Transportation


Driverless taxi debuts in Tokyo in 'world first' trial ahead of Olympics

The Guardian

A self-driving taxi has successfully taken paying passengers through the busy streets of Tokyo, raising the prospect that the service will be ready in time to ferry athletes and tourists between sports venues and the city centre during the 2020 Summer Olympics. ZMP, a developer of autonomous driving technology, and the taxi company Hinomaru Kotsu, claim that the road tests, which began this week, are the first in the world to involve driverless taxis and fare-paying passengers. The trial took place as Toyota and the transport giant Uber said they were intensifying efforts to develop a self-driving vehicle, pitting themselves against rival initiatives in Japan, the US and Europe. Toyota will invest $500m in the venture, which will develop vehicles based on the carmakers' Sienna minivans, with a view to start testing in 2021, the firms said this week. Uber and Waymo, owned by Google spinoff Alphabet, have started testing their vehicles on public roads in the US, but the venture suffered a serious setback in March when a Waymo self-driving van struck and killed a pedestrian during a trial in Arizona.


Sebastian Thrun: 'The costs of the air taxi system could be less than an Uber'

The Guardian

The 51-year-old artificial intelligence and robotics scientist is responsible for co-developing Google Street View, pioneering self-driving cars, founding Google X – the internet giant's secretive research lab – and revolutionising education by kickstarting massive open online courses (Moocs). His most recent project is developing flying cars. You launched your flying car company, Kitty Hawk, in 2015 backed by Google co-founder Larry Page and you have two projects in development – a personal aircraft called Flyer and an autonomous air taxi called Cora. Why do we need flying cars? The ground is getting more and more congested – we are all stuck in traffic all the time.


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."