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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Elon Musk’s Boring Company Wants to Build a Second Giant Tunnel Under LA

As reported by Futurism: On Monday night, Elon Musk’s Boring Company presented a new plan to the Culver City city council. The company wants to build a 6.5-mile tunnel from Hawthorne, CA (where SpaceX Headquarters is located) to West Los Angeles. The tunnel would run beneath Culver City, and the company hopes this route would help diminish traffic at the surface level.

According to Wiredthe Boring Company has already received the green light from the Hawthorne city council for an easement on the starting end of the tunnel. The company is also reportedly working with the city of Los Angeles to get permission to excavate.

The tunnels are of interest for more than providing alternate roadways to alleviate traffic, though. The company intends for them to be networks of electric-powered “skates” that would transport passenger pods, personal vehicles, and cargo.

An Electric Network
The system is intended to be both high-speed and autonomous, propelling pods at speeds up to 150 mph. If all authorities sign off on the initial construction and boring that has to be done, the project would serve as a “proof of process” tunnel. That said, there is still a lot standing between the initial design and a fully realized network of tunnels running under southern California.

The traffic in Los Angeles is a serious issue, though. One that the cities receiving the Boring Company’s proposals are likely eager to resolve. In 2016, LA was ranked as having the worst traffic in the world.

Musk’s vision has long been to take that troublesome traffic underground. As the Boring Company’s website states: “To solve the problem of soul-destroying traffic, roads must go 3D, which means either flying cars or tunnels. Unlike flying cars, tunnels are weatherproof, out of sight and won’t fall on your head.”

While there may be a vested interest in creative solutions to the city’s traffic woes, there has also been a fair amount of doubt surrounding the Boring Company’s ambitious plans. Bloomberg reported that an attendee of the city council meeting on Monday referred to Musk’s company as a “thinly capitalized company that has made money selling hats.” A representative at the meeting responded, saying the company and its projects are primarily funded by Musk, not hat sales.

The Boring Company will still need to apply for a permit in Culver City, so Monday night’s meeting was likely the first of many that will need to happen before any actual boring can begin.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A Tesla Semi Prototype Spotted in California is Swift, Sleek, and Silent

After Elon Musk's bombastic reveal of the company's new electric semi truck, Tesla
is putting it to the test.  A Tesla semi prototype caught on video in Sunnyvale,
California reveals that the truck is nearly silent when driving.
As reported by Futurism: Swift and Silent - Tesla’s electric semi-truck is not only more environmentally friendly than its competitors, but it is also quieter than the typical diesel-powered truck that barrels down the street. An eight-second YouTube video, first revealed by Inverse, shows a sleek Tesla Semi prototype gliding swiftly and almost silently through an intersection in Sunnyvale, California, near the company’s Palo Alto headquarters. Watch it below.

The prototype features impact-resistant glass, a streamlined cabin design, and the ability to accelerate from zero to 97 km/h (60 mph) in five seconds when not carrying cargo. After pushing back the unveiling date twice due to Tesla’s Model 3 production delays and the company’s humanitarian efforts in Puerto Rico, CEO Elon Musk finally unveiled the much-anticipated Tesla Semi prototype in November 2017.

Revolutionizing Hauling
Though the lowest-priced model costs a cool $150,000, the truck is supposed to travel 483 km (300 miles) on a single charge. The more expensive $180,000-model can go even farther, with a range of 805 km (500 miles). While those costs were higher than some analysts anticipated, Musk asserted that the electric semi costs less to operate than typical diesel rigs by about $0.16 per km ($0.25 per mile).

Though the vehicle isn’t scheduled for production until 2019, companies are already buying into Musk’s sales pitch of a cheaper, greener truck en masse. By the end of 2017, 18 companies — including Walmart and Pepsi Co. — had pre-ordered at least one truck. UPS topped the list, reserving 125 vehicles.

Hopefully, Tesla’s production team will be able to keep to Musk’s scheduling promises. But the odds could be slim, given that the company’s Model 3 electric car production fell well short of Musk’s 2017 goals. Delayed production or not, however, this new YouTube footage reveals that the new truck will be making our streets quieter whenever it does finally hit the road.

Norway Is Aiming for All of Its Short Flights to be Electric by 2040

As reported by Futurism: Every time an airplane rises into the sky, something else also rises: the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Air travel is responsible for an estimated 2 to 3 percent of global carbon emissions, a number expected to double in the next decade as fuel efficiency struggles to keep up with rising demand. The contribution is so huge that experts suggest the best way to reduce your carbon footprint is to quit traveling altogether.

But Norway may have another solution. Dag Falk-Petersen, the chief executive of Norway’s airport operator, Avinor, recently announced an ambitious new goal to run all of the country’s short-haul flights on electric planes by 2040.

Norway currently has more electric cars than any other country in the world. The country is a clear leader in the global revolution to push away from fossil fuels. With this latest aim, they set themselves apart in hopes of proving that it is possible to also reduce emissions from air travel.

If Norway is able to successfully electrify all of its short-haul flights, it will be the first country to do so.

“We think that all flights lasting up to 1.5 hours can be flown by aircraft that are entirely electric,” Falk-Petersen told The Guardian.  “When we will have reached our goal, air travel will no longer be a problem for the climate, it will be a solution.”

Changing Energy
According to The Guardian, air transport currently makes up 2.4% of Norway’s domestic traffic emissions. Airplanes that run off jet fuel produce a little over 53 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile.

Current battery technology doesn’t yet have the range to replace jet fuel entirely; batteries simply don’t have the same energy density, and electric planes will need to be recharged far sooner than a traditional airliner would need to be refueled. For this reason, several airlines are instead developing hybrid models for longer flights. 

Yet NASA scientist Sean Clarke told Ars Technica that improvements in battery technology and efficiency measures will go a long way towards increasing electric planes’ range.

“Electric propulsion systems may be relevant in the marketplace sooner than you might expect, because they can be much more efficient,” Clarke said.

In the mean time, Avinor plans to use hybrid technologies and biofuels to help Norway transition their short flights to zero-carbon. Besides curbing emissions, Norway’s effort will also cut noise levels and operating costs in half.

Norway has already proven itself a leader in making green transport more widely adapted. Perhaps as technologies improve, other nations will follow suit, creating an even larger impact.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Future Cars Might Be Mirrorless, Using Cameras and AI Tech To Navigate Instead

As reported by Futurism: Self-driving cars are already asking people to put AI systems in control of their vehicles. Now, Mitsubishi wants to rid its new cars of one of the last relics of the past: the rear-view mirror.

The automotive manufacturer announced this week that it has developed the industry’s highest performing automotive camera technology. When installed on a vehicle, it can detect objects up to 100 meters (328 feet) away, and boosts object detection accuracy from a previous 14 percent to 81 percent.

Mitsubishi explains their new cameras utilize their own Maisart AI, which has the ability to accurately differentiate between pedestrians, cars, and motorcycles. Ultimately, the cameras are expected to help prevent traffic accidents, such as those happening when drivers zig zag between lanes. This is only an early version of Mitsubishi’s technology, as the company explains it wants the cameras to perform better in bad weather, at night, and on winding roads.

Your Safety Matters

This isn’t the first effort aimed at improving the “sight” of cars. In December, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and NASA veteran Luis Dussan partnered to form AEye, a company hoping to create new sensors for driverless cars. And beyond camera technology, Mitsubishi proposed a new safety system that would project symbols on the ground to inform other drivers and pedestrians of the driver’s actions.

Mirrorless cars were approved for use in Japan and Europe in 2016, so Mitsubishi had plenty of time to develop and test the experimental cameras. The carmaker foresees mirrorless cars hitting the market in Japan in 2019.

Beyond improving their safety through an array of digital eyes keener than those of any human driver, Engadget notes that removing the side mirrors from cars would make them more aerodynamic and allow for greater speed and fuel efficiency. Depending on the success of  the new vehicles, other automakers may soon follow Mitsubishi’s lead, speeding up the development of their own mirrorless cars.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Boeing's Prototype Cargo Drone can Haul 500-Pound Loads

As reported by Engadget: In the future, autonomy won't just mean you can relax in the passenger seat on your drive home from work. Driverless vehicles of all kinds are set to revolutionize the cargo industry, too, from delivering a pizza or dropping off an Amazon package, to hauling much larger shipments across continents and the high seas. Naturally, Boeing is one of many companiesinvesting in cargo planes of tomorrow, and is keen to show off some of its early work in the form of a huge octocopter capable of carrying loads of up to 500 pounds (over 250kg). In less than three months, Boeing eggheads built and carried out successful test flights of the all-electric prototype, possibly (but unofficially) breaking a Guinness world record in the process.

The rough-and-ready concoction of metal and batteries measures 15 feet long, 18 feet wide and 4 feet tall, weighing in at 747 pounds (nearly 339kg). In other words, it dwarfs the consumer DJI drone you got for Christmas. Obviously Boeing's prototype is far from a commercial product, but the firm says it'll be used "as a flying test bed to mature the building blocks of autonomous technology for future applications."

Boeing's work in the realm of cargocopters is running alongside that of Aurora Flight Sciences, a company with a particular focus on autonomous drones and planes that Boeing announced it was buying last October. Aurora is working with DARPA to develop some zany vehicles and technologies, as well as with Uber on its flying taxi project. And most recently, Aurora demonstrated how unmanned resupply missions could support troops on the ground using a US Marine UH-1H helicopter retrofitted with autonomous systems.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Fully Solar-Powered Car May Be Hitting the Road by 2019

Solar-powered cars have been thought of by many as an impossible pipe-dream.  But
the innovators behind Lightyear One, a fully solar-powered vehicle to be released in
2019, just won an award for their design.
As reported by Futurism: Lightyear One, a car whose ability to use solar power has been thought of as an impossible feat, just won a Climate Change Innovator Award. Designed by the Dutch startup Lightyear, the “car that charges itself” can supposedly drive for months without charging and has a 400 – 800 km range. But is a solar-powered car feasible?

For years, the concept of “solar-powered cars” has loomed over the electric car industry as a hopeful, possible future. But there are many who argue that this concept is not only impractical, it is basically impossible. For instance, a solar roof that was designed to power the Toyota Prius was found to only be useful in combination with a traditional battery charging system and it only added an additional 4 miles to the range — not that impressive. One engineer even calculated the power capacity of a car with a solar roof under the optimal amount of solar radiation, and the results are underwhelming. Engineers measure the rate at which an engine’s work is done in “horsepower” (hp): the car equipped with a solar roof had a horsepower rate of 6.4. For comparison, engineer Tom Lombardo said, “my riding lawnmower has an 18 hp engine.”

Going Fully Solar
The first 10 Lightyear One cars are due to be released in 2019. Up until now fully solar-powered cars were not considered a realistic prospect, Solar Assisted Electric Vehicles (SAEVs) were considered the best possible option for solar cars, adding up to hundreds of miles to a car’s range.   are set on releasing a vehicle that uses only solar power. But the Dutch Lightyear promises to topple the canon with a car that is not only fully powered by the sun, but also overcomes some of the conventional challenges associated with the technology, such as intermittency and low performance.

The five entrepreneurs have been prototyping and working out the kinks of their concept for years but, as long as the project remains an early-stage design, it is difficult to imagine that anyone would be capable of bridging the gap between SAEVs and fully-solar vehicles with record-breaking range.

But small encouraging signs are emerging all over the world. For example, in 2017, the Byron Bay Railroad Company created the first fully solar-powered train. And, while the vehicle has a very limited range, it shows that solar-powered vehicles are within the realm of possibility.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Toyota’s New Self-Driving Car Can ‘See’ up to 200 Meters in Every Direction

As reported by The Verge: Toyota Research Institute, the Silicon Valley-based arm of the biggest carmaker in the world, just unveiled the latest version of its autonomous test vehicle. The vehicle — a Lexus LS 600hL test vehicle equipped with LIDAR, radar, and camera arrays — is an iterative improvement on the vehicle Toyota showed off twice last year. (The institute is calling this one Platform 3.0.) The car will be on display at CES in Las Vegas next week.

The biggest improvement over previous versions of Toyota’s autonomous research vehicles is the ability to “see” farther in every direction. Thanks to four long-range LIDAR sensors attached to its roof, manufactured by a Portola Valley, California-based startup called Luminar, the vehicle now has a 200-meter range around a 360-degree perimeter, which Toyota argues makes it “one of the most perceptive automated driving test cars on the road.”

By comparison, Velodyne’s powerful LIDAR, the HDL-64E, has a 120-meter range, while its most popular LIDAR, the VLP-16 Puck, has a range of 100 meters. (Velodyne recently slashed the price of the VLP-16 in half, which could help facilitate the widespread adoption of autonomous cars.)

Toyota’s car also has a new and improved look, with a more seamless integration of the cameras and sensor array into the vehicle’s design. Toyota Research Institute said it tapped the CALTY Design Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and engineers at Toyota Motor North America Research and Development to help improve the car’s appearance:

They created a new rooftop weather and temperature proof panel, cleverly using available space in the sunroof compartment to minimize the overall height. Their ingenuity eliminates the look of equipment as bolt-on appendages and replaces the “spinning bucket” LIDAR sensor that has historically characterized autonomous test vehicles.

Production of Platform 3.0 vehicles begins this spring. A share of the new test vehicles will be assembled with the dual-steering wheel layout that TRI debuted last summer.

To be sure, Toyota has been more coy about releasing information on its autonomous systems to the public. A recent analysis by Navigant places the Japanese automaker further behind OEMs like Ford, General Motors, Daimler, and BMW in its ability to deploy a fully self-driving car by the industry’s target date of 2021. (An updated version of Navigant’s leaderboard is coming out later this month, so it should be interesting to see where Toyota places in the new ranking.)

Several big car companies have already struck deals with tech companies like Waymo, Uber, and Lyft to speed the process along. Toyota has stayed noticeably on the sidelines during much of the talks around partnerships. With the release of its latest vehicles, Toyota appears ready to join the fray.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Here Are All the Companies Buying Tesla’s Electric Semi Truck

As reported by Futurism: Tesla is now taking Semi pre-orders from some European countries, as Norwegian food distribution company Asko has ordered 10 of the electric semi-trucks, Electrek reports.

Asko has already integrated a European electric truck into its fleet, but the company believes Tesla’s Semi has more advanced features.

“We have an electric truck today from a Dutch company, which we have had for almost two years,” CEO Tore Bekken told E24, Electrek first reported. “So, we think that Tesla is the one who has come the furthest with the technology so far. Therefore, we choose to book ten trucks from them.”

While some had doubts about Tesla’s ability to break into the trucking industry before it introduced the Semi, early orders indicate Tesla may beat expectations.

The electric trucks have impressive features, including a 500-mile range per charge and the ability to travel 400 miles on a 30-minute charge, impact resistant glass, an innovative cabin design, and the ability to go from 0-60 mph in five seconds without any cargo and in 20 seconds while carrying 80,000 pounds of cargo. But Tesla will ultimately be judged on the number of clients who buy and use the trucks over the long term.

These are the companies who have placed orders for the Tesla Semi so far:
  • Walmart: One of the first major companies to reserve the trucks, the retailer has made aggressive investments in technology in recent years as part of its effort to compete with Amazon.
  • Pepsi: Pepsi previously had the largest Semi order, reserving 100 trucks in December.
  • Anheuser-Busch: The brewer announced it ordered 40 Semis in December.
  • Sysco: The food distributor has reserved 50 Semis.
  • UPS: The delivery company placed the largest Semi order to date, reserving 125 trucks on Tuesday.
  • DHL: The transportation and logistics company has reserved 10 Semis to add to its fleet.
  • Meijer: Based in Michigan, the grocery chain has ordered four of the electric trucks.
  • Ryder: The transportation company reserved an unspecified number of Semis in November.
  • J.B. Hunt: The trucking company is set to purchase “multiple” Semis, but hasn’t revealed the exact number.
  • Asko: The Norwegian food distribution company has ordered 10 Semis.
  • Flexport: Ryan Peterson, the freight company’s CEO, announced the company has ordered one Semi.
  • JK Moving: The independent moving company has reserved four Semis.
  • Loblaw: After ordering 25 Semis, the Canadian supermarket chain announced plans to make its trucking fleet 100% electric by 2030.
  • Fercam: Based in Italy, the trucking company has reserved a single Semi.
  • Girteka Logistics: Not to be outdone by Fercam, the European transportation company also announced its plans to invest in one of Tesla’s electric trucks.
  • Fortigo Freight Services: The Canadian logistics company reserved one Semi.
  • Best Transportation: The shipping company also ordered one Semi.
  • Mecca & Son Trucking: According to Jalopnik, this trucking company has reserved one Semi.