Transportation


Ready for liftoff? Two flying taxi startups got Pentagon funding

The Guardian

Two start-ups leading the race to build the first self-flying taxis are using money from the US military. Last year, Kitty Hawk and Joby Aviation received a total of nearly $2m from the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), a Pentagon organization founded to help America's military make faster use of emerging technologies. Neither company, nor the DIUx, disclosed the funding at the time. The website for Cora, Kitty Hawk's experimental air taxi, emphasizes its role in solving urban transportation challenges: "Cora is about the time you could save soaring over traffic. The people you could visit.


Flying cars: why haven't they taken off yet?

The Guardian

In 1940, Henry Ford said: "Mark my words – a combination aeroplane and motor car is coming." With flying taxis apparently on the way, it looks like he was right, but what a wait. Eight decades years later, "dude, where's my flying car?" is shorthand for any stuff "they" promised us that we haven't got. We have always wanted to fly, so, as soon as cars came on to the scene, we wanted those to fly too. Early blueprints for the US interstate highway grid even had adjacent runways ready for flying cars.


Tesla that crashed into police car was in 'autopilot' mode, California official says

The Guardian

A Tesla car operating in "autopilot" mode crashed into a stationary police car in Laguna Beach, California, leaving the driver injured and the patrol vehicle "totalled", according to an official. Sgt Jim Cota, the public information officer for the Laguna Beach police department, tweeted photos of the accident, which was reported at 11.07am on Tuesday. The driver of the Tesla, who suffered minor lacerations to the face from his glasses, told police officers the Tesla was in the semi-autonomous mode, although further investigation is needed to confirm this. This morning a Tesla sedan driving outbound Laguna Canyon Road in "autopilot" collides with a parked @LagunaBeachPD unit. Officer was not in the unit at the time of the crash and minor injuries were sustained to the Tesla driver.


Tesla driver says car was in autopilot when it crashed at 60mph

The Guardian

The driver of a Tesla car that failed to stop at a red light and collided with a firetruck told investigators that the vehicle was operating on "autopilot" mode when it crashed, police said. A Tesla Model S was traveling at 60mph when it collided with the emergency vehicle in South Jordan, Utah, on Friday, causing minor injuries to both drivers, officials said Monday. The Tesla driver's claim that the car was using the autopilot technology has raised fresh questions about the electric car company's semi-autonomous system, which is supposed to assist drivers in navigating the road. The exact cause of the crash, which left the driver with a broken ankle, remains unknown, with Tesla saying it did not yet have the car's data and could not comment on whether autopilot was engaged. South Jordan police also said the 28-year-old driver "admitted that she was looking at her phone prior to the collision" and that witnesses said the car did not brake or take any action to avoid the crash.


Uber's self-driving car saw the pedestrian but didn't swerve – report

The Guardian

An Uber self-driving test car which killed a woman crossing the street detected her but decided not to react immediately, a report has said. The car was travelling at 40mph (64km/h) in self-driving mode when it collided with 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg at about 10pm on 18 March. Herzberg was pushing a bicycle across the road outside of a crossing. She later died from her injuries. Although the car's sensors detected Herzberg, its software which decides how it should react was tuned too far in favour of ignoring objects in its path which might be "false positives" (such as plastic bags), according to a report from the Information.


Elon Musk drafts in humans after robots slow down Tesla Model 3 production

The Guardian

Elon Musk has admitted that automation has been holding back Tesla's Model 3 production and that humans, rather than machines, were the answer. The electric car maker's chief executive said that one of the reasons Tesla has struggled to reach promised production volumes was because of the company's "excessive automation". Asked whether robots had slowed down production, rather than speeding it up, during a tour around Tesla's factory by CBS, Musk replied: "Yes, they did … We had this crazy, complex network of conveyor belts … And it was not working, so we got rid of that whole thing." "Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake.


NTSB 'unhappy' with Tesla for releasing information about fatal crash

The Guardian

The National Transportation Safety Board is "unhappy" about Tesla's decision to release information from an investigation of a fatal crash involving its Autopilot system. A vehicle using the semi-autonomous system crashed into a concrete lane divider on Highway 101 in Mountain View, California, last week. The car's driver, Wei Huang, a 38-year-old software engineer for Apple, was killed. Tesla released a statement on its website that said data showed the driver did not have his hands on the wheel, as recommended, and received several warnings from the system before the crash. The company said its Autopilot feature can keep speed, change lanes and self-park but requires drivers to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, in order to be able to take control and avoid accidents.


Tesla car that crashed and killed driver was running on Autopilot, firm says

The Guardian

Tesla has said a car that crashed in California last week, killing its driver, was operating on Autopilot. The 23 March crash on highway 101 in Mountain View is the latest accident to involve self-driving technology. Earlier this month, a self-driving Volvo SUV that was being tested by the ride-hailing service Uber struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. In a blogpost, Tesla said the driver of the sport-utility Model X, 38-year-old Wei Huang, "had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive and the driver's hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision. "The driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider … but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken."


Exclusive: Arizona governor and Uber kept self-driving program secret, emails reveal

The Guardian

Arizona's Republican governor repeatedly encouraged Uber's controversial experiment with autonomous cars in the state, enabling a secret testing program for self-driving vehicles with limited oversight from experts, according to hundreds of emails obtained by the Guardian. The previously unseen emails between Uber and the office of governor Doug Ducey reveal how Uber began quietly testing self-driving cars in Phoenix in August 2016 without informing the public. On Monday, 10 days after one of Uber's self-driving vehicles killed a pedestrian in a Phoenix suburb, Ducey suspended the company's right to operate autonomous cars on public roads in Arizona. It was a major about-face for the governor, who has spent years embracing the Silicon Valley startup. Uber's behind-the-scenes efforts to court Ducey, and the governor's apparent willingness to satisfy the company, is made clear in the emails, which were sent between 2015 and 2007 and obtained by the Guardian through public records requests.


Arizona suspends Uber's self-driving car testing after fatality

The Guardian

Arizona governor Doug Ducey suspended Uber's self-driving vehicle testing on Monday following a pedestrian fatality in a Phoenix suburb last week. Ducey told Uber's chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi that video footage of the crash raised concerns about the company's ability to safely test its technology in Arizona. He said he expects public safety to be the top priority for those who operate self-driving cars. "The incident that took place on 18 March is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation," Ducey said. The move by the Republican governor marks a major step back from his embrace of self-driving vehicles.