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Transportation

Aerospace Startup Will Build A Supersonic Mach 2.2 Aircraft (fortune.com) 77

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) 215

"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) 30

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) 36

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) 254

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 102

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) 87

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) 248

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.
Space

Miniature Lab Begins Science Experiments in Outer Space (reuters.com) 27

An anonymous reader shares a Reuters report: Orbiting the earth at more than 500 kilometers (300 miles), a tiny satellite with a laboratory shrunk to the size of a tissue box is helping scientists carry out experiments that take gravity out of the equation. The technology was launched into space last month by SpacePharma, a Swiss-Israeli company, which on Thursday announced that its first experiments have been completed successfully. In space, with hardly any interference from earth's gravity, cells and molecules behave differently, helping researchers make discoveries in fields from medicine to agriculture. Nestle turned to zero gravity -- or what scientists refer to as microgravity -- to perfect the foam in its chocolate mousse and coffee, while drugmakers like Eli Lilly have used it to improve drug designs.
Transportation

A US Ally Shot Down a $200 Drone With a $3 Million Patriot Missile (theverge.com) 318

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Verge: Earlier this week, General David Perkins, the commander of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) spoke at the Association of the US Army's Global Force symposium, where he discussed the threats that the US military would begin to face in the coming years. One notable example is how a US ally recently shot down a $200 consumer drone with a $3.4 million worth Patriot Missile. Perkins' talk during the symposium focused on the complexity of a military organization in the field, and how the interconnected nature of air, ground, and sea forces can lead to a fragmented response to a threat between the commanders who are in charge of specific areas. [...] "The gut instinct was," he explains, "that's an air defense problem, because they're in the air." "In fact," he went on to say, "we have a very close ally of ours that was dealing with an adversary using small quadcopter UASs, and they shot it down with a Patriot missile." The problem, he said, wasn't effectiveness: the tiny drone didn't stand a chance -- the issue is economics.
Robotics

BMW Says Self-Driving Car To Be Level 5 Capable In Five Years (reuters.com) 149

German carmaker BMW is on track to deliver a self-driving car by 2021, the company's senior vice president for Autonomous Driving, Elmar Frickenstein, said on Thursday. From a report: "We are on the way to deliver a car in 2021 with level 3, 4 and 5," Frickenstein told a panel discussion in Berlin, explaining the vehicle will have different levels of autonomy, depending on how and where it is used. A level 5 vehicle is capable of navigating roads without any driver input, while a level 3 car still needs a steering wheel and a driver who can take over if the car encounters a problem.
Businesses

Tesla To Raise Over $1.15 Billion To Help Offset Risk For Model 3 Production (techcrunch.com) 86

Tesla is looking to raise a total of around $1.15 billion from stock and convertible senior notes as a way to help "further reduce any risks" that it'll incur as it scales its business to handle its aggressive Model 3 production schedule, the company said. From a report: Tesla's decision to pad out its balance sheet with more capital was anticipated by many analysts, and a fair number of Wall Street watchers actually thought Tesla would seek more to help it grow based on recent comments made by Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The Model 3 is set to begin full production this year, with pre-production begun in February with a temporary production line pause to help get processes at its Fremont factory ready for the new vehicle. The split of the new funding efforts will see Tesla pursue $250 million in common stock offering, with $750 million raised via convertible notes due in 2022. Elon Musk himself will personally contribute by buying $25 million in Tesla stock.
Earth

Boaty McBoatface To Go On Its First Antarctic Mission (theguardian.com) 116

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: A small yellow robot submarine, called Boaty McBoatface after a competition to name a new polar research ship backfired, is being sent on its first Antarctic mission. Boaty, which has arguably one of the most famous names in recent maritime history, is a new type of autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), which will be able to travel under ice, reach depths of 6,000 meters, and transmit the data it collects to researchers via a radio link. Its mission will be to investigate water flow and turbulence in the dark depths of the Orkney Passage, a 3.5km deep region of the Southern Ocean. The data it collects will help scientists understand how the ocean is responding to global warming. Boaty will travel with the DynOPO (Dynamics of the Orkney Passage Outflow) expedition on the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) research ship James Clark Ross, departing from Punta Arenas in Chile on 17 March. The craft will be sent back and forth through a cold abyssal current that forms an important part of the global circulation of ocean water. In 2019 Boaty McBoatface will be fitted with acoustic and chemical sensors and sent into the North Sea to "sniff out" signals associated with the artificial release of gas beneath the seabed. A future aim for Boaty will be to attempt the first-ever crossing of the Arctic Ocean under ice, which has the potential to deliver a significant change in scientists' ability to observe change in this vital region.

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