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China

Tesla Deal Boosts Chinese Presence in US Auto Tech (reuters.com) 68

From a Reuters report:China's Tencent has bought a 5 percent stake in U.S. electric car maker Tesla for $1.78 billion, the latest investment by a Chinese internet company in the potentially lucrative market for self-driving vehicles and related services. Tencent's investment, revealed in a U.S. regulatory filing, provides Tesla with an additional cash cushion as it prepares to launch its mass-market Model 3. Tesla's shares were up 2.9 percent at $277.03 in midday trading on Tuesday, enabling it to rival Ford as the second-most-valuable U.S. auto company behind General Motors. The deal expands Tencent's presence in an emerging investment sector that includes self-driving electric cars, which could enable such new modes of transportation as automated ride-sharing and delivery services, as well as ancillary services ranging from infotainment to e-commerce.
Transportation

Dutch Scientist Proposes Circular Runways For Airport Efficiency (curbed.com) 331

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Fast Company: While airport terminal architecture has a solid history of style and innovation, rarely is a proposal put forth to utterly redesign the runway. But that's precisely the aim of Henk Hesselink, a Dutch scientist working with the Netherlands Aerospace Center. Dubbed the "endless runway," Hesselink's brainchild is a 360-degree landing strip measuring more than two miles in diameter. Since airplanes would be able to approach and take off from any direction around the proposed circle, they wouldn't have to fight against crosswinds. And three planes would be able to take off or land at the same time. Hesselink's team uses flight simulators and computerized calculations to test the unconventional design, and have determined that round airports would be more efficient than existing layouts. With a central terminal, the airport would only use about a third of the land of the typical airport with the same airplane capacity. And there's an added benefit to those living near airports: Flight paths could be more distributed, and thereby making plane noise more tolerable. BBC produced a video detailing Hesselink's circular runway concept. The concept is fascinating but there are many questions the video does not answer. Phil Derner Jr. from NYC Aviation writes via Business Insider about some of those unanswered questions in his article titled "Why the circular runway concept wouldn't work." The fundamental issues discussed in his report include banked runway issues, curved runway issues, navigation issues, and airspace issues. What do you think of Hesselink's concept? Do you think it is preposterous or shows promise?
AI

New AI Algorithm Beats Even the World's Worst Traffic (vice.com) 126

"Computer scientists at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have developed a new intelligent routing algorithm that attempts to minimize the occurrence of spontaneous traffic jams -- those sudden snarls caused by greedy merges and other isolated disruptions -- throughout a roadway network," reports Motherboard. "It's both computationally distributed and fast, requirements for any real-world traffic management system. Their work is described in the April issue of IEEE Transactions on Emerging Topics in Computational Intelligence." From the report: The Nanyang researchers' algorithm starts off by just assuming that, given enough traffic density, shit is going to happen. Someone is going to make a greedy merge -- something is going to cause enough of a traffic perturbation to result in a network breakdown. Breakdown in this context is a technical-ish term indicating that for some period of time the traffic outflow from a segment of roadway is going to be less than the traffic inflow. "We assume that the traffic breakdown model has already been given, and the probability of traffic breakdown occurrence is larger than zero (meaning that traffic breakdowns would occur), and our goal is to direct the traffic flow so that the overall traffic breakdown probability is minimized," Hongliang Guo and colleagues write. Put differently, "our objective is to maximize the probability that none of the network links encounters a traffic breakdown." So, the goal of the algorithm is this maximization, which reduces to a fairly tidy equation. It then becomes a machine learning problem. Things get pretty messy at this point, but just understand that we're taking the current traffic load, adding an unknown additional load that might enter the network at any time, and then coming up with probabilities of network breakdown at each of the network's nodes or intersections. Crunch some linear algebra and we wind up with optimal routes through the network. Crucially, Guo and co. were able to come up with some mathematical optimizations that make this kind of calculation feasible in real-time. They were able to demonstrate their algorithm in simulations and are currently working on a further analysis with BMW, which is providing a vast trove of data from its Munich car-sharing fleet. This may not be as distant a technology as it might seem. As it turns out, only 10 percent of cars in a network need to be driving according to the optimizations for those optimizations to have a positive effect on the entire network.
Government

Laptop Ban on Planes Came After Plot To Put Explosives in iPad (theguardian.com) 278

Last week, United States and United Kingdom officials announced new restrictions for airline passengers from eight Middle Eastern countries, forbidding passengers to carry electronics larger than a smartphone into an airplane cabin. Now The Guardian reports, citing a security source, the ban was prompted in part by a plot involving explosives hidden in a fake iPad. From the report: The security source said both bans were not the result of a single specific incident but a combination of factors. One of those, according to the source, was the discovery of a plot to bring down a plane with explosives hidden in a fake iPad that appeared as good as the real thing. Other details of the plot, such as the date, the country involved and the group behind it, remain secret. Discovery of the plot confirmed the fears of the intelligence agencies that Islamist groups had found a novel way to smuggle explosives into the cabin area in carry-on luggage after failed attempts with shoe bombs and explosives hidden in underwear. An explosion in a cabin (where a terrorist can position the explosive against a door or window) can have much more impact than one in the hold (where the terrorist has no control over the position of the explosive, which could be in the middle of luggage, away from the skin of the aircraft), given passengers and crew could be sucked out of any subsequent hole.
Transportation

Singapore Wants To Test Flying Taxi Drones (nypost.com) 51

An anonymous reader writes: Commuters in Singapore might soon be able to ride a flying taxi home at the end of the day," writes the New York Post. "The country's Minister of Transport is in negotiations with tech companies to start trials on taxi drones that can pick up passengers, says a story by Singapore's Business Times. The driverless pods, which resemble the speeding hover bikes in Return of the Jedi, would stop for passengers based on an 'e-hail' similar to what Uber uses, the report says." Flying taxis have already been prototyped, including the Hoversurf Scorpion and the Volocopter VC200, while Dubai plans to begin testing Ehang 184 self-driving flying taxi drones in July.

Though Singapore is a small country with a relatively small workforce, the head of their ministry of transportation "noted the availability and affordability of data and the rise of artificial intelligence are already upending the transport sector globally," reports the Singapore Business Times. To that end, Singapore is also considering on-demand buses that optimize their routes, but also driverless buses. "It has signed a partnership agreement with a party to build and put such buses through a trial, and will be signing another agreement quite soon."

Transportation

Aerospace Startup Will Build A Supersonic Mach 2.2 Aircraft (fortune.com) 149

A new commercial aircraft will fly more than twice the speed of sound, traveling from New York to London in 3.4 hours. An anonymous reader quotes Fortune: Colorado-based startup Boom Supersonic is one step closer to making such travel a reality after securing $33 million in investments to construct and fly its first supersonic jet, the XB-1 demonstration and testing craft, according to TechCrunch... With the new funding, Boom will be able to put that concept -- and the technology needed to power it -- to the test. "This funds our first airplane, all the way through flight tests," Boom founder and CEO Blake Scholl told TechCrunch. "Now we have all the pieces we need â" technology, suppliers and capital â" to go out and make some history and set some speed records."
They'll be testing a prototype that's one-third smaller than the commercial version within the next year.
Transportation

Uber Halts Self-Driving Car Tests in Arizona After Friday Night Collision (businessinsider.com) 227

"Given that the Uber vehicle has flipped onto its side it looks to be a high speed crash," writes TechCrunch, though Business Insider reports that no one was seriously injured. An anonymous reader quotes their report: A self-driving Uber car was involved in an accident on Friday night in Tempe, Arizona, in one of the most serious incidents to date involving the growing fleet of autonomous vehicles being tested on U.S. roads... Uber has halted its self-driving-car pilot in Arizona and is investigating what caused the incident... A Tempe police spokesperson told Bloomberg that the Uber was not at fault in the accident and was hit by another car which failed to yield. Still, the collision will likely to turn up the temperature on the heated debate about the safety of self-driving cars.
Transportation

Researchers Teach Self-Driving Cars To 'See' Better At Night (sciencemag.org) 32

Researchers may have developed a way for self-driving cars to continue navigating at night (or on rainy days) by performing an AI analysis to identify traffic signs by their relative reflectiveness. Slashdot reader sciencehabit shares an article from Science: Their approach requires autonomous cars to continuously capture images of their surroundings. Each image is evaluated by a machine learning algorithm...looking for a section of the image that is likely to contain a sign. It's able to simultaneously evaluate multiple sections of the image -- a departure from previous systems that considered parts of an image one by one. At this stage, it's possible it will also detect irrelevant signs placed along roads. The section of the image flagged as a possible sign then passes through what's known as a convolutional neural network [which] picks up on specific features like shapes, symbols, and numbers in the image to decide which type of sign it most likely depicts... In the real world, this should mean that an autonomous car can drive down the street and accurately pinpoint and decipher every single sign it passes.
Technology

How Noisy Is Your Neighborhood? Now There's A Map For That (npr.org) 40

An anonymous reader share an NPR article: There's no denying it: Los Angeles isn't exactly gentle on the ears. That's one lesson, at least, from a comprehensive noise map created by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. On the interactive U.S. map the agency released this week, which depicts data on noise produced primarily by airports and interstate highways, few spots glare with such deep and angry color as the City of Angels. Blame the area's handful of major airports and its legendary snarls of traffic -- ranked this year as the worst in the nation.
Transportation

Red-Light Camera Grace Period Goes From 0.1 To 0.3 Seconds, Chicago To Lose $17 Million (arstechnica.com) 258

The Chicago Department of Transportation announced a new policy earlier this week that will increase the "grace period" -- the time between when a traffic light turns red to when a ticket is automatically issued. The decision has been made to increase the time from 0.1 seconds to 0.3 seconds, following recommendations part of a recent study of its red-light cameras. Ars Technica reports: This will bring the Windy City in line with other American metropolises, including New York City and Philadelphia. In a statement, the city agency said that this increase would "maintain the safety benefits of the program while ensuring the program's fairness." On Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune reported that the city would lose $17 million in revenue this year alone as a result of the expanded grace period. Michael Claffey, a CDOT spokesman, confirmed that figure to Ars. "We want to emphasize that extending this enforcement threshold is not an invitation to drivers to try to beat the red light," CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld also said in the statement. "By accepting the recommendation of the academic team, we are giving the benefit of the doubt to well-intentioned drivers while remaining focused on the most reckless behaviors."
Canada

Canada To Tax Ride-Sharing Providers Like Uber (www.cbc.ca) 68

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government announced plans to tax ride-sharing providers like Uber for the first time. According to CBC, the latest consumer tax changes included in Wednesday's federal budget "will add to the cost of Uber rides while ending a public-transit credit." The idea behind the decision is to "help level the playing field and create tax fairness." From the report: The proposed levy on Uber and other ride-hailing services would for the first time impose GST/HST on fares, in the same way they are charged on traditional taxi services. The change will broaden the definition of a taxi business to ensure Uber and other web-based ride-hailing services are required to charge and remit GST/HST, adding to the cost of each trip. The effect on federal revenues will be modest, just $3 million in additional revenue in 2017-18, but the budget suggests the measure is to help level the playing field and create tax fairness. The non-refundable public transit tax credit -- a so-called boutique tax credit introduced by the previous Conservative government -- will be phased out on July 1. The credit enabled public transit users to apply 15 per cent of their eligible expenses on monthly passes and other fares toward reducing the amount of tax they owe. Ending that tax break is expected to save Ottawa more than $200 million a year. Of course, Uber Canada isn't so fond of the idea, calling it a "tax on innovation" that would hurt Uber drivers and users. The company said in a statement: "At a time when Canadians spend far too much time stuck in traffic -- and people should be encouraged to leave their cars at home, take public transit, and share rides -- we should be supporting policies that make sustainable transportation more affordable, not more expensive. Federal tax laws already offer small business owners a break on collecting sales tax, but unfairly exclude taxi drivers. The best way to support taxi drivers and level the playing field is to extend the same exemption to them."
Mars

SpaceX Disappointed In Lack of NASA Mars Funding; Starts Looking For Landing Sites For Its Own Mars Missions 103

frank249 writes: Elon Musk says that the new NASA authorization legislation "changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars." From a report via Ars Technica: "Musk is absolutely correct on two counts. First, an 'authorization' bill does not provide funding. That comes from appropriations committees. Secondly, while Congress has been interested in building rockets and spacecraft, it is far less interested in investing in the kinds of technology and research that would actually enable a full-fledged Mars exploration program." In other news, SpaceNews reports that "SpaceX has been working with NASA to identify potential landing sites on Mars for both its Red Dragon spacecraft (starting in 2020) and future human missions." From the report: "Paul Wooster of SpaceX said the company, working with scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and elsewhere, had identified several potential landing sites, including one that looks particularly promising -- Arcadia Planitia. Those landing sites are of particular interest, he said, for SpaceX's long-term vision of establishing a human settlement on Mars, but he said the company wouldn't rule out sending Red Dragon spacecraft elsewhere on the planet to serve other customers. 'We're quite open to making use of this platform to take various payloads to other locations as well,' he said. 'We're really looking to turn this into a steady cadence, where we're sending Dragons to Mars on basically every opportunity.' The Red Dragon spacecraft, he said, could carry about one ton of useful payload to Mars, with options for those payloads to remain in the capsule after landing or be deployed on the surface. 'SpaceX is a transportation company,' he said. 'We transport cargo to the space station, we deliver payloads to orbit, so we're very happy to deliver payloads to Mars.'" Fans of the book/movie "The Martian" would be happy if SpaceX does select Arcadia Planitia for their first landing site as that was the landing site of the Ares 3.
Transportation

Plans For London-Paris Electric Flight in 'Next Decade' Unveiled (telegraph.co.uk) 90

A start-up has unveiled ambitious plans to offer an electric-powered commercial flight between London and Paris in the next ten years. From a report: Wright Electric believes the proposed low-emission electric plane would offer a cheaper alternative to jet fuel for airlines and consumers. However, the start-up's bid to revolutionize short-haul flights relies on the continued advancement of battery technology. The company, who pitched to investors this week, would be forced to switch to a hybrid of aviation fuel and electricity if the advances in battery technology fail to materialise.
Transportation

UK Flight Ban On Devices To Be Announced (bbc.com) 249

The UK is due to announce a cabin baggage ban on laptops, tablets and DVD players on certain passenger flights, after a similar US move. From a report on BBC: It is understood the UK restrictions may differ from the US Department of Homeland Security's ban, although details have not yet been released. Flights from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries are subject to the US announcement. US officials said bombs could be hidden in a series of devices. BBC home affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford said the expected move was "obviously part of coordinated action with the US." The attempted downing of an airliner in Somalia last year was linked to a laptop device, and it appears the security precautions are an attempt to stop similar incidents, our correspondent added.
Earth

Norway Plans to Build the World's First Ship Tunnel (newatlas.com) 138

Norway is planning to build the world's first ship tunnel through the country's Stad peninsula, which is home to harsh weather conditions that often delay shipments and cause dangerous conditions for ship crews. The proposed tunnel would enable ships to travel through the peninsula in safety. New Atlas recently interviewed Stad Ship Tunnel Project Manager Terje Andreassen about the project: NA: We'd usually expect a canal to be built for this kind of purpose, so why a tunnel? Because in this case we are crossing a hill which is more than 300 meters (984 ft) high. The only alternative is a tunnel. From a maritime point of view this is still a canal, but with a "roof." NA: How would you go about making such a large tunnel -- would you use a boring machine, for example, or explosives? First we will drill horizontally and use explosives to take out the roof part of the tunnel. Then all bolts and anchors to secure the roof rock before applying shotcrete. The rest of the tunnel will be done in the same way as in open mining. Vertical drilling and blasting with explosives down to the level of 12 m (42 ft) below the sea level. NA: How much rock will be removed, and how will you go about removing it? There will be 3 billion cubic meters (over 105 billion cubic ft) of solid rock removed. All transportation from the tunnel area will be done by large barges. NA: What, if any, are the unique challenges to building a ship tunnel when compared with a road tunnel? The challenge is the height of this tunnel. There is 50 m (164 ft) from bottom to the roof, so all secure works and shotcrete must be done in several levels. The tunnel will be made dry down to the bottom. We solve this by leaving some rock unblasted in each end of the tunnel to prevent water flowing in.

Assuming it does indeed go ahead -- and with the Norwegian government having already set aside the money, this seems relatively likely -- the Stad Ship Tunnel will reach a length of 1.7 km (1.05 miles), and measure 37 m (121 ft) tall and 26.5 m (87 ft) wide. It's expected to cost NOK 2.3 billion (over US$272 million) to build and won't actually speed up travel times, but instead focuses on making the journey safer. Top-tier architecture and design firm Snohetta has designed the entrances, and the company's early plans include sculpted tunnel openings and adding LED lighting on the tunnel ceiling.

Businesses

Two More Executives Are Leaving Uber, Drivers May Unionize (nytimes.com) 200

First the resignations. "The beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber," the company's former president told Recode on Sunday, announcing his resignation. "The departures add to the executive exodus from Uber this year," writes The New York Times. An anonymous reader quotes their report. Brian McClendon, vice president of maps and business platform at Uber, also plans to leave at the end of the month... Raffi Krikorian, a well-regarded director in Uber's self-driving division, left the company last week, while Gary Marcus, who joined Uber in December after Uber acquired his company, left this month. Uber also asked for the resignation of Amit Singhal, a top engineer who failed to disclose a sexual harassment claim against him at his previous employer, Google, before joining Uber. And Ed Baker, another senior executive, left this month as well.
Jones left Uber after less than six months, though McClendon's departure is said to be more amicable. "Mr. McClendon, in a statement, said he was returning to his hometown, Lawrence, Kansas, after 30 years away. 'This fall's election and the current fiscal crisis in Kansas is driving me to more fully participate in our democracy -- and I want to do that in the place I call home."

In other news, the Teamsters labor union plans to start organizing Uber's drivers into a union, after a Washington judge rejected Uber's attempt to overturn a right-to-unionize ordinance passed by the city of Seattle.
China

China's Police Will Shoot Illegal Drones With Radio-Jamming Rifles (mashable.com) 62

"Police in China are being equipped with new high-tech weaponry to help them fight back against illegal drone use," writes new submitter drunkdrone. Mashable reports: A Chinese city's police department is arming itself with more than 20 drone-jamming rifles...which work by emitting radio signals that force the drones to land, purportedly without damaging them. The drone-killing rifles will be used during the upcoming 2017 Wuhan Marathon, to raise security. Wuhan police demonstrated the drone-killing rifles last week, where they shot down six drones, according to the Chutian Metropolitan Daily.
Each rifle costs $36,265, and has a range of 0.6 miles.
Government

US Lawmakers Propose Minimum Seat Sizes For Airlines (consumerist.com) 266

The size of each passenger's seat on an airplane -- as well as the distance between rows of seats -- should be standardized, according to legislation proposed by two American lawmakers. Slashdot reader AmiMoJo quotes Consumerist: The text of the bill does not specify any dimensions for seat widths or legroom. Rather, if the legislation is passed, the particulars would be left up to the FAA to sort out... Though seat size may vary from airline to airline, Cohen notes that the average distance between rows of seats has dropped from 35 inches before airline deregulation in the 1970s, to around 31 inches today. Your backside is getting the squeeze, as well, as the average width of an airline seat has also shrunk from 18 inches to about 16.5 inches.
Power

Tesla Discontinuing Model S With 60 KWh Battery (electrek.co) 53

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Electrek: April 16th, 2017 will be the last day to order the Model S 60 and 60D. The vehicles were the least expensive models that customers could purchase from Tesla -- starting at $68,000. The Model S 60 and 60D were equipped with 75 kWh battery packs software-locked to 60 kWh. Owners were able to unlock the remaining 15 kWh through a software update for a fee at any time after the purchase if they decided that they wanted more capacity. Tesla says that they are making the change because most customers ultimately end up upgrading to 75 kWh and they want to streamline the ordering process. It comes as Tesla is preparing to launch the Model 3, which should start at $35,000, but higher performance versions are expected to be offered at higher prices closer to the price of the Model S. It would make sense for Tesla to try to create a bigger gap between the two vehicles.
Businesses

Uber Nowhere Close to Having a Fully Autonomous Vehicle, Its Self-Driving Cars Need a Lot of Human Help (recode.net) 87

Uber may see self-driving cars as "existential" to its future, but the company is nowhere close to having a fully autonomous vehicle. According to internal documents obtained by Recode, during the week ending March 8, Uber's self-driving cars traveled, on average, just 0.8 miles on their own before a human had to take over, in a process known as "disengagement." From the report: As a whole, Uber's self-driving system is putting on many more miles than it did in January. Last week, the company's 43 active cars drove 20,354 miles autonomously, according to the documents. This is only the second time since late December 2016 that its cars have driven more than 20,000 miles in a week. In January, the cars only drove 5,000 miles. At that point, however, the company only had about 20 active vehicles, mainly in Pittsburgh. By February, the company's cars were driving themselves around 18,000 miles a week. Uber passengers took around 930 rides in these autonomous cars in Pittsburgh last week and around 150 rides in Phoenix. To be clear, these vehicles still had a driver at the wheel to take over if needed. In Pittsburgh, where Uber launched its commercial self-driving pilot in September, the company has been performing around 800 or more UberX trips per week in semi-autonomous mode since the middle of February.

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