Category Archives: Safety

Eyes on the Road! (Your Car Is Watching)


Byton’s M-Byte electric vehicle at the 2019 CES in Las Vegas in January. The company is one among many in the industry working to keep track of the people behind the wheel.CreditCreditAlexandria Sage/Reuters

John Quain
By John R. Quain, Contributor for the New York Times | March 28, 2019

 

The automobile, in American life, has long been a hallmark of freedom. A teenager’s first driver’s license offers freedom from Mom and Dad. A new car and the open road bring the freedom to chase the American dream. But as more technology creeps in to help drivers, so, too, will systems that eavesdrop on and monitor them, necessitated not by convenience but by new safety concerns.

Cameras that recognize facial expressions, sensors that detect heart rates and software that assesses a driver’s state of awareness may seem like superfluous flights of fancy, but they are increasingly viewed as part of an inevitable driving future.

At upstarts like the electric car company Byton and mainstream mainstays like Volvo, car designers are working on facial recognition, drowsy-driver alert systems and other features for keeping track of the people behind the wheel.

The most immediate impetus: concerns about the safe use of driver-assistance options like automatic lane-keeping that still require drivers to pay attention. And when truly autonomous vehicles finally arrive, the consensus among automakers and their suppliers is that new ways will be needed to check on drivers and passengers to make sure they are safe inside.

“It’s really taken off from no monitoring to tactile monitoring to taking a look at your eyes,” said Grant Courville, a vice president at BlackBerry QNX, which creates in-dash software systems. “I definitely see more of that coming as you get to Level 3 cars,” he added, referring to vehicles that can perform some self-driving functions in limited situations.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada touring the BlackBerry QNX facility in Ottawa. The company creates in-dash software systems for the auto industry.CreditBlair Gable/Reuters

With its 2018 Cadillac CT6, for example, General Motors introduced an infrared camera that looks up from the steering column at drivers.

The feature is part of the car’s Super Cruise system, the first hands-free driving tool to operate on select United States highways. The camera tracks a driver’s head position and eye movements to ensure that the person is attentive and able to retake control of the car when needed.

Similar concerns about BMW’s semi-autonomous systems prompted the German carmaker to add a driver monitoring camera in its 2019 X5 sport utility vehicle. The video camera is mounted in the instrument cluster as part of BMW’s Extended Traffic Jam Assistant system, part of a $1,700 package, that allows the car to go autonomous — with driver monitoring — in stop-and-go traffic under 37 miles per hour.

“It looks at the head pose and the eyes of the driver,” said Dirk Wisselmann of BMW’s automated driving program. “We have to, because by doing so it empowers us to add more functionality.”

Automakers understand that tracking technology raises privacy issues, so BMW does not record or store the driver monitoring information, Mr. Wisselmann said.

Perhaps still smarting from lessons learned in the past, G.M. also does not record what transpires inside the car’s cabin, the company said. In 2011, G.M. tried to change the user agreement in its OnStar service to allow it to share driver information with third-party companies. The backlash from owners was so swift and severe that the Supreme Court cited the episode as proof that people had an expectation of privacy in their cars.

A car camera for Affectiva, which is developing technology for measuring emotions. One goal has been to assess driver behavior.CreditTony Luong for The New York Times

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G.M. later introduced the first built-in video cameras and microphones meant to record the drive in 2014 Chevrolet Corvettes. A valet mode (“Think of it as a baby monitor for your car,” an official said in a Chevrolet news release at the time) that surreptitiously recorded Ferris Bueller-like joy rides made the company so nervous that it sent letters to owners warning about possible legal issues and asking them to refrain from using the setting.

Now that driver-assistance programs that can steer a vehicle down the highway are becoming more widespread, automakers fear that without such monitoring efforts, some drivers will abuse or misuse the semi-autonomous systems.

There are multiple cases of Tesla owners circumventing the requirement that drivers keep their hands on the wheel when the car’s lane-keeping Autopilot feature is engaged. The consequences have sometimes been fatal.

“But it’s not just about distraction management,” said Jada Smith, a vice president in the advanced engineering department at the auto supplier Aptiv. During an autonomous driving demonstration, she pointed out that such driver monitoring systems can assess a driver’s cognitive load levels — how many tasks the person is trying to juggle — and then adjust other car functions.

“If the driver is not fully aware,” Ms. Smith said, “we might brake faster.” Other ideas include putting radar inside the car for interior sensing like detecting that a child has been left behind. (Every nine days a child left in a car dies from vehicular heatstroke in the United States, according to KidsAndCars.org, an advocacy group.)

It was infants’ being left in cars that first prompted Guardian Optical Technologies, based in Tel Aviv, to develop in-cabin monitoring technology, said Tal Recanati, the company’s chief business officer. The company has now expanded its 3-D vision and “micro vibration” sensing system to recognize faces, check seatbelt use, even adjust elements like airbag deployment velocity based on a passenger’s approximate weight. Eventually Guardian’s technology could be able to judge the emotional state of people in the car.

Emotion AI by Affectiva shows how artificial intelligence can address safety issues in self-driving cars.CreditTony Luong for The New York Times

Affectiva, a Boston company developing technology for measuring emotions, has been conducting such research for several years to assess driver behavior. On a closed test track peppered with distractions — people dressed as construction workers, a security vehicle with flashing lights, pedestrians, fake storefronts — Affectiva demonstrated how the company’s program works in tandem with a “collaborative driving” system made by the Swedish auto supplier Veoneer. Veoneer’s technology can control steering and braking on its own, with the occasional intervention of a human driver.

Affectiva collected a variety of driver information during the test, measuring elements like the amount of grip on the wheel, throttle action, vehicle speed and the driver’s eyes, facial and head movements. It then compared that information with what was happening around the car to determine how much trust the driver had in the semi-autonomous system and the perceived level of cognitive load.

“We want them to trust the car — but not too much,” said Ola Bostrom, a vice president of research at Veoneer. “The driver still has to be engaged” in order to take over the controls when a car encounters a situation it can’t handle.

To deliver other advanced services, like augmented reality information about nearby businesses and locations, it will also be necessary to monitor what drivers are paying attention to, said Andrew Poliak, a vice president at Panasonic Automotive Systems. And companies as diverse as Mercedes-Benz and the voice-recognition company Nuance want to add Alexa-like services, meaning that your sedan or S.U.V. may always be listening.

“So these systems are going to become standard in all cars,” said Nakul Duggal, who leads the automotive products group at Qualcomm.

Will privacy concerns then recede in the rearview mirror of advancing technologies?

When fully autonomous vehicles begin circulating on public roads, designers note, they will have to be able to detect when people enter or exit a vehicle, who the person is, whether they have left anything behind in the car, and especially if a person has become disabled (because of intoxication or a medical emergency). And that information will inevitably be shared online, although there may be ways that some people can still preserve their sense of independence in the car.

“In the future, it may be different for people who own their own cars, where there’s more privacy,” said Mr. Wisselmann at BMW, “and for people who use robo taxis, where there will be less.”

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A version of this article appears in print on , on Page B6 of the New York edition with the headline: Cars That Watch the Road, and You. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Innovation in Energy: What Will It Look Like?

Even in this conservative industry, the latest technologies can make a huge impact.

 

Lal Karsanbhai

By Lal Karsanbhai, Executive President, Automation Solutions, Emerson for IndustryWeek  | Apr 16, 2019

 

As long as people have existed, we’ve needed to harness energy to live: fire to warm ourselves and cook food, gas to generate clean electricity. Energy is a traditional industry with roots that stretch as far back as human history. Yet even in this conservative industry, the latest technologies can make a huge impact.

Organizations that embrace digital transformation can see measurable benefits in critical industry focus areas: safety, reliability, production, emissions and overall performance. But there is always the underlying question: How do you get started?

The good news? The optimal digital strategy is different from company to company, meaning there is no single right path. The bad news? Digital transformation does not have one consistent playbook. This can be confusing for businesses trying to capitalize on the promise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). A recent Emerson survey of industry leaders responsible for digital transformation initiatives found that 90 percent felt that a clear and actionable roadmap was critical for success, yet only 20 percent of respondents said they had a vision and roadmap.

Even as companies work to find their way in the new digital transformation landscape, a few definitive trends are emerging:

1. Software will remain the backbone of making data actionable. It has long been an industry staple, but advanced software solutions are making it possible for companies to safely test new approaches to optimize productivity and efficiency without any risk to operations. Take power generation, for instance – a critical industry with no margin for error. Through “digital twin” technology, power companies can simulate a live plant that allows them to test proposed changes without impacting the actual operations. Software advances like digital twin have the potential to help the industry find game-changing improvements.

2. Cybersecurity is non-negotiable, but its implementation depends on its environment. Not everything needs to go to the cloud. There are many opportunities for remote monitoring of systems and other data analytics in the cloud, but knowing which applications are best suited for on-premise (or edge computing) versus the cloud will be key for businesses. Different cybersecurity protections are required for each, and understanding what makes the most sense will help guide many digital implementation programs. Secure remote monitoring has created a new business model that brings significant performance and financial benefits, through predictive analytics that detect maintenance problems in oil fields, refineries and chemical plants before they occur – leading to millions of dollars saved annually.

3. A clear business case and scalability are the name of the game. Sweeping initiatives won’t work; companies need solutions that account for where they are and where they want to go. Digital transformation programs must have a clear business case.  Implementing technology and hoping for a return will not deliver the significant impact that’s possible.

4. Information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) need to be on the same side of the table. IT and OT can too often speak different languages even as they develop and implement programs for the same company. Successful transformation will happen only when IT and OT come together with an integrated approach to technologies and work together to implement and optimize. We are seeing movement in this direction, as some companies are organizing integrated teams to drive digital transformation and encourage the collaboration of these complementary skillsets.

5. Technology should empower – not replace – the workforce of the future. The rise of automation is bringing with it trepidation that robots will eliminate manufacturing jobs. Done well, the influx of automation will instead evolve current manufacturing jobs. Yes, automation may replace repetitive tasks-related jobs, but it will also require new data analytics and interpretation skills that rely on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) knowledge. Technology and automation are complementary job creators.

Empowering the future workforce comes down to meeting and supporting people where they are.  This includes upskilling the current workforce, making the industrial sectors attractive to students planning their careers, and instilling a passion for math and science with young learners beginning their educational journey.

Digital transformation has the potential to change the energy industry for the better—and give companies that embrace it competitive advantage.

Delivery robots are poised to invade our cities, but are we ready for them?


Photo credit: FedEx

John R. Quain

John R. Quain, Contributor to Digital Trends @jqontech Posted on 04.14.19 – 1:00AM PST

 

Gaggles of delivery R2D2’s scurrying down suburban streets? It sounds like a technological nightmare worse than an e-scooter infestation. But the concept of robot messengers got a major boost recently when FedEx announced plans to start testing such a service this summer, and for smart cities, it may not be such a crazy idea after all.

There are already several pilot robo-delivery projects running in the U.S.

Nuro, for example, recently announced it’s moving on from Arizona and expanding its delivery partnership with grocery giant Kroger to four Houston zip codes. Nuro’s vehicle is more of autonomous compact car than a rolling robot, but so far people seem happy to pay the roughly $6 for the self-driving silver surfer (probably because they don’t have to tip the car).

Nuro Delivery Robot
Nuro

The 7,000-pound gorilla in retail, Amazon, is reportedly testing a sidewalk-crawling delivery bot in Seattle. The project looks like a more practical service for suburbs — especially compared to drones, which are restricted or outright banned in many urban areas.

Most recently, FedEx has announced that it plans to begin testing its own autonomous delivery robot in Memphis, Tennessee. And while there are other delivery bot tests underway in addition to the ones mentioned, the entrance by the preeminent delivery service in the U.S. into the self-driving space represents something of a milestone.

Hitting the streets sidewalks

FedEx isn’t talking about autonomous vans and trucks — at least not yet. And the challenges facing even mainly on-the-sidewalk robots are legion. Weather, uneven terrain, traffic, poor cellular network coverage, and humans behaving badly are just a few of the headaches facing programmers. However, FedEx’s partners and its own delivery infrastructure imply that it may be uniquely positioned to overcome those obstacles.


The delivery bots, for example, are designed in partnership with Dean Kamen’s DEKA Development & Research Corp. Kamen is best known for developing the Segway and the iBot Personal Mobility Device, a wheelchair that can climb stairs. The latter demonstrates that DEKA’s engineering skills will probably be able to help FedEx surmount some of the navigation issues for door-to-door delivery. Indeed, the fully electric FedEx SameDay Bot is based on the iBot, with some additional technology that makes it autonomous, including lidar, radar, and video cameras to assist in navigation.

According to Kamen, the SameDay bot can run at about 10 miles per hour, “which won’t disturb pedestrians.” Kamen made the remarks during a presentation to announce the new partnership. The inventor said the SameDay Bot’s speed limiter means it won’t cause the kinds of problems associated with cyclists and messengers who hop onto sidewalks — but it will still be able to handle round trips of up to eight miles relatively quickly.

The road ahead

FedEx plans to work with retailers including AutoZone, Lowe’s, Pizza Hut, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart to perform, as its robot’s name implies, same-day door-to-door deliveries. Customers can open the bot using a smartphone app, or have it opened by a remote operator. Those operators will also control the bots should the machines encounter situations they don’t recognize.

robot delivery dog ces 2019 continental pp cube robodogs
Continental’s delivery robot concept

“It’s a way they could take on Amazon,” Gary Goralnick, a shopping center developer, told Digital Trends regarding self-driving technology. Goralnick said integrating online ordering and same-day delivery, for example, has helped brick and mortar retailers turn the corner and compete against Internet-only outlets.

Still, others note that such self-driving solutions beg for an infrastructure solution.

“You have to redesign the city before you layer in the technology,” Duncan Davidson, a technology investor with Bullpen Capital, told Digital Trends. Davidson pointed to examples such as e-scooters causing problems in Los Angeles and Uber cars causing additional congestion in New York City as ways in which technology can wreak havoc in cities — unless it’s supported by the right infrastructure changes.

None of these robo-delivery services will work unless consumers embrace the concept

Autonomous cars and delivery vehicles, for example, may need their own dedicated lanes. Making such changes could improve safety and help reduce traffic. And there are many ways in which same-day delivery in underserved areas could help home-bound individuals who suffer from chronic illnesses or other restrictions that prevent them from getting outside.

Indeed, Hyundai has a program called Elevate to develop an autonomous vehicle that can navigate rough terrain and even climb stairs to reach customers. And Dean Kamen’s iBot was originally designed to help people such as disabled veterans get around on their own. (The partnership with FedEx should help make the iBots more affordable for those who need them, according to Kamen.)

Ultimately, none of these robo-delivery services will work unless consumers embrace the concept. As long as they steer clear of scary robots, like Boston Dynamics’ headless Spot Mini, and focus on friendly delivery devices that look like R2D2, it may just work out.

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Lawmakers Demand Social Network Execs Reveal What They Spend to Fight Terrorism


Photo: Sean Gallup (Getty)

By Dell Cameron, Staff Reporter at Gizmodo  April 11, 2019

The head of the House subcommittee on intelligence and counterterrorism is on a quest to find out precisely how much money YouTube, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter are spending each to combat extremism across their myriad platforms. Since representatives of the companies seemed unequipped to answer that question during a briefing late last month, their CEOs are now being asked to cough up those figures.

Representative Max Rose, who chairs the subcommittee, sent a letter on Thursday to each of the four companies asking for among other details their annual budgets for counter-terrorism efforts and related programs, “expressed as absolute numbers as well as percentages of your company’s total annual operating budget.”

“We’ve seen in graphic detail the extent that terrorist organizations and extremists have used social media to amplify their reach and message in recent years,” he said. “While social media companies tell us they’re taking this seriously, I want to see the numbers to back that up—and won’t stop until we get answers.”

The letter also requests the number of employees dedicated solely to countering terrorists, including, it says, domestic terrorists, far-right extremists, and white supremacists, who’ve “made use of online platforms to connect with like-minded individuals and spread their ideologies.”

The letter is cosigned by Representatives Shiela Jackson Lee, James, Langevin, and Elissa Slotkin, each of whom also serves on the subcommittee.

“As you all know, a budget is a statement of values,” the letter continues. “We believe that the level of resources your companies allocate to containing and combating online terrorist content is a reflection of the seriousness with which you are approaching this issue.”

The letter also cites a number of incidents involving acts of terrorism committed by people who first posted hateful content online, including the terrorist behind the Christchurch massacres in New Zealand that resulted in 50 dead, another 50 injured; the far-right extremist who mailed pipebombs to Democratic politicians and journalists last year; and an anti-Semitic terrorist who murdered 11 worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, who regularly posted on the alt-right platform Gab.

“From the rise and spread of ISIS, to the recent attack in Christchurch, New Zealand which was livestreamed live on Facebook, serious questions remain as to how and what the companies are doing to combat the spread of terrorism and extremism,” Rose said.

The Hot New Thing in Dockless Electric Scooters: Docks


If you love me, you’d dock your scooter properly. Courtesy of Swiftmile

 

Laura Bliss
Laura Bliss, Staff Writer at CityLab (Transportation and Technology)   Mar 13, 2019

Cities are desperate to tame the sidewalk chaos of the e-scooter industry. One startup offers a solar-powered parking solution.

 

To understand the promise and peril of dockless scooters, look at Austin, Texas. This week, at least 9,000 of the zippy rentables are scattered on the capital city’s streets during this year’s South by Southwest festival. Nine different operators are vending cheap car-free transportation for the roughly 200,000 festivalgoers that have descended upon the city.That might be great in theory, but mixed with big crowds, car traffic, a general lack of bike lanes, and a ton of free booze, the reality is cluttered sidewalks, tripping pedestrians, and some brutal scooter crashes.Austin, in other words, is experiencing a Class 5 scoot-nado—a particularly intense variation on the shared-mobility disruption that cities nationwide have seen over the last two years. Which is why there’s a growing demand to bring scooter-sharing back to its roots, at least partly: Cities want docks for the dockless.“We’ve all seen the problems associated with these things,” Colin Roche, the co-founder and CEO of Swiftmile, told me as he packed up his company’s booth at the National Shared Mobility Summit in Chicago last week. “But we also know the promise. In high-impact areas, they need to bring some order to the chaos.”
Swiftmile makes parking stations for e-scooters and bikes in support of what it calls a “semi-dockless” operating model. Their docks can pack in up to 24 Birds, Limes, Spins, and Skips in a space the size of a standard parking spot, using individual holsters equipped with anti-theft locks. More than glorified bike racks, the stations also use solar power to charge scooters while they’re tethered. They accommodate virtually all scooter models, and can gather data about vehicle use and condition.The idea isn’t necessarily to bring all dockless scooters in from the wild. In high-scooting cities, Roche thinks the sweet spot is making parking available for about 25 percent of the total fleet, especially in areas with heavy foot traffic where sidewalk space is limited and vehicles tend to get carelessly dumped. With the rest roaming untethered, providers can still reap what are seen as the economic advantages of a dockless system, Roche explained: When rentables are freed from their expensive docking infrastructure, companies can invest in the volume and scale that may be needed to grow ridership. For the sake of comparison, docked bikesharing programs generally cost about $4,000 to $5,000 per bike; electric scooters retail for between $100 and $500.

               Lyft shows off its low-fi docking solution in Arlington, Virginia. (Andrew Small/CityLab)

Roche also maintains that Swiftmile’s charging docks mean vehicles can spend more time in use and require less human labor and resources to get recharged. An analysis by Quartz recently estimated that scooters in Louisville have a lifespan of just 28 days, and that Bird, the largest scooter company in the field, loses $293 per vehicle in the Kentucky metro. “The companies spend 50 percent of their operating costs on getting these things charged,” Roche said. Though he didn’t offer numbers, Swiftmile’s website explains that the pricing model is based per charge, and is designed for savings.

Other brains in the business are starting to advocate for more of a semi-dockless model, too. Kyle Rowe, the head of government partnerships at Spin, said he expects to see more dockless-scooter docks emerge in the congested corridors of the country’s scooter capitals, with the majority of the vehicles still ranging freely in residential areas. And Caroline Samponaro, the head of bike, scooter, and pedestrian policy at Lyft, believes that docks should be available for entire fleets of shared scooters and bikes. “What a dock does is mimic that idea of a public transit station,” she said. “It creates a predictable way for people to engage with this mode.”

Lyft, which owns Motivate, the country’s largest docked bikeshare operator, also rents dockless scooters in several cities, and is demoing its own parking racks outside a barbershop at SXSW and at the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C., this week. Lyft’s racks don’t offer charging, and aren’t formally deployed in any city yet. But they create an opportunity for Lyft to talk about the benefits with interested parties, Samponaro said.

They also offer a way to address the safety concerns and injury lawsuits that have beset the nascent industry. The Washington Post reported this week that an 87-year-old woman in Santa Monica is considering suing Lyft after suffering a fall over a wayward scooter lying in the sidewalk. Some cities, including Santa Monica, Seattle, and Austin, have already tried other ways to contain the devices, such as spray-painted sidewalk “bird cages” and coned-off street “corrals.”

It’s too soon to say if such cosmetic interventions are quantifiably helping with safety and clutter, but anecdotally, at least, “they’re not hurting,” said Francie Stefan, Santa Monica’s acting chief mobility officer. “It’s helpful to have some sense of order and give people an idea of where the devices belong.”

Not everyone believes that the future of shared mobility involves re-embracing the dock. A parking and charging station might sound simple enough to install, Stefan said, but the devil may be in the details: Can solar batteries hold enough charge to keep scooters in action? Who will pay for the electrical bills if not, once the stations are wired into the street?And others believe that additional costs of adding all these smart charging docks will make the already-dodgy road to profitability for the scooter industry even more challenging to negotiate. “Docks look pretty, but they’re really costly and hard to adapt,” said Dawn Goodyear, a community engagement specialist for the dockless mobility startup VeoRide. “The ridership won’t be there if we go back the way we came.”
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About the Author

Laura Bliss

Laura Bliss  @mslaurabliss  Feed

Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.

 

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