General Motors employees get free self-driving car rides

Self-driving cars are already the primary mode of transportation for a small group in San Francisco.

Cruise, the self-driving arm of General Motors, has launched a private app for employees to request a free self-driving ride almost anywhere in the city.

The app, “Cruise Anywhere,” is available to 10% of the company’s more than 200 San Francisco-based employees. Cruise plans to expand the initiative to more employees soon.

Cruise’s test fleet of Chevy Bolts run 16 hours each day around most of San Francisco and has already given more than a 1,000 rides. A test driver is present to oversee the vehicle’s operation and guarantee safety.

Rides are requested on demand, similar to ridesharing services Uber and Lyft.

cruise automation 4

The move is a part of an effort to test and learn from operating its own ride service. The company hasn’t officially decided whether to deliver rides through its own app, or partner with another company.

Related: Lyft changes gears, decides to build self-driving tech

Cruise is among a handful of companies racing to deliver self-driving technology to consumers. Its rival Waymo, the self-driving entity of Google’s parent company, is launching a program in Phoenix to gives rides to the public. NuTonomy, another competitor, gives self-driving rides in Singapore.

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It’s unclear when self-driving vehicles will hit the mainstream, but Cruise believes it will be months, rather than years, before its tech is offered to consumers.

from Business and financial news –

Here’s Proof That Commuter Bikes Don’t Have to Suck

The perfect city bike would be comfy and safe to ride and it would look sharp. Bonus points if it’s super-low maintenance and doesn’t require you to constantly fiddle with the chain and the shifters.

Such bikes exist, but not if you’re on a budget. Bikes quickly get pricey once you start adding features that make them lighter, safer, and less fussy.

But I’ve got some good news: I think I’ve found the ideal city bike. The Priority Continuum Onyx offers all the features you want in an urban commuter, from disc brakes and fenders to a no-maintenance drivetrain, and the company brings it in at just under $1,000.

OK, $1,000 is still pretty steep, but you get a bevy of advanced features for your money. Priority offers so many city-friendly upgrades, in fact, that the price ends up being a real bargain.

The Continuum sports disc brakes, which provide greater stopping power than traditional caliper brakes—especially in the rain. You also get a Gates carbon belt instead of a chain. A belt drive offers greater durability and less mess, too. No need to worry about rolling in to work with a grease splotch on the cuff of your Levis.

Spin Control

But the thing that really stands out is the NuVinci Nfinity N330 hub. Within that metal shell at the center of the back wheel lies a CVT, or a continuously variable transmission. There are no discrete gears in a CVT, just a steady and smooth transition from the slowest, least efficient setting to the fastest, most efficient. It’s a lot like the transmission Subaru, Nissan, and others put in their cars. Now you can get one in your bike too.

To shift, just twist the grip-shifter on the handlebar and watch the little orange guy on the display next to your wrist. When he’s on the flats, you’re in high gear. When he’s struggling uphill, you’re in low gear. But it’s important to note you won’t find any “gears” in NuVinci’s CVT. If you want to compare the N330 to a traditional drivetrain, it gives you about the same gearing range as an 8-speed bike.

CVT hubs are starting to show up in other city bikes, and in bikeshare fleets in San Francisco and in New York. Their reliability and bomb-proof construction make them a good match for fleet bikes, which take no end of abuse. Imagine how much trauma those bikeshare hubs endure and you see the appeal of having one on your bike.

Roll With It

Put all of these great components—disc brakes, belt drive, the NuVinci hub—together and you’re typically looking at a bike closer to $2,000. But Priority keeps the Continuum Onyx relatively affordable by sourcing inexpensive but decent parts from Asia and selling directly to consumers online. Skipping the bike shop means you assemble your ride yourself, but Priority includes tools and instructions in the box. I found it no harder than wrangling a piece of Swedish flat-pack furniture. It took me 30 minutes to assemble the bike Priority sent me.

The Continuum Onyx is Priority’s top-of-the-line bike. The New York company also makes leisure models that cost between $400 and $800, but the Continuum Onyx is the one best suited to daily commuting. It includes fenders, the super-reflective decals and tires light up like Roman candles in in traffic, and the a headlight draws power from a Dynohub that generates electricity when the front wheel spins.

It’s nice to see quality city bikes getting cheaper even as they get better. It means there are more bike commuters on the roads, for one. More importantly, it makes people think of cycling not as something you do on weekends, but something you can do every day.

from Wired Top Stories

Brain-controlled VR game hints at a hands-free future

We may be a long way off from a Holodeck-like virtual reality where your body is the controller, but Neurable might have the next closest thing. It recently unveiled a prototype peripheral that adds brain control to VR experiences. The device replaces the regular strap on an HTC Vive and uses specific brain signals (event-related potentials, not the EEG patterns you usually see) to trigger actions. In a showcase game, Awakening, you use your mind to escape a lab as if you had telekinetic powers — you don’t have to hold plastic wands as you battle robots and grab objects.

Games are the first application, and Neurable tells IEEE Spectrum it’s hoping to bring its experience to VR arcades in 2018. The brain controller should be slicker, too, so the bulky design you see here (which makes you look like you’re part of a lab experiment, really) won’t last long.

However, the company clearly has larger ambitions. It sees brain control as a big step up in VR interfaces. When done well, it both eliminates the learning curve (you just think about what you want to do) and allows for input that’s difficult or impossible when you can’t see your body, such as fast text input. This isn’t guaranteed to completely replace physical controls, at least not for a while (many games and other apps will still benefit from hands-on interaction), but it does hint at a future where you don’t need controllers for every instance of interactive VR, even when they’re relatively complex.

Via: IEEE Spectrum

Source: Neurable (Medium)

from Engadget

Instagram livestreamers can add a guest to their broadcasts

Livestreaming is becoming a major part of social networks — Instagram, Twitter (via Periscope) and Facebook have all been pushing it in our faces for a while now. They all work the same, more or less, but Instagram is adding an intriguing new feature to the mix. Today, the company announced that some users will be able to add a "guest" to their live broadcasts, essentially adding a second contributor to the livestream. This lets users have a live conversation with a friend and broadcast both sides of that chat to your followers.

Once you have a guest in your livestream, you can boot them out any time you want and add another, or the person you invited can also leave at any time. When you’re livestreaming with a guest, followers will just see the screen split 50/50 between what your camera is broadcasting and what the other person in the stream is shooting. For now, it seems you can only add one person to the stream; there’s no word on whether Instagram will let you add multiple guests, but it seems like that could get pretty complicated on a small screen.

Instagram says it is only testing out this feature with a "small percentage" of users for now, but it’ll roll out globally in the coming months.

Source: Instagram

from Engadget

“Podcasting patent” is totally dead, appeals court rules

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A federal appeals court has upheld a legal process that invalidated the so-called “podcasting patent.” That process was held by a company called Personal Audio, which had threatened numerous podcasts with lawsuits in recent years.

On Monday, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the April 2015 inter partes review (IPR) ruling—a process that allows anyone to challenge a patent’s validity at the US Patent and Trademark Office.

“We’re glad that the IPR process worked here, that we were allowed to go in and defend the public interest,” Vera Ranieri, an EFF attorney who worked on the case, told Ars. (She told Ars that her favorite podcast is Lexicon Valley.) There had been a question as to whether EFF had standing during the appellate phase of the case.

Back in 2013, Personal Audio began sending legal demand letters to numerous podcasters and companies, like Samsung, in an apparent attempt to cajole them into a licensing deal, lest they be slapped with a lawsuit. Some of those efforts were successful: in August 2014, Adam Carolla paid about $500,000.

As Personal Audio began to gain more public attention, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, however, stepped in and said that it would challenge Personal Audio’s US Patent No. 8,112,504, which describes a “system for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence.” In the end, EFF raised over $76,000, more than double its initial target.

Monday’s news gained some approval from at least one big-name podcaster: Marc Maron.

A years-old saga

As Ars reported previously, the history of Personal Audio dates to the late 1990s, when founder Jim Logan created a company seeking to create a kind of proto-iPod digital music player. But his company flopped. Years later, Logan turned to lawsuits to collect money from those investments. He sued companies over both the “episodic content” patent, as well as a separate patent, which Logan and his lawyers said covered playlists. He and his lawyers wrung verdicts or settlements from Samsung and Apple.

Unlike many non-practicing patent owners, which are sometimes derided as “patent trolls,” Logan didn’t hide from his patent campaign. He spoke publicly about his company’s history and his reason for pursuing patent royalties, giving interviews to National Public Radio and the CBC and doing a Q&A on Slashdot.

Personal Audio did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment. The company has not filed any new lawsuits since it sued Google in September 2015 over two other audio-related patents.

from Ars Technica

Mazda says it has made a long-awaited breakthrough in engine technology


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Fresh on the heels of last week’s tie-up with Toyota, on Tuesday Mazda announced it’s finally made a breakthrough in gasoline engine technology. Mazda is calling it Skyactive-X; we know it better as homogenous charge compression ignition, or HCCI. It should mean a 20-30 percent boost in efficiency compared to Mazda’s current gasoline direct-injection engines, and we may well see it in the next revision to the Mazda 3.

HCCI engines have been one of those “if only” technologies for some time now. Kyle Neimeyer first covered the idea back in 2012 for Ars as part of a deep dive into new engine tech that could help meet looming efficiency requirements for automakers.

In essence, HCCI is an attempt to run a gasoline engine like a diesel instead. Rather than squirt fuel into a cylinder—done directly, at high pressure, in the case of Mazda’s current gasoline engines—then ignite it with a spark, the fuel and air are well-mixed and then compressed to achieve the bang in suck, squeeze, bang, blow.

Because the fuel and air are so well-mixed, combustion should happen simultaneously at multiple points within the cylinder’s volume, burning more evenly, at a lower temperature, with fewer particulates or nitrogen oxides in the exhaust than a normal spark-ignited gasoline engine or a diesel engine. Making it work is apparently much harder than describing it; at various times General Motors, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Ford, Honda, and Bosch have all tried their hand at the technology to little avail.

But Mazda is nothing if not stubborn when it comes to eclectic engine technologies; after all, it bravely persevered with the rotary engine for decades. In January, there were signs that it had made real progress with HCCI, and today we have the confirmation as part of a broader announcement from Mazda about its new long-term sustainability plan. Another element of the plan—given the catchy title “Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030″—is to start introducing EVs and hybrids “in regions that use a high ratio of clean energy for power generation or restrict certain vehicles to reduce air pollution.”

This engine still has spark plugs!

The new HCCI engines will still use the good-old spark plug; for some operating conditions its better to run it as a conventional spark-ignition engine. Mazda says it has perfected the control issues that let the engine know when to transition between spark ignition and when things can be leaned-out enough to use HCCI.

The engines will also be supercharged, so they will be torquier than the current Mazda gasoline-powered engine range as well as being cleaner and more efficient. (Mazda’s press release says that, volume for volume, they should be comparable to its current turbodiesel range in that regard.)

Reuters reports that Mazda also plans to keep HCCI to itself, although we wonder if that applies to new best friend Toyota.

We know there is a vocal population who would like to see OEMs like Mazda give up development of new internal combustion engine technology all together, focusing instead on fully switching over to battery electric vehicles. These days, national governments are throwing out dates like 2030 and 2040 for banning new fossil-fueled vehicles from sale.

But 2040 is some way off, and if William Gibson has taught us anything, it’s that the future is not evenly distributed. Certainly in the mid-term, there will be a use for hydrocarbon-fueled vehicles, particularly outside of dense urban corridors where average journeys are shorter and recharging infrastructure thicker on the ground. So anything that makes those vehicles cleaner and more efficient ought to be viewed as a good thing.

from Ars Technica