Businessweek reports on Larry Page's not-secret-anymore efforts to make the perpetually-futuristic vision of flying cars a reality. Turns out, Page is funding two flying car companies, Zee.Aero and Kitty Hawk. Apparently the latter's president is Sebastian Thrun, the pioneering roboticist who drove Google's autonomous vehicle efforts. From Ashley Vance and Brad Stone's Businessweek feature:
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Zee.Aero now employs close to 150 people. Its operations have expanded to an airport hangar in Hollister, about a 70-minute drive south from Mountain View, where a pair of prototype aircraft takes regular test flights. The company also has a manufacturing facility on NASA’s Ames Research Center campus at the edge of Mountain View. Page has spent more than $100 million on Zee.Aero, say two of the people familiar with the company, and he’s not done yet...
The (Hollister) airport is open for business from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, but Zee.Aero employees frequently run test flights when no one else is around. Nonetheless, people working at the airport have caught glimpses of two Zee.Aero craft in recent months. Both have a narrow body, a bulbous cockpit with room for one person upfront, and a wing at the back. In industry lingo, the planes are pushers, with two propellers in the rear. One of the prototypes looks like a small conventional plane; the other has spots for small propellers along the main body, three per side.
When the aircraft take off, they sound like air raid sirens.
The people at the airport haven’t heard Page’s name mentioned, but they long ago concluded Zee.Aero’s owner is super rich.
This wonderful illustrated ad appeared in the July 1971 issue of African-American culture magazine Ebony. (via Weird Universe) Read the rest
Steven Melia's Urban Transport Without the Hot Air
joins Drugs Without the Hot Air
, Sustainable Materials With Both Eyes Open
and Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air
as a highly readable, evidence-based look at a contentious and politicised area that offers a refreshing dose of facts in a debate dominated by ideology.
I have to admit - when I first saw the Swagway, I thought I’d never get on it. The very idea of finding balance on an electric skateboard seemed too difficult and I was certain I’d feel like a goofball.
The thing is, I was wrong and everyone who sees the Swagway in person wants to give it a shot. And while they're on it, they can't help but smile when they do.
When I received mine, I was excited to find it pre charged and ready to go. The Swagway self-balances by using a silent, internal gyroscope. The acceleration is controlled by sensors that are triggered by position changes of your center of gravity.
When you lean forward, it’ll sense your actions and accelerate. The more you lean, the faster you go (up to 10 MPH).
Turning is a little bit different. When you want to turn right, you just shift your weight a bit onto your left foot.
For me, the first few minutes were all about just standing still on the Swagway. I was pretty wobbly at first but soon I was able to slowly ride around our office.
After two days, I could casually ride around the office and slalom through coworkers. Even though I was way better at it, I still needed to think about every move I made.
But then at some point it happened. I became one with the Swagway and learned to just think where I wanted to go and my body naturally made the micro-adjustments to get me there. Read the rest
The winds shifted in Uber's favor after a little help from the state's governor.
This is the Gibbs Humdinga, a truck that truly goes off-road, right into the water. Read the rest
Every Car Listed published some interesting maps about America's gas-guzzling habits. In 42 of 50 states, the most popular vehicle is a pickup truck or SUV. Read the rest
Calling themselves Los Ferronautas (or "railanauts"), Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene documented the impacts of the privatization — and subsequent immediate closure — of Mexico's passenger rail lines. Their home-built vehicle could travel on the rails or on the ground, from Mexico City to the Atlantic.
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This is the Jet Capsule, currently in use as an escape pod on the Boing Boing luxury liner currently adrift somewhere in the Arctic Ocean. The Jet Capsule holds eight people and can be customized with many of the luxury amenities one might expect from a full-size yacht, from fine wood flooring to bathrooms and kitchens to interior projection systems and LED mood lighting. There is even an "armored capsule" configuration featuring a reinforced steel shell and bulletproof glass. Base price for a Jet Capsule is $250,000. Jet Capsule Read the rest
Elon Musk wants to build a pneumatic tube transportation system capable of whisking people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes. (Xeni told you about this back in July.)
Technologically speaking, it's a perfectly possible thing to do, writes Tim Fernholtz at Quartz. The problem is the high cost of infrastructure development, something have everybody (whether they want to built a train, a highway, or a futuristic hyperloop) tends to underestimate. That's particularly a problem given the fact that whole idea behind Musk's hyperloop is that it could be a cheaper replacement for an expensive high-speed rail line already under development. Read the rest
The “Hyperloop,” a hybrid new form of transportation proposed by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, would shrink the duration of a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles to 30 minutes
, at a speed of almost 800 miles an hour. [NYTimes.com] Read the rest
Back in November 2012, the New York Department of Transportation released a report called Measuring the Street: New Metrics for the 21st Century, which had some compelling figures on the way that local business benefits from bike-lanes, for the fairly obvious reason that cyclists find it easy to stop and shop, as compared to drivers, who are more likely to continue on to a mall with a big parking lot, or shop online.
In many ways, these data come as no surprise. We know that when towns invest in bicycle infrastructure, people will ride more — the number of people traveling by bicycle increases when there is infrastructure to make traveling by bike safe and easy.
We also know that people who travel along a street by bicycle have fewer barriers to stopping at a local business than people who travel along the same street by car. It's very easy to hop off a bicycle and find a place to secure the bike; not so with finding parking for an automobile. In fact, a recent study suggest that bicycle riders tend to spend more at local businesses over the course of a month.
This new study makes it clear: investing in bicycle improvements boosts small businesses. And what town or city doesn't want to boost activity at local businesses?
NYC Study Finds Protected Bicycle Lanes Boost Local Business
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After living in L.A. for a year without owning a car — an experiment brought on by a lazy reaction to his car battery dying — Paleofuture's Matt Novak has written a fascinating piece about the history of Los Angeles transportation
. It's a history that includes doomed monorails, oil derricks at Venice Beach, and a cameo by Roger Rabbit. Read the rest
A convicted cybersquatter named Dennis Toeppen now runs the Suburban Express bus service that is used to take students home from university in Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa to Chicago. Suburban Express attracts many online complaints from riders who object to the company's policy of fining riders $100 (charged automatically to their ticket-purchase credit-card) if they present the wrong ticket when they board, and other, similar policies -- and who allege that the company hunts down its online critics and bans them from riding.
But Toeppen and Suburban Express went too far when it threatened a volunteer Reddit moderator with a defamation suit for failing to police the company's critics on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign subreddit, where a banner read, "Don't ride Suburban Express! They're likely to sue you, have terrible reviews, and also this." The banner implied that an anonymous Reddit commenter who accused Suburban Express critics of of being "lonely virgins" was run by Toeppen or his representatives.
The ensuing negative publicity (and a stern note from Ken "Popehat" White) frightened the bullying, cowardly company into withdrawing its threat. But with any luck, the company's public conduct will warn its potential customers away and make the offers presented by its rivals more attractive. If I was running a competing bus service, I'd be buying ad space on the subreddit in question, running ads that say, "Ride with us, we don't fine you, we don't ban you for complaining, and we won't threaten to sue you if you aren't happy!"
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The company has developed a bad reputation online, with reviewers on Yelp and commenters on reddit sharing stories of what they claim are the company’s cutthroat business practices.
“The replacement of the car is probably out there. We just don’t fully recognize it yet.”
— a really interesting story on the historical patterns of technology adoption and decline, and how those patterns might apply to the things we think of as absolute and necessary as much as they applied to the steamship or the landline. Read the rest
Suzanne Paulson, UCLA professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, saw "Carmageddon" as an opportunity to make use of a "natural experiment." She and a colleague "measured pollutants in the air during the LA freeway shutdown last year, and have now released their findings.
Air quality near the normally busy highway improved by 83 percent that day last July, relative to comparable weekends. Elsewhere in West Los Angeles, the improvement was equally dramatic. Air quality improved by 75 percent on that side of the city and in Santa Monica, and by 25 percent throughout the entire region, as a measure of the drop in ultrafine particulate matter associated with tailpipe emissions.
"We saw what we expected: you take motor vehicles away, the air gets really, really clean," Paulson says, "which tells us that most of the pollution is from motor vehicles from one type or another in this area."
More: L.A.'s 'Carmageddon' Produced Dramatic, Instantaneous Air Quality Improvements (The Atlantic).
Another "Carmaggedon" just took place in LA
. Wonder if there will be more science to come from this edition.
(Image: Dallas Traffic 10/19/11 1227pm, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike (2.0) image from nffcnnr's photostream) Read the rest
I absolutely love the smartphone app Uber, which allows you to order car service on demand, instead of trying to hail or call a cab or order a black car. It became an essential tool during my radiation treatment for cancer in LA, when treatment made me too weak to drive, public transportation didn't serve the route I needed to get to the hospital, and I was just too flaked out to arrange rides in other ways. When my friends Tara Brown and Sean Bonner "gifted" me some Uber credits, I tried it once and was hooked. Uber wasn't a luxury for me, but a truly practical service.
It is also the very definition of a disruptive technology: as Napster was to the recording industry, Uber is to taxi unions. And, not coincidentally, the guy behind it is Travis Kalanick, who was once sued for $250 billion by the MPAA, RIAA, and NMPA over his now-defunct P2P search engine Scour.
In his latest round of pissing off legacy industries by building great internet-based services, Kalanick has managed to upset the forces that represent Washington, DC area cab drivers. And the DC city council is now considering regulation that would mandate much more government oversight over Uber's operations, and severely cramp its style. Snip from WaPo:
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The regulations, among other things, would require drivers and companies to obtain licenses to be renewed annually; require companies to operate at least 20 vehicles, with at least 10 percent of them wheelchair-accessible; and require the vehicles to be painted black and meet age and model standards.