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Government

Paris, Madrid, Athens, Mexico City Will Ban Diesel Vehicles By 2025 (bbc.com) 202

The mayors of four major global cities -- Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens -- announced plans to stop the use of all diesel-powered cars and trucks by 2025. The leaders made their commitments in Mexico at a biennial meeting of city leaders. BBC reports: At the C40 meeting of urban leaders in Mexico, the four mayors declared that they would ban all diesel vehicles by 2025 and "commit to doing everything in their power to incentivize the use of electric, hydrogen and hybrid vehicles." "It is no secret that in Mexico City, we grapple with the twin problems of air pollution and traffic," said the city's mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera. "By expanding alternative transportation options like our Bus Rapid Transport and subway systems, while also investing in cycling infrastructure, we are working to ease congestion in our roadways and our lungs." Paris has already taken a series of steps to cut the impact of diesel cars and trucks. Vehicles registered before 1997 have already been banned from entering the city, with restrictions increasing each year until 2020. The use of diesel in transport has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, as concerns about its impact on air quality have grown. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that around three million deaths every year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Diesel engines contribute to the problem in two key ways -- through the production of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Very fine soot PM can penetrate the lungs and can contribute to cardiovascular illness and death. Nitrogen oxides can help form ground level ozone and this can exacerbate breathing difficulties, even for people without a history of respiratory problems. The diesel ban is hugely significant. Carmakers will look at this decision and know it's just a matter of time before other city mayors follow suit.
Transportation

Mercedes Unveils Digital Headlights That Project Street Signs, Markings Onto the Road Ahead (newatlas.com) 59

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Atlas: Mercedes has just announced a conceptual new set of lamps that can not only adapt their light distribution to cater to the environment, but can project high-res visual aids onto the road ahead, such as makeshift zebra crossings for nearby pedestrians. The new system is dubbed Digital Light and features two million pixels that, with the help of algorithms and sensors that analyze the vehicle's surroundings, can each adjust their individual brightness depending on the scenario. An example of this might be a partial dimming to avoid blinding a cyclist. We have seen this kind of adaptive lighting technology before in systems developed by Fraunhofer and indeed Mercedes itself, although tuning it to control millions of pixels individually does appear to be new territory. But where the Digital Light system gets quite interesting is with the ability to project different objects onto the road. Imagine you are rolling up to an intersection in a foreign city with unfamiliar streets signs and the car, having collected the necessary information, projects a stop sign onto the road out ahead. Perhaps just as practical is the ability to shoot out strips of light that represent the precise width of the car, which could be pretty hand just as you try to squeeze through that extremely narrow gap. For what it's worth, Mercedes says it has already fitted it to a number of demo vehicles and reckons it will be on the road "in the near future."
Privacy

Uber Wants To Track Your Location Even When You're Not Using the App, Here's Why (businessinsider.com) 130

With the most recent update to Uber's ride-hailing app, the company has begun requesting users if they are willing to share their location data with Uber app even while the app is not in use. The company says it plans to use the data gained to improve user experience -- including offering improved pick-up times and locations. From an article on Business Insider: In August the company moved away from using Google Maps for its service and began using its own mapping technology. Google's lack of accuracy in many non-Western countries led to increased friction between consumers and drivers. This means the company needs to boost the amount of location data it has. Location data could also be used to provide new channels of revenue for the digital platform. This could include serving ads of local businesses or recommending nearby places of interest to users. Mobile marketing, which relies on accurate location data is a rapidly growing industry and could serve as a revenue windfall for Uber in the years ahead as it faces increasing competition. In fact, revenue from location-targeted mobile ads is expected to grow at an annualized rate of almost 34% between 2014 and 2019, surpassing $18 billion, according to a forecast from BIA/Kelsey.
Businesses

Uber Drivers Demand Higher Pay in Nationwide Protest (cnet.com) 304

Uber drivers will join forces with fast food, home care and airport workers in a nationwide protest on Tuesday. Their demand: higher pay. From a report on CNET: Calling it the "Day of Disruption," drivers for the ride-hailing company in two dozen cities, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, will march at airports and in shopping areas carrying signs that read, "Your Uber Driver is Arriving Striking." The protest underscores the dilemma Uber faces as it balances the needs of its drivers with its business. Valued at $68 billion, Uber is the highest-valued venture-backed company worldwide. But as it has cut the cost of rides to compete with traditional taxi services, Uber reportedly has experienced trouble turning a profit. Unlike many other workers involved in Tuesday's protests, Uber drivers are not members of a union. In fact, Uber doesn't even classify its drivers as employees. Instead the company considers drivers independent contractors. This classification means the company isn't responsible for many costs, including health insurance, paid sick days, gas, car maintenance and much more. However, Uber still sets drivers' rates and the commission it pays itself, which ranges between 20 percent and 30 percent. "I'd like a fair day's pay for my hard work," Adam Shahim, a 40-year-old driver from Pittsburgh, California, said in a statement. "So I'm joining with the fast-food, airport, home care, child care and higher education workers who are leading the way and showing the country how to build an economy that works for everyone, not just the few at the top."
Transportation

Self-Driving Trucks Begin Real-World Tests on Ohio's Highways (cbsnews.com) 178

An anonymous reader writes: "A vehicle from self-driving truck maker Otto will travel a 35-mile stretch of U.S. Route 33 on Monday in central Ohio..." reports the Associated Press. The truck "will travel in regular traffic, and a driver in the truck will be positioned to intervene should anything go awry, Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Bruning said Friday, adding that 'safety is obviously No. 1.'"

Ohio sees this route as "a corridor where new technologies can be safely tested in real-life traffic, aided by a fiber-optic cable network and sensor systems slated for installation next year" -- although next week the truck will also start driving on the Ohio Turnpike.

United States

Ransomware Compromises San Francisco's Mass Transit System (cbslocal.com) 140

Buses and light rail cars make San Francisco's "Muni" fleet the seventh largest mass transit system in America. But yesterday its arrival-time screens just displayed the message "You Hacked, ALL Data Encrypted" -- and all the rides were free, according to a local CBS report shared by RAYinNYC: Inside sources say the system has been hacked for days. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has officially confirmed the hack, but says it has not affected any service... The hack affects employees, as well. According to sources, SFMTA workers are not sure if they will get paid this week. Cyber attackers also hit Muni's email systems.
Though the article claims "The transit agency has no idea who is behind it, or what the hackers are demanding in return," Business Insider reports "The attack seems to be an example of ransomware, where a computer system is taken over and the users are locked out until a certain amount of money is sent to the attacker." In addition, they're reporting the attack "reportedly included an email address where Muni officials could ask for the key to unlock its systems."

One San Francisco local told CBS, "I think it is terrifying. I really do I think if they can start doing this here, we're not safe anywhere."
EU

Uber Is About to Face a Landmark Battle in Europe (fortune.com) 106

In a case which could affect other app-based startups, Uber will seek to convince Europe's top court next week that it is a digital service, not a transport company. The outcome could determine whether app-based startups should be exempt from strict laws meant for regular companies. From a report on Fortune:The European Commission is trying to boost e-commerce, a sector where the EU lags behind Asia and the United States, to drive economic growth and create jobs. The U.S. taxi app, which launched in Europe five years ago, has faced fierce opposition from regular taxi companies and some local authorities, who fear it creates unfair competition because it is not bound by strict local licensing and safety rules. Supporters however say rigid regulatory obligations protect incumbents and hinder the entry of digital startups which offer looser work arrangements to workers in the 28-country European Union looking for more flexibility, albeit without basic rights.
Transportation

China's NextEV NIO EP9 Claims To Be 'World's Fastest' Electric Supercar (hothardware.com) 56

Brandon Hill, writing for HotHardware: NextEV, a Chinese manufacturer that fields a team in Formula E, is looking to take the world by storm with its EP9. Launching under the NIO sub-brand, the EP9 is said to accelerate to 60 mph in just 2.7 seconds and can hit 124 mph in 7.1 seconds. After 15.9 seconds, the EP9 will be traveling at a heady 186 mph. The EV weighs 3,825 pounds, or 1,730kg (about 200 pounds heavier than the 918 Spyder), of which 1,400 pounds is devoted solely to the lithium-ion battery pack. Despite the fact that the EP9's motors combine to produce an astonishing 1390 horsepower, it still has a respectable driving range of 265 miles. So what do all of these performance numbers mean in the real world? Well, NextEV says that the EP9 is capable of lapping the famed Nurburgring Nordschleife race track in 7 minutes, 5 seconds. Interestingly enough, NextEV is claiming that the EP9 is the world's fastest EV, but we have the feeling that Rimac Automobili would take issue with that statement. Rimac's Concept_S can dash to 60 mph in just 2.5 seconds and can hit 186 mph in 13.5 seconds. Likewise, the Concept_S is capable of topping out at 226.8 mph, whereas NextEV hasn't provided a top speed for the EP9.
Transportation

US Regulators Seek To Reduce Road Deaths With Smartphone 'Driving Mode' (theguardian.com) 291

US regulators are seeking to reduce smartphone-related vehicle deaths with a new driving-safe mode that would block or modify apps to prevent them being a distraction while on the road. From a report on The Guardian:The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are to issue voluntary guidelines for smartphone makers, which will seek to restrict the apps and services accessible on a smartphone being used by a driver. US transport secretary Anthony Foxx said: "Your smartphone becomes so many different things that it's not just a communication device. Distraction is still a problem. Too many people are dying and being injured on our roadways." The NHTSA is hoping that Apple, Samsung and other popular smartphone manufacturers will adopt the guidelines in future smartphone and software releases. The so-called driving mode will block distractions such as social media, messages or email, stop the use of the keyboard for communication activities and also restrict access to websites, video and distracting graphics. The intention is that the driving mode will be adopted in a similar manner to the airplane mode common to most smartphones and connected devices, which restricts radio communications while airborne. Airplane mode has been a feature of smartphones since 2007.
Social Networks

Facebook's Solar-Powered Drone Under Investigation After 'Accident' (theguardian.com) 45

Facebook has hit a hitch in its plans to use a solar-powered unmanned drone to provide internet access to developing nations, after it was revealed the American National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has opened an investigation into an accident on the drone's first test flight in June. From a report on The Guardian:At the time, Facebook described the flight as "successful": the drone, called Aquila, stayed aloft for 96 minutes, three times the planned duration. "We have a lot of work ahead of us," Jay Parikh, Facebook's head of engineering and infrastructure, wrote when Facebook revealed the test flight, in late July. "In our next tests, we will fly Aquila faster, higher and longer, eventually taking it above 60,000 feet." In a second, more technical, blogpost published that same day, Facebook's Martin Luis Gomez and Andrew Cox acknowledged the failure in passing. "Our first flight lasted three times longer than the minimum mission length, so we were able to gather data on how the structure and autopilot responded under a range of real-world conditions to help verify these predictions," they wrote.Reporter Casey Newton mentioned on The Verge that at the time, Facebook had led them believe that everything was alright, and there were no hiccups.
Twitter

Spammers Compromised Popular Twitter Accounts Including Viacom And Microsoft Xbox (engadget.com) 23

"A number of popular Twitter accounts suddenly wanted to help you add more followers," joked Engadget. An anonymous reader writes: Early Saturday morning, due to a breach of the Twitter Counter analytics service, the compromised Twitter accounts started posting images touting services that sell Twitter followers. The affected accounts include @PlayStation, @Viacom, @XboxSupport, @TheNewYorker, @TheNextWeb, and @Money (Time's finance magazine) as well as @NTSB (the National Transportation Safety Board) and @ICRC (the Red Cross), and the Twitter accounts of famous individuals include astronaut Leland Melvin, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, and actor Charlie Sheen. "We can confirm that our service has been hacked; allowing posts on behalf of our user," Twitter Counter posted Saturday, announcing minutes later that "hackers CANNOT post on our users' behalf anymore."
"Apologies for the spam, everyone," tweeted the account for Xbox support, adding "We're cleaning things up now."
United Kingdom

London's Mayor Wants Volkswagen To Pay $3 Million In Lost Tolls (citiesofthefuture.eu) 214

dkatana writes: Since the U.K. government has done nothing to make Volkswagen pay for Dieselgate, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, is asking VW to come up with 2.5 million pounds ($3 million) to compensate the city and its residents for the 80,000 diesel cars fitted with cheat devices. "I want to see a proper commitment from them [VW] to fully compensate the thousands of Londoners who bought Volkswagen cars in good faith, but whose diesel engines are now contributing to London's killer air."
The money will be used to fund a new air-quality program for London's schoolchildren, and Mayor Khan is also asking the government to create "a national diesel scrappage" program to help replace vehicles.
Transportation

Flying Robot Ambulance Finally Takes Its First Flight (popsci.com) 43

What weighs 2,400 pounds, flies 100 miles per hour, and doesn't haven't a pilot? An anonymous reader writes: This week Popular Science remembers a 2007 article which discovered "an amazing machine of the future, almost like a flying car, that seemed plausible but just out of reach" -- and reports that it's now finally performed "a full, autonomous flight on a preplanned route." Designed to provide unmanned emergency evacuations, it's been described as "a hovercar-like aircraft" flown with a built-in AI-controlled flight system.

Tuesday's route was two minutes long, and "According to Urban Aeronautics, the vehicle's Flight Control System made the decision to land too early." But what's significant is there's no human pilot. "Decisions by the flight controls are checked by the craft's flight management system, like a pilot overseen by a captain...all informed by an array of sensors, including 'two laser altimeters, a radar altimeter, inertial sensors, and an electro-optic payload camera.'"

The test brings the giant unmanned vehicle one step closer to its ultimate goal of becoming "a robot that can fly inside cities, weaving between buildings and hovering above any dangers on the ground below."
Australia

Commercial-Mining Drones Keep Getting Attacked By Eagles (abc.net.au) 136

An anonymous reader summarizes an article from ABC News: The world's seventh-biggest gold producer has lost more than nine drones because of eagle attacks. "People couldn't believe I was able to get such a good photo of an eagle airborne," complained surveyor Rick Steven at a conference sponsored by the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. "But I didn't... Another eagle took that photo... I was getting attacked by two eagles simultaneously." The specially-constructed drones carry a $10,000 camera for high-resolution photos and equipment that produces high-detail contour maps of potential mining areas, and so far the company estimates they've lost more than $100,000 worth of technology to eagle attacks. They've tried camouflage -- including disguising the drones as another eagle -- but unfortunately, according to Stevens, the eagle is the "natural enemy" of the drone.
One drone's video is interrupted by the sudden appearance of an eagle, followed almost immediately by footage from the ground by a sideways drone camera. That video -- included in the article -- ends with a reminder that "Eagle attacks on drones have been documented across the world, to the point where some European police forces are now training them to take down unauthorized aircraft."
Software

cURL Author Is Getting Tech Support Emails From Car Owners (daniel.haxx.se) 141

AmiMoJo writes: The author of the popular cURL utility has been receiving requests for help from frustrated car owners having difficulty with their infotainment systems... [B]ecause his email address is listed on the "about" screen, as required by the cURL license, some desperate users are reaching out to him in the hopes of finding a solution.
It sounds annoying to receive complaints like "why there delay between audio and video when connect throw Bluetooth and how to fix it." But though he rarely answers them, Stenberg writes that "I actually find these emails interesting, sometimes charming and they help me connect to the reality many people experience out there."

In a post titled "I have toyota corola," Stenberg says "I suspect my email address is just about the only address listed. This occasionally makes desperate users who have tried everything to eventually reach out to me. They can't fix their problem but since my email exists in their car, surely I can!"
Businesses

Volkswagen Plans 30,000 Job Cuts Worldwide (bbc.com) 82

Volkswagen has announced plans to cut 30,000 jobs worldwide with about 23,000 of the losses borne in Germany. From a report on BBC:VW, still dealing with the aftermath of the emissions-cheating scandal, aims to rejuvenate its core brand, and develop new electric and self-driving cars. VW says it will create 9,000 jobs as part of investments in new products. The cuts should bring annual savings of $3.92bn by 2020. VW and unions have been hammering out a plan to revive its fortunes since June. Volkswagen chief executive, Matthias Mueller, said it was "the biggest modernisation programme in the history of the group's core brand." "The VW brand needs a real shake-up and that is exactly what the future pact has turned out to be," he added. The car giant -- which employs 610,000 people in 31 countries -- wants to increase the brand's profit margin from 2% to 4% and to do this it will need to improve productivity at its German plants by 25%.
Transportation

Tesla 'Easter Egg' Makes the World's Fastest Car Even Faster (bloomberg.com) 247

The world's fastest-accelerating car is about to get even faster. Tesla's high-end Model S will soon be able to go from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 2.4 seconds, following a software enhancement next month that shaves off a 10th of a second. That's a new threshold that distinguishes it from any other production car on the road. From a report on Bloomberg: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk teased the update in a tweet on Wednesday -- but there's a twist. When the changes are delivered wirelessly next month to all P100D Model S vehicles, the owners will have to figure out how to enable it. It's what's known in the tech industry as an "Easter Egg" -- a hidden feature that requires a specific series of gestures to unlock. These speeds are crazy fast. For perspective, the Model S already outpaces sold-out supercars with tiny production runs, such as Ferrari's $1.4 million LaFerrari, Porsche's $845,000 918 Spyder, and Bugatti's $2.3 million Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse. Tesla's seven-seat Model X SUV will also shed a 10th of a second, putting it on a par with a $1.15 million McLaren P1.
Transportation

Richard Branson Reveals Prototype For Supersonic Passenger Aircraft (theguardian.com) 202

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Sir Richard Branson on Tuesday heralded the rebirth of supersonic passenger flights with the unveiling of a prototype aircraft promising 3.5-hour flights from London to New York for an "affordable" $5,000 return. The billionaire Virgin Group founder said his Spaceship company would help Denver-based startup Boom build a new generation of supersonic jets and reintroduce transatlantic flight times unseen since Concorde was scrapped. Branson is partnering with Blake Scholl, a pilot and former Amazon executive, who will later on Tuesday unveil a prototype of the new jet in a hangar in Denver, Colorado. While several other companies, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin, are developing new supersonic jets, Scholl said his plan was likely to beat them to market as it does not require any new technology that would need approval by regulators. Scholl said test flights would begin in southern California, with plans to launch the first commercial departures in 2023. If the plans stick to schedule, Boom flights will launch 20 years after British Airways and Air France decommissioned Concorde. He said Boom would succeed where Concorde failed because developments in technology and lighter materials meant tickets would be much cheaper. Boom will have just 45 to 50 seats, compared with Concorde's 92 to 128. Scholl reckons the demand for affordable supersonic flights could make this a $100 billion market. He said his plane could work on 500 different routes, but would concentrate initially on London to New York, San Francisco to Tokyo, and Los Angeles to Sydney.
Transportation

VW Admits Audi Automatic Transmission Software Can Change Test Behavior (cnet.com) 157

In response to a report via Bild am Sonntag last week, which found a new type of defeat device hidden inside an Audi automatic transmission, Volkswagen finally came around to admitting the findings. "Adaptive shift programs can lead to incorrect and non-reproducible results" in emissions tests, VW told Reuters on Sunday. CNET reports: Software in the AL 551 automatic transmission may detect testing conditions and shift in a way that minimizes emissions, only to act "normally" out on the road. Much like Dieselgate's defeat device, that leads to higher-than-imagined pollution, which could be in excess of legal limits. Audi's AL 551 can be found in both gas and diesel vehicles, including the A6, A8 and Q5. Volkswagen isn't going full mea culpa here, though. The automaker also told Reuters that its adaptive transmission software is meant to change shift points in order to improve on-road performance. Many automatic transmissions these days learn from driver input and tailor shifting to match a driver's style, which leads to a smoother drive. VW Group did not immediately return a request for comment.
Government

US Finalizes Rules That Require Quiet Hyrbid and Electric Cars To Make Noise At Low Speeds (reuters.com) 361

In an effort to prevent injuries among pedestrians, the U.S. government has finalized rules that require quiet hybrid and electric vehicles to emit alert sounds when they are traveling at low speeds. Reuters reports: The rules, which were required by Congress, will require automakers like Tesla Motors Inc, Nissan Motor Co and Toyota Motor Corp to add the sounds to all vehicles by September 2019. The U.S. Transportation Department said it expects the rules would prevent 2,400 injuries a year by 2020 and require the addition of alert sounds to about 530,000 2020 model vehicles. The U.S. National Highway Transportation Department said the rules will cost the auto industry about $39 million annually because automakers will need to add an external waterproof speaker to comply. But the benefits of the reduced injuries are estimated at $250 million to $320 million annually. NHTSA estimates the odds of a hybrid vehicle being involved in a pedestrian crash are 19 percent higher compared with a traditional gas-powered vehicle. About 125,000 pedestrians and bicyclists are injured annually. The rules will also help the blind and visually impaired. The rules apply to hybrid and electric cars, SUVs, trucks and buses weighing up to 10,000 pounds and seek to prevent crashes at intersections or when electric vehicles are backing up. At higher speeds, the alert is not required because other factors like tire and wind noise adequately warn pedestrians, NHTSA said.

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