Boeing’s $2 Million GoFly Challenge to Make Flying Fun Again

For as long as humans have walked the Earth, they have looked to the skies, dreaming of flight. More than a century into the age of aviation, those dreams have been realized, in the form of too tight economy seats jammed into metal tubes and, for the lucky, forgettable movies on minuscule screens.

Now groups of students, innovators, and entrepreneurs around the world are hoping to reinvigorate the public’s love for life aloft by building personal flying machines that can carry a person 20 miles without stopping to refuel or recharge batteries. The results aren’t quite “flying cars” (WIRED’s accepted term for the aircraft the likes of Uber hope to deploy for passenger service). They’re smaller, hovering in the shared space between jetpacks and motorbikes, with a focus on fun over practicality. And compared to economy class, they look like a wonderful way to hit the skies.

These groups are taking part in a two-year competition backed by read more

Volvo’s Using Luminar’s Lidar to Build Self-Driving Cars

The key technical hurdle standing between you and your truly self-driving car is a double-decker: the car needs to see its surroundings, and it needs to understand them, too. And today, Volvo announced a move that could help it clear both of those barriers: It has struck a deal with lidar maker Luminar, investing an undisclosed amount in the startup through its recently launched venture capital fund.

Just about every player in the autonomous driving space agrees lidar—which builds a 3-D map of its surroundings by firing millions of laser pulses every second and measuring how long they take to bounce back—is a vital sensor. The trouble is that it’s a relatively young technology, and it has taken a while for manufacturers to find the right mix of range, resolution, reliability, and cost. The biggest player in this space, Velodyne (which made read more

The Brilliant Vigilance of Seattle’s Huge New SR-99 Tunnel

Say there’s a fire. A fire caused by a car crash, inside a 2.5-mile tunnel under a major American city. It’s a terrifying idea, but if you want that kind of problem to ignite anywhere, it’s in the stretch of State Route 99 that, later this year, will start whisking traffic underneath downtown Seattle.

That’s because this bit of SR 99 is more than the hemisphere’s largest-diameter bored tunnel and the country’s longest roadway tunnel outside of Alaska, much of it dug by Bertha, formerly the planet’s largest boring machine. To go with such superlatives, it might be the world’s smartest tunnel, too.

The theoretical firefighting begins within moments of the flames’ first appearance, as the tunnel’s 8.3 miles of built-in heat sensors pick up the change in temperature. Of the 300 cameras, those closest to the problem zoom in on the flames. First into action is the deluge system, which can dump 17 inches of water per square foot into the tunnel, through 21 read more

Self-Driving Cars Likely Won’t Steal Your Job (Until 2040)

The self-driving robots are coming to transform your job. Kind of. Also, very slowly.

That’s the not-quite-exclamatory upshot of a new report from the Washington, DC-based Securing America’s Future Energy. The group advocates for a countrywide pivot away from oil dependency, one it hopes will be aided by the speedy adoption of electric, self-driving vehicles. So it commissioned a wide-ranging study by a phalanx of labor economists to discover how that could happen, and whether America might transform into a Mad Max-like desert hell along the way.

The news, mostly, is good. For one, self-driving vehicles probably won’t wreck the labor market to the point where gig economy workers are hired out as mobile blood bags. In fact, they’ll eventually feed the economy, accruing an estimated $800 billion in annual benefits by 2050, a number mostly in line with previous researchers’ projections.

Two, robo-cars won’t disappear the jobs all at once. “We have a labor market read more

Byton’s K-Byte Electric Concept Makes Self-Driving Look Good

While Tesla has spent the past six months struggling to ramp up production of the Model 3 and fielding criticism over its Autopilot tech and safety protocols, one of its most intriguing wannabe rivals, Byton, has spent the first half of 2018 positioning itself to swipe Elon Musk’s electric innovation crown.

The coup d’EV started in January at CES, with the reveal of a screen-stuffed concept SUV. In February, Byton announced a partnership with star-studded Aurora to bring self-driving smarts to its vehicles. And today, at CES Asia in Shanghai, it unveiled a second concept car, a small sedan that can’t help but make you think of a certain car rolling off the assembly line in Silicon Valley.

Byton’s new ride is the K-Byte, a three-box sedan with the front wheels pushed as far forward as possible. From the side it has the muscular look of a Dodge Charger. The rear lights wrap neatly around the trunk. Up front, things get a little more wild, with narrow read more

With a ‘Lite’ App, Uber Moves to Win Over India

In the US and Europe, Uber’s issues are more of the lawyerly type. It fights to maintain surge pricing, its status as a platform and not an employer, and its right to operate in certain cities and airports. In growing markets—places like India, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa—its challenges are a bit more basic. How can it connect riders, especially those operating old, slow, and data-limited phones, to drivers?

Today, Uber announced the release of a new app, Uber Lite, to help answer that essential question in essential markets. Uber Lite is like Uber, but smaller and less razzle-dazzle-y. At 5 MB (about the size of two photos) and with 300-millisecond response times, this is an app built with older, data-limited Androids in mind, and for places where internet connections are spotty-to-nonexistent. For now, Uber Lite will only be available in three Indian markets (Jaipur, Hyderabad, and Delhi), but will expand to other countries before the end of the year.

To read more

UK’s Thatcham Research Is Grading Autopilot Systems the Right Way

You can’t buy an autonomous car today. You won’t be able to buy one tomorrow, or next month, or next year. Yes, self-driving tech is in development (and in the news), but nobody’s close to delivering a product that can take humans anywhere they want to go. Not even Tesla.

That may come as a surprise if you’ve browsed websites or glossy marketing materials filled with claims of cars driving themselves, relieving the driver of the mundane tasks of steering and braking. Or if you’ve heard Tesla CEO Elon Musk promise that with Version 9 of Tesla’s software, “We will begin to enable full self-driving features.” Or if you’ve seen recent news stories about a spate of crashes among cars using semi-autonomous features, some of them deadly.

It’s that kind of surprise that’s worrying the folks at the UK’s Thatcham Research, an influential nonprofit that assesses vehicle safety, similar to the IIHS in the US. With read more

This Week in the Future of Cars: It’s Business Time

The new prototype of the Flyer, the flying car being developed by Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk, is starting to look like a real product.

Kitty Hawk

The road to riches, success, and happiness (not in that order) is paved with failure. So no wonder those working on the future of transportation are willing to experiment a bit before they totally break the mold.

This week, WIRED’s Transportation team explored the ever-confusing “flying car” market, the researchers studying how people could use autonomous vehicle tech, the companies rethinking how to pay for taxis (there will be snacks), and one ride-hail company’s push to get more people to share trips with strangers. Will this stuff work? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. But it’s clear that as the the way we move changes, the way people make money by moving us will have to change, too. So let’s get you caught up.

Headlines

Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week

  • I take a look at a self-driving shuttle launching at the University of Michigan this week. Campus passengers will get free, short rides on a shiny new piece of tech, and researchers will get hours of video footage and data to teach them about how humans interact with autonomous vehicles.
  • Save the scooters, save the city. Sure, transportation editor Alex Davies writes, there may have been better ways for VC-funded behemoths to introduce their new alt-transport toy on the streets of San Francisco. But as they disappear for a month-long hiatus, per the city’s new permitting requirements, it’s worth thinking about how redesigning the city to accommodate them just might fix it for everyone.
  • Alex recaps this week’s Tesla shareholder meeting, a shockingly drama-free, feel-good exercise from the sometimes-struggling electric car company. One big takeaway: Despite his Twitter shenanigans, CEO Elon Musk is still definitely in charge. And Model 3 production may finally be getting into gear.
  • Turns out the companies trying to sell you convenient charging cables and energy drinks in the back of ride-hail cars—companies like Cargo, which made its overseas debut this week—are leading the way to a future where you could ride for free. Just be ready to hand over your data.
  • Lyft has a lot of reasons to convince people to share rides: It’s good for the bottom line, good for traffic, and good for the planet. So the ride-hail company just rolled out a new app redesign to push riders to climb into the back seat together.
  • Over at WIRED Gear, Adrienne So and her delighted toddler take Yuba’s Electric Boda Boda cargo bike for a spin. The thing is expensive, but it lessened her reliance on her car. “If it does turn out to be possible to buy our way out of climate change, then getting an e-bike might be a great start,” she writes.
  • Senior writer Jack Stewart reports on Alphabet CEO Larry Page’s flying-car startup, Kitty Hawk, and the new iteration of its single-seat Flyer. The 250-pound vehicle, which can hit 20 mph, is designed to be flown over bodies of water. The best part: Because the Flyer is so light, you don’t need a pilot’s license to climb behind the wheel.
  • Alex brings news of Land Rover’s new research effort to take self-driving cars off-road. It may sound nuts, but it’s a logical step in the automaker’s unending quest to combine capability with convenience.

Wedding Venue of the Week

If you are almost as enamored with the future of cars as you are read more

With Cortex, Land Rover Takes Self-Driving Cars Off-Roading

Land Rover builds cars with two principles in mind: off-road capability and in-car comfiness. When you buy a Range Rover or Discovery, you’re paying for a vehicle that can clamber over boulder-strewn trails and give you a back massage at the same time. So it shouldn’t be surprising that last week the automaker announced it is developing the ultimate combination of these qualities: self-driving cars that can go off-road.

The $5 million project, called Cortex, will give customers “autonomous cars capable of all-terrain, off-road driving in any weather condition.” Now, these won’t be Robo Rovers that can plow through streams and scramble over hulking tree roots—at least not anytime soon. Rather, it’s an early foray into what AVs will look like on off-road terrains.

“We look at customers going off-road and how they use their cars,” says Nigel Clarke, the manager. “Our customers will ultimately want more than on-road autonomy.” For plenty of drivers—like, read more

Larry Page’s Flying Car Project Suddenly Seems Rather Real

For all the talk of flying cars, you might be surprised to find yourself stuck as ever on the ground, commuting to work and trundling to the grocery store on old-fashioned wheels. The good news is that scores of companies are working to change that—and they’re making progress. Uber is working with manufacturers to meet its goal of starting a flying ride-hail service in Dallas and Los Angeles by the end of 2023. Plane builder Airbus is tackling technical and legislative details with Vahana, its flying car project.

And now, Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk has shown a vehicle that looks, well, real. The single-seat Flyer now looks like a glossy, professional, production-ready machine, a major upgrade over the slightly precarious prototype it showed last year. That first version had the pilot perched on what looked like a motorcycle seat, separated from eight spinning fans by a net. The whole thing resembled a flying trampoline, or, as we put it last June, something read more