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Transportation

Norway Tests Tiny Electric Plane, Sees Passenger Flights by 2025 (reuters.com) 132

Norway tested a two-seater electric plane on Monday and predicted a start to passenger flights by 2025 if new aviation technologies match a green shift that has made Norwegians the world's top buyers of electric cars. From a report: Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen and Dag Falk-Petersen, head of state-run Avinor which runs most of Norway's airports, took a few minutes' flight around Oslo airport in an Alpha Electro G2 plane, built by Pipistrel in Slovenia. "This is ... a first example that we are moving fast forward" toward greener aviation, Solvik-Olsen told Reuters. "We do have to make sure it is safe - people won't fly if they don't trust it." He said plane makers such as Boeing and Airbus were developing electric aircraft and that battery prices were tumbling, making it feasible to reach a government goal of making all domestic flights in Norway electric by 2040.
Transportation

Personal Flying Machine Contest Gets 600 Entries (fastcompany.com) 61

"A giant egg equipped with rotors and 'Transformers'-style robots are among some of the creative designs submitted in a $2 million dollar contest to dream up new ways of flying," reports CNN.

"GoFly, a $2 million competition to design personal flying machines backed by Boeing, has announced its first round of most promising designs out of 600 entries from around the world," writes harrymcc . "Proposed vehicles need to fly for at least 20 miles, at 35 miles an hour; many of the ideas look a bit like airborne motorcycles." Fast Company reports: "There's been a convergence of all of these breakthrough technologies that makes this the first moment in time where we have the ability to make people fly," says Gwen Lighter, who dreamed up the GoFly prize, recruited Boeing to bankroll it, and now serves as CEO. Many of the advances come from the world of drones -- "high-efficiency motors, high-capacity batteries, and cheap navigation and stabilizing technologies that keep even newbies on course and out of danger....

Their prototypes have to achieve vertical takeoff and landing (called VTOL), eliminating the need for an airport runway... The craft have to be small enough to fit within an 8.5-foot circle, and they have to be safe and manageable for anyone to operate -- "not just engineers or daredevils... GoFly's Lighter emphasizes that safety is a key requirement in judging. She says that whatever wins will be well on the way to meeting requirements of the FAA -- and regulatory bodies in other countries -- for mainstream operation. FAA staffers (in a non-official capacity) are even among GoFly's expert advisors.

Best of all, every participant -- even those who win the prize money -- "are free to take their innovations anywhere. They retain all intellectual property rights."
Australia

Chinese Ride-Sharing Giant Didi Chuxing Picks Its First English-Speaking Nation: To Enter Australia on June 25 (cnet.com) 70

From a report: Ever since outperforming Uber in its home base of China, speculation has mounted that ride-hailer Didi Chuxing would eventually branch out to the rest of the world. Didi's first launch in an English-speaking country comes on June 25, it was announced Thursday, when it'll start operations in Melbourne, Australia. The company has already begun recruiting local drivers. While you might not have heard of it, Didi is China's most popular ride-hailing service, and in 2016 absorbed Uber China in a deal worth around $35 billion.
Transportation

Self-Driving Cars Likely Won't Steal Your Job (Until 2040) (wired.com) 128

The self-driving robots are coming to transform your job. Kind of. Also, very slowly. From a report: That's the not-quite-exclamatory upshot of a new report from the Washington, DC-based Securing America's Future Energy. The group advocates for a countrywide pivot away from oil dependency, one it hopes will be aided by the speedy adoption of electric, self-driving vehicles. So it commissioned a wide-ranging study by a phalanx of labor economists to discover how that could happen, and whether America might transform into a Mad Max-like desert hell along the way. The news, mostly, is good. For one, self-driving vehicles probably won't wreck the labor market to the point where gig economy workers are hired out as mobile blood bags.

In fact, they'll eventually feed the economy, accruing an estimated $800 billion in annual benefits by 2050, a number mostly in line with previous researchers' projections. Two, robo-cars won't disappear the jobs all at once. "We have a labor market characterized by churning -- continual job creation and destruction," says Erica Groshen, a visiting labor economist at Cornell University and former Commissioner of Labor Statistics, who worked on the report. "The challenge is to make the transition as smooth as possible."

Transportation

Elon Musk's Boring Company To Build High-Speed Transit Tunnels in Chicago (chicagotribune.com) 179

Chicago has picked Elon Musk's Boring Company to build a futuristic transportation link to the city's airport, The Boring Company said late Wednesday. "We're really excited to work with the Mayor and the City to bring this new high-speed public transportation system to Chicago!' it said in a statement posted on Twitter. Chicago Tribune: Autonomous 16-passenger vehicles would zip back and forth at speeds exceeding 100 mph in tunnels between the Loop and O'Hare International Airport under a high-speed transit proposal being negotiated between Mayor Rahm Emanuel's City Hall and billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk's The Boring Co., city and company officials have confirmed. Emanuel's administration has selected Musk's company from four competing bids to provide high-speed transportation between downtown and the airport. Negotiations between the two parties will ensue in hopes of reaching a final deal to provide a long-sought-after alternative to Chicago's traffic gridlock and slower "L" trains. In choosing Boring, Emanuel and senior City Hall officials are counting on Musk's highly touted but still unproven tunneling technology over the more traditional high-speed rail option that until recently had been envisioned as the answer to speeding up the commute between the city's central business district and one of the world's busiest airports.
Beer

Uber Seeks Patent For AI That Determines Whether Passengers Are Drunk (cnet.com) 103

In an effort to "reduce undesired consequences," Uber is seeking a patent that would use artificial intelligence to separate sober passengers from drunk ones. The pending application details a technology that would be used to spot "uncharacteristic user activity," including passenger location, number of typos entered into the mobile app, and even the angle the smartphone is being held. CNET reports: Uber said it had no immediate plans to implement the technology described in the proposed patent, pointing out the application was filed in 2016. "We are always exploring ways that our technology can help improve the Uber experience for riders and drivers," a spokesperson said. "We file patent applications on many ideas, but not all of them actually become products or features."
Power

China's Ambitions To Power the World's Electric Cars Took a Huge Leap Forward This Week (reuters.com) 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Future Mobility Corporation (FMC), the Chinese parent company behind electric car start-up Byton, has placed an order for a paint shop capable of handling 150,000 cars per year, German supplier Duerr said on Wednesday. China's Byton, a newcomer headed by the former head of BMW's i8 program, has already released plans for a premium electric SUV vehicle, the latest in a series of China-backed electric autonomous prototypes. Byton has financial backing from Chinese state-owned carmaker FAW Group and the country's dominant battery producer Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. (CATL) This is just one of the stories this week relating to China and the electric car industry. MIT Technology Review adds: In a public offering on June 11 in Shenzhen, battery giant Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd. (CATL) raised nearly $1 billion to fund ambitious expansion plans, and its stock has been shooting up every day since. Thanks largely to the company's new plants, China will be making 70 percent of the world's electric-vehicle batteries by 2021, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

Just seven years later, CATL has built up the biggest lithium-ion manufacturing facilities in the world, according to BNEF. The company can crank out around 17 gigawatt-hours of lithium-ion cells annually, placing it just ahead of Korea's LG Chem, the Tesla and Panasonic partnership, and China's electric-vehicle giant BYD. Flush with capital from its offering, CATL plans to build two new plants and expand existing facilities, pushing its capacity to nearly 90 gigawatt-hours by 2020. [...] Notably, it's the only Chinese battery company so far to line up deals to supply foreign automakers, including BMW, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen.

Businesses

Volkswagen Fined One Billion Euros By German Prosecutors Over Emissions Cheating (reuters.com) 116

Volkswagen was fined one billion euros ($1.18 billion) over diesel emissions cheating in what amounts to one of the highest ever fines imposed by German authorities against a company, public prosecutors said on Wednesday. From a report: The German fine follows a U.S. plea agreement from January 2017 when VW agreed to pay $4.3 billion to resolve criminal and civil penalties for installing illegal software in diesel engines to cheat strict U.S. anti-pollution tests. "Following thorough examination, Volkswagen AG accepted the fine and it will not lodge an appeal against it. Volkswagen AG, by doing so, admits its responsibility for the diesel crisis and considers this as a further major step toward the latter being overcome," it said in a statement. The fine is the latest blow to Germany's auto industry which cannot seem to catch a break from the diesel emissions crisis. Germany's government on Monday ordered Daimler to recall nearly 240,000 cars fitted with illicit emissions-control devices, part of a total of 774,000 models affected in Europe as a whole.
Transportation

Tesla's Autopilot To Get 'Full Self-Driving Feature' In August (reuters.com) 180

Earlier today, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that its Autopilot driver assistance system will get full self-driving features following a software upgrade in August. Reuters reports: Autopilot, a form of advanced cruise control, handles some driving tasks and warns those behind the wheel they are always responsible for the vehicle's safe operation. But a spate of recent crashes has brought the system under regulatory scrutiny. "To date, Autopilot resources have rightly focused entirely on safety. With V9, we will begin to enable full self-driving features," Musk tweeted here on Sunday, replying to a Twitter user.

Musk said the autopilot issue during lane-merging is better in the current software and will be fully fixed in the August update. However, it was not clear what self-driving features would be included in the August update. Tesla's documentation on its website about the "full self-driving capabilities" package says that it is not possible to know exactly when each element of the functionality will be available, as this is highly dependent on local regulatory approval.

Transportation

Tesla Short-Sellers Lose $1 Billion (cnbc.com) 458

An anonymous reader quotes CNBC: A bullish call from a Wall Street analyst capped off a rough week for Tesla short sellers, with Nomura Instinet advising clients that the electric car maker's shares could rally 42 percent over the next year. The stock rose 1.7 percent Friday and is now up 10 percent on the week. One of the most shorted stocks in the United States, Tesla shares cost investors betting against the company more than $1 billion in losses on Wednesday alone after the stock rallied 9.7 percent. Adding to the short woes, the stock is up 13.5 percent in June and up 21 percent since April. More than 30 percent of Tesla's floating stock is currently sold short, according to FactSet.
Last week long-time Open Source advocate Bruce Perens (Slashdot reader #3,872) argued this is fueling Musk's anger at the press: [A] great many investors are desperate to see Tesla's stock reach a much lower price soon, or they'll be forced to buy it at its present price in order to fulfill their short positions, potentially bankrupting many of them and sending some out of the windows of Wall Street skyscrapers. These investors are desperately seeding, feeding, and writing negative stories about Tesla in the hope of depressing the stock price. Musk recently taunted them by buying another 10 million dollars in stock, making it even more likely that there won't be enough stock in the market to cover short positions. If that's the case, short-sellers could end up in debt for thousands of dollars per shorted share -- as the price balloons until enough stockholders are persuaded to sell. Will short-sellers do anything to give Tesla bad press? You bet.... Musk is stuck with a press that feeds negative stories about Tesla seeded by short-sellers, business competitors and the petroleum industry, and even the U.S. Government...

Musk is far from the only one who suffers from this abuse. I was personally involved while the Linux developers were hounded by bad press for years from Forbes and lesser entities, backed by a large software company we all know (and who is, surprisingly, funding more Open Source these days), based on SCO's unfounded lawsuit. Time proves them wrong, but don't expect them to admit it, nor should you hold your breath for an "I'm sorry".

And on Musk's plan to rate the credibility of news sites, Perens writes that "The world would be a better place if this was done honestly, with integrity, and well. Musk is one who has improved the world by going where conventional wisdom said he'd fail..."
Transportation

Bloomberg's Inside Look At Tesla's Model 3 Factory (bloomberg.com) 68

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from an exclusive inside look at Tesla's Model 3 factory in Fremont, California: On the Model 3 body line on a Tuesday afternoon in early June, everything is still. Tesla is just coming off a week of downtime during which workers added a new production line, improved ventilation after a fire in the paint shop, and overhauled machines across the factory. But even after the changes, there are kinks to work out. Suddenly, dozens of robots snap into frenzied action, picking up door panels, welding window pillars, taking measurements, and on and on. This robotic dance is a visceral representation of what Tesla chief executive Elon Musk has dubbed "Alien Dreadnought," a code name for the factory that evokes an early 20th century warship, but with extraterrestrials.

The stakes couldn't be higher for Tesla, which is sprinting to produce the Model 3 in quantities great enough to turn a profit. But so far, the plant's choreography has been choppy. The flow at the factory in Fremont, California, is constantly interrupted while robots and humans are trained, retrained, or swapped out. If Tesla can't make this dance work, it will be remembered as a lesson in the dangers of irrational exuberance for automation. Success, on the other hand, could transform the car industry.

The Internet

Senator Makes Amtrak Hire Ticket Agents Because 30 Percent of His State Lacks Internet (senate.gov) 239

McGruber writes: Joe Manchin, the senior Senator from West Virginia, has inserted language in the FY19 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies appropriations bill that will force Amtrak to employ at least one ticketing agent in every state that it serves.

His reasoning? "Amtrak has told me that most of their sales are now online, but West Virginians buy far more tickets at the Charleston station than most places around the country. That's not surprising, as nearly 30% of West Virginia is without internet access, and mobile broadband access is also difficult in my state's rugged, mountainous terrain, making online ticket sales difficult."
Manchin continued: "Our population includes many working class families and elderly residents who are less likely to have a credit card or another means to purchase tickets remotely, but rely heavily on the train as an alternative to driving or flying. Although Matt Crouch's job was terminated today, once the bill is passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President, Amtrak will have to reinstate a position in the state and I will do everything over the next few months to make sure that happens."
Transportation

Emirates Planes Could Be Going Windowless (abc.net.au) 296

An anonymous reader shares a report: In the future, you could find yourself booking an Emirates flight without a real window seat. The airline has just unveiled a new first class suite on board its latest aircraft that features "virtual windows" instead of real ones. The President of Emirates, Tim Clarke, is hoping it will pave the way for removing all windows from future planes, which he says will make them lighter and faster. "What we may have [in the next 20 years] is aircraft that are, and I hate to say this to a number of passengers, windowless," he told the BBC. So there's no windows on the outside ... But Mr Clarke says on the inside there will be "a full display of windows," which will beam in the images from the outside. This will be done using fibre-optic camera technology. So, instead of being able to see directly outside, passengers will view images projected from outside the aircraft -- which is almost like the real thing.
Businesses

Honolulu Lawmakers Pass 'Surge Pricing' Cap For Ride-Hailing Companies (reuters.com) 105

Honolulu could become the first U.S. city to limit fares ride-hailing companies can charge when demand spikes, following a city council vote on Wednesday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper reported. From a report: Ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft use a model known as "surge pricing" in which the fare for a ride rises when factors such as rush hour and bad weather increase demand for the service. The practice could be limited in the future in Hawaii's largest city after the Honolulu City Council approved by a 6-3 vote a bill requiring city officials to cap surge pricing by ride-hailing companies, the newspaper reported. For the bill to become law, however, it still needs to be signed by the Mayor Kirk Caldwell, whose administration appears to oppose the measure, Hawaiinewsnow.com reported.
Transportation

US Government Probes Airplane Vulnerabilities, Says Airline Hack Is 'Only a Matter of Time' (vice.com) 125

Joseph Cox, writing for Motherboard: U.S. government researchers believe it is only a matter of time before a cybersecurity breach on an airline occurs, according to government documents obtained by Motherboard. The comment was included in a recent presentation talking about efforts to uncover vulnerabilities in widely used commercial aircraft, building on research in which a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) team successfully remotely hacked a Boeing 737.

The documents, which include internal presentations and risk assessments, indicate researchers working on behalf of the DHS may have already conducted another test against an aircraft. They also show what the US government anticipates would happen after an aircraft hack, and how planes still in use have little or no cybersecurity protections in place.

"Potential of catastrophic disaster is inherently greater in an airborne vehicle," a section of a presentation dated this year from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a Department of Energy government research laboratory, reads. Those particular slides are focused on PNNL's findings around aviation cybersecurity. "A matter of time before a cyber security breach on an airline occurs," the document adds.

Earth

Hawaii Passes Law To Make State Carbon Neutral By 2045 (fastcompany.com) 131

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Fast Company: In a little less than three decades, Hawaii plans to be carbon neutral -- he most ambitious climate goal in the United States. Governor David Ige signed a bill today committing to make the state fully carbon neutral by 2045, along with a second bill that will use carbon offsets to help fund planting trees throughout Hawaii. A third bill requires new building projects to consider how high sea levels will rise in their engineering decisions. The state is especially vulnerable to climate change -- sea level rise, for example, threatens to cause $19 billion in economic losses -- and that's one of the reasons that the new laws had support.

Transportation is a challenge -- while the state is planning for a future where cars run on renewable electricity, it also relies heavily on planes and ships, which will take longer to move to electric charging, and which Hawaii can't directly control. "Those are global transportation networks that don't have easy substitutes right now," Glenn says. "That's one of the reasons why we really want to pursue the carbon offset program, because we know we're going to continue to be dependent on shipping and aviation, and if they continue to burn carbon to bring us our tourists and our goods and our supplies and our food, then we want to try to have a way to sequester the impact we're causing by importing all this stuff to our islands." The government plans to sell carbon offsets to pay to plant native trees, which can help absorb CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow. The state is also working to become more self-sufficient. The governor aims to double local food production by 2030; right now, around 90% of what residents and tourists eat in Hawaii -- 6 million pounds of food a day -- comes from somewhere else, on planes or ships.

The Almighty Buck

Tesla Faces Accelerating Rate of Model 3 Refunds (recode.net) 174

According to new U.S. data from analytics company Second Measure, Tesla is facing an accelerated rate of Model 3 refunds. As of the end of April, some 23 percent of all Model 3 deposits in the U.S. had been refunded. "Model 3 deposits are fully refundable up until the customer configures a car by selecting features and paying an additional fee of $2,500," notes Second Measure. "After configuration, vehicles are typically delivered in just a few weeks." Recode reports: These cancellations aren't necessarily bad for Tesla, since its production rate is nowhere near as high as it needs to be to fulfill the more than 450,000 reservations it still has. Last quarter, it delivered just 8,180 Model 3s. Presumably, potential Tesla customers could make a deposit again when production is more regular. The potential longer-term harm would be in alienating them so that they choose a different brand of car altogether. About 60 percent of Model 3 reservations so far in the U.S. were made back in April 2016, when Tesla first began taking deposits. About 18 percent of the total refunds on the Model 3 happened this past April, the largest share out of any month, according to Second Measure. That's when Musk explained that Model 3s would be delayed six to nine months. A Tesla spokesperson said that Second Measure's data does not align with its internal data, but would not be more specific as to how far off it is. But the analytics company's numbers did match up to Tesla's numbers last August, "when CEO Elon Musk disclosed that there were 455,000 net reservations out of 518,000 gross reservations, suggesting 63,000 cancelations and a 12 percent cancellation rate," reports TechCrunch.
Japan

Japan May Be First Country To Have Self-Driving Cars (theoutline.com) 71

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Outline: The Olympic Games are an international muscle-flexing competition, where countries show off their technological, architectural, and (oh yeah) athletic prowess to the rest of the world. Now, according to Reuters, Japan is promising a public system of self-driving cars in time for the for the 2020 Olympics, which it's hosting in Tokyo. Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Monday that the investment company SoftBank Group is investing $2.25 billion in order to develop the Cruise, the self driving car acquired by General Motors back in 2016. The country's goal is to have a fully functioning self-driving car system in time for the 2020 Olympics, and a more developed, privatized commercial self-driving car system by 2022. The Cruise has been tested in the U.S. since 2017, but Abe said that it would also be tested on Japanese roads by the end of this fiscal year.
Transportation

Car Makers Used Software To Raise Spare Parts Prices (engadget.com) 276

An anonymous reader writes: Ever had the nagging suspicion that your car's manufacturer was charging outrageous prices for parts simply because it could? Software might be to blame. Reuters has obtained documents from a lawsuit indicating that Jaguar Land Rover, Peugeot, Renault and other automakers have been using Accenture software (Partneo) that recommended price increases for spare parts based on "perceived value." If a brand badge or other component looked expensive, Partneo would suggest raising the price up to a level that drivers would still be willing to pay. It would even distinguish parts based on whether or not there was "pricing supervision" over certain parts (say, from insurance companies or focused publications) to avoid sparking an outcry.
Transportation

Uber Facing Ban In Turkey After Erdogan Backs Taxis (sbs.com.au) 107

An anonymous reader quotes a report from SBS: Uber faces being banned in Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the ride-hailing app was "finished" on Saturday following an intense lobbying campaign from Istanbul taxi drivers. Erdogan's comments, in a late-night speech Friday in Istanbul, came after the government agreed new rules that are expected to severely complicate Uber's operations in Turkey. Drivers of Istanbul's yellow taxis have over the last months waged an intense campaign to have Uber banned, saying the company is eating into their business without having a proper legal basis for work. "This thing emerged called Uber or Muber or whatever," said Erdogan. "But this issue is now finished. It's over now. Our Prime Minister (Minali Yildirim) made the announcement. We have our system of taxis," he said.

"Yildirim's government last month issue a directive sharply hiking fines and threatened to blacklist companies whose vehicles illegally work as taxis," reports SBS.

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