Uber is bringing its self-driving cars to Washington, DC

Uber’s self-driving cars will soon be jockeying for space on the streets of Washington, DC, with the ride-hailing company announcing it will begin collecting data to support the development of its fleet of autonomous vehicles. The vehicles will not be operating in autonomous mode, though. They will instead be operated by human drivers to start out, collecting mapping data and capturing driving scenarios which Uber’s engineers will then reproduce in simulation.

That said, the company hopes to eventually allow its self-driving cars in Washington to, well, self-drive. “Our hope is that this first round of manually driven data collection will lay the foundation for testing our vehicles in self-driving mode in Washington, DC,” the company’s Advanced Technologies Group said in a Medium post. “While we are excited about the possibilities, we remain committed to ensuring that every mile we drive on public roads contributes safe and meaningful learnings to inform our development work.”

Uber has been approaching its self-driving tests with an abundance of caution since a fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona, involving one of its autonomous vehicles in March 2018. The vehicle, which only had one safety driver behind the wheel, struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg while she was walking her bike across the street.

Police later said the safety driver wasn’t watching the road, but was instead streaming The Voice on her phone at the time of the crash. After a lengthy investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board split the blame between Uber, the safety driver, the victim, and the state of Arizona in a blistering official report that also took the federal government to task for failing to properly regulate the industry. The company was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by local authorities. Uber settled a lawsuit with Herzberg’s family for an undisclosed sum.

Testing officially resumed nine months after the crash, with the company’s Volvo SUVs operating in a closed loop in downtown Pittsburgh, where Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group is headquartered. Uber is also gathering data in three other cities, including San Francisco, Dallas, and Toronto. But to date, it has yet to authorize autonomous testing in any of those cities other than Pittsburgh. The company recently unveiled its third-generation vehicle, which it plans to start testing this year.

Uber isn’t the only company operating self-driving cars in our nation’s capitol. Argo, the AV startup backed by Ford and Volkswagen, has been testing its cars in DC since 2018. Boston-based Optimus Ride is also operating a small fleet of autonomous shuttles in the northern Virginia suburbs.

Waymo is bringing its self-driving minivans and trucks to Texas and New Mexico

Waymo is hitting the open road and bringing some of its self-driving minivans and long-haul trucks to two new states. The Alphabet subsidiary said in a tweet on Thursday that it would deploy a portion of its fleet in Texas and New Mexico as it seeks to learn about new road conditions and environments. It also feeds into Waymo’s ultimate quest to gain a toehold in more markets for the eventual launch of a commercial business.

Waymo didn’t specify in which cities it will start testing its vehicles, nor did it explain what type of testing it will conduct. For example, last year, Waymo brought three of its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans to Los Angeles but only to map the downtown area.

It’s especially notable that Waymo’s autonomous tractor-trailers are being deployed in two new states. The company has previously only tested its Class 8 trucks in California, Arizona, and Georgia, so the territorial expansion is sure to be good news for Waymo’s stated plans to eventually launch a commercial freight hauling business.

“These are interesting and promising commercial routes, and we’ll be using our vehicles to explore how the Waymo Driver might be able to create new transportation solutions,” the company says. (“Waymo Driver” is the company’s shorthand for its autonomous vehicle hardware and software system.)

The company isn’t a complete stranger to the great state of Texas. Waymo’s groundbreaking demonstration of its prototype Firefly vehicle with no steering wheel or pedals took place in Austin in October 2015. The company kept an office in the city until November 2019 when it abruptly shut it down. A reported 100 employees and contract workers lost their jobs as part of the decision, according to CNBC.

Perhaps more intriguingly, though, was a sneak peek at the company’s next-generation hardware suite in a tweet from Waymo CEO John Krafcik. The photo shows Krafcik along with Axios reporter Joann Muller standing in front of a Jaguar I-Pace electric vehicle with camouflaged sensors on the roof.

In 2018, Waymo inked a deal with Jaguar Land Rover to purchase 20,000 I-Paces to be self-driving taxis. At the time, they said the new vehicles would officially become part of Waymo’s commercial ride-hailing service starting in 2020. The company is already testing the new vehicle on public roads around its Mountain View headquarters.

With the electric SUVs primed to join the fleet later this year, there’s no better time to start showing off the latest member of the autonomous family. Waymo is expected to have more say about its fifth-generation vehicle in the months to come.

Exclusive look at Cruise’s first driverless car without a steering wheel or pedals

The not-a-car sits on the gleaming black stage surrounded by a halo of light. It’s orange and black and white, and roughly the same size as a crossover SUV, but somehow looks much larger from the outside. There is no obvious front to the vehicle, no hood, no driver or passenger side windows, no side-view mirrors. The symmetry of the exterior is oddly comforting.

I am one of the first non-employees to see it, after being invited by self-driving company Cruise to come out to San Francisco for an early look. And what I see is a car. A weird-looking car, sure, but a car nonetheless. That’s what my brain tells me. But the company insists I’m not seeing what I’m seeing. One employee refers to it as “the property.”

It’s easier to describe what it’s not, rather than what it is. For example, it doesn’t look like a toaster on wheels, as some autonomous “people movers” tend to do. A microwave might be more accurate, but I’m not convinced.

Its official name is “Origin,” and Kyle Vogt, the co-founder and chief technology officer of Cruise, is clearly excited to be showing it off. With a broad smile, he reaches out and touches a button on the side, causing the doors to slide open with a little whoosh like something out of Star Wars.

Inside are two bench seats facing each other, a pair of screens on either end… and nothing else. The absence of all the stuff you expect to see when climbing into a vehicle is jarring. No steering wheel, no pedals, no gear shift, no cockpit to speak of, no obvious way for a human to take control should anything go wrong. There’s a new car smell, but it’s not unpleasant. It’s almost like cucumber-infused water.

“The way vehicles are designed, normally they have a hood in the front where the engine is and some storage in the trunk,” Vogt says, as we sit across from each other. “But when you don’t need all that stuff… we can have this enormous, spacious cabin without taking up any more space on the road than a regular car would. Which is kind of insane.”

But the Origin is arriving into an unforgiving world: half of Americans are skeptical to the point of being fearful about self-driving cars. They don’t mind a car that can drive itself — as long as they can take over when they choose. That’s impossible with this vehicle. I ask Vogt where he gets the confidence to take away everything we’ve come to associate with human driving.

“I guess it’s important to note that we haven’t validated and released our technology yet,” he says. “So we haven’t gone out there and said it’s safer than a human and getting ready for prime time. But we’re getting pretty close.”

Approximately 18 minutes later, after a brief tour of the vehicle and back-and-forth about the company’s grand plans for the Origin, Vogt says something bolder. “By the time this vehicle goes into production, we think the core software that drives our AVs will be at a superhuman level of performance and safer than the average human driver,” he says. “And we’ll be providing hard empirical evidence to back up that claim before we put people in a car without someone in it.”

Cruise has often been described as a “division” or “unit” of General Motors, but the company prefers “majority owned subsidiary.” (The automaker technically owns two-thirds of Cruise, which it bought in 2016.) However, GM isn’t the only major automaker in Cruise’s corner. In October 2018, Honda announced its plan to invest $2.75 billion in Cruise over 12 years. The company has also raised money from Japan’s SoftBank Vision Fund and T. Rowe Price, and has a valuation of $19 billion.

As part of the Honda deal, GM teamed up with the Japanese automaker to design a “purpose-built” self-driving car. A “purpose-built car” is not a normal car retrofitted to be self-driving, as a majority of the autonomous vehicles on the road today are. Rather, it’s a car designed from the ground up to drive itself. That would be in addition to the steering wheel-and-pedal-less Chevy Bolt that GM and Cruise are working on. At the time, Vogt teased a vehicle with “giant TV screens, a mini bar, and lay-flat seats.”

The Origin has none of these amenities, but Vogt insists its real asset is its modularity. “We built this car around the idea of not having a driver and specifically being used in a ride-share fleet,” he says. “This vehicle is engineered to last a million miles and all the interior components are replaceable. The compute is replaceable, the sensors are replaceable. And what that does is it drives the cost per mile down way lower than you could ever reach if you took a regular car and tried to retrofit it. The replacement cost and the upkeep of that would just kill you from a business standpoint.”

I don’t typically hear AV companies talk about “unit economics” and profitability. But that’s going to creep up sooner than a lot of people realize, Vogt says. Experts estimate that each self-driving car could cost upward of $300,000-$400,000, when taking into account the expensive sensors and computing software needed to allow the vehicles to drive themselves. Recouping those costs will be enormously challenging, and Cruise is trying to address that by building a car with more staying power than most personally owned vehicles.

Cruise has been working on the design of the Origin for over three years, but Honda’s involvement “super charged” the effort. The two automakers didn’t collaborate on every tiny detail; instead, they split up the work based on their expertise. GM was responsible for the base vehicle design and the electric powertrain, while Honda helped create the interior’s “efficient use of space,” Vogt says. Meanwhile, Cruise handled the sensing and computing technologies, as well as the experience from the rider’s standpoint.

Vogt allows that the sensor suite could change before the vehicle goes into production. But right now, it has the standard configuration found in many AVs on the road today: radar, cameras and LIDAR laser sensors. The hard drive, stored in the trunk and housing the vehicle’s artificial intelligence and perception software, is cooled by the vehicle’s battery system, making it quieter and less prone to overheating than previous iterations. That means passengers riding in the forward-facing seats won’t have to experience overly toasty tushies (as I have riding with another AV operator).

Cruise, with Honda’s help, designed the interior of the vehicle primarily for shared rides. The screens, one on either side, will display an itinerary for picking up and dropping off each passenger, so riders know what to expect. Carpooling in the age of smartphones hasn’t exactly been the runaway success that ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft have hoped. But Cruise thinks its abundance of space can help minimize the friction.

“It’s designed to be comfortable if it’s shared, but if it’s just you, you’ve got so much space in here you can really like stretch out,” he says, extending his legs so his feet almost touch mine. Almost, but not quite.

Look, as far as I’m concerned, Cruise’s Origin is a car. Cruise says it wants to “move beyond the car,” but I’m not convinced the absence of certain controls negates its inherent car-ness. As Vogt points out, it occupies the same amount of space as an SUV, and Cruise claims it can travel at normal city speeds. It is a car-like shape and does car-type things, like traveling down a road with people in it. And if there isn’t another good name for it — “the property” notwithstanding — then “car” will have to do.

I don’t begrudge the company for attempting to argue otherwise. The push for not-car-ness is evident in Cruise’s intense marketing campaign leading up to the unveiling of the Origin. The company recently emptied out its Instagram account — so long, photos of smiling people riding in the company’s fleet of self-driving Chevy Bolts — and posted a series of cryptic longitude and latitude coordinates that correspond with famous historical moments, like the invention of the compass and the steam locomotive. Not-car inventions that seriously changed how we travel, in other words.

Even so, Cruise isn’t the first company to build and test a self-driving car without traditional controls. In December 2016, Google stunned the world when it revealed that it had put a blind man in one of its egg-shaped autonomous test vehicles and sent him out for a short ride around Austin, Texas. Google’s Firefly vehicle, audaciously designed by YooJung Ahn, is widely considered to be the first car tested publicly without a steering wheel or pedals.

Waymo, the company spun out of Google’s self-driving project, retired the Firefly in 2017. But in a recent podcast interview, Waymo CEO John Krafcik voiced curiosity that no one has replicated the feat since. “Why do you think no one has done that yet?” Krafcik said on the Autonocast. “Because we all sort of scratch our heads and say, ‘Is there not the capability there? Or folks have the capability but they’ve chosen not to do it or not to show it?’”

Cruise hasn’t been as forthcoming with its technology as Waymo. The company has only hosted one demo ride for journalists in 2017, which produced embarrassing headlines such as Reuters “Taco truck halts GM autonomous car’s cruise through city streets.”

There have been other bumps in the road as well. Cruise’s plan to test its vehicles in New York City — arguably the most difficult driving environment in the US — went nowhere. In July 2019, the company announced that it would miss its goal of launching a large-scale self-driving taxi service by the end of the year. It tried to sugarcoat the disappointing news by announcing a plan to dramatically increase the number of its test vehicles on the road in San Francisco.

Coming right on the heels of the Consumer Electronics Show and its cavalcade of concept cars and design projects, there’s a sense that Cruise is trying to beat back diminishing expectations. The past year has been a pretty bad one for believers in the technology: missed deadlines, rising concerns over safety, and the growing belief that making autonomous vehicles will be harder, slower, and more expensive than previously thought.

Cruise is trying to recapture some of that early magic with this vehicle. But it’s also attempting to be more pragmatic and attuned to the realities of growing and scaling a real business.

Of course, bureaucracy and politics could drive the whole thing right off the road.

Remember the unsettling lack of steering wheel, break pedals, and so on? That means the Cruise’s not-car will require an exemption from the federal government’s motor vehicle safety standards. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration only grants 2,500 petitions a year. GM submitted a petition for permission to deploy a fully driverless Chevy Bolt in 2018, but it has yet to receive a response. And it will most likely need another exemption before the Origin is allowed to hit the road, too.

Safety advocates are urging NHTSA to take its time in deliberating these changes. For example, the Center for Auto Safety “strongly question[s]” the NHTSA’s decision to prioritize these rule changes considering self-driving cars are still in their “infancy and quite likely decades away from widespread practical utility.” And the National Automobile Dealers Association, meanwhile, takes issue with the use of the term “barriers” to describe current safety standards and argues that self-driving cars should continue “to allow also for human control.”

GM isn’t the only company seeking to fast-track these changes. Ford has said it will build an autonomous car without a steering wheel or pedals by 2021, while Waymo has begun offering a limited number of rides in fully driverless minivans to its customers in Phoenix, Arizona.

Cruise is clearly feeling the heat from its competitors, especially when you consider that it has yet to take the important step of launching a commercial business. The company has a beta ride-hailing service, but it’s only available to employees, and Cruise won’t say when it will be available to the broader public. The company also won’t say when the Origin will roll out, but promises to share more information about its production plans in the future. (It’s already been burned once when it missed its 2019 robo-taxi deadline, so it seems the company wants to be careful that doesn’t happen again.)

I have so many more questions — about the sensor suite, the business model, the testing (if any) that Cruise has conducted — but I’m informed that our time is done. The event is being managed by a unionized workforce, and any additional time could cost Cruise an additional $12,000. I thank Vogt for his time and jokingly ask if there’s an “abort” button in the vehicle.

“I think it’s been pushed,” he says, grinning. “You just go straight through the ceiling.”

Skip pulls back the curtain on the high costs of electric scooter maintenance

Skip, an electric scooter rental startup that operates in and around Washington, DC, said it would start disclosing details about the maintenance and repair requirements of its fleet of two-wheelers. The company’s aim is to shine a light on the environmental impact of the electric scooter boom and challenge its rivals to build better scooters that last longer than the cheap, Chinese-made models that were deployed in the early days.

Electric scooter companies like to boast about their commitment to the environment, frequently reminding riders that every two-wheeled trip they take can help reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change. But a recent study from North Carolina State University found that shared e-scooters are less environmentally friendly than bicycles, walking, and certain modes of public transportation. Riders don’t tend to see all of the emissions that are produced by the manufacturing, transportation, maintenance, and upkeep of dockless scooters.

Skip wants to change that. Starting April 2020, the company says it will begin publishing a quarterly report detailing its consumption of spare parts. In doing so, Skip says it hopes to get other operators talking openly about sustainability, environmental impact, and consumption.

Our industry talks about improving sustainability, but operators are not required to report the environmental impact of all parts consumption, disposal, and recycling,” the company says in a blog post, including links to its rivals’ statements. “It’s easier not to get into the details.”

The original scooters deployed by companies like Skip, Bird, and Lime — mostly sourced from Chinese companies like Xiaomi and Segway-Ninebot — weren’t built for shared use, so they were prone to breakdowns, often within weeks of being rolled out. As they struggle to keep afloat, the startups are scrambling to build a better scooter that can withstand heavy use. Bird and Lime each rolled out new vehicles they claim can last months in the field.

When Skip first launched in late 2018, the company purchased thousands of Ninebot ES4 scooters that were cheap (they retail for under $800) and readily available. But the ES4 was intended for personal ownership, indoor storage, and occasional use, not the rigors and high-maintenance needs of shared outdoor fleets, Skip acknowledges.

The trade-off, of course, was that Skip was now the owner of a fleet of scooters that required a lot of upkeep and repairs to stay in service.

From September through November 2019, we averaged 627 Ninebot ES4s deployed in Washington DC, and each scooter was used 3.13 times for a total average of 1,962 trips a day. To keep these scooters running safely our operations team performed regular quality checks and replaced an average of 51 parts every day.

This is the equivalent of 26,000 parts replaced per 1 [million] trips.

Skip rolled out a more rugged, “purpose-built” scooter — the S3 — in April 2019. Its modular design allows for easy repairs as well as reductions of wasted parts. “We end up throwing away less of the vehicle when something is damaged by wear and tear, or vandalized,” the company’s CEO, Sanjay Dastoor, told The Verge at the time. “So the vehicle can last much longer.”

Now, instead of consuming 26,000 parts per 1 million trips, Skip says it only consumed 4,786 parts per 1 million trips in its first two months of testing, thanks to the S3’s improved build. During those two months, the company says it disposed of or recycled 88 total parts. That translates to a 5X improvement over the Ninebot ES4. Skip says with more modifications and improvements, it anticipates that its fleet of S3 scooters will only require 1,541 parts per 1 million trips.

“It’s still early, and we can’t yet extrapolate the long term impact of 4,786 spare parts per 1M trips. Some parts will require replacement due to wear and tear as the fleet ages,” the company says. “But thus far, all parts failures have been caused by vandalism or as the result of premature material failures.”

It’s been a rough winter for the e-scooter industry, Skip included. Major operators like Lime, Bird, Uber, and Lyft have laid off workers and pulled out of markets as they become laser-focused on making their business profitable. Even the rollout of tougher, longer-lasting scooters hasn’t stopped any of the companies from bringing in less than money than they’re spending.

Cities have also put pressure on the companies through their permitting process. Skip recently found itself left out of San Francisco’s permit program, despite being part of the city’s original pilot. The company wasn’t granted a permit and was forced to cease operations in the highly coveted market. Skip also pulled out of Austin and San Diego and is now focused exclusively on Washington, DC and surrounding towns like Alexandria and Arlington.

Will the scooter companies follow Skip’s lead in being more transparent about the cots of doing business? It’s unclear, but it seems likely that even if they’re unwilling to do so voluntarily, they may end up having to disclose this data at the direction of the cities that hold sway over their permits. If that happens, Skip could end up looking ahead of the pack.

Tesla cars are allegedly accelerating without warning, prompting government scrutiny

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Friday that it is weighing whether to launch an investigation into “sudden unexpected acceleration” of 500,000 Tesla vehicles, according to Reuters.

The petition covers Tesla Model S (2012-2019 model year), Model X (2016-2019), and Model 3 (2018-2019) vehicles, Reuters says. It also cites 127 consumer complaints, 123 unique vehicles, 110 crashes, and 52 injuries. A spokesperson for Tesla did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

“As is the agency’s standard practice in such matters, NHTSA will carefully review the petition and relevant data,” a spokesperson for the agency said in a statement.

Anyone can submit a petition requesting NHTSA to open an investigation into an alleged safety defect. After conducting a technical analysis, the agency’s Office of Defects Investigation informs the petitioner whether it will move forward with an investigation.

This isn’t the first time that Tesla has faced accusations of malfunctioning vehicles. In November 2018, the electric automaker resolved a class action lawsuit from customers who claimed their Model S and X vehicles would suddenly accelerate without warning. Another lawsuit was filed last year by Mena Massoud, star of Disney’s live-action Aladdin, who claimed a faulty suspension caused the wheel of his Model 3 to come off a day after he bought it. And most recently, NHTSA opened an investigation into complaints about vehicle fires connected to the battery management systems in some Model S and X vehicles.

Tesla has also come under fire over safety concerns involving its advanced driver assistance system, Autopilot. The National Transportation Safety Board announced plans yesterday to hold a public hearing in February to determine the probable cause of the fatal crash of a Tesla in Mountain View, California in 2017.

There have been a number of reports of Tesla owners crashing their vehicles while using Autopilot, as well as a handful of people who have been killed while using Autopilot. Tesla has consistently said that drivers who use Autopilot are safer than those who don’t.

Bernie Sanders thanks popular Facebook teen meme group for endorsement

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is a friend to public transportation. His Green New Deal plan calls for a big boost in transit spending, a network of high-speed rail, and the phasing out of internal combustion engine vehicles. He is also quite popular with young voters. According to a recent poll, 51 percent of voters aged 18–34 chose Sanders as their top Democratic candidate.

So it should come as little surprise that a very popular transit-themed meme group on Facebook called the New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens — aka NUMTOT— recently endorsed Sanders for president. What is surprising is the fact that Sanders actually responded to the endorsement.

“Thank you NUMTOT for your support of our campaign, and for all you are doing to create the lasting and fundamental change our country needs,” Sanders wrote in a post on Thursday. “Together, we are going to enact a homes guarantee, we are going to take on the fossil fuel industry to pass a Green New Deal, and we are going to invest in high-quality, affordable public transportation.”

NUMTOT co-founder and admin Juliet Eldred confirmed to Mashable that Sanders had to request to join the private group in order to post his thank you message. “I had the honor of approving the request,” Eldred told the site.

The teens are, accordingly, freaking out. Their reactions range from “i am loosing my mind” to “Daddy literally just said, ‘let’s ride’” to “We STAN A KINGGGGG.” One NUMTOT member accurately noted: “this FB group has rly escalated.”

To be sure, NUMTOT isn’t monolithic. There are Facebook groups with far more members than NUMTOT’s current roster of 180,000-plus. But the group has earned its share of national attention for its spirited debates about esoteric issues like transit lines, traffic flow, and vehicle pathing. Eldred told Mashable that she sees private Facebook groups attracting more attention from political campaigns as the social network’s main news feed becomes less coherent.

And, of course, there are the memes. “When you defeat urban car use, this is the final boss you have to face” reads the caption on a picture of an absurdly convoluted freeway interchange.

This isn’t Sanders’ first brush with transit fame. Curbed’s urbanism editor Alissa Walker helpfully reminded me of the time that Sanders was asked by the New York Daily News editorial board in 2016 to describe how he rides the subway.

“You get a token and you get in,” he replied.

Subway tokens were discontinued in 2003.

Toyota makes a big bet on secretive flying taxi startup Joby Aviation

Joby Aviation, a California-based aerospace company that has been working on electric aircraft for over a decade, just closed its latest round of financing with $590 million in venture capital funding — and a major new partner.

Toyota will work with Joby to design and build a fleet of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft for use in a ride-hailing service. The Japanese auto giant was part of a previous Joby funding round that closed in 2018, helping the secretive startup raise $100 million. Obviously Toyota liked what it saw, because it stepped up to lead this latest round of fundraising, bringing Joby’s total raise to $720 million. Joby recently announced a deal with Uber to deploy its air taxis on its ride-hailing network — though its unclear whether Toyota’s air taxis will make the cut.

Joby is the brainchild of inventor JoeBen Bevirt, who started the company in 2009. The company operated in relative obscurity until 2018, when Joby announced it had raised a surprising $100 million from a variety of investors, including the venture capital arms of Intel, Toyota, and JetBlue. The money helped finance development of the company’s air taxi prototype, which has been conducting test flights at Joby’s private airfield in Northern California. Bevirt helps run an incubator outside of Santa Cruz that’s been described as a quasi-commune.

Unlike the dozens of other companies that are currently building electric VTOL aircraft, Joby has kept much of its project under wraps. But as part of the Toyota announcement, Joby decided to share some more details about its aircraft — and some images.

The all-electric aircraft has six rotors and seats five, including the pilot. It can take off vertically, like a helicopter, and then shift into forward flight using tilt rotors. Joby says it can reach a top speed of 200 mph, can travel 150 miles on a single charge, and is 100 times quieter than a conventional aircraft.

“We are building a new system for transportation to transform your daily life, at greater safety and, in time, at a similar cost to driving,” Bevirt said in a statement.

With Toyota as a manufacturing partner, Joby believes it can bring its aircraft to market faster than the rest. “Toyota will share its expertise in manufacturing, quality, and cost controls to support the development and production of Joby Aviation’s aircraft,” the company says. “This support, along with the capital investment, will accelerate the certification and deployment of this new mode of local transportation.”

It’s deal-making season for Joby. The company formed a partnership with Uber a few weeks ago. Joby will supply and operate the electric air taxis, and Uber will provide air traffic control help, landing pad construction, connections to ground transportation, and, of course, its ride-share network reconfigured to allow customers to hail flying cars (rather than boring, regular, terrestrial ones). The ride-hailing company also recently showed off a full-scale model of the flying taxi it helped create with Hyundai, and has other manufacturing partners as well.

Of course, many companies — Joby included — have promised revolutionary new aircraft for years, only to miss deadlines or fail to live up to past promises. Kitty Hawk, the flying car venture backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, is reorganizing amid reports about breakdowns, battery fires, and returned deposits. Zunum Aero struggled to raise money and was forced to layoff employees after Boeing backed away as a backer.

After all, the jury is still out on whether an electric vertical takeoff and landing-based air taxi system would make an appreciable contribution to a next-generation transportation system, or whether it would simply be an escape hatch for the super-rich to avoid street-level congestion.

Go watch this local TV news investigation about front blind spots in SUVs and trucks

As drivers, we typically think of our blind spots as being to the left and right of the vehicle, not in the front underneath the bumper. But as this investigation by a local Indiana television station reveals, many of the most popular vehicles in the US today have shockingly huge front blind spots — and that could spell danger for a lot of people, most notably small children.

It’s a problem that’s getting worse as American car buyers trend toward larger and larger vehicles, WTHR 13 in Indianapolis reports. Front blind zones associated with large trucks and SUVs have contributed to the injury and death of hundreds of children across the country. (The investigation was published in April 2019, but recently resurfaced on Twitter.)

So-called frontover crashes occur when children are struck by slow-moving vehicles with drivers who typically can’t see them. According to safety group KidsAndCars, at least 3,000 children are injured and an average of nearly 60 kids are killed in frontover crashes in the US. KidsAndCars tracked 575 frontover deaths over the past 10 years, compared to 304 deaths in the prior decade — an increase of 89 percent.

To demonstrate just how dangerous these front blind spots can be, WTHR 13 reporters had children sit in a line in front of a Chevy Tahoe and a Cadillac Escalade until their respective drivers could see them. It took nine children before the owner of the Chevy Tahoe could see the tops of their heads, while the Cadillac Escalade took 13 children.

“Oh my gosh, it’s absolutely terrifying,” the Chevy Tahoe owner said. The Escalade owner was equally disturbed: “That is so scary,” she told reporters. “This is just mind blowing. I can’t believe it.”

WTHR 13 measured the front blind zones of many popular vehicles, from family sedans and minivans to large SUVs and full-size pickup trucks. The Escalade had the largest front blind spot of 10 feet, 2 inches, with the driver sitting in a natural, relaxed position. The Ford F150, the most popular vehicle in the US with over a million sold in 2018, has a front blind zone of 9 feet, 7 inches. And so on, down the line. The bigger the SUV or truck, the larger the blind spot.

In its testing, WTHR 13 took a variety of factors into consideration, such as driver height and road incline:

The blind zones can vary widely based on a number of factors, such as the height of the driver, the size of the object in front of the vehicle, the position of the driver’s seat, and the incline (or decline) of the driving surface. To minimize those variables, WTHR measured each vehicle’s blind zone on a flat surface using a 5 feet 4 inch driver (the average height of a woman in the United States) and a 29 inch traffic cone (the approximate height of a 12-month-old). The testing was also conducted with the driver in two different seating positions.

The test results show most SUVs, minvans and pickup trucks have a front blind zone measuring between five and 10 feet – two to three times larger than the front blind zones of most sedans and compact cars – when a driver sits in a normal seating position. Some larger SUVs and pickups have grills and hoods that measure more than four feet off the ground, which is taller than an average 7-year-old child.

We’ve known for years that the boom in SUV and truck sales have led to increased CO2 emissions and a distressing spike in pedestrian deaths. Anecdotal evidence has shown that driving extra-large vehicles can lead to unhealthy levels of road rage.

The correlation between vehicle design and pedestrian deaths is pretty clear. While the people driving SUVs are slightly safer (1.6 percent decrease in SUV occupant deaths in 2018, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), the number of pedestrians killed by those drivers has skyrocketed by 81 percent in the last decade, according to a report released last year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

That’s mostly because of the way SUVs are designed: larger bodies and higher carriages mean pedestrians are more likely to suffer deadly blows to the head and torso. Higher clearances mean victims are more likely to get trapped underneath a speeding SUV instead of pushed onto the hood or off to the side. Speed is also a factor because SUVs have more horsepower than a typical sedan. A recent investigation by USA Today and the Detroit Free Press found that the growing popularity of SUVs accounts for the alarming rise in pedestrian deaths.

There’s a human cost to our growing appetite for huge trucks and SUVs, and the WTHR 13 investigation is another example of that. Go watch it.

Some NYC subway riders are accidentally getting double-charged because of Apple Pay

Dozens of subway riders in New York City are being charged extra for their transit rides, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority suspects that Apple may be partly to blame.

The MTA is not explicitly pointing the finger at Apple, but it appears that some riders may be unwittingly putting their iPhones too close to the system’s new tap-to-pay OMNY readers while simultaneously swiping their MetroCards at the turnstile.

Last spring, the MTA began installing tap-to-pay readers as part of its new fare payment system called OMNY, which stands for “One Metro New York.” Soon after, Apple announced a new feature called Express Transit, which would allow customers to pay for riding the subway without opening an app or unlocking their phone. They simply needed to place their iPhones on the reader and then walk through the turnstile.

The trouble is some people have the Express Transit feature enabled, but are still using their MetroCard to pay for rides. While swiping their MetroCard, their iPhones are somehow coming into contact with the reader, either because they were holding it in their hands or through a pocket or purse, the MTA suspects. However it happens, they are getting charged twice for the ride. Gothamist, which first reported the incidents, highlighted the tweets from some of the people who were doubly charged.

Naturally, many of these people assume the problem is with the MTA, and not their own behavior. But the MTA insists that it is not to blame, and that it’s working with Apple to address the problem.

“We’ve been notified by about 30 customers, out of more than 5,000,000 taps so far, about unintended charges when the Express Transit feature of their iPhones is activated,” Al Putre, the head of OMNY at the MTA, said in a statement. “The system is a popular success that’s working well for the vast majority of people and we’re in touch with Apple about addressing the issue of unintended taps.”

Express Transit first arrived with iOS 12.3 and watchOS 5.2.1 updates. Apple billed it as an easy and convenient way to pay for transit with Apple Pay without having to use Touch or Face ID to unlock your phone. The MTA hopes to have OMNY readers installed in every subway station and on all bus routes by late 2020, at which time they’ll add more fare options.

Initially, Apple customers had to enable Express Transit through the settings on their iPhones. People who live in New York City who add a credit or debit card to their iPhones are asked whether they want to enable Express Transit. Some of these people probably said yes without realizing what the feature did, and then continued to pay for subway rides with their MetroCard.

In addition to New York, Apple’s Express Transit is available to transit riders in Portland, London, Shanghai, Beijing, and Tokyo.

Scooter startup Lime is laying off 14 percent of its workers and exiting 12 markets

Lime, the largest electric scooter-sharing company in the world, is laying off 14 percent of its workers and exiting 12 markets, according to a report in Axios. The move comes during the winter months, when most scooter companies see a significant dip in ridership, and amid reports about the industry’s struggles to turn a profit.

In a statement posted online, Lime CEO Brad Bao said the company has decided to leave cities where “micromobility has evolved more slowly.” The cities where Lime will be shutting down operations include Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego, and San Antonio in the US; Linz, Austria in Europe; and Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Lima, Puerto Vallarta, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo in Latin America.

The company will also lay off 14 percent of its workforce, or around 100 employees, according to Axios. In his statement, Bao acknowledged that some employees would be leaving the company.

“Financial independence is our goal for 2020, and we are confident that Lime will be the first next-generation mobility company to reach profitability,” Bao said. “We are immensely grateful for our team members, riders, Juicers and cities who supported us, and we hope to reintroduce Lime back into these communities when the time is right.”

Lime, along with its rivals like Bird, Uber, and Lyft, have struggled to make scooter sharing profitable. Most experts agree that the market is oversaturated and needs to consolidate. After a period of rapid growth, many scooter companies now have to take a step back and tackle some of their intractable problems, such as unit economics, software, batteries, and safety. Lime joins Bird, Skip, Scoot, and Lyft in laying off its scooter-related employees in recent months.

Lime, which operates in over 120 cities around the globe, lost approximately $300 million in 2019 on more than $420 million in gross revenue, according to The Information. This is likely due to increased costs such as depreciation of its electric kick scooters and the company’s vast repairs operation.

Lime’s president Joe Kraus told Axios that the company is close to being profitable, but denied rumors that it was almost out of money and seeking a new round of venture capital investment. (Last October, Bird raised $275 million in new money, valuing the company at $2.5 billion.)