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Businesses

Former Engineer Says Uber Is a Nightmare of Sexism; CEO Orders Urgent Investigation (susanjfowler.com) 709

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Verge: A former Uber engineer has published an explosive account of sexism and power struggles in the workplace, with allegations beginning from her very first official day with the company. The engineer, Susan Fowler (who left Uber in December and now works for Stripe), posted the account to her blog on Sunday, calling it a "strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story." It is indeed horrifying. Sexism is a well-documented problem in Silicon Valley, but the particulars of Fowler's account are astounding. She says problems began on day one, when her manager accosted her with details of his sex life: "In my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn't. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn't help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR. When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man's first offense, and that they wouldn't feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he "was a high performer" (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn't feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part. The things only get worse for Fowler. Read the full account of her story here. In the meanwhile, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said the company would "conduct an urgent investigation" into the allegations, and promised to fire anyone who "behaves this way or thinks this is OK."

Journalist Paul Carr summing up the situation, says, "Uber's ability to be on the wrong side of every moral and ethical issue is bordering on magical."
Transportation

Self-Driving Car Speed Race Ends With A Crash (electrek.co) 84

An anonymous reader writes:On a professional track in Buenos Aires, fans watched the first Formula E auto race with self-driving electric cars. "Roborace's two test vehicles battled it out on the circuit at a reasonably quick 115MPH," reports Engadget, "but one of the cars crashed after it took a turn too aggressively. The racing league was quick to tout the safety advantages of crashing autonomous cars ('no drivers were harmed'), but it's clear that the tech is still rough around the edges." Electrek is reporting that the cars "still have a cabin for a driver but neither car's cabin was occupied during the event." The ultimate goal is to have several teams racing the exact same self-driving car, while letting each team customize its car's driving software.
An Argentinian journalist shared footage of the race cars on Twitter, and apparently at one point a dog wandered out in front of an oncoming race car. But the real question is how the fans are going to feel about watching a speed race between cars with no drivers?
Privacy

Used Cars Can Still Be Controlled By Their Previous Owners' Apps (wtkr.com) 99

An IBM security researcher recently discovered something interesting about smart cars. An anonymous reader quotes CNN: Charles Henderson sold his car several years ago, but he still knows exactly where it is, and can control it from his phone... "The car is really smart, but it's not smart enough to know who its owner is, so it's not smart enough to know it's been resold," Henderson told CNNTech. "There's nothing on the dashboard that tells you 'the following people have access to the car.'" This isn't an isolated problem. Henderson tested four major auto manufacturers, and found they all have apps that allow previous owners to access them from a mobile device. At the RSA security conference in San Francisco on Friday, Henderson explained how people can still retain control of connected cars even after they resell them.

Manufacturers create apps to control smart cars -- you can use your phone to unlock the car, honk the horn and find out the exact location of your vehicle. Henderson removed his personal information from services in the car before selling it back to the dealership, but he was still able to control the car through a mobile app for years. That's because only the dealership that originally sold the car can see who has access and manually remove someone from the app.

It's also something to consider when buying used IoT devices -- or a smart home equipped with internet-enabled devices.
Transportation

GM Plans To Build, Test Thousands of Self-Driving Bolts In 2018 (reuters.com) 78

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: General Motors Co plans to deploy thousands of self-driving electric cars in test fleets in partnership with ride-sharing affiliate Lyft Inc, beginning in 2018, two sources familiar with the automaker's plans said this week. It is expected to be the largest such test of fully autonomous vehicles by any major automaker before 2020, when several companies have said they plan to begin building and deploying such vehicles in higher volumes. Most of the specially equipped versions of the Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle will be used by San Francisco-based Lyft, which will test them in its ride-sharing fleet in several states, one of the sources said. GM has no immediate plans to sell the Bolt AV to individual customers, according to the source. In a statement on Friday, GM said: "We do not provide specific details on potential future products or technology rollout plans. We have said that our AV technology will appear in an on-demand ride sharing network application sooner than you might think."
Businesses

Elon Musk Is Really Boring (bloomberg.com) 225

Sometimes it is hard to tell if Elon Musk is serious about the things he says. But as for his "boring" claims, that's really happening. In a wide-range interview with Bloomberg, the billionaire talked more about his new venture, The Boring Company. The idea began on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago when Musk tweeted, "Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging..." Over the course of next few hours later, Musk added, "It shall be called 'The Boring Company,' Boring, it's what we do. I am actually going to do this. Excerpts from the story: And so, around noon on a Friday in January, an excavation crew started digging. "I was like, 'Hey, what's the biggest hole we can make by Sunday evening?'" Musk says. [...] "My other idea was to call it Tunnels R Us and to essentially troll Toys "R" Us into filing a lawsuit," he says, letting out a loud and well-articulated ha-ha-ha-ha. "Now we've decided to troll AT&T instead! We're going to call it American Tubes and Tunnels." When I ask him if the tunnel venture will be a subsidiary of SpaceX or an independent company, he responds cryptically. "Don't you read my Twitter? The Boring Company. Or TBC. To Be Continued." An aide chimes in: Yes, the Boring Company, aka To Be Continued, aka Tunnels R Us, aka American Tubes and Tunnels, aka whatever, will indeed be an independent company. Tunnel technology is older than rockets, and boring speeds are pretty much what they were 50 years ago. Musk says he hopes to build a much faster tunneling machine and use it to dig thousands of miles, eventually creating a vast underground network that includes as many as 30 levels of tunnels for cars and high-speed trains such as the Hyperloop. Musk chose the SpaceX parking lot as the site of his first dig, mostly because it was convenient and he could legally do so without city permits. The plan is to expand the current hole into a ramp designed for a large tunnel boring machine and then start digging horizontally once the machine is 50 feet or so below ground, which would make it low enough to clear gas and sewer lines and to be undetectable at the surface. 100 marks to Bloomberg for the headline, and the story which is as funny as it is insightful.
Transportation

Nearly 56,000 Bridges Called Structurally Deficient (usatoday.com) 240

schwit1 quotes a report from USA Today: Nearly 56,000 bridges nationwide, which vehicles cross 185 million times a day, are structurally deficient, a bridge construction group announced Wednesday. The list is based on Transportation Department data. The department scores bridges on a nine-point scale, and while the deficient ones might not be imminently unsafe, they are classified in need of attention. More than one in four bridges (173,919) are at least 50 years old and have never had major reconstruction work, according to the ARTBA analysis. State transportation officials have identified 13,000 bridges along interstates that need replacement, widening or major reconstruction, according to the group. "America's highway network is woefully underperforming," said Alison Premo Black, the group's chief economics who conducted the analysis. "It is outdated, overused, underfunded and in desperate need of modernization." The five states with the most deficient bridges are Iowa with 4,968, Pennsylvania with 4,506, Oklahoma with 3,460, Missouri with 3,195 and Nebraska with 2,361. The eight states where at least 15% of the bridges are deficient are: Rhode Island at 25%, Pennsylvania at 21%, Iowa and South Dakota at 20%, West Virginia at 17%, and Nebraska, North Dakota and Oklahoma at 15%.
Transportation

Dutch Town Pilots Lightlines To Help Distracted Smartphone Users Cross the Road (autoexpress.co.uk) 113

An anonymous reader writes: A Dutch municipality has introduced pedestrian traffic lights specifically designed to help smartphone users avoid stepping into traffic by displaying a colorful strip of light on the pavement. Built by Dutch firm HIG Traffic Systems, the new +LightLine light comes with a LED strip that illuminates the pavement with a horizontal strip before the road crossing. Smartphone users looking at their phone will see the color of the strip beneath their feet before stepping out into the road.
Transportation

Brazil Judge Rules Uber Drivers Are Employees, Deserve Benefits (reuters.com) 131

An anonymous reader shares a Reuters report: A Brazilian judge ruled that a driver using the Uber ride-hailing app is an employee of the San Francisco-based company and is entitled to workers' benefits, adding to the global debate over labor rights for drivers on the platform. Uber said on Tuesday it would appeal the decision by Judge Marcio Toledo Goncalves, who issued the ruling late Monday in a labor court in Minas Gerais state. Goncalves ordered Uber to pay one driver around 30,000 reais ($10,000) in compensation for overtime, night shifts, holidays and expenses such as gasoline, water and candy for passengers. The consequences for Uber, if the ruling is upheld, could be far greater if more drivers follow suit and if state and federal regulators and tax agencies start treating it, as the judge suggested, as a transportation company rather than a tech firm.
Transportation

'Electric Buses Now Cheaper Than Their Diesel or CNG Counterpart, Could Dominate the Market Within 10 Years' (electrek.co) 382

An anonymous reader shares a report: Transit vehicles today are mostly powered by gasoline, diesel, and CNG, while batteries only represent about 1 percent of the market. It is currently a small part of the industry, but it's also the fastest growing fuel source in the sector and it's starting to become highly competitive. Electric bus maker Proterra is ramping up production and currently claims to be cheaper than diesel and CNG. It leads CEO Ryan Popple to make a bold prediction that battery-powered buses will dominate the transit bus market within 10 years. More specifically, he says that the majority of new bus sales will be electric by 2025 and all new bus sales to transit agencies will be electric by 2030. Proterra has so far only delivered a few hundred all-electric buses, but they have been announcing several major deals lately, like 73 buses from King County's Metro Transit, that seem to indicate there's a shift in the transit industry.
Transportation

Big Week For Drones: Dubai Permits Passenger-Carrying Drone; Kenya Finally Approves Commercial Use (apnews.com) 47

It's shaping up to be a major week for drone enthusiasts. A pilot-less drone designed to carry one passenger at a time is set to start making regular trips in Dubai later this year. In some other news, Kenya has joined the neighbor Rwanda in opening up its skies for commercial drone use. From an AP report: Up, up and away: Dubai hopes to have a passenger-carrying drone regularly buzzing through the skyline of this futuristic city-state in July. The arrival of the Chinese-made EHang 184 -- which already has had its flying debut over Dubai's iconic, sail-shaped Burj al-Arab skyscraper hotel -- comes as the Emirati city also has partnered with other cutting-edge technology companies, including Hyperloop One. The question is whether the egg-shaped, four-legged craft will really take off as a transportation alternative in this car-clogged city already home to the world's longest driverless metro line. From a Quartz report: Flying a drone will soon be legal in Kenya, which has effectively banned the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for anyone outside of the military for the past two years. A spokesperson for the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) said that draft regulations for the commercial use of drones had been approved by security officials. The agency said details of the law would be released soon. The approval comes as regulators elsewhere in Africa have tightened restrictions on UAVs. In Ghana, flying an unregistered drone is punishable by up to 30 years in jail. In Nigeria, operators require permits from the aviation authority as well as the office of the National Security Adviser (the process of getting a permit costs up to $4,000).
Transportation

Father of Driver In Violent Tesla Crash Blames Sedan's 'Rocket-Ship' Acceleration (autoweek.com) 640

"A Tesla crash that resulted in the deaths of the driver and a passenger in Indianapolis last November is drawing new controversy after the father of one of the victims made comments regarding the role of the Model S in the incident," Autoweek reports. "The crash occurred in downtown Indianapolis on Nov. 3, 2016, with the Model S driven by 27-year-old Casey Speckman striking a tree and catching fire. Speckman was pronounced dead at the scene while her passenger, 44-year-old Kevin McCarthy, succumbed to his injuries after being taken to the hospital." From the report: A report released last week by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department disclosed that Speckman had a blood-alcohol level of 0.21, almost three times the legal limit in the state of Indiana, The Indianapolis Star reports. Another new detail has emerged since the violent crash was first reported: The Tesla could have been been trying to maneuver around a vehicle traveling on the wrong side of the street, suggested by closed-circuit footage obtained by the attorney of the driver's father, Jon Speckman. The coroner's report cited blunt-force injuries caused by the crash as the causes of death for both victims, noting the vehicle's fire as a contributing factor, according to The Indianapolis Star. Jon Speckman recently made comments to the newspaper blaming the acceleration of the Tesla Model S. "Had she been in another vehicle, she would have been alive for me to yell at her for driving after drinking," Speckman told The Indianapolis Star in an interview at his attorney's office. "This is a vehicle that travels from 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds," Speckman also said during the interview. "She's clearly having to swerve to miss a vehicle going the wrong way on a one-way street. If her foot should happen to hit the accelerator, it's like a rocket ship. I don't know why they have to make a car that does that."
Earth

Can We Pollinate Flowers With Tiny Flying Drones? (economist.com) 130

An anonymous reader writes: An engineer in Japan has built a 1.6-inch "pollinator-bot" and successfully tested it in his lab. The drone's creator "has armed it with paintbrush hairs that are covered in a special gel sticky enough to pick pollen up, but not so sticky that it holds on to that pollen when it brushes up against something else," reports The Economist. They write that his experiments with the tiny drone "show that the drone can indeed carry pollen from flower to flower in the way an insect would -- though he has yet to confirm that seeds result from this pollination." While flown by a human pilot, next he hopes to equip the drones with their own flower-recognizing technology.

The Christian Science Monitor followed up with four experts, asking "Could a fleet of robo-pollinators replace, or at least supplement, the bees?" One said "There is no substitute for bees." Another pointed out that even if robo-bees are developed, some flowers will prove harder to pollinate than others. A third expert thought the technology could scale, though it would need to be mass-produced, and the engineers would need to develop a reusable pollen-collecting gel. But a fourth expert remained worried that it just couldn't scale without becoming too expensive. "I'm not sure that's going to be cheap enough to not make blueberries hundreds of dollars a pint."

Three of those experts also agreed that the best solution is just wild bees, because domesticated or not, "All they have to do is make sure to set aside enough land conducive to the bees' habitat."
Transportation

Ford Just Invested $1 Billion In Self-Driving Cars (usatoday.com) 113

An anonymous reader quote USA Today: Ford Motor is betting $1 billion on the world's self-driving car future. The Detroit automaker announced Friday that it would allocate that sum over five years to a new autonomous car startup called Argo AI, which is headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pa., and will have offices in Michigan and California. Ford's financial outlay is part of a continuing investment strategy anchored to transforming the car and truck seller into a mobility company with a hand in ride-hailing, ride-sharing and even bicycle rentals.
Lucas123 writes: Argo AI founders CEO Bryan Salesky, and COO Peter Rander are alumni of Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center and former leaders on the self-driving car teams of Google and Uber, respectively. Argo AI's team will include roboticists and engineers from inside and outside of Ford working to develop a new software platform for Ford's fully autonomous vehicle, expected in 2021. Ford said it could also license the software to other carmakers.
Transportation

How UPS Trucks Saved Millions of Dollars By Eliminating Left Turns (ndtv.com) 357

Some people probably already know this, but for those who don't: UPS truck drivers don't take left turns, and despite this usually resulting in longer route, they are saving millions of dollars in fuel costs. From a report: The company decided on eliminating left turns (or right turns in left-hand driving countries such as India) wherever possible after it found that drivers have to sit idly in the trucks while waiting to take the left turn to pass through traffic. So, it created an algorithm that eliminated left turns from drivers' routes even if meant a longer journey. This meant that drivers do not have to wait in traffic to take a left turn and can take the right turn at junctions. Of course, the algorithm does not entirely eliminate left turns, but the number of left turns taken by UPS trucks is less than 10 percent of all turns made. Turns out that UPS was right -- the idea really paid off. In 2005, a year after it announced that it will minimize left turns, the company said that the total distance covered by its 96,000 trucks was reduced by 747,000km, and 190,000 litres of fuel had been saved. In 2011, Bob Stoffel, a UPS Senior Vice President, told Fortune that the company had reduced distance traveled by trucks by 20.4 million miles, and reduced CO2 emissions by 20,000 metric tons, by not taking left turns. A recent report by The Independent says that the total reduction in distance traveled by UPS trucks now stands at 45.8 million miles, and there are 1,100 fewer trucks in its fleet because of the algorithm. Even by conservative estimates, that's tens of millions of dollar of savings in fuel costs. Senior VP Bob Stoffel explained how it works on CNN a few years ago.
Businesses

Tesla Employee Calls For Unionization, Musk Says That's 'Morally Outrageous' (arstechnica.com) 594

"In a Medium post published today, Tesla employee Jose Moran detailed working conditions at the company's Freemont factory and called for the factory workers to unionize with United Auto Workers (UAW)," reports Ars Technica. In response, Elon Musk told Gizmodo via Twitter Direct Messages: "Our understanding is that this guy was paid by the UAW to join Tesla and agitate for a union. Frankly, I find this attack to be morally outrageous. Tesla is the last car company left in California, because costs are so high." Musk went on to blame the UAW for killing the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc (NUMMI), which sold the Fremont factory to Musk in 2010. Ars Technica reports: Tesla currently employs more than 5,000 non-union workers at its Fremont, CA-based factory. Moran wrote that the workers are often faced with "excessive mandatory overtime" and earn between $17 and $21 hourly, compared with the national average of $25.58 hourly for most autoworkers in the U.S. The Tesla employee noted that the astronomical cost of living in the Bay Area makes $21 an hour difficult to live on. Moran also claimed that the factory's "machinery is often not ergonomically compatible with our bodies," and requires "too much twisting and turning and extra physical movement to do jobs that could be simplified if workers' input were welcomed." He added that at one point, six out of eight people on his team were out on medical leave "due to various work-related injuries."
Transportation

Watchdog Group Wants Uber's Self-Driving Trucks Off the Road (usatoday.com) 113

New submitter Kemtores quotes a report from USA Today: A few months ago, the ride-hailing giant announced that it would begin testing self-driving Volvo SUVs in this hilly city, but a day later that process was halted after the DMV said Uber had not applied for the proper permits. Uber moved its fleet to Arizona. Uber cars laden with sensors still troll San Francisco, but the company said it is only for mapping purposes. Now a southern California non-profit that has long raised concerns about the safety of autonomous vehicles has asked the DMV to look closer at the operations of Otto, a self-driving truck company that Uber bought last year for $670 million. Otto made headlines in October when it completed a 120-mile beer run with a large semi-tractor in Colorado. But Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson charged in a letter to DMV director Jean Shiomoto that in fact Otto's testing here did violate the law by operating in autonomous mode, offering proof in the form of documentation Otto submitted to Colorado officials that described a process where the driver hit a button and let the truck do the work.
Transportation

Tesla To Start Pilot Production of Model 3 This Month (reuters.com) 112

According to Reuters, Tesla is planning to "begin test-building its Model 3 sedans on February 20, a move that could allay concerns about the company meeting its target to start production in July." The sources familiar with the matter did not mention how many of the Model 3 vehicles Tesla aims to build in February, though the number is likely to be small to test the assembly system and the quality of vehicle parts. From the report: Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk last year told investors and more than 370,000 customers who put deposits down for a Model 3 that he intended to start building the cars in July 2017. At the time, many analysts and suppliers said the timeline was too ambitious and would be difficult to achieve, pointing to Tesla's history of missing aggressive production targets. If Tesla succeeds in starting pilot production of the sedan at its factory in Fremont, California on Feb. 20, the company would be able to share the news with shareholders two days later when it reports fourth-quarter results and better answer any questions about the Model 3 rollout. Musk had told investors last year that the company could miss the July 2017 startup target if suppliers do not meet deadlines.
The Military

US Navy Decommissions the First Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier (engadget.com) 203

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: The Navy has decommissioned the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The vessel launched in 1961 and is mainly known for playing a pivotal role in several major incidents and conflicts, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War and the 2003 Iraq War. However, it also served as the quintessential showcase for what nuclear ships could do. Its eight reactors let it run for years at a time, all the while making more room for the aircraft and their fuel. As you might guess, the decommissioning process (which started when the Enterprise went inactive in 2012) is considerably trickier than it would be for a conventional warship. It wasn't until December 2016 that crews finished extracting nuclear fuel, and the ship will have to be partly dismantled to remove the reactors. They'll be disposed of relatively safely at Hanford Site, home of the world's first plutonium reactor. Whatever you think of the tech, the ship leaves a long legacy on top of its military accomplishments. It proved the viability of nuclear aircraft carriers, leading the US to build the largest such fleet in the world. Also, this definitely isn't the last (real-world) ship to bear the Enterprise name -- the future CVN-80 will build on its predecessor with both more efficient reactors and systems designed for modern combat, where drones and stealth are as important as fighters and bombers. It won't be ready until 2027, but it should reflect many of the lessons learned over the outgoing Enterprise's 55 years of service.
Businesses

Uber Hires a Nasa Veteran Who Thinks We'll Start Seeing Flying Cars In Next Three Years (bloomberg.com) 123

Uber is getting serious about its intentions of building a flying car. Uber's plan involves airborne taxis that will travel 50 to 100 miles between "vertiports" that connect passengers between their homes and offices, according to a report on Bloomberg. Now it is hiring the right leader for this project. From the report: In 2010, an advanced aircraft engineer at NASA's Langley Research Center named Mark Moore published a white paper outlining the feasibility of electric aircrafts that could take off and land like helicopters but were smaller and quieter. The vehicles would be capable of providing a speedy alternative to the dreary morning commute. Moore's research into so-called VTOL -- short for vertical takeoff and landing, or more colloquially, flying cars -- inspired at least one billionaire technologist. After reading the white paper, Google co-founder Larry Page secretly started and financed two Silicon Valley startups, Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk, to develop the technology. Now Moore is leaving the confines of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where he has spent the last 30 years, to join one of Google's rivals: Uber Technologies Inc. Moore is taking on a new role as director of engineering for aviation at the ride-hailing company, working on a flying car initiative known as Uber Elevate. "I can't think of another company in a stronger position to be the leader for this new ecosystem and make the urban electric VTOL market real," he says.
Transportation

Microsoft's H-1B Workers Cited In Motion That Successfully Blocked Trump's Travel Ban (geekwire.com) 476

"President Trump's travel ban is on hold," reports WGN. "A federal judge in Seattle blocked the executive order banning travelers from seven predominately Muslim countries." But Slashdot reader theodp noticed that the judge's temporary restraining order might've been responding to something specific: the motion argued Trump's executive order had been harmful because it impacted major tech companies in the state of Washington, including Microsoft. From the motion: Washington's technology industry relies heavily on the H-1B visa program. Nationwide, Washington ranks ninth in the number of applications for high-tech visas. Microsoft, which is headquartered in Washington, employs nearly 5,000 people through the program. Other Washington companies, including Amazon, Expedia, and Starbucks, employ thousands of H-1B visa holders. Loss of highly skilled workers puts Washington companies at a competitive disadvantage with global competitors.
It was in response to the motion from Washington that the judge ultimately ruled that "the States have met their burden of demonstrating that they face immediate and irreparable injury as a result of signing and implementation of the Executive Order," citing its harm on the state's public universities -- and on its tax base. And Attorney General Bob Ferguson told GeekWire that he gave some credit for the judge's ruling to the declarations of support filed by Amazon and Expedia which specifically say that "Microsoft's U.S. workforce is heavily dependent on immigrants and guest workers. At least 76 employees at Microsoft are citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, or Yemen and hold U.S. temporary work visas."

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