worse. They also said the possibility exists of terrorists using these drones in urban areas against civilians."
Transportation

Americans Still Deeply Skeptical About Driverless Cars, Says Poll (theverge.com) 275

A new poll was released today that basically repeats data we've seen in previous surveys: Americans still don't trust self-driving cars, and are nervous about the coming onslaught. The Verge reports: Asked how concerned they'd be to share the road with a driverless car, 31 percent said they'd be "very concerned," while 33 percent said "somewhat concerned," according to the poll which was just released by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. A majority (63 percent) said they would not support "mass exemptions" from federal motor vehicle safety standards for self-driving cars, and were not comfortable (75 percent) with automakers having the power to remotely disable vehicle controls, such as the steering wheel, and brake and gas pedals, when the autonomous vehicle is being operated by the computer. And people overwhelmingly support (75 percent) the U.S. Department of Transportation developing new standards related to driverless vehicles. The poll surveyed 1,005 adults between December 7-10th, 2017, with a margin of error of +/- 3.09 percent.
Businesses

GM Will Make an Autonomous Car Without Steering Wheel or Pedals By 2019 (theverge.com) 232

General Motors plans to mass-produce self-driving cars that lack traditional controls like steering wheels and pedals by 2019, the company announced today. From a report: It's a bold declaration for the future of driving from one of the country's Big Three automakers, and one that is sure to shake things up for the industry as the annual Detroit Auto Show kicks off next week. The car will be the fourth generation of its driverless, all-electric Chevy Bolts, which are currently being tested on public roads in San Francisco and Phoenix. And when they roll off the assembly line of GM's manufacturing plant in Orion, Michigan, they'll be deployed as ride-hailing vehicles in a number of cities. "It's a pretty exciting moment in the history of the path to wide scale [autonomous vehicle] deployment and having the first production car with no driver controls," GM President Dan Ammann told The Verge. "And it's an interesting thing to share with everybody."
Transportation

Senior Citizens Will Lead the Self-Driving Revolution (theverge.com) 137

The Villages in Florida -- home to 125,000 residents, over 54,000 homes, 32 square miles, 750 miles of road, and three distinct downtowns -- will soon get a fleet of robot taxis. "Voyage, a startup that has been operating a handful of self-driving cars in the San Jose, California-based retirement community also called The Villages, announced today that later this year it will expand to the much-larger Villages north of Orlando," reports The Verge. "This is thanks to a successful Series A fundraising round that raked in $20 million in 2017." From the report: It's an indication that, strangely enough, many of the first people to fully experience the possibilities presented by self-driving cars will be over the age of 55. Most experts agree that robot cars will first roll out as fleets of self-driving taxis in controlled environments -- college campuses, business parks, dedicated freeway lanes, city centers, or retirement communities. Self-driving startups get to boast about providing a real service for people in need, while seniors get to lord over their grandchildren about being early adopters of a bold new technology. They're also getting something a little more valuable: Voyage is giving the owners of The Villages and the smaller San Jose development equity stakes of 0.3% and 0.2%, respectively, according to The Information. Voyage's self-driving cars aren't fully driverless. Safety drivers will remain behind the wheel just in case there's a need to intervene. And to compliment its digital mapping capabilities, the startup says it will partner with Carmera, a 3D mapmaker for autonomous vehicles. This type of partnership is necessary for what Voyage believes is "the largest deployment (by area size) of self-driving cars in the world."
Businesses

Senator Wants Apple To Answer Questions on Slowing iPhones (reuters.com) 169

The chairman of a U.S. Senate committee overseeing business issues asked Apple to answer questions about its disclosure that it slowed older iPhones with flagging batteries, Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing a letter. From the report: The California-based company apologized over the issue on Dec. 28, cut battery replacement costs and said it will change its software to show users whether their phone battery is good. Senator John Thune, a Republican who chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in a Jan. 9 letter to Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook that "the large volume of consumer criticism leveled against the company in light of its admission suggests that there should have been better transparency."
The Military

Pentagon Seeks Laser-Powered Bat Drones (defenseone.com) 44

Zorro quotes DefenseOne: A new contest seeks flight systems inspired by Mother Nature and powered by directed-energy beams. Tired: multi-rotor copters and fixed-wing drones. Wired: flying robots that move like living animals, are crafted of next-generation materials, and draw their power not from batteries but energy beamed from nearby aircraft...

"The biological study of agile organisms such as bats and flying insects has yielded new insights into complex flight kinematics of systems with a large number of degrees of freedom, and the use of multi-functional flight surface materials," the announcement reads. The Air Force believes that more and more naturalistic design -- coupled with more powerful and smaller sensors to form a better picture of the outside world -- should yield "significant improvements in maneuverability, survivability and stealth over traditional quadcopter or fixed wing designs."

The article includes a link to a CalTech video showing footage of an advanced robotic bat.
Transportation

Google Loses Up to 250 Bikes a Week (siliconbeat.com) 208

What's happening to Google's 1,100 Gbikes? The Mercury News reports: Last summer, it emerged that some of the company's bikes -- intended to help Googlers move quickly and in environmentally friendly fashion around the company's sprawling campus and surrounding areas -- were sleeping with the fishes in Stevens Creek. And now, a new report has revealed that 100 to 250 Google bikes go missing every week, on average. "The disappearances often aren't the work of ordinary thieves, however. Many residents of Mountain View, a city of 80,000 that has effectively become Google's company town, see the employee perk as a community service," the Wall Street Journal reported.

And for the company, here's one Google bike use case that's got to burn a little: 68-year-old Sharon Veach told the newspaper that she sometimes uses one of the bicycles as part of her commute: to the offices of Google's arch foe, Oracle... Mountain View Mayor Ken Rosenberg even admitted to helping himself to a Google bike to go to a movie after a meeting at the company's campus, according to the WSJ.

One Silicon Valley resident reportedly told a neighbor that "I've got a whole garage full of them," while Veach describes the bikes as "a reward for having to deal with the buses" that carry Google employees. Google has already hired 30 contractors to prowl the city in five vans looking for lost or stolen bikes -- only a third of which have GPS trackers -- and they eventually recover about two-thirds of the missing bikes.

They've discovered them as far away as Mexico, Alaska, and the Burning Man festival in Nevada.
Advertising

Your Car May Soon Start Serving You Ads (siliconbeat.com) 308

An anonymous reader quotes SiliconBeat: Santa Clara auto-tech firm Telenav has just announced an "in-car advertising platform" for cars that connect to the internet. Telenav wants to sell the system to major auto manufacturers. And although it's probably the last thing many consumers want, vehicle owners will pay more for connected-car services if they decline the ads. "This approach helps car makers offset costs related to connected services, such as wireless data, content, software and cloud services," a spokeswoman for Telenav said Jan. 5. "In return for accepting ads in vehicles, drivers benefit from access to connected services without subscription fees, as well as new driving experiences that come from the highly-targeted and relevant offers delivered based on information coming from the vehicle."

Auto makers including Toyota, Lexus, Ford, GM and Cadillac already use the company's connected-car products, the spokeswoman said. Telenav CEO H.P. Jin in a press release called the ad platform "an exciting new opportunity" for vehicle manufacturers to "monetize connectivity to cover service costs and even drive healthy profits while enriching the consumer experience with safely delivered, engaging and relevant offers"...

To prevent driver distraction, "ads only appear when the vehicle is stopped, such as at car startup, traffic lights and upon arrival," Telenav said... Of course, driver distraction won't be an issue in self-driving cars, and this technology suggests the captive audiences in those vehicles will likely be subjected to an ad barrage in robotic ride-sharing vehicles and automated cars whose owners decline to pay more to avoid in-car advertising.

Transportation

US Airlines No Longer Operate the Boeing 747 (arstechnica.com) 156

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: On Wednesday, Delta Airlines flight 9771 flew from Atlanta to Pinal Airpark in Arizona. It wasn't a full flight -- just 48 people on board. But it was a milestone -- and not just for the two people who got married mid-flight -- for it marked the very last flight of a Boeing 747 being operated by a U.S. airline. Delta's last scheduled passenger service with the jumbo was actually late in December, at which point it conducted a farewell tour and then some charter flights. But as of today, after 51 long years in service, if you want to ride a 747 you'll need to be traveling abroad.Ars Technica recalls the history of the Boeing 747 in its report, mentioning that although no U.S. passenger carriers still operate the big bird, several hundred remain in service with other airlines around the world.
Power

Why Most Electric Cars Are Leased, Not Owned (bloomberg.com) 206

Bloomberg's research shows that drivers in the U.S. lease almost 80 percent of battery-powered vehicles and 55 percent of plug-in hybrids. "The lease rate for the country's entire fleet hovers around 30 percent," reports Bloomberg, noting that Tesla does not divulge how many of its vehicles are leased since it sells its cars directly rather than through dealerships. From the report: The lopsided consumer preference for leases is fueled by the meager demand for battery-powered vehicles on the used market. Partly this is a consequence of public policy meant to spur electric vehicle adoptions: buyers of pre-owned cars can't grab thousands of dollars in federal and state incentives. The high lease rate is also fueled by the bet [many] are making that upcoming models will far exceed today's in value and capabilities. Perhaps electric vehicles will truly arrive when they are no longer compared to smartphones, which become obsolete after three years.
Transportation

Analysts Expect Tesla To Miss Its First 2018 Model 3 Production Target (usnews.com) 120

schwit1 shares a report from U.S. News & World Report: In October, Tesla reported that it produced 220 Model 3 vehicles in the third quarter. CEO Elon Musk had previously said the company would produce more than 1,600 Model 3s by September. Loup Ventures analyst Gene Munster isn't the only analyst to doubt Tesla's fourth-quarter Model 3 production. KeyBanc analyst Brad Erickson reduced his fourth-quarter Model 3 production target by two-thirds, cutting it from 15,000 to only 5,000. According to Munster, Tesla investors may need to wait several more quarters for the Model 3 story to play out. "We predict a breakout year for the Model 3 in 2019 which means, until then, other elements like solid Model S and X production numbers, increasing energy deployments like the South Australia installation, and future vehicles (Roadster, Semi, Model Y, and pickup truck) will stoke investor optimism," he says. schwit1 adds: "Elon Musk promised Tesla would produce 500,000 Model 3 sedans in 2018 and has accepted refundable $1,000 deposits on nearly that many. At current production rates, it will be years before pre-orders are filled. The Model 3's good will and good reviews won't matter much if Tesla can't ramp up production, which even bulls like Munster believes is running at least a year late."
Transportation

Norway Powers Ahead (Electrically): Over Half New Car Sales Now Electric or Hybrid (reuters.com) 192

Sales of electric and hybrid cars rose above half of new registrations in Norway in 2017, a record aided by generous subsidies that extended the country's lead in shifting from fossil-fuel engines, data showed on Wednesday. From a report: Pure electric cars and hybrids, which have both battery power and a diesel or petrol motor, accounted for 52 percent of all new car sales last year in Norway against 40 percent in 2016, the independent Norwegian Road Federation (OFV) said. "No one else is close" in terms of a national share of electric cars, OFV chief Oeyvind Solberg Thorsen said. "For the first time we have a fossil-fuel market share below 50 percent." Norway exempts new electric cars from almost all taxes and grants perks that can be worth thousands of dollars a year in terms of free or subsidized parking, re-charging and use of toll roads, ferries and tunnels.
Transportation

Hardly Anyone Wants to Ride the Las Vegas Monorail (vice.com) 294

Motherboard describes riding the Las Vegas monorail in 2008. "I was literally the only person on a train built to carry 222 people," arguing that "the tale of the Las Vegas monorail is an allegory for almost every other monorail that exists on this planet." An anonymous reader quotes their new report: Las Vegas has struggled to deliver on its monorail promise since the 3.9-mile track opened in 2004. The track runs parallel to the Strip -- behind all the massive, block-wide hotels. When the project was first proposed, promoters hoped to bring upwards of 20 million riders a year. In 2016, just 4.9 million monorail rides were taken. For reference, nearly 43 million people visited Las Vegas last year, according to the city's visitor bureau, and the city has a population of about 632,000.

In 2010, the not-for-profit company in charge, named Las Vegas Monorail, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after failing to repay $650 million in construction loans. (It exited bankruptcy proceedings two years later.) But in true Las Vegas style, instead of taking the loss and heading home with its tail tucked between its legs, the company is doubling down. Now it's anticipating spending an additional $100 million in private financing to extend the monorail from the MGM Grand to Mandalay Bay -- a distance of less than a mile by foot. The company also asked the county to give it $4.5 million of public funds a year for 30 years to support the extension.

A Las Vegas newspaper got a succinct appraisal of the extended monorail's prospects from the director of USC's Transportation Engineering program: "I'm glad it's not my money." Next year ticket sales are expected to bring in just $21.4 million -- "the lowest amount since 2014" -- with the Monorail Co. blaming "additional competition" from Uber and Lyft.

But Motherboard argues that it's not just a Las Vegas problem. "In most cities where monorails exist, most people can't figure out what they're good for. In Mumbai, India, a three-year-old monorail does just 17,000 daily rides -- significantly short of the 125,000 to 300,000 passengers per day planners and backers anticipated."
Censorship

Iran Cuts Internet Access and Threatens Telegram Following Mass Protests (bbc.com) 156

Long-time Slashdot reader cold fjord writes: As seething discontent has boiled over in Iran leading to mass protests, protesters have taken to the streets and social media to register their discontent... The government has been closing schools and shutting down transportation.

Now, as mass protests in Iran go into their third day there are reports that internet access is being cut in cities with protests occurring. Social media has been a tool for documenting the protests and brutal crackdowns against them. Iran previously cut off internet access during the Green Movement protests following the 2009 elections. At the same time the Iranian government is cutting internet access they have called on Telegram, reportedly used by more than 40 million Iranians, to close the channels used by protesters. Telegram is now closing channels used by the protesters while Telegram itself may be shut down in Iran.

Transportation

How A Civilian Drone Crashed Into the US Army's Helicopter (arstechnica.com) 141

"In September, Slashdot reported on an in-flight collision between an Army UA60 helicopter and a hobby drone over Staten Island," writes Slashdot reader ElizabethGreene. "The NTSB has released its final report on the incident, blaming the drone pilot." Ars Technica reports: After waiting 30 minutes, [drone-owner] Tantashov assumed there had been a mechanical malfunction and that his drone had fallen into the water. He returned home. A week later, Tantashov received a call at work. It was an investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board... Would Tantashov be surprised to learn, the investigator asked, that his drone had not crashed into the water?

And that it had instead slammed into the main rotor of a US Army-operated Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter that was patrolling for the UN General Assembly in Manhattan? And that it had put a 1.5-inch dent in said rotor and led to the helicopter diverting back to its New Jersey base...? As the recently completed NTSB report on the incident puts it, "several [drone] components were lodged in the helicopter."

The drone's serial number was still legible on its motor, and investigators were able to track down its owner by contacting the manufacturer, who'd maintained a record of the sale. The drone's owner said he'd been unaware of "temporary flight restrictions" in effect that night, and "said that he relied on 'the app' to tell him if it was OK to fly." But for two months DJI had disabled the feature that checks for temporary flight restrictions (to perform troubleshooting), and the NTSB notes that that feature "is intended for advisory use only," and it's the responsibility of drone pilots to comply with FAA airspace regulations.

The NTSB also faults the drone's owner for letting it fly out of his line of sight.
Transportation

Math Says You're Driving Wrong and It's Slowing Us All Down (wired.com) 404

A new study in IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems mathematically suggests that if you and everyone else on the road kept an equal distance between the cars ahead and behind, traffic would move twice as quickly. From a report: Now sure, you're probably not going to convince everyone on the road to do that. Still, the finding could be a simple yet powerful way to optimize semi-autonomous cars long before the fully self-driving car of tomorrow arrives. Traffic is perhaps the world's most infuriating example of what's known as an emergent property. Meaning, lots of individual things forming together to create something more complex. Emergent properties are usually quite astounding. You've probably seen video of starlings forming a murmuration, a great shifting blob of thousands upon thousands of birds. Bats flying en masse out of a cave is another example, swarming sometimes by the millions through a small exit. And scientists are just beginning to understand how they do so.

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