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Driverless Cars Will Compete -- But Only With Each Other -- In Formula E Races 29

Formula E racing pits single-seat electric cars against each other in high-speed track competition, but the cars -- aside from their powertrain -- are conventional enough, complete with a steering wheel and a human at the wheel. Now, though, the Formula E series will also incorporate self-driving cars. From the article: Ten teams, each with two cars, will square off against each other in hour-long races on the same circuits that the Formula E cars will hurtle around. The cars will be the same as the next in order to get the teams’ developers to focus on creating better algorithms and artificial intelligence to win. It takes inspiration from how the Formula E teams were required to run the same cars in the event’s debut season, which meant there was more focus on the development of battery technology.

Parts of Falcon 9 Launcher Wash Ashore In England 20

RockDoctor writes with news as reported by the BBC that parts of a Falcon 9 launcher have washed ashore on the Scilly Islands off the SW coast of Britain. Early impressions are that the pieces are from the failed Falcon 9 ISS launch which exploded after take-off in June. That's not the only possibility, though; according to the article, However Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said many experts believed, due to the size and markings which have now been revealed, it was from a different mission. "All the geeks have been getting together and looking at fine details, and we're pretty sure it's a launch from September 2014 that successfully sent a cargo mission to the space station. "It didn't look like an exploded rocket to me, it looked like a fairly normal piece of space junk when the lower stage of a rocket falls from a hundred miles up and hits the ocean. Large sections can remain in tact and it's really quite normal," he said.

London's Deputy Mayor On Ditching Diesel 181

dkatana writes: During an interview in Barcelona last week, at the Smart Cities Congress, London's Deputy Mayor Matthew Pencharz said that he doesn't believe diesel cars belong in cities. He said, "I don't believe that for the urban setting, for light vehicles, diesel is the right thing," He added, "I don't think it is the right thing if you are an urban driver, stopping-starting in traffic all day, not going very far, not zipping along at 50 mph on the motorway. [I think] diesel is not the right technology." He also blamed the European Commission for being too lenient with emission standards and conformity factors. "The conformity factors the Commission [has recently approved] are not as good as we would like, clearly, because we are going to have the same problem again," he said. "The VW scandal has focused attention on a problem we hardly knew about, and it has raised to the top the public policy of failure of dieselization across the European Union, and the UK too, combined with the spectacular failure of the Euro engine standards," he said. "[The scandal] has focused our minds on the fact that we need to accelerate the way out of diesel."

Tesla's NOx Problem: Model X Delay Explained? ( 41

An anonymous reader writes: It may not have come as a surprise that the NOx emissions violations discovered in some of Volkswagen's diesel engines have led to similar findings in cars from several other manufacturers. However, Daily Kanban's Edward Niedermeyer has discovered that a seemingly unlikely car maker has also received a Notice of Violation for NOx emissions: a thermal oxidizer used in Tesla's Fremont, CA plant produces far more of the reactive gases than the permit allows. According to Niedermeyer, the device is located at the paint shop destined for the Model X production and this environmental problem could well be the leading cause for the delay.

Blue Origin "New Shepherd" Makes It To Space... and Back Again ( 121

Geoffrey.landis writes: Blue Origin's "New Shepherd" suborbital vehicle made its first flight into space (defined as 100 km altitude)... and successfully landed both the capsule (by parachute) and the booster rocket (vertical landing under rocket power). This is the first time that a vehicle has made it into space and had all components fully recovered for reuse since the NASA flights of the X-15 in the 1960s. Check out the videos at various places on the web.

TGV Accident Caused By Excessive Speed ( 96

Cochonou writes: Analysis of the black boxes of the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) which derailed on Saturday revealed that the accident resulted from excessive speed and late braking. The test train entered a 945m-radius curve at a speed of 265 km/h, far over the maximum speed of 176 km/h. The French national railway company ruled out any other cause, such as mechanical failure or track mishap.

During test runs, a number of security features are disabled, in particular parts of the TVM system, which would have prevented any overspeed during normal service. This leaves the train speed under the sole responsibility of the driver.

The accident, which killed 11 people, occurred on the last run of the scheduled trials on the new high-speed line between Paris and Strasbourg. As more details on the accident surface, it becomes evident that this last run was performed in a festive spirit, with relatives (including children) of the employees on board, and seven people present in the train cab instead of train. This casts a shadow on the security procedures of the French national railway company: it appears that the high-speed train technology is considered so safe that the risks inherent to trials runs were somehow neglected. The two drivers and the traction inspector have been suspended pending possible criminal charges. Other changes in the management structure will probably follow.


Volvo Unveils Autonomous Concept Car, WIth Retracting Wheel, 25" Display ( 154

Lucas123 writes: Volvo has revealed what is sees as the future of self-driving vehicles, a car that has three autonomous driving options, one of which includes a retracting steering wheel, reclining seats with foot rests and a tray table. Unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week, the Concept 26 also has a 25-in interactive display. Volvo is also among the first to address the subject of self-driving cars and liability, saying we firmly believe that car makers should take full responsibility for the actions of the car when it is driving in full autonomous mode."
The Courts

Taxi Owners Sue NYC Over Uber, While Court Overrules Class-Action Appeal ( 210

An anonymous reader writes: Taxi owners in New York have filed a lawsuit against cab-hailing app giant Uber, citing damaged revenues and a hefty fall in value of NYC's 'medallion' business. The case against the city and its Taxi and Limousine Commission claims that the regulators have unfairly permitted Uber to steal away business from the regulated cab industry. Getting away without regulation has enabled Uber drivers to compete directly, and drown out official taxi companies. A further lawsuit case hovering over Uber this week, is its request to immediately appeal an order approving class certification filed by its own drivers. The appeal was denied by a U.S. court yesterday.

How Bill Nye Insulted NASCAR Fans About the Sport Being the "Anti-NASA" ( 387

MarkWhittington writes: Bill Nye, the former science guy and current head of the Planetary Society, is very depressed about NASA and NASCAR, according to a story in Business Insider. He believes that the red-state yokels pay too much attention to NASCAR, which employs gas guzzling cars in races, and not enough to NASA, which employs cutting edge and environmentally correct technology, to explore the universe. However, it is a meme that the space agency itself once disagreed with. Indeed, NASA has suggested that the exploration of space is like NASCAR only with rocket ships instead of souped up, high powered cars
United States

US Navy Is Planning To Launch a Squadron of Underwater Drones By 2020 ( 38

Hallie Siegel writes: According to the non-profit Autonomous Undersea Vehicle Applications Center, there are over 250 different configurations of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) in service today. That number is likely to grow in the coming years as the technology improves — note that the US Navy has made UUVs a priority and is planning to launch a whole squadron of them by 2020. Dan Gettinger from the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College gives an overview of this technology.

Louis Friedman Says Humans Will Never Venture Beyond Mars ( 378

MarkWhittington writes: Dr. Louis Friedman, one of the co-founders of the Planetary Society, is coming out with a new book, "Human Spaceflight: From Mars to the Stars," an excerpt of which was published in Scientific America. Friedman revives and revises a version of the humans vs. robots controversy that has roiled through aerospace circles for decades. Unlike previous advocates of restricting space travel to robots, such as Robert Park and the late James Van Allen, Friedman admits that humans are going to Mars to settle. But there, human space travel will end. Only robots will ever venture further.

In France, TGV Test Train Catches Fire, Derails, Killing 10 ( 129

McGruber writes with the Mirror's report that: Earlier today in Eckwersheim, France, TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) 2369 Test Train caught fire, derailed and overturned. Two carriages were partially submerged into a river and at least five people were killed. As of now, there are no direct links with the terrorist attacks on Paris and the train crash does not appear to have been caused deliberately. A TGV test train holds the record for the fastest wheeled train, having reached 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph) on 3 April 2007. Today's derailment appears to have been the first fatal crash of a TGV while running at high speed.
NBC News reports that 10 people were killed, all employees of the French national railway system.

Dubai Buys Commercial Jetpacks For Firefighters ( 91

_Sharp'r_ writes: Want to fly a jetpack? Join the fire department in Dubai. In a skyscraper filled city where cops drive Ferraris and Lamborghinis, it was actually cheaper to buy twenty $150K jetpacks (plus two simulators) for fire rescue rather than find 2700 ft ladders. Slashdot has had stories about these coming for five years. A VR-headset based jetpack flight-simulator for the masses would be fun, too, even better if the object were to put out fires in skyscrapers..

Google Car Pulled Over For Driving Too Slow, Doesn't Get a Ticket ( 350

New submitter slickwillie writes: A Google self-driving car was pulled over for going too slow. A photo uploaded to Facebook by Zandr Milewski shows one of Google's self-driving cars being pulled over by a Mountain View, California police officer. On on its Self-Driving Car Project page on Google+ the team wrote: "We’ve capped the speed of our prototype vehicles at 25mph for safety reasons. We want them to feel friendly and approachable, rather than zooming scarily through neighborhood streets. The Mountain View Police Department also commented on the traffic stop in a blog post saying in part: "...The officer stopped the car and made contact with the operators to learn more about how the car was choosing speeds along certain roadways and to educate the operators about impeding traffic per 22400(a) of the California Vehicle Code. The Google self-driving cars operate under the Neighborhood Electric Vehicle Definition per 385.5 of the California Vehicle Code and can only be operated on roadways with speed limits at or under 35 mph. In this case, it was lawful for the car to be traveling on the street as El Camino Real is rated at 35 mph."

Uber South Africa Launches $500 a Month Car Lease Which Includes Replacing Tires 83

An anonymous reader writes: Taxi hailing platform Uber has experimented with vehicle financing schemes around the world this year: it launched a pilot program for car loans in three US towns in the summer and had a two year relationship with Santander too. It's South African arm has gone one step further, however, with an official vehicle leasing — rather than purchase — scheme backed by local lender Wesbank. For about $500 a month which covers the car, maintenance and even tire wear, drivers get access to a mid-sized sedan. Hertz and other car hire firms are also joining in with similar schemes to boost the number of Uber drivers in the country.

Bill Confirming Property Rights For Asteroid Miners Passes the Senate ( 171

MarkWhittington writes: The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee announced the passage of a bill called H.R.2262 — SPACE Act of 2015, which is designed to facilitate commercial space. The bill has a number of provisions for that purpose, including extending the "learning period" during which the government would be restricted from imposing regulations on the commercial launch industry to September 2023. The most interesting and potentially far-reaching provision concerned property rights for companies proposing to mine asteroids for their resources. In essence, the bill confirms that private companies own what they mine. The bill is a compromise between previous Senate and House versions.

What Happened To Passenger Hovercraft? ( 69

An anonymous reader writes: Although much has been written about hoverboards lately, hovercraft have largely faded from public imagination, BBC News reports. The Bond-esque 1960s sensation proved too noisy to roam inland rivers regularly, while too small to compete at sea with a new generation of conventional mega-ferries and high-speed car-carrying catamarans. Military aside, only a 10-minute English route and a Sino-Russian river border crossing keep hopes air-cushioned nowadays, while civilian operators wait for electric propulsion to become practical, aiming to reduce airplane-like noise levels and excessive fuel costs with new technology.

Electric-Car Startup Faraday Future Building a $1 Billion Factory In California ( 162

An anonymous reader writes: Faraday Future, an electric car startup based in California, wants to take on Tesla. They're building a $1 billion factory in California. Business Insider reports: "The startup of about 400 employees has poached executive talent from Tesla and also draws its name from a luminary scientist — Michael Faraday — who helped harness for humanity the forces of nature. Even Faraday's public announcement that California, Georgia, Louisiana and Nevada are finalists for the factory mirrors the approach Tesla took to build a massive battery factory. Nevada won that bidding war among several states last year by offering up to $1.3 billion in tax breaks and other incentives. Faraday hopes to distinguish itself by branding the car less as transportation than a tool for the connected class."

Autonomous Cars Aren't As Smart as They're Cracked Up To Be ( 258

Gill Pratt, executive technical adviser at Toyota, offers a note of caution, even as more car companies start putting AI elements into their cars. Speaking in Tokyo at the announcement of a Silicon Valley AI research center that Toyota is to open in early 2016, Pratt pointed out the big shortcoming in an AI system as applied to automobile: Autonomous cars might look great in controlled tests or on pristine highways, "but soon fail when faced with tasks that human drivers find simple." From the article: Drivers, for example, can pretty much get behind the wheel of a car and drive it wherever it may be, he said. Autonomous vehicles use GPS and laser imaging sensors to figure out where they are by matching data against a complex map that goes beyond simple roads and includes details down to lane markings. The cars rely on all that data to drive, so they quickly hit problems in areas that haven't been mapped in advance. ... A truly intelligent self-driving car needs artificial intelligence that can figure out where it is even if it has no map or GPS, and manage to navigate highways and follow routes even if there are diversions or changing in lane markings, he said. I regularly drive a stretch of road that's just a few miles long, but between construction, accidents, poor marking, bicycles, and heavy traffic I'd be nervous about letting an AI system navigate. In what real-world driving scenarios would you most want humans to take over?

TSA Screeners Can't Detect Weapons (and They Never Could) ( 349

JustAnotherOldGuy writes: TSA screeners' ability to detect weapons in luggage is "pitiful," according to classified reports on the security administration's ongoing story of failure and fear. "In looking at the number of times people got through with guns or bombs in these covert testing exercises it really was pathetic. When I say that I mean pitiful," said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), speaking Tuesday during a House Oversight hearing concerning classified reports (PDF) from federal watchdogs (PDF). "Just thinking about the breaches there, it's horrific," he added. A leaked classified report this summer found that as much as 95 percent of contraband, like weapons and explosives, got through during clandestine testings. Lynch's comments were in response to the classified report's findings.