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Friday, December 23, 2016

Europe’s New Satellite System Will Improve Your Phone's GPS

As reported by MIT Technology ReviewGalileo, a global navigation satellite system that will reach more places and work more precisely than today’s GPS services, is now available for free public use. When it is complete, expected by 2020, Galileo will have taken two decades and an estimated $10 billion to build. But the system, created by the European Union, will make your phone run better and offer new possibilities for both corporate and government users.
With Galileo’s opening, announced this month, providers of a variety of services and devices, from specialized navigation systems to mobile-phone and car makers, will be able to add its signal to that of the 70-odd satellites in the American GPS and Russian GLONASS systems. At least 17 companies are already poised to do so, among them phone makers Huawei and BQ.
The more satellite signals available, the choosier your receiver can be. If buildings or other devices interfere with signals in one direction, your receiver may be able to find a less noisy signal from a satellite elsewhere. This means the Galileo satellites will make it easier to get a signal in places covered by fewer satellites, such as the far north of Europe, and provide more accurate and faster position fixes elsewhere, says Richard Langley, a geospatial expert at the University of New Brunswick in Canada and a member of a working group focused on research uses for Galileo’s data. Just one additional satellite “can make a huge difference” in position accuracy, he says.
When your phone finds less noisy signals, it frees the device’s processor for other tasks, explains Lukasz Bonenberg of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, which is helping to build Galileo. That will allow developers, such as those who attended a Galileo hackathon last month, to design software that focuses on using location data rather than helping to interpret it, he says.
Galileo should also speed up search-and-rescue operations. Today it can take hours for a distress signal to reach enough low-orbiting satellites to confirm a position. Navigation satellites, which orbit higher, are more suitable for the task, but only the newest GPS and GLONASS satellites have the right hardware. All the Galileo satellites have it, and they should be able to locate rescue beacons in 10 minutes. An encrypted channel will be available to government agencies for emergency services.
Today the Galileo constellation consists of 18 satellites. Six more, enough for full global coverage of Earth, will be launched over the next three years by the system’s operator, the European Space Agency. (There will be six backup satellites as well, Galileo having learned a lesson from GPS and GLONASS’s struggles with dud satellites.)
Galileo is one of a growing number of satellite navigation systems. China is building its own, BeiDou, also scheduled for completion in 2020. Other countries, including India and Japan, have growing regional navigation systems as well.
These systems are interoperable, and researchers around the world are  developing efficient algorithms for combining signals from multiple constellations. As more of these satellites come online, location information will get even better.

A French Town Just Installed the World's First 'Solar Road'

The tiny town of Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy, France no longer has to worry about how it will power its street lights. The Sun will handle that.

French Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal (below) officially opened the kilometer-long road on Wednesday. It took five years to develop and cost $5.2 million to produce and install the 30,000 square feet of solar panels. They're coated with a clear silicon resin that enables them to withstand the impact of passing traffic.

Being the first of its kind, the panels are still prohibitively expensive to produce en masse (they're also less efficient than conventional panels because they're laid flat rather than angled). But should Colas, the road's manufacturer, figure out how to get costs down and efficiency up, France may install them along another 1,000 kilometers of its roads.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

US DOT Unveils 'V2V' Rule Requiring Cars to ‘Talk’ to Each Other

As reported by The HillOn Tuesday, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed a rule to "advance the deployment of connected vehicle technologies in 'light-duty" vehicles." The rule would mandate that all new cars implement vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology—and, according to US DOT secretary of transportation, Anthony R. Foxx, this could happen in 100% of new cars in roughly five years.

"Today's announcement is the next step in our march toward capturing safety opportunities in new technologies," Foxx said at a press conference. "We recognize the potential technology to improve safety and improve the relationship between everyday Americans and transportation."
"There's a single number that motivates everything we do: 35,092. That number is how many American died on roadways last year," said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. According to Rosekind, V2V infrastructure has the potential to prevent up to 80% of "non-impaired crashes."
"That potential is something we have to do everything we can to realized," he said.
To prevent crashes, V2V tech will employ features like advanced warning systems, automated crash avoidance, and adaptive cruise control. The proposed implementation of V2V technology, Foxx said, will also "provide 360-degree situational awareness on the road and will help us enhance vehicle safety." While "folks can turn off the warning," Foxx said, "the broadcast cannot be turned off."
The announcement follows on the heels of the US DOT's policy for autonomous vehicles—the first-of-its kind guidelines for the development of autonomous vehicle technology in September 2016. According to Rosekind, V2V and automation technology are "highly complementary." Also, Rosekind said that vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology is important piece of the proposal, and the agency "plans to soon issue guidance for V2I communications, which will help transportation planners integrate the technologies to allow vehicles to 'talk' to roadway infrastructure such as traffic lights, stop signs and work zones to improve mobility, reduce congestion and improve safety."
The proposal "has the potential to save lives, but it is certain to add costs to vehicles," said Michael Ramsey, autonomous vehicle analyst at Gartner. "In addition, with the increasing number of sensors on vehicles, from cameras and radar to eventually Lidar, V2V may become a redundant technology. Companies like Delphi stand to win big from this announcement. Already it is supplying this technology to GM to be launched in a Cadillac in 2017."
Also, there are unanswered questions: How will a new administration affect the development of these regulations? How can cybersecurity issues be safely addressed? The DOT said its V2V system will not collect or share personal information and that it is "a safety tool, not a data-gathering tool." Still, cybersecurity concerns should remain a priority in safely implementing the technology.
"I'm glad this proposed rule has finally been released," said Bryant Walker Smith, leading legal expert in autonomous vehicles. "I'm concerned how it—and also spectrum allocation—will fare in the next administration."
Still, the move is a big step forward for recognizing the power of vehicle technology to increase safety on the roads. Smith said that, when integrated, the guidelines "provide a whole new infrastructure upon which innovations we have yet to conceive could occur."
The proposed rulemaking will be open for public comment for 90 days, according to the DOT.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

GPS Location Data for Four Million Commutes Reveal New U.S. 'Megaregions'

As economic centers grow in size and importance, determining their boundaries has become more crucial.

An ever increasing share of the world’s population is living in what are known as megaregions—clusters of interconnected cities. The concept of the megaregion is decades old and fairly easy to grasp, but geographically defining them has turned out to be rather tricky.

Now, researchers have attempted to map the megaregions of the contiguous United States by studying the commutes of American workers.

As megaregions grow in size and importance, economists, lawmakers, and urban planners need to work on coordinating policy at this new scale. But when it comes to defining the extent of a megaregion, they find themselves running into the same problems geographers and cartographers have always had when trying to delineate conceptual areas. Because megaregions are defined by connections—things like interlocking economies, transportation links, shared topography, or a common culture—it’s tough to know where their boundaries lie.

To try to solve this geographical problem, Garrett Nelson of Dartmouth College and Alasdair Rae of the University of Sheffield used census data on more than four million commuter paths and applied two different analyses, one based on a visual interpretation and the other rooted in an algorithm developed at MIT. Their results and maps appear today in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

The map (left side) shows all the commutes of 50 miles or less (represented by straight lines between the start and end points) surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the more iconic megaregions in the country. Shorter, higher volume commutes are in yellow, with longer, lower volume paths in red. In this image it’s easy to see that the main centers of work are in cities, including San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, and Sacramento, and that they are highly connected. (See "A Commuter Revolution: How Cities Are Collaborating to Solve the Challenges of Sustainable Urban Transport")

But where should planners draw the edges of a megaregion encompassing this activity? Which connections are statistically significant? Which are important for regional transit planning? Should they focus on the cities surrounding the bay, or is Sacramento just as important to the Bay Area economy?

For answers to these questions, Nelson and Rae turned to an algorithm-based tool designed by MIT’s Senseable City Lab to mathematically recognize communities. The algorithm only considers the strength of connections between nodes (more than 70,000 census tracts in this case), ignoring physical locations. This made for a nice test of Waldo Tobler’s “first law of geography”: that things that are near each other are more related than those that are farther apart.

The results of the algorithmic analysis took some cleanup and iterations—such as eliminating superlong commutes between places like New York City and Los Angeles and excluding nodes with only very weak connections—to produce a coherent map of plausible megaregions. The difference between the visual and mathematical approaches can be seen in the map above of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

 In the visual analysis on the left, activity clearly centers on the twin cities and extends outward concentrically, with weaker connections to surrounding cities. But where does the twin-cities megaregion end? Should St. Cloud be included? What about Rochester? In the smaller-scale map on the right, the algorithm assigned a broad swath of smaller surrounding cities, including Fargo, North Dakota, to the megaregion based on commuting paths. Here, the twin cities area shows up as the largest of multiple centers of activity. (See "The City Solution: Why Cities Are the Best Cure for Our Planet’s Growing Pains")

One of the decisions the researchers made was to limit the algorithm to 50 megaregions, which can be seen in the map below, where every node is colored according to the region it belongs to. This made the map more plausible visually. While 50 may sound like an arbitrary number, it makes sense mathematically because a very high percentage of commutes lie entirely within a megaregion relative to paths that cross boundaries between regions.

These algorithmic megaregions are easier to interpret on the map at the top of the post, which shows the connections. There are a few seemingly odd results, such as the sharp boundary that follows the New York-Connecticut state line or the small, splotchy green megaregion that floats between Birmingham and Dallas. Clearly, by ignoring geographical information and having no understanding of the country’s cultural character, the statistical method didn’t get everything right.

So Nelson and Rae combined the two methods to draw final boundaries around the country’s megaregions. They started by drawing lines around the dots on the map above. They then overlaid those shapes on the flow map at the top of the post and reinterpreted the boundaries to eliminate outliers and emphasize geographic continuity. The result is the map below, which eliminates some visual oddities. For example, the splotchy green area has been absorbed by the New Orleans-Delta megaregion, and a big swath of the west with relatively low population isn’t included in any megaregion.

The researchers hope their approach is a first step to a better grasp of the economic geography of the country. The map is clearly a work in progress, and some areas still don’t look right—the division of the New York City tri-state area into two megaregions, for example. And I’m not convinced the Bay Area-Sacramento megaregion where I live should extend all the way to Nevada. Does the map assign your home and workplace to a megaregion that makes sense to you?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Nikola Unveils its Hydrogen-Powered Semi-Truck

As reported by Engadget: It's not just passenger vehicles that are moving away from gasoline, big rigs are also saying goodbye to fossil fuels. In Salt Lake City today the hydrogen-powered Nikola One long haul truck was unveiled. According to the truck maker, the semi will be in production and ready to transport goods in 2020.  

The class 8 truck (the giant ones that transport goods) will have a range of 800 to 1,200 miles between refueling. If the company delivers on that range, the One -- if running at peak efficiency -- could get from San Francisco to Cheyenne, Wyoming on one tank of gas. And the fuel needed for that trip will be included in the 72-month leasing program that company is offering.

To solve the limited supply of hydrogen along the highways of the United States and Canada, Nikola also announced its plans to build stations to refuel its new trucks in both countries. The company will start breaking ground on the refueling stops in 2018 and they will open in 2019.

Without those hydrogen stations, it won't matter how impressive the range of Nikola One is if it can't be counted on to transport goods everywhere because it might run out of juice. Yet when it is on the road, the semi's tech will be making the most of its trip.

According to CEO Trevor Milton, the truck's navigation system will determine the most lucrative route between destinations. The dash will have a large display sort of like the one found in a Tesla.

Nikola is still determining where it'll actually build its new trucks and says it will figure that out sometime during the first half of 2017. Once those semis are built they will be sold, serviced and warrantied by trucking company Ryder's over 800 locations thanks to a agreement announced today.

The company also introduced the Nikola Two with the same range performance as the One but a smaller cab and more maneuverability. Like the One, it'll be available in 2020. Both trucks will have an electric motor connected to each wheel which should help with take off thanks to torque vectoring and braking.

No word on pricing on either truck. But Milton said that information will be shared soon.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Long-Range Anti-Drone Gun can Secure the Entire Neighborhood

Whether you're concerned about them snooping or indulging in something much more sinister like firing weapons, there are now a few precautions you can take when it comes to errant drones. If you don't have access to a flock of drone-hunting eagles, a new weapon could be the next-best option, with the ability to ground unmanned aircraft from up to 1.3 mi (2 km) away.
The Dronegun takes the same approach as a number of drone-jamming systems that fire radio waves into the distance to confuse the aircraft's control channels, such as the shoulder-mounted Battelle DroneDefender and the larger Anti-UAV Defence System.
The latter is capable of picking out drones as far away at 8 km (5 mi), but is a serious set of equipment that comes mounted on a vehicle. The Dronegun from Virginia-based Droneshield promises a more portable option that can quickly be whipped out in the case of an incoming threat.
Shaped like an extravagant laser-tag rifle, the Dronegun hooks up to a backpack and when adequately aimed, blasts the drone with electromagnetic noise at the same frequencies it uses for video transmission and control communications. This will typically cause the drone to return to its take-off point, though the Dronegun can block GPS too, in which case the drone will likely land on the spot.
The similarly designed Battelle DroneDefender can disable drones up to 400 m (1,300 ft) away, so the Dronegun promises a decidedly larger drone-free radius. It is not, however, intended for civilian use, at least not to begin with. The company is not offering it in the US, other than to government agencies, in the hope that they deem it a safe and appropriate anti-drone tool.
You can check out the Dronegun in action, in the promo video below.