Self-Driving Startup Aurora Buys Speed-Sensing Lidar Company

In the race to develop a technology that, at its root, is about teaching robots how to understand their surroundings, Aurora just bought itself a fresh set of eyeballs. The developer of self-driving car technology announced Thursday it’s acquiring lidar maker Blackmore, whose laser scanning tech offers the unusual and very helpful ability not just to detect nearby objects, but to discern their velocity. The parties declined to disclose the terms of the deal.

Alex Davies covers autonomous vehicles and other transportation machines for WIRED.

In self-driving, the problems don’t get any bigger than perception. If a robot can reliably know what’s around it, deciding what to do—whether to turn the wheel and which pedal to work, for example—gets a whole lot easier. That’s what has fueled a booming market for lidar which, according to one report, will be generate more than $8 billion in annual revenue in 2032.

It also explains why Blackmore’s technology stands out [...]  read more

GM’s Big Upgrade, ‘Game of Thrones’’ Unsatisfying End, and More News

General Motors is upgrading the soul of its lineup, our political parties are still vulnerable to cyberhacking, and Game of Thrones has reached the finish line. Here’s the news you need to know, in two minutes or less.

Today’s Headlines

GM is rolling out some new digital guts for its lineup

Automaker General Motors will soon be updating the computers in its lineup of vehicles. The new “electric platform,” as they’re calling it, will be five times more capable than the current iteration, the rough equivalent of updating from the original iPhone to an iPhone 7. The update will allow the company to issue over-the-air software updates to do things like improve how the engine runs or how its suspension handles bumps, even years after you drive it off the lot.

The political campaigns of 2020 are still vulnerable to hackers

We all remember the cyber-problems of 2016, but we could be in for more in 2020. A new report details political parties in both the US and EU still have [...]  read more

GM Gives All Its Vehicles a New Soul

General Motors’ latest offering is so far from sexy, it doesn’t even have a clever name created by the marketing department via focus group. But the new “electronic platform,” the computing network that will run through nearly all the company’s vehicles and make their myriad digital systems work, is as key to the automaker’s future as any single feature, or even vehicle. It’s the infrastructure that will let GM compete in an industry increasingly ruled by software—and give its customers all the high-tech goodies they’ve come to expect, from high-res screens to booty-shaking safety features.

Alex Davies covers autonomous vehicles and other transportation machines for WIRED.

“It’s the brain and nervous system of the vehicle,” says Al Adams, GM’s director of electrical components and subsystems, who led its development. Think of it as the infrastructure that lets all the bits of the car communicate clearly and securely. You could also call it the guts—the little-appreciated, tucked-away part of the body that isn’t noticed [...]  read more

Want to Bike Cross-Country? Some Old Rails Could Get You There

One day, a 3,700-mile trail may stretch across the United States, between the bustle of Washington, DC, and wide, quiet lakes of Washington State. It could be a hit for ambitious cyclists and hikers, but it will be built to accommodate horses, people using wheelchairs, and cross-country skiers, too. It might traverse 12 states—Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington, plus the District of Columbia—and more than 125 existing trails. It might be the sort of thing someone takes a few months to complete. Or it could be the setting for a quick afternoon jaunt. Which should be easy enough for a lot of people: As it’s envisioned right now, the Great American Rail Trail should be within 50 miles of 50 million American’s homes.

Aarian Marshall covers autonomous vehicles, transportation policy, and urban planning for WIRED.

But that vision is decades away, and so Kevin Belanger is obsessed with local infrastructure plans. Belanger is a trail planner at the Rails to Trails Conservancy, a DC [...]  read more

Building a Bus Map When There Are No Fixed Routes—or Stops

To ride a bus, you first must know where the bus is going and where it stops. But in Beirut, and in as many as 60 percent of the world’s urban places, there’s no transportation map. The Lebanese capital’s bus system, run by a constellation of private operators and drivers who change by the day, has no assigned stops.

Aarian Marshall covers autonomous vehicles, transportation policy, and urban planning for WIRED.

So in 2017, students at the American University of Beirut formed a startup, funded by grants and sponsorships, called Yalla Bus. Its goal is to prod more students like them onto the city’s opaque and sometimes diresputable bus system. (Yalla means “Let’s go” in Arabic.) At first, the group wanted to create an app that might transmit real-time bus schedules straight to users’ phones. But they realized they needed something simpler first—a map.

“We wanted to do something to help reduce traffic, help the environment, help people get around in something cheaper than taxis or than having a car, because some people can’t afford one,” says [...]  read more

Tesla’s Latest Autopilot Death Looks Just Like a Prior Crash

A Tesla Model 3 sedan that crashed into a truck on a Florida highway in March, killing its driver, had its Autopilot semi-autonomous feature engaged, according to a new report from the National Transportation Safety Board. The driver is at least the fourth person to die in an Autopilot-related crash. What’s striking about the March 1 crash is that the details are nearly identical to those of the first publicly reported, deadly Autopilot crash, in May 2016. In each case, a Tesla running Autopilot on a Florida highway struck a truck cutting across its path, killing the Tesla’s driver.

Alex Davies covers autonomous vehicles and other transportation machines for WIRED.

CEO Elon Musk has bragged about his cars’ self-driving capabilities and promised they’ll be fully autonomous starting next year. But critics say the Autopilot system—which requires that drivers remain attentive and ready to take control [...]  read more

Lilium’s 36-Motor Flying Taxi Takes Off for the First Time

The latest would-be air taxi of the future has taken to the sky: Lilium’s new vertical-takeoff-and-landing prototype made its first flight on May 4, the Munich-based startup revealed today. Though Lilium says the gleaming five-seat electric can fly 186 miles in an hour, its first flight, like most such tests, was modest. Operated by remote control, it lifted off, hovered a few yards above the ground, and landed. The modest first outing that’s common for any new aircraft type. This followed months of extensive ground testing.

Lilium has been quiet since sowing a subscale, two-seat prototype two years ago, but it has one of the more interesting—and contested—technological approaches in this burgeoning field. The “Lilium Jet” uses 36 electric-powered ducted fans. Inside each, a small rotor ingests [...]  read more

Daimler Plans to Make Its Cars Carbon Neutral by 2039

This story originally appeared on HuffPost and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler AG has set the most ambitious target of any major automaker to cut its planet-warming emissions, promising a fully carbon-neutral fleet of passenger cars by 2039.

The German company said Monday that electric vehicles will make up more than half its total car sales by 2030, and that it’s working to roll out lines of zero-emissions trucks, vans, and buses.

The announcement marks the most aggressive timeline any carmaker has yet set to slash its emissions, 11 years ahead of Volkswagen Group, which vowed in March to launch 70 new electric vehicles by 2028 and become fully carbon neutral by 2050.

“To us the Paris Agreement is more than an obligation—it’s a conviction,” Daimler said in a press release, referring to the 2015 climate accords. “And we have set a clear course to help prevent climate change.”

Yet the automaker gave few details. And while [...]  read more

Uber’s IPO, the Call to Break Up Facebook, and More News

Uber made billions in their stock market debut, criticism of Facebook is coming from inside the house, and the dearth of climate change plans from presidential candidates isn’t all that impressive. Here’s the tech news you need to know, in two minutes or less.

Today’s Headlines

Uber’s IPO wasn’t about drivers; it was about not having them

This morning, Uber rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange to mark the largest IPO by a tech company in the past half-decade. You may be asking yourself, how does a company with a public history of missteps, and that still isn’t profitable, become worth $82 billion? Because Uber’s value isn’t merely in the company itself; it’s a bet on the self-driving industry Uber hopes to lead.

Calls for Facebook’s breakup are getting louder

It’s not just privacy enthusiasts, politicians, and frustrated Facebook users who are calling for Facebook’s breakup; this week, one of Facebook’s original [...]  read more

A Bet on Uber Is a Bet on Self-Driving

On Friday morning, Uber executives are set to ring the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange as their $82 billion company goes public at $45 a share. The IPO is significant, even in a year chock-full of important IPOs: It’s the largest by a tech company in the past half decade and the second by a ride-hailing company in the past two months.

Aarian Marshall covers autonomous vehicles, transportation policy, and urban planning for WIRED.

But the most important activity Friday for Uber’s future may happen 370 miles away, in Pittsburgh, headquarters of the company’s Advanced Technologies Group. If Friday is like any other for ATG, autonomous vehicle safety drivers will pilot a handful of sensor-laden SUVs on short test trips around the city’s Strip District. They will collect data on road situations and probably run through a few trials conceived by the company’s engineers to ensure their software is working properly.

If it works, that self-driving technology might finally lead the ride-hailing company to the kind of profitability its investors—who [...]  read more