Monday, February 26, 2018

Delivery Robots


Well, this seems ironic. It may be home to some of the most innovative tech companies on Earth, but it appears that San Francisco has an aversion to robots. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the city has just put draconian restrictions on multi-wheeled delivery bots—such as those made by Starship Technologies, pictured above—that are being tested on the city’s sidewalks to carry food and packages to customers.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors says that only nine such robots can operate across the city at any time, and companies can have no more than three robots each on the city’s streets. There’s more: the robots will be largely limited to streets in industrial areas, must not travel faster than three miles per hour, and must be under constant human supervision.

Now, a city swarming with experimental robots doesn’t sound like a great idea. Nobody wants armies of half-baked bots rolling unsupervised through densely packed streets causing accidents. But nine machines across an entire city? That seems rather measly, and forbidding companies from testing their robots in residential areas means they can’t gain valuable experience in their key target market.

(Robot makers can, however, take some small comfort from the fact that one supervisor, who wanted to ban the robots from San Francisco altogether, didn’t carry the day.)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Drone regulation

If you're a drone operator in Australia, you should brush up on your safety regulations or face being automatically grounded from today. 

As of February 14, pilots of DJI drones — the most popular brand in the country — will be required to pass a short "knowledge quiz" about safety in order to fly their machines.

The quiz is embedded in a mobile phone app which controls the drone, meaning every DJI pilot will be forced to take the three-minute test, even if they are an experienced operator.

There is no limit on the number of times a pilot can attempt the quiz.

Peter Gibson, corporate communication manager at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), which has authorised the move, says DJI approached the agency to help design the nine-item test.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Hacking Tractors (& Legislation)

The days of home tractor repair are coming to an end with machinery technology and tightening intellectual property restrictions meaning farmers are forced to pay big bucks to fix their machinery.
When Nebraska farmer Tom Schwarz bought a tractor he did not realise he would be bound to his John Deere dealer who holds onto intellectual property rights to fix it.

"When you paid the money for a tractor, you didn't actually buy the tractor … because all of the intellectual property is still theirs," Mr Schwartz told tech journalist Jason Koebler in a documentary released earlier this month."You just buy the right to use it … for life."

Farmers and independent machinery repairers across the United States are now campaigning for the right to fix their own machinery.


In Nebraska, a "fair repair" law is being proposed to allow farmers to repair their own tractor.
If successful, the Right to Repair Act would make it mandatory for companies to disclose their diagnostic software and sell parts.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Uber not a technology company

Uber is a transport services company, the European court of justice (ECJ) has ruled, requiring it to accept stricter regulation and licensing within the EU as a taxi operator.
The decision in Luxembourg, after a challenge brought by taxi drivers in Barcelona, will apply across the whole of the EU, including the UK. It cannot be appealed against.
Uber had denied it was a transport company, arguing instead it was a computer services business with operations that should be subject to an EU directive governing e-commerce and prohibiting restrictions on the establishment of such organisations.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Seattle experimenting with new tax proposals

I love examples where governments experiment with new policies without actually being totally sure of the outcomes, but knowing they have to to do something.

This effort seems warranted, particularly in the light of the growing use of electric vehicles that seems to be emerging. The double whammy will be the possible widespread adoption of  autonomous vehicles.

Washington state to test pay-by-the-mile as a way to fund highways

  • As cars get more fuel-efficient, gas-tax revenues won’t nearly keep up with the costs of highway work that those taxes fund. Washington is launching a pilot project to test a new way of funding roads — a tax on every mile you drive.

  • Next year the Washington State Department of Transportation expects gas-tax revenues to rise by 0.9 percent. It expects its construction costs to increase by 2.6 percent. The year after, it expects gas-tax revenue to increase by 0.7 percent. It expects construction costs to increase by 2.7 percent.

  •  “Inflation that we have forecasted is higher than these motor-fuel growth rates of less than 1 percent,” said Lizbeth Martin-Mahar, the Department of Transportation’s chief economist.

  • It’s a problem that will only get worse in the future as cars get more and more fuel efficient and, eventually, revenues begin to actually decline. It’s also not a problem that has sneaked up on anyone. The Washington State Transportation Commission has been studying it since 2012 and is now recruiting volunteers to test a possible solution.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

They had better hurry with the autonomous vehicle rules

From Electrek

NVIDIA reported its financial results for the last quarter yesterday and surprised Wall Street. The chip maker, which is now becoming an “AI company” according to its leadership, reported revenue of $2 billion on expectations of $1.7 billion and they also surpassed earnings expectations by a similar margin. On a conference call with CEO Jen-Hsun Huang following the results, analysts were particularly interested in the company’s push in AI and the automotive industry, especially since Tesla’s started delivering every single one of its vehicles with NVIDIA’s Drive PX2 supercomputer. Huang offered some very interesting insights into how he sees Tesla’s self-driving program playing out.He says that by introducing the necessary hardware for full autonomy now, Tesla “sent a shock wave through the automotive industry”:

“And I think what Tesla has done by launching and having on the road in the very near-future here, a full autonomous driving capability using AI, that has sent a shock wave through the automotive industry. It’s basically five years ahead. Anybody who’s talking about 2021 and that’s just a non-starter anymore. And I think that that’s probably the most significant bit in the automotive industry. I just don’t – anybody who is talking about autonomous capabilities in 2020 and 2021 is at the moment re-evaluating in a very significant way.”

For a tiny insight into the regulators, but one that unfortunately does not not delve deep enough.

Policing Driverless Cars an interview with Christopher Hart, who heads the National Transportation Safety Board. MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW, VOL. 119 | NO. 6 p 15. 

The ideal scenario that I talked about, saving the tens of thousands of lives a year, assumes complete automation with no human engagement whatsoever. I’m not confident that we will ever reach that point. I don’t see the ideal of complete automation coming anytime soon. Some people just like to drive. Some people don’t trust the automation, so they’re going to want to drive. [And] there’s no software designer in the world that’s ever going to be smart enough to anticipate all the potential circumstances this software is going to encounter. The challenge is that when you have not-so-complete automation, with still significant human engagement, complacency becomes an issue.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

China's new cybersecurity rules

From MIT Technology Review Blog

China has announced a new set of cybersecurity rules that could make it harder than ever for foreign technology companies to operate in the country.The rules, announced Monday, will provide central Chinese authorities with greater powers over the monitoring of data and hardware. Notably, the laws will open companies up to far greater scrutiny from the government, demanding that Internet firms coƶperate with the state’s criminal investigations and provide full access to data if officials suspect them of wrongdoing. The law also demands that companies demonstrate that their systems are capable of withstanding hacks