July 24, 2014, 5:52 am

Forget Glow-in-the-Dark Roads—Here’s an Interactive Highway

By Raymond Refuerzo

This imagined roadway would update drivers on traffic ahead, alert them to sudden hazards, and instantly change road signs. The Atlantic reports.

The last few months have seen sci-fi thinking applied to the most pedestrian of designs: pavement. To replace streetlights, the Netherlands is testing glow-in-the-dark highways painted with a “photo-luminizing” powder that charges during the day and glows a Tron-like green at night (though apparently not in the rain). Meanwhile, an Idaho couple has raised over $2 million on Indiegogo for theiralmost certainly quixotic dream to turn every blacktop in America into agiant solar cell.

As long as we’re thinking about impractical, expensive, but incredibly appealing ideas, consider this: a highway with smart surfaces that act as an interactive display, updating drivers on traffic ahead, alerting them to sudden hazards, and instantly changing road signs.

Before you start reaching for your wallet, keep in mind that Art. Lebedev is part design studio, part skunkworks. It does not build roads, and it offers few details and no proof of concept here. It’s just an intriguing idea. But the firm did manage to produce a very real OLED keyboard, yours for a mere $1,500, whose keys will display any symbols you want. And with just a few tens of billions of dollars in crowdfunding, an interactive highway could be a reality too. Or we could just spend the money on public transportation.

As this short video shows, the system has sensors in the road that alert you to obstacles ahead . .

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July 23, 2014, 2:15 am

Want Your Job to Scare You? Try Studying Distracted Driving

By Raymond Refuerzo

Peter Tuckel, a sociology professor at Hunter College at the City University of New York, studies the habits of motorists. It is not a reassuring pastime. The Atlantic shares this story.

Tuckel hasn’t done a formal investigation of distracted driving in his town specifically, but he knows the national figures. Next time you’re going about your business on a typical day in the United States, whether on foot, on a bike, or in a car, you can think about them too: at any random moment during daylight hours across the country, according to the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration, about 660,000 American drivers are using cell phones or other electronic devices while behind the wheel.

Now Tuckel and William Milczarski, from Hunter’s Department of Urban Affairs and Planning, have finished a new study focusing on New York City drivers [PDF]. And it shows that motorists in the least car-oriented city in the country are no exception when it comes to their attachment to electronics. As a matter of fact, they’re worse than the average.

The survey was conducted under Tuckel and Milczarski’s supervision by Hunter College students at 52 different locations throughout New York City. Ten of the locations had been flagged as the most dangerous in the city by New York’s transportation department, while the other 42 provided a representative sample. The students looked for a variety of distracting behaviors among drivers, as well as whether or not they were wearing seat belts.

What they found was not exactly reassuring. Of the 2,988 drivers they observed, 7.4 percent were talking on handheld cell phones or texting, both of which are against New York State law. Some 5.9 percent were using hands-free electronic devices such as Bluetooth headsets, which are legal in New York State but have been shown to “place a high cognitive burden” on drivers. Truck drivers were among the worst offenders.

 Tuckel was, however, impressed by the rate of compliance with the state’s seat belt law, which was nearly 90 percent (cab and limo drivers are not required to wear seat belts, and about 45 percent were not).He also noted the low rate of smoking, which was recorded as a distraction; only 2.6 percent of the drivers were puffing away, compared to 5.7 percent in 2007. Tuckel hypothesizes that the decline in smoking while driving might be thanks to the broad attitudinal shift toward the habit, the product of a decades-long, multi-pronged effort to address a serious public health threat (especially in New York City). Even automakers don’t accommodate smokers the way they used to, with ashtrays and lighters as standard equipment.

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July 22, 2014, 3:59 pm

Cars That Look and Listen to Find Themselves a Parking Spot

By Raymond Refuerzo

Sharp eyesight can’t reliably keep you vertical if you have lost your sense of balance, which shows just how important it is to have several different senses at your disposal. That’s the idea behind a system recently proposed by two Korean engineers to make a car better at finding itself a parking spot. IEEE shares this story.

The auto industry is working on ways to automate the entire parking process, not just the last bit. And AudiVolvo and Nissan have all shown off parking-space finders that perform well in controlled circumstances, say by linking to a parking lot’s WiFi system. But to work alone in an uncooperative world, cars will have to wring more data from their existing sensors.

Jae Kyu Suhr, an IEEE member, and Ho Gi Jung, a senior member, recently laid out a way to do that. The researchers are affiliated with Hanyang University, in Seoul; their work was supported by the Hyundai Motor Company.

Sensor fusion is tricky because the various sensors look at an object from different angles. The researchers solve the problem with a lot of math and some plain old ingenuity.

First, the car moves past a parking area, scanning for the marked edges of parking slots and for obstacles (such as a parked vehicle). The several cameras and the two ultrasound sensors of course provide different vantage points—what is visible to one sensor may be obscure to another.

At a given point, called a frame, the car processes all the information available to classify the parking area according to its structure—an array of rectangleslaid out orthogonally, or on a bias, or in a staggered fashion, and so on. Now that the car knows what it’s dealing with, it knows what to look for: say, for the characteristic edges of a staggered rectangular parking spot.

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July 22, 2014, 3:01 am

You Can Now Ride on a Train While Flying on a Plane

By Raymond Refuerzo

British Airways has revealed the Turducken of in-flight entertainment. The Atlantic shares this story.

In November of 2009, the Norwegian channel NRK aired a seven-hour-long program called “The Seven Hour Train Journey to Oslo.” This title was, depending your perspective, either delightfully descriptive or painfully literal: The show consisted of seven hours of footage shot from a train traveling on the country’s Bergen rail line—rolling shots of the train passing through stations, careening across countryside, darting under snow-capped mountains. The show was, precisely, a Seven Hour Train Journey to Oslo. And it attracted, in the end, more than 1.2 million viewers. Which was remarkable, considering that the entire population of Norway was, at the time, 4.8 million.

Successes like that have become part of the lore of the “Slow TV” movement, whose programs replace storytelling with soothing scenes in the longest of longform formats: fireplaces crackling (12 hours long), fingers knitting (eight hours), boats boating (379—yes, three hundred seventy-nine—hours). On April Fools’ Day, you may recall, Netflix lampooned the movement by introducing original programming like “Sizzling Bacon.” Which was 20 minutes of exactly what it sounds like.

You could read the popularity of those shows as evidence of the ongoing ambience of TV, the idea that people are watching shows with attention that is less rapt and more itinerant. British Airways, however, has a different read. The airline is assuming that people watch those soporific shows to watch them, as they would a really, really boring movie—and it is, as such, including “Slow TV” among its offerings for in-flight entertainment.


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July 21, 2014, 5:09 pm

Ultrawideband Engine-Area Network Lets Sensors Talk Under the Hood

By Raymond Refuerzo

A decade ago, “drive by wire” and “brake by wire” were the awe-inducing buzzwords emblematic of progress from mechanical to electronic systems. But as the number of sensors and other electronic gadgets under the hood and throughout the rest of the vehicle has increased engineers have found it more difficult to find space for all that wire. IEEE shares this story.

now the aim is to get rid of most of the wires snaking through a vehicle. And in a time when Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular communications are ubiquitous, it seems only natural that car companies would solve this problem by going wireless. But creating robust intra-vehicular wireless sensor networks is easier said than done. All that metal in the engine compartment and the vibration of those moving parts are a multipath nightmare. But researchers at Koc University, in Istanbul say they have worked out a theoretical map of nodes in what is essentially an engine-area wireless network featuring ultrawideband communications. Ultrawideband, wrote the researchers, is “resistant against multipath fading and signal power attenuation providing robust communication at low transmission power and high communication rate.”

They recently detailed their results of a real world tryout of their scheme inIEEE Transactions on Vehicular Technology. They put 19 sensors in the engine compartments of a Fiat Linea and a Peugeot Bipper. After running tests to analyze the validity of their theoretical engine channel model across a wide range of scenarios, the Koc researchers concluded that, “The small variations of the model parameters for different types and conditions of the vehicle demonstrate the reliability of the proposed simulation model built based on an extensive set of measurements.” In other words, the real-world tests proved out what they predicted with equations: sensors can reliably relay the data they collect without physical links.

The Koc University team says it will now turn its attention to other parts of the vehicle including the passenger cabin.

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July 21, 2014, 2:57 am

A Therapy Created to Treat Addiction Is Being Used to Reduce Car Reliance

By Raymond Refuerzo

U.K. transport firm Steer Davies Gleave takes “motivational interviewing” door to door. The Atlantic reports.

Clinical psychologist William R. Miller stumbled upon “motivational interviewing”while working with heavy drinkers in the early 1980s. The therapy is based on the idea that telling people they need to change is a terrible way to get them to change; in contrast, motivational interviewing helps people identify their own reasons for change; it’s often described as “non-judgmental.” Over the years, motivational interviewing has proven effectivein treating a range of behavioral challenges, from alcohol abuse to dietary change to gambling.

And, most recently, car reliance in cities.

This latest application comes courtesy of the U.K.-based transportation consultancy Steer Davies Gleave. A few years ago, the firm incorporated motivational interviewing into its door-to-door personal travel planning program. Instead of bullying people into using the bus or train for ideological or social reasons, SDG travel advisors help metro area residents recognize situations in their own lives when it makes more sense to travel without a car.

Often working with local governments, SDG identifies areas with the potential to reduce car use or increase use of more sustainable modes. While community-based travel programs in the United States often rely on direct mailing, SDG deploys at least a dozen advisors to knock on thousands of doors in the area. One recent two-year program in the city of Ely visited more than 8,000 households in a few months; another, along a corridor in the West Midlands, visited 17,500.

So far the program has been quite effective. Harlan says that last year SDG found an 11 percent reduction in car driving trips among nearly 25,000 households across 9 cities. (SDG measures results with either before-and-after trip diaries in a sample population, or self-report surveys.) In the West Midlands program, which began in May 2011, SDG found a 24 percent reported reduction in car trips more than a year later.


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July 20, 2014, 8:36 pm

CCTV Cameras Make Finding a Bus Seat Easy for Lazy Londoners

By Raymond Refuerzo

London is working to make sure you never unnecessarily exert yourself again. Finding a bus seat. Wired looks at the story.

A new technology from Transport for London (TfL), the city’s mass transit organization, will use preexisting closed-circuit television (CCTV) setups in the double-decker buses to monitor how many people are upstairs. The data will show up on a display downstairs so passengers can know whether or not they should climb to the top.

Rather than embedding expensive sensors, this system adds a software component to the CCTV systems already built in: it takes a a high-res image and scans it to determine the number of bodies occupying the seats. Since the technology will work on preexisting video setups, it’s not as privacy-invasive as you might think. At least, it’s not any more invasive than what London’s already doing.

We doubt anyone is really worried about people climbing stairs unnecessarily (barring any falls, at least it’s good exercise). The new service is part of a larger TfL effort to make moving through London more efficient. Along with these seat monitors and pedestrian trackers, double-decker buses are now being outfitted with monitors that track the bus paths and show nearby landmarks with live updates about station closures. The idea is to save passengers from bothering drivers for information about the city’s complex layout. At the very least, it sounds helpful for Google Maps-dependent travelers who don’t want to pay for data roaming.

The live maps are already active on several London buses, and the seat counters will first appear on Number 12 route buses in the next couple weeks. They may not make finding a seat on a bus may not get any easier, but at least they’ll stop you getting your hopes up.

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July 17, 2014, 4:53 pm

Inside the Disaster Housing NYC Is Testing For City Emergencies

By Raymond Refuerzo

Gizmodo looks at the new disaster housing in NYC for emergencies.

More than eight million people live in NYC. And when a natural or human-made disaster strikes, there’s a good chance it’ll leave some New Yorkers without homes. That’s why this summer, NYC’s Office of Emergency Management is testing out a fast, cheap, and comfortable solution: Meet the Prototype.

Technically, it’s called the Urban Post-Disaster Housing Prototype, a three unit temporary home built to replace urban housing destroyed in a natural disaster. The units can be deployed as soon as six months after a disaster, which seems like a long time to me—but it turns out that where long-term temporary housing is concerned, that’s lightening-fast.

This month, New York City’s Office of Emergency Management, headquartered in a tucked-away building near the Brooklyn entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, has opened up a mock of the prototype, which it plans on using in natural disaster relief zones where homes have been completely destroyed.

Each unit consists of two one-bedroom apartments and one three-bedroom apartment. The unit will remain open for a year as studies will be made on living inside the units.

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July 17, 2014, 8:01 am

The Crash-Proof Car

By Raymond Refuerzo



When cars won’t let drivers make mistakes, crashes may become a thing of the past. IEEE reports

You’re sitting behind the wheel of your car, but instead of looking at the road, you’ve been staring at your phone, perhaps reading a new e-mail message or texting a friend. Suddenly, the driver in the car ahead of you slams on the brakes. Rather than becoming a victim of distracted driving, you feel a gentle deceleration as your car comes to a stop on its own, easily avoiding a collision. You might look up to see what the holdup is, but that’s the extent of your concern. And your car starts itself up again as soon as the road is clear.

While this isn’t a realistic portrayal of your commute just yet, this future is coming—and some of the technology that will make it possible is already present in today’s cars. The more advanced models can warn of obstacles, adjust the distance to a car ahead, and activate the brakes when a distracted driver doesn’t. And this is just the beginning. According to research firm IHS, by 2055 roughly 90 percent of the cars in the United States will be able to drive themselves in some, if not most, circumstances.

Ironically, while technology will ultimately protect us from accidents on the road, sometimes it does the opposite. That’s because so many people make phone calls, text, manipulate GPS units, and fiddle with infotainment systems when they should be concentrating on their driving. And even the most diligent drivers can choose the wrong moment to glance at a navigation screen. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driver distraction is a factor in almost 20 percent of crashes in which someone is injured.

But a class of technological aids called active-safety systems is beginning to address this problem by raising drivers’ awareness of crash threats that may exist in the surrounding traffic. Virtually every car sold in developed countries today uses passive-safety features, like seat belts, air bags, and car frames that absorb impact to protect occupants during a crash. Active safety goes further by using loud sounds, visual alerts, and vibrations to direct the driver’s attention to imminent danger. Some systems can even operate the brakes to help avert disaster. These active-safety systems are the building blocks for the crash-avoiding cars of the future.

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July 16, 2014, 9:30 pm

The Enormous Ship That Submerges Itself to Carry Entire Oil Rigs

By Raymond Refuerzo

Dockwise, a Dutch shipping outfit whose specialty is moving enormous pieces of cargo. Wired tell us more.

Dockwise sent the MV Blue Marlin, which sailed up to the Cole and used its huge ballast tanks to submerge itself. It slid underneath the destroyer before rising up and lifting the entire ship out of the water, and carried it just like any other cargo. The 505-foot Cole easily fit on the Blue Marlin’s 584′ x 206′ deck. It was successfully moved from Yemen to Mississippi and returned to Navy service within a few years.

Impressive at the Blue Marlin is, it pales in comparison to its younger, much larger brother, the Vanguard. Built in 2012, the world’s largest float-on/float-off ship doesn’t have a traditional stern or bow. All its buoyancy casings, which keep the ship from keeling over, including several that are movable to accommodate different loads, are mounted on the side of ship.

Formed by the 1993 merger of two shipping companies, Dockwise is the world’s largest operator of heavy-load “semi-submersible” vessels. It’s used extensively by the world’s navies as well as energy exploration companies looking to install and redeploy offshore drilling platforms for oil and gas development. Though some competitors operate semi-submersibles, Dockwise says its focus on this technology and its fleet of more than 20 ships make it unique in the shipping industry.

The Vanguard is semi-submersible thanks to enormous water tanks that slowly fill to submerge the the ship by more than 50 feet. It can then slide underneath ocean-going behemoths like offshore oil rigs, lift them up, and transport them across the ocean at speeds as high as 14 knots (16.1 mph) thanks to its 27 megawatt twin-screw propulsion system.

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July 15, 2014, 2:54 am

How Today’s F1 Cars Are So Amazingly Safe (And Horribly Uncomfortable)

By Raymond Refuerzo

If you saw Kimi Raikkonen hit a wall at 150 mph during the British Grand Prix, you appreciate how remarkably strong, and safe, a modern Formula 1 car is. The Ferrari driver experienced a 47G impact when he went nose-first into wall yet limped away with no major injuries. Wired tells us why and how this happened.

We’ve seen no shortage of spectacular crashes in F1 in recent years, and each is a testament to the level of safety engineered into the cars. Raikkonen’s shunt during the first lap was scary to see. The Finn ran wide through Turn 5, went into the ample run-off-area, then clipped a rain gully as he tried to get back on track. That sent him careening into the wall, then spinning back across the track into the opposite wall. Williams F1 driver Felipe Massa—making his 200th career start—couldn’t avoid the careering Ferrari and ran right into him. Amazingly, no one was seriously injured in the pile-up, and Raikkonen suffered nothing more than a sore ankle.

That’s due to a relentless campaign to make Formula 1 cars ever safer. There are pages and pages of safety regulations, and the cars undergo stringent dynamic, static and load tests to ensure the safety of drivers. It all starts with the monocoque, the principal component of the car’s chassis. The monocoque includes the driver’s survival cell and cockpit, which is surrounded by “deformable crash-protection structures” that absorb energy during a crash, plus a 6mm layer of carbon and Zylon (used in armored vests), so things like carbon fiber splinters don’t injure the drive in the event of a crash. The car is equipped with a fire suppression system that can be activated by the driver or race marshals, spreading fire retardant foam around the chassis and engine.

Following a crash, the driver can be extricated from the car following by lifting out the entire seat, which minimizes the risk of spinal damage. Before they race, drivers must demonstrate they can get out of the car within five seconds without removing anything except their six-point seatbelt harness (a single hand movement opens it) and the steering wheel (which must be reinstalled within another five seconds). An accident data recorder records information like speed and deceleration forces so doctors know how the severity of an impact.

In addition to Nomex fire-resistant suits, which can withstand temperatures of 600 to 800 degrees Celsius for more than 11 seconds without warming the inside of the suit above 41 degrees, drivers also wear helmets made of carbon fiber, polyethylene and fire-resistant kevlar. The helmet is made to be as light as possible, typically just under 3 pounds, because more weight adds to the g-forces experienced during acceleration, braking and cornering. The visor includes a special anti-fogging chemical to prevent the inside from becoming obscured during the race as well as air intakes to help cool the driver’s head.

Finally the driver wears a Head and Neck Support (HANS) device that connects to his helmet and is worn under the seat belts. The HANS system prevents a stretching of the vertebrae and helps stabilize the driver’s head during an accident. The collar absorbs and redistributes forces on the head that would otherwise hit the driver’s skull and neck muscles. The device, introduced to F1 racing in 2003, is today widely used across many forms of motorsport.


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July 14, 2014, 5:25 pm

“Swerve Assist” Algorithm Uses Power Steering and Brakes to Avoid Collision

By Raymond Refuerzo

When it comes to steering clear of trouble on the road, humans could really use some help from cars with the smarts to help avoid collisions. IEEE shares this story.

That help might soon be at hand thanks to a team of researchers from Seoul National University and the Hyundai Motor Company, both in Seoul, South Korea, who have developed an algorithm that uses vehicles’ existing power steering and braking systems to help a driver make a quicker and more controlled lane change in order to avoid a rear-end collision with another car.

In a paper that recently appeared in IEEE Transactions on Vehicular Technology, the Korean team notes that there is a substantial amount of work being done in preparation for vehicles doing autonomous steering via computer-controlled actuators. But instead of autonomous steering angle control, the Seoul researchers’ emergency driving support (EDS) algorithm enhances what the driver does.

There are already cars on the road equipped with radars and cameras that provide continuous updates on the distance between the car and the vehicle ahead, as well as the dimensions of the lane and the lane adjacent. If your car had these, whenever the car ahead of you stopped short, the EDS algorithm would likely make up for the unavoidable delay before you acted on your instinct to slam on the brakes and steer clear. The algorithm uses the information from sensors tracking the other car’s rear bumper to calculate the inverse time-to-collision and the minimum lateral acceleration needed to avoid either the right or left rear corner of the leading vehicle.

Based on your car’s speed and the distance between you and the vehicle you’re in danger of rear-ending, the EDS algorithm directs the electric motor that provides a power assist for steering to increase the relative effect on turning angle that occurs when you turn the steering wheel. How much of an assist it provides is continuously updated based on the number crunching that happens as the sensors report just how close your car is coming to the point of impact. Once you’ve completed the initial avoidance maneuver, the algorithm will continue to assist you when you turn the steering wheel in the other direction to avoid overshooting the adjacent lane and possibly running off the road entirely. The researchers say they are still tinkering with a set of velocity-versus-impact distance combinations at which the steering assist should kick in.

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