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Transportation

Uber Is Treating Its Drivers As Sweated Labor, Says Report (theguardian.com) 256

Uber treats its drivers as Victorian-style "sweated labor", with some taking home less than the minimum wage, according to a report into its working conditions based on the testimony of dozens of drivers. From a report on The Guardian: Drivers at the taxi-hailing app company reported feeling forced to work extremely long hours, sometimes more than 70 a week, just to make a basic living, said Frank Field, the Labor MP and chair of the work and pensions committee. Field received testimony from 83 drivers who said they often took home significantly less than the "national living wage" after paying their running costs. The report says they described conditions that matched the Victorian definition of sweated labor: "when earnings were barely sufficient to sustain existence, hours of labor were such as to make lives of workers periods of ceaseless toil; and conditions were injurious to the health of workers and dangerous to the public."
Transportation

Michigan Lets Autonomous Cars On Roads Without Human Driver (go.com) 158

Companies can now test self-driving cars on Michigan public roads without a driver or steering wheel under new laws that could push the state to the forefront of autonomous vehicle development. From a report on ABC: The package of bills signed into law Friday comes with few specific state regulations and leaves many decisions up to automakers and companies like Google and Uber. It also allows automakers and tech companies to run autonomous taxi services and permits test parades of self-driving tractor-trailers as long as humans are in each truck. And they allow the sale of self-driving vehicles to the public once they are tested and certified, according to the state. The bills allow testing without burdensome regulations so the industry can move forward with potential life-saving technology, said Gov. Rick Snyder, who was to sign the bills. "It makes Michigan a place where particularly for the auto industry it's a good place to do work," he said.
Transportation

Transportation Department Proposes Allowing In-Flight Phone Calls (go.com) 101

Yesterday, France's Le Monde newspaper issued a report, citing documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, that says American and British spies have since 2005 been working on intercepting phone calls and data transfers made from aircraft. Assuming the report is accurate, national security agencies may soon have their hands full if a new proposal by the Department of Transportation becomes official, which would allow each airline to decide whether its passengers will be permitted to make in-flight phone calls using the aircraft's onboard Wi-Fi system. ABC News reports: The Department of Transportation's proposal leaves it up to airlines whether to allow the calls. But carriers would be required to inform passengers at the time they purchase a ticket if the calls are allowed. That would give passengers the opportunity to make other travel arrangements if they don't want to risk the possibility of sitting near passengers making phone calls. The Federal Communications Commission prohibits using mobile phones to make calls during flights, but not Wi-Fi calls. There is a minimum 60-day comment period and the proposal leaves the door open to an outright ban. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the proposal.
Transportation

Audi Cars Now Talk To Stop Lights In Vegas (ieee.org) 99

Audi says its cars can now tell drivers how many seconds remain until the traffic light turns green. It's the first commercial offering of vehicle-to-infrastructure communication in the United States, it adds. From a report, submitted by an anonymous reader: Of course, nobody would pay much extra for an electronic gadget that just lowered your stoplight waiting anxiety. But this feature is just testing the waters; bigger applications are in view. The cars -- recently manufactured Audi A4 and Q7 models signed onto Audi's prime connection service -- communicate with the Las Vegas traffic management system via 4G LTE, the standard mobile phones use. The countdown appears on the dashboard or heads-up display, then shuts off a few seconds before the light changes (presumably to keep drivers from getting mesmerized). Audi manages the transfer of data with the help of its partner, Traffic Technology Services (TTS), of Beaverton, Ore. The plan is to eventually give drivers the information they need to make fairly ambitious predictions, like choosing the right speed to go sailiing through several green lights in a row. Or the system might bypass the driver and go straight to the engine's "start-stop" system, shutting it down for a long count, then starting it up again seconds before getting a green light.
Transportation

Paris Makes All Public Transportation Free In Battle Against 'Worst Air Pollution For 10 Years' (independent.co.uk) 235

Paris has barred some cars from its streets and has made public transportation free as it suffers from the worst and most prolonged winter pollution for at least 10 years, the Airparif agency said on Wednesday. The Independent reports: Authorities have said only drivers with odd-numbered registration plates can drive in the capital region on Wednesday. Drivers of even-numbered cars were given the same opportunity on Tuesday, but could now be fined up to 35 EUR if they are caught behind the wheel. More than 1,700 motorists were fined for violations on Tuesday. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said images of smog blanketing the capital were proof of the need to reduce vehicle use in the city center. The air pollution peak is due to the combination of emissions from vehicles and from domestic wood fires as well as near windless conditions which means pollutants have not been dispersed, the Airparif agency said. "This is a record period (of pollution) for the last 10 years," Karine Leger of AirParif told AFP by telephone. For more than a week, Airparif has published readings of PM10 at more than 80 micrograms per cubic meter of air particles, triggering the pollution alert. Along with odd-numbered cars, hybrid or electric vehicles as well as those carrying three or more people will be allowed to roam the roads. Foreign and emergency vehicles will be unaffected.
Transportation

Apple Says It Is Working On Self-Driving Cars (theguardian.com) 131

For the first time, Apple has said that it is indeed working on technology to develop self-driving cars. The company confirmed late last week its previously secret initiative in a statement to the U.S. highway regulator. From a report on The Guardian: "The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation," said the letter from Steve Kenner, Apple's director of product integrity, to the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The letter offered no details of the project, instead highlighting the "significant societal benefits of automated vehicles," which it described as a life-saving technology, potentially preventing millions of car crashes and thousands of fatalities each year.In a statement to Financial Times (might be paywalled), a spokesperson for Apple said, "We've provided comments to NHTSA because Apple is investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems. There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation, so we want to work with NHTSA to help define the best practices for the industry."
Crime

BMW Traps A Car Thief By Remotely Locking His Doors (cnet.com) 367

An anonymous reader quotes CNET: Seattle police caught an alleged car thief by enlisting the help of car maker BMW to both track and then remotely lock the luckless criminal in the very car he was trying to steal... Turns out if you're inside a stolen car, it's perhaps not the best time to take a nap. "A car thief awoke from a sound slumber Sunday morning (November 27) to find he had been remotely locked inside a stolen BMW, just as Seattle police officers were bearing down on him," wrote Jonah Spangenthal-Lee [deputy director of communications for the Seattle Police Department].

The suspect found a key fob mistakenly left inside the BMW by a friend who'd borrowed the car from the owner and the alleged crime was on. But technology triumphed. When the owner, who'd just gotten married a day earlier, discovered the theft, the police contacted BMW corporate, who tracked the car to Seattle's Ravenna neighborhood.

The 38-year-old inside was then booked for both auto theft and possession of methamphetamine.
Security

70 Laptops Got Left Behind At An Airport Security Checkpoint In One Month (bravotv.com) 168

America's Transportation Security Administration has been making some surprising announcements on social media. An anonymous reader writes: A TSA spokesperson says 70 laptops were left behind in just one month at an airport security checkpoint in Newark. "And yes, there are plenty of shiny MacBooks in that pile," reported BravoTV, "which can cost in the $2,000 range new." The TSA shared an image of the 70 laptops on their Instagram page and on Twitter, prompting at least one mobile project designer to reclaim his laptop. "The most common way laptops are forgotten is when traveler's stack a bin on top of the bin their laptop is in," the TSA warns. "Out of sight out of mind."
The TSA is also sharing pictures on social media of the 70 guns they confiscated at security checkpoints in one week in November, reporting they've also confiscated a blowtorch, batarangs, and a replica of that baseball bat from "The Walking Dead". They're reporting they found 33 loaded firearms in carry-on luggage in one week, and remind readers that gun-carrying passengers "can face a penalty as high as $11,000. This is a friendly reminder to please leave these items at home."
Government

Paris, Madrid, Athens, Mexico City Will Ban Diesel Vehicles By 2025 (bbc.com) 243

The mayors of four major global cities -- Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens -- announced plans to stop the use of all diesel-powered cars and trucks by 2025. The leaders made their commitments in Mexico at a biennial meeting of city leaders. BBC reports: At the C40 meeting of urban leaders in Mexico, the four mayors declared that they would ban all diesel vehicles by 2025 and "commit to doing everything in their power to incentivize the use of electric, hydrogen and hybrid vehicles." "It is no secret that in Mexico City, we grapple with the twin problems of air pollution and traffic," said the city's mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera. "By expanding alternative transportation options like our Bus Rapid Transport and subway systems, while also investing in cycling infrastructure, we are working to ease congestion in our roadways and our lungs." Paris has already taken a series of steps to cut the impact of diesel cars and trucks. Vehicles registered before 1997 have already been banned from entering the city, with restrictions increasing each year until 2020. The use of diesel in transport has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, as concerns about its impact on air quality have grown. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that around three million deaths every year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Diesel engines contribute to the problem in two key ways -- through the production of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Very fine soot PM can penetrate the lungs and can contribute to cardiovascular illness and death. Nitrogen oxides can help form ground level ozone and this can exacerbate breathing difficulties, even for people without a history of respiratory problems. The diesel ban is hugely significant. Carmakers will look at this decision and know it's just a matter of time before other city mayors follow suit.
Transportation

Mercedes Unveils Digital Headlights That Project Street Signs, Markings Onto the Road Ahead (newatlas.com) 65

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Atlas: Mercedes has just announced a conceptual new set of lamps that can not only adapt their light distribution to cater to the environment, but can project high-res visual aids onto the road ahead, such as makeshift zebra crossings for nearby pedestrians. The new system is dubbed Digital Light and features two million pixels that, with the help of algorithms and sensors that analyze the vehicle's surroundings, can each adjust their individual brightness depending on the scenario. An example of this might be a partial dimming to avoid blinding a cyclist. We have seen this kind of adaptive lighting technology before in systems developed by Fraunhofer and indeed Mercedes itself, although tuning it to control millions of pixels individually does appear to be new territory. But where the Digital Light system gets quite interesting is with the ability to project different objects onto the road. Imagine you are rolling up to an intersection in a foreign city with unfamiliar streets signs and the car, having collected the necessary information, projects a stop sign onto the road out ahead. Perhaps just as practical is the ability to shoot out strips of light that represent the precise width of the car, which could be pretty hand just as you try to squeeze through that extremely narrow gap. For what it's worth, Mercedes says it has already fitted it to a number of demo vehicles and reckons it will be on the road "in the near future."
Privacy

Uber Wants To Track Your Location Even When You're Not Using the App, Here's Why (businessinsider.com) 131

With the most recent update to Uber's ride-hailing app, the company has begun requesting users if they are willing to share their location data with Uber app even while the app is not in use. The company says it plans to use the data gained to improve user experience -- including offering improved pick-up times and locations. From an article on Business Insider: In August the company moved away from using Google Maps for its service and began using its own mapping technology. Google's lack of accuracy in many non-Western countries led to increased friction between consumers and drivers. This means the company needs to boost the amount of location data it has. Location data could also be used to provide new channels of revenue for the digital platform. This could include serving ads of local businesses or recommending nearby places of interest to users. Mobile marketing, which relies on accurate location data is a rapidly growing industry and could serve as a revenue windfall for Uber in the years ahead as it faces increasing competition. In fact, revenue from location-targeted mobile ads is expected to grow at an annualized rate of almost 34% between 2014 and 2019, surpassing $18 billion, according to a forecast from BIA/Kelsey.
Businesses

Uber Drivers Demand Higher Pay in Nationwide Protest (cnet.com) 306

Uber drivers will join forces with fast food, home care and airport workers in a nationwide protest on Tuesday. Their demand: higher pay. From a report on CNET: Calling it the "Day of Disruption," drivers for the ride-hailing company in two dozen cities, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, will march at airports and in shopping areas carrying signs that read, "Your Uber Driver is Arriving Striking." The protest underscores the dilemma Uber faces as it balances the needs of its drivers with its business. Valued at $68 billion, Uber is the highest-valued venture-backed company worldwide. But as it has cut the cost of rides to compete with traditional taxi services, Uber reportedly has experienced trouble turning a profit. Unlike many other workers involved in Tuesday's protests, Uber drivers are not members of a union. In fact, Uber doesn't even classify its drivers as employees. Instead the company considers drivers independent contractors. This classification means the company isn't responsible for many costs, including health insurance, paid sick days, gas, car maintenance and much more. However, Uber still sets drivers' rates and the commission it pays itself, which ranges between 20 percent and 30 percent. "I'd like a fair day's pay for my hard work," Adam Shahim, a 40-year-old driver from Pittsburgh, California, said in a statement. "So I'm joining with the fast-food, airport, home care, child care and higher education workers who are leading the way and showing the country how to build an economy that works for everyone, not just the few at the top."
Transportation

Self-Driving Trucks Begin Real-World Tests on Ohio's Highways (cbsnews.com) 178

An anonymous reader writes: "A vehicle from self-driving truck maker Otto will travel a 35-mile stretch of U.S. Route 33 on Monday in central Ohio..." reports the Associated Press. The truck "will travel in regular traffic, and a driver in the truck will be positioned to intervene should anything go awry, Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Bruning said Friday, adding that 'safety is obviously No. 1.'"

Ohio sees this route as "a corridor where new technologies can be safely tested in real-life traffic, aided by a fiber-optic cable network and sensor systems slated for installation next year" -- although next week the truck will also start driving on the Ohio Turnpike.

United States

Ransomware Compromises San Francisco's Mass Transit System (cbslocal.com) 141

Buses and light rail cars make San Francisco's "Muni" fleet the seventh largest mass transit system in America. But yesterday its arrival-time screens just displayed the message "You Hacked, ALL Data Encrypted" -- and all the rides were free, according to a local CBS report shared by RAYinNYC: Inside sources say the system has been hacked for days. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has officially confirmed the hack, but says it has not affected any service... The hack affects employees, as well. According to sources, SFMTA workers are not sure if they will get paid this week. Cyber attackers also hit Muni's email systems.
Though the article claims "The transit agency has no idea who is behind it, or what the hackers are demanding in return," Business Insider reports "The attack seems to be an example of ransomware, where a computer system is taken over and the users are locked out until a certain amount of money is sent to the attacker." In addition, they're reporting the attack "reportedly included an email address where Muni officials could ask for the key to unlock its systems."

One San Francisco local told CBS, "I think it is terrifying. I really do I think if they can start doing this here, we're not safe anywhere."
EU

Uber Is About to Face a Landmark Battle in Europe (fortune.com) 106

In a case which could affect other app-based startups, Uber will seek to convince Europe's top court next week that it is a digital service, not a transport company. The outcome could determine whether app-based startups should be exempt from strict laws meant for regular companies. From a report on Fortune:The European Commission is trying to boost e-commerce, a sector where the EU lags behind Asia and the United States, to drive economic growth and create jobs. The U.S. taxi app, which launched in Europe five years ago, has faced fierce opposition from regular taxi companies and some local authorities, who fear it creates unfair competition because it is not bound by strict local licensing and safety rules. Supporters however say rigid regulatory obligations protect incumbents and hinder the entry of digital startups which offer looser work arrangements to workers in the 28-country European Union looking for more flexibility, albeit without basic rights.
Transportation

China's NextEV NIO EP9 Claims To Be 'World's Fastest' Electric Supercar (hothardware.com) 56

Brandon Hill, writing for HotHardware: NextEV, a Chinese manufacturer that fields a team in Formula E, is looking to take the world by storm with its EP9. Launching under the NIO sub-brand, the EP9 is said to accelerate to 60 mph in just 2.7 seconds and can hit 124 mph in 7.1 seconds. After 15.9 seconds, the EP9 will be traveling at a heady 186 mph. The EV weighs 3,825 pounds, or 1,730kg (about 200 pounds heavier than the 918 Spyder), of which 1,400 pounds is devoted solely to the lithium-ion battery pack. Despite the fact that the EP9's motors combine to produce an astonishing 1390 horsepower, it still has a respectable driving range of 265 miles. So what do all of these performance numbers mean in the real world? Well, NextEV says that the EP9 is capable of lapping the famed Nurburgring Nordschleife race track in 7 minutes, 5 seconds. Interestingly enough, NextEV is claiming that the EP9 is the world's fastest EV, but we have the feeling that Rimac Automobili would take issue with that statement. Rimac's Concept_S can dash to 60 mph in just 2.5 seconds and can hit 186 mph in 13.5 seconds. Likewise, the Concept_S is capable of topping out at 226.8 mph, whereas NextEV hasn't provided a top speed for the EP9.
Transportation

US Regulators Seek To Reduce Road Deaths With Smartphone 'Driving Mode' (theguardian.com) 291

US regulators are seeking to reduce smartphone-related vehicle deaths with a new driving-safe mode that would block or modify apps to prevent them being a distraction while on the road. From a report on The Guardian:The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are to issue voluntary guidelines for smartphone makers, which will seek to restrict the apps and services accessible on a smartphone being used by a driver. US transport secretary Anthony Foxx said: "Your smartphone becomes so many different things that it's not just a communication device. Distraction is still a problem. Too many people are dying and being injured on our roadways." The NHTSA is hoping that Apple, Samsung and other popular smartphone manufacturers will adopt the guidelines in future smartphone and software releases. The so-called driving mode will block distractions such as social media, messages or email, stop the use of the keyboard for communication activities and also restrict access to websites, video and distracting graphics. The intention is that the driving mode will be adopted in a similar manner to the airplane mode common to most smartphones and connected devices, which restricts radio communications while airborne. Airplane mode has been a feature of smartphones since 2007.
Social Networks

Facebook's Solar-Powered Drone Under Investigation After 'Accident' (theguardian.com) 45

Facebook has hit a hitch in its plans to use a solar-powered unmanned drone to provide internet access to developing nations, after it was revealed the American National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has opened an investigation into an accident on the drone's first test flight in June. From a report on The Guardian:At the time, Facebook described the flight as "successful": the drone, called Aquila, stayed aloft for 96 minutes, three times the planned duration. "We have a lot of work ahead of us," Jay Parikh, Facebook's head of engineering and infrastructure, wrote when Facebook revealed the test flight, in late July. "In our next tests, we will fly Aquila faster, higher and longer, eventually taking it above 60,000 feet." In a second, more technical, blogpost published that same day, Facebook's Martin Luis Gomez and Andrew Cox acknowledged the failure in passing. "Our first flight lasted three times longer than the minimum mission length, so we were able to gather data on how the structure and autopilot responded under a range of real-world conditions to help verify these predictions," they wrote.Reporter Casey Newton mentioned on The Verge that at the time, Facebook had led them believe that everything was alright, and there were no hiccups.
Twitter

Spammers Compromised Popular Twitter Accounts Including Viacom And Microsoft Xbox (engadget.com) 23

"A number of popular Twitter accounts suddenly wanted to help you add more followers," joked Engadget. An anonymous reader writes: Early Saturday morning, due to a breach of the Twitter Counter analytics service, the compromised Twitter accounts started posting images touting services that sell Twitter followers. The affected accounts include @PlayStation, @Viacom, @XboxSupport, @TheNewYorker, @TheNextWeb, and @Money (Time's finance magazine) as well as @NTSB (the National Transportation Safety Board) and @ICRC (the Red Cross), and the Twitter accounts of famous individuals include astronaut Leland Melvin, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, and actor Charlie Sheen. "We can confirm that our service has been hacked; allowing posts on behalf of our user," Twitter Counter posted Saturday, announcing minutes later that "hackers CANNOT post on our users' behalf anymore."
"Apologies for the spam, everyone," tweeted the account for Xbox support, adding "We're cleaning things up now."
United Kingdom

London's Mayor Wants Volkswagen To Pay $3 Million In Lost Tolls (citiesofthefuture.eu) 214

dkatana writes: Since the U.K. government has done nothing to make Volkswagen pay for Dieselgate, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, is asking VW to come up with 2.5 million pounds ($3 million) to compensate the city and its residents for the 80,000 diesel cars fitted with cheat devices. "I want to see a proper commitment from them [VW] to fully compensate the thousands of Londoners who bought Volkswagen cars in good faith, but whose diesel engines are now contributing to London's killer air."
The money will be used to fund a new air-quality program for London's schoolchildren, and Mayor Khan is also asking the government to create "a national diesel scrappage" program to help replace vehicles.

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