A visual history of the future

Nick Dunn, Dr Paul Cureton and Serena Pollastri:

This paper is concerned with how future cities have been visualised, what these projections sought to communicate and why.
 
 The paper is organised into eight sections. Each of the first seven sections is highly illustrated by relevant visualisations to capture the main ways in which the thematic content is evident within future cities. We present a brief summary at the end of each section to understand the key issues.
 
 First, we describe the relevance and power of imagined cities and urban visions throughout popular culture, a multi-disciplinary discourse, along with an explanation of the methods used.
 
 Second, we examine the role of different media and its influence upon the way in which ideas are communicated and also translated, including, but not limited to: diagrams, drawings, films, graphic novels, literature, paintings, and photomontages.
 
 Third, we interrogate the ‘groundedness’ of visualisations of future cities and whether they relate to a specific context or a more general set of conditions.
 
 Fourth, we identify the role of technological speculation in future city scenarios including: infrastructure, mobility, sustainability, built form, density and scale.
 
 Fifth, we examine the variations in socio-spatial relationships that occur across different visualisations of cities, identifying the lived experience and inhabitation of the projected environments.
 
 Sixth, we consider the relationship of data, ubiquitous computing and digital technologies in contemporary visualisations of cities.
 
 Seventh, we establish the overarching themes that appear derived from visualisations of British cities and their legacy.
 In conclusion, we establish a synthesis of the prevalent patterns within and across legacies, and the diversity of visualisations, to draw together our findings in relation to overarching narratives and themes for how urban life has been envisaged and projected for the period under scrutiny.

The heavily populated U.S. city is bucking a North American trend — with record-low traffic fatalities in 2018

Steven D’Souza, Tiffany Foxcroft:

As Canadian cities struggle to find solutions to traffic-related pedestrian and cycling deaths, New York City is touting its remarkable four-year turnaround in making its streets safer — something the mayor says is the result of going all in on a Sweden-conceived road safety program.

New York credits its “Vision Zero” program for a 44 per cent drop in pedestrian deaths since 2014, with overall traffic fatalities down by 27 per cent. The first half of 2018 has seen the fewest traffic-related fatalities in any six-month period ever measured in America’s most populated city, officials say.

“The last time city streets were this safe, people were getting around in a horse and buggy,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said earlier this year.

Vision Zero’s goal is to reframe how cities look at traffic fatalities — not as “accidents” but preventable incidents that can be addressed through a combined approach involving road design, public outreach and increased enforcement.

Ford GoBikes “exclusivity contract”

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez:

And some long-term residents and likely voters speaking with the San Francisco Examiner — older constituents and homeowners — are grateful for that opposition.
 
 “You could look at a Ford GoBike map and draw supervisorial districts, you know what I mean?” said Randy Rentschler, director of legislation and public affairs with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which negotiated Ford GoBike’s exclusivity contract to provide docked bikeshare within the Bay Area.
 
 The latest politico to block Ford GoBike expansion is Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who represents District 2, which includes the Marina and Pacific Heights, among other neighborhoods.
 
 Stefani announced that she halted plans to install three Ford GoBike stations in a newsletter to her constituents on July 26 at Bay and Fillmore streets, Clay and Steiner streets, and Laguna and Washington streets.
 
 “My office received many responses from residents and community organizations who expressed concern over the proposed locations and lack of community outreach performed by the (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency) and Ford GoBike operator Motivate,” she wrote to her constituents. SFMTA “recognized” the community concerns, she wrote, and “as of now, the SFMTA and Motivate have halted plans to install any stations in District 2 and will not do so in the future without consulting my office and the community.”

Parking Has Eaten American Cities

Richard Florida:

Parking eats up an incredible amount of space and costs America’s cities an extraordinary amount of money. That’s the main takeaway of a new study that looks in detail at parking in five U.S. cities: New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, Des Moines, and Jackson, Wyoming.
 
 The study, by Eric Scharnhorst of the Research Institute for Housing America (which is affiliated with the Mortgage Bankers of America), uses data from satellite images, the U.S. Census, property tax assessment offices, city departments of transportation, parking authorities, and geospatial maps like Google Maps to generate inventories of parking for these five cities. (The inventories include on-street parking spaces, off-street surface parking lots, and off-street parking structures.)

The man who invented the self-driving car (in 1986)

Janosch Delcker:

The other drivers wouldn’t have noticed anything unusual as the two sleek limousines with German license plates joined the traffic on France’s Autoroute 1.

But what they were witnessing — on that sunny, fall day in 1994 — was something many of them would have dismissed as just plain crazy.

It had taken a few phone calls from the German car lobby to get the French authorities to give the go-ahead. But here they were: two gray Mercedes 500 SELs, accelerating up to 130 kilometers per hour, changing lanes and reacting to other cars — autonomously, with an onboard computer system controlling the steering wheel, the gas pedal and the brakes.

Decades before Google, Tesla and Uber got into the self-driving car business, a team of German engineers led by a scientist named Ernst Dickmanns had developed a car that could navigate French commuter traffic on its own.

The story of Dickmann’s invention, and how it came to be all but forgotten, is a neat illustration how technology sometimes progresses: not in small steady steps, but in booms and busts, in unlikely advances and inevitable retreats —“one step forward and three steps back,” as one AI researcher put it.

Taxi-Hailing Apps Take Root in Japan as SoftBank, Didi Join Fray

Pavel Alpeyev:

Using an app to order up a car ride isn’t common in Japan, even though ride-hailing has spread across the globe. That’s partly because finding a taxi usually isn’t difficult, unless it’s in the suburbs or there’s pouring rain during rush hour.
 
 SoftBank Group Corp. and China’s Didi Chuxing are the latest companies seeking to change that. They’re teaming up to introduce Didi Mobility Japan, a taxi-hailing platform that will start trials this year in Osaka, followed by Tokyo, Kyoto, Fukuoka and Okinawa.
 
 Long dominated by taxis, Japan’s 1.7 trillion yen ($15 billion) car-transport industry is starting to show signs of change. Sony Corp. is working on a joint venture with cab companies called “Everybody’s Taxi.” Japan Taxi, the dispatch app run by the chairman of Nihon Kotsu Co., has also been actively promoting its services. Uber Technologies Inc. is starting a car-hailing pilot program in the remote island of Awaji. With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics just around the corner, taxi operators are looking for ways to make it easier for customers to hail rides and get to their destinations.

Best Buy Should Be Dead, But It’s Thriving in the Age of Amazon

Susan Berfield and Matthew Boyl:

In Best Buy’s perfect world, all 380 of its new “in-home advisors” would park their clean, white Priuses in front of a customer’s house rather than in the driveway, where the car could block others. They would quickly appraise the neighborhood, survey the landscaping, and see if a security system is in place. After knocking gently on the front door, they would step back and stand to the right, smiling, head down slightly, arms uncrossed, name tag visible on their blue, wrinkle-free Best Buy polo shirts. They would shake hands firmly, avoiding the dead fish or the lobster claw.
 
 Once inside, they would offer to remove their shoes. They wouldn’t lean on the walls or place their Best Buy tablets on the furniture. If they noticed a cat, they would know better than to say they own a dog, and they definitely wouldn’t talk politics. The advisors would make customers comfortable by mimicking their conversational style and pace: If a customer talked with her hands, advisors would, too. They would have a tape measure with a laser, and they wouldn’t tease the cat with it. They wouldn’t knock on walls to determine where a stud was—they would use their stud finders—and they would never put the tool on their chest and say “beep.” That wouldn’t be amusing. “If you’re using that for rapport, start again,” says Bryan Bucknell, a self-proclaimed “longtime sales dude” at Best Buy Co. who’s training recruits for the program. He’s with his aspiring advisors—27 men and 9 women, uniformly enthusiastic in their blue shirts—in a windowless conference room at Best Buy’s headquarters outside Minneapolis, where they’ve come for the final session of a five-week initiation in late May.

Are SUVs Ruining Retirement Savings?

Ben Carlson:

By my calculations, we’re looking at an average MSRP in the range of $36.2k to $55.1k or an average monthly payment of roughly $608 to $924 (see my payment assumptions at the bottom of the table).
 
 This doesn’t include taxes and all of the crazy fees they charge you or the additional outlays for gas. And I’m going to assume it’s few and far between that actually pay the lowest MSRP because most people want all the bells and whistles.
 
 I also understand that most of these large SUVs I see all over the place are more than likely leased. That’s fine. It can lower your monthly payment a tad. And for those who would always like to be driving a new or like-new car, it probably does make more sense to lease rather than buy to avoid the hassle of resale and insane initial depreciation that exists with new cars.
 
 If you are going to buy new, the best option would be to make sure you buy a reliable car that can last long enough to see you through to a time where you have no car payments anymore. Here’s a list of the top 15 cars people hold onto for 15 years or longer:
 

$800 Million Says a Self-Driving Car Looks Like This

Ashlee Vance:

The mystery box sits inside an all-white room in an office building in San Francisco. It’s a large, wooden crate with no features other than the word “ZOOX” in big, black block letters and a sturdy-looking padlock. For about $100 million, you can get a key and have a look inside.
 
 Few have had the pleasure. What they saw is a black, carlike robot about the size and shape of a Mini Cooper. Or actually, like the rear halves of two Mini Coopers welded together. The interior has no steering wheel or dashboard, just an open space with two bench seats facing each other. The whole mock-up looks like someone could punch a hole through it. But because you’ve just invested $100 million in the thing, you’ve earned the right to have a seat and enjoy a simulated city tour while you pray that this vision of a driverless future will come to pass.
 
 Of the many self-driving car hopefuls, Zoox Inc. may be the most daring. The company’s robot taxi could be amazing or terrible. It might change the world—not in the contemporary Silicon Valley sense, but in a meaningful sense—or it might be an epic flop. At this point, it’s hard to tell how much of the sales pitch is real. Luckily for the company’s founders, there have been plenty of rich people excited to, as Hunter S. Thompson once put it, buy the ticket and take the ride.

“What do we need to offer to compete with car ownership?”

Kati Pohjanpalo:

After its first big marketing push about six months ago, Whim has grown to more than 45,000 users in the Helsinki region, of whom 5,100 pay monthly fees. There are two subscription packages: an all-inclusive 499 euros ($582.65), and a more modest 49 euros that gets you unlimited bus travel and short city bike rides, as well as cheaper taxis and rental cars. A pay-per-ride option also exists for those who want to try out the service.

To become financially viable, Whim needs from 3 to 5 percent of the area’s population to subscribe to a monthly package, according to Hietanen. That critical mass—almost 60,000 users in the Helsinki area—would allow the startup to buy transport services in bulk from the providers and turn a profit as it packages the options for its individual clients.

Sari Siikasalmi, a 37-year-old management consultant, is becoming a convert. She’s tried out Whim and is now weighing giving up the car. Her family, with two kids under the age of 10, uses public transport inside Helsinki but needs a larger sedan for ski trips.

To actually go through with the switch, Siikasalmi “would have to be sure that the type of cars we need are always and easily available nearby when we need them.” That’s not always the case yet.

Mobiliti acquires subscription service Condor Detroit

Anita Jibrell:

In a push to expand its subscription offerings into Michigan, app-based Mobiliti has acquired subscription service Condor Detroit.

The deal will bring approximately four people from Condor to Mobiliti, CEO Chance Richie told Automotive News, including Condor CEO Tarun Kajeepeta and Aaron Bedell, head of operations.

Richie declined to disclose transaction details, but said the deal was a “significant investment.”

Mobiliti, launched last year by entrepreneur couple Chance and Amanda Richie, brings dealers into the subscription service business and provides fleet service financing through its partnership with Ally Financial.

Mobiliti’s monthly subscription fees range from $550 to $1,200 and cover insurance, maintenance and roadside assistance.

How Tesla Stacks Up Against America’s Most Productive Car Factories

Tom Randall and Demetrios Pogkas:

Elon Musk wants to be the chief executive of “a real car company.” His goal is to turn Tesla Inc. into a mass producer capable of measuring up against some of the most productive car factories in North America.
 
 After a year of factory problems plagued the rollout of its Model 3 electric sedan, Tesla is getting closer to this goal. The company’s sole plant in Fremont, California, reached a weekly output of 6,944 cars at the end of June, including 5,031 Model 3s. If the Tesla factory could sustain that level for a year, it would rank 14th among 70 auto plants in North America, according to 2018 production data estimated by market research firm just-auto.com. That’s on par with the average weekly output of the General Motors Co. in Silao, Mexico, and the Ford Motor Co. plant in Chicago.
 
 Of course, producing nearly 7,000 cars in one go-for-broke week to meet Musk’s self-imposed deadline is very different from sustaining that output over a 52-week period. For the first half of 2018, Tesla averaged just 3,378 cars per week—only enough to take 48th place in the ranking of North American factories. In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Musk predicted that by August his factory would be able to make 5,000 Model 3s each week, in addition to Model X and S vehicles, without heroic measures. “In three months,” he said, “I think 5,000 will feel normal.”

 

Munro Teardown Shows Tesla Model 3 Solidly Profitable

Sandy Munro:

Subscriptions dismissed as a ‘rich person’s toy’

Jackie Charniga:

Vehicle subscription services are trending, of course, as automakers experiment with allowing customers to make all-in, month-to-month payments, and giving them the option to frequently switch vehicles.

But is this really the industry’s next big thing?

Analysts at Edmunds put a pencil to the proposition and concluded that most automaker programs aren’t worth the hefty price tag. Even with insurance, maintenance and other fees factored into monthly payments, Edmunds says subscription costs far exceed what consumers currently pay for leases.

“At these price points that we’re seeing, [a subscription service] virtually makes no sense to anyone,” said Edmunds senior analyst Ivan Drury during a presentation of industry trends to Automotive News.

For example, he said BMW’s $3,700 per month offer for top-of-the-line vehicles such as the X6 M under the company’s Access by BMW program comes to $133,200, or double what it would cost to lease that vehicle for three years.

Death on Foot

ERIC LAWRENCE, NATHAN BOMEY AND KRISTI TANNER :

A Detroit Free Press/USA TODAY NETWORK investigation found that the SUV revolution is the most likely cause of escalating pedestrian deaths nationwide, which are up 46 percent since 2009.
 
 Almost 6,000 pedestrians died on or along U.S. roads in 2016 alone — nearly as many Americans as have died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002. Data analyses by the Free Press/USA TODAY and others show that SUVs are the constant in the increase and account for a steadily growing proportion of deaths.

Access Across America: Transit 2017

David Levinson:

My colleagues at the University of Minnesota just released Access Across America: Transit 2017. The time series here is a big deal, it is now possible to look at change at accessibility systematically from a national perspective, and compare cities. From the page:

The myth of revealed preference for suburbs

Joe Cortright:

One of the chief arguments in favor of the suburbs is simply that that is where millions and millions of people actually live. If so many Americans live in suburbs, this must be proof that they actually prefer suburban locations to urban ones. The counterargument, of course, is that people can only choose from among the options presented to them. And the options for most people are not evenly split between cities and suburbs, for a variety of reasons, including the subsidization of highways and parking, school policies, and the continuing legacies of racism, redlining, and segregation. One of the biggest reasons, of course, is restrictive zoning, which prohibits the construction of new urban neighborhoods all over the country.
 
 But does zoning really act as a constraint on more compact, urban housing? Sure, some skeptics might say, it appears that local zoning laws prohibit denser housing and walkable retail districts. But in fact, city governments pass such strict laws because that’s what their constituents want. Especially within a metropolitan region with many different suburban municipalities, these governments are essentially competing for residents and businesses. If there were real demand for denser, walkable neighborhoods, wouldn’t some municipalities figure out that they could attract those people by allowing that type of development?

How the Carmakers Trumped Themselves

Robinson Meyer:

When the automakers endorsed Obama’s cafe standards, they still exacted two concessions. These set the stage for what was to come.
 
 First, the new cafe standards would apply differently to different cars. Light trucks would have to meet less stringent rules than cars. And all the rules would automatically adjust to match the “footprint” of new cars—the idea being that the rules should account for the size of car that’s popular with consumers. If one automaker sells mostly crossovers and pickups, it shouldn’t be held to the same standard as another that sells mostly sedans and coupes.
 
 Second, the rules would be revisited. The EPA and the Department of Transportation had to look at the data anew and tweak the rules to match reality, and they had to do it “no later than April 1, 2018.” Since the toughest rules were always scheduled to bite in the late 2010s, the car industry would basically get one more chance to fight.
 
 Four years in advance of that date, the EPA began making sure it would meet the deadline. Agency researchers spent two years poring over thousands of pages of economics, engineering, and air-quality research. In July 2016, they published their preliminary conclusions. In a 1,200-page report, the EPA, the DOT, and California argued that new technologies would let carmakers hit their goals even more cheaply than once anticipated. The rules would also improve safety and add jobs, they said.
 
 In short: The cafe standards were working, and they should not change.

Toyota Advances Mobility as a Service Strategy with Strategic Investment and Collaboration with Grab, the leading Ride-hailing Company in Southeast Asia

Toyota:

Since August 2017, Toyota and Grab have been developing connected services for Grab utilizing driving data collected by Toyota’s TransLog data-transmission driving recorder. The recorder, developed by Toyota for corporate fleets, has been installed in 100 Grab rental cars. The data collected is stored on Toyota’s proprietary mobility services platform (MSPF), which serves as a form of information infrastructure for connected vehicles. Both companies have already begun collaboration in the field of connected vehicles by, for example, providing driving-data-based automotive insurance for Grab’s rental fleet in Singapore through local insurance companies.
 
 Toyota and Grab’s initial success led them to expand their collaboration, as announced today. This expansion is aimed at achieving connectivity for Grab’s rental car fleet across Southeast Asia, and at rolling out various connected services throughout the region that utilize vehicle data stored on Toyota’s MSPF. In addition, collaborations in driving-data-based automotive insurance, financial services for Grab drivers and maintenance services are also contemplated under the new partnership.
 
 Through this new agreement, Toyota and Grab plan to shift into full-scale implementation of services they have been developing to customers in Southeast Asia. The two companies will look for future collaborations aimed to achieve more-efficient ride-hailing businesses and for developing future mobility service solutions and MaaS vehicles.

Apple, Spurned by Others, Signs Deal With Volkswagen for Driverless Cars

Jack Nicas:

Two former employees said Apple’s requests of partners gradually evolved. At first, the company asked for help building an Apple-designed vehicle. Then, it began asking potential partners to provide foundational car pieces like the chassis and wheels. Eventually, Apple requested that potential partners retrofit their own vehicles with Apple’s sensors and software.
 
 In late 2015, Apple bought two Lexus S.U.V.s and hired a Virginia firm called Torc Robotics to retrofit the vehicles with sensors, a project known internally as Baja, one former employee said. The fleet has grown, and California regulators have authorized Apple to use 55 such S.U.V.s to run self-driving tests on public roads, the most of any company in the state after General Motors — but still fewer than Waymo has across six states.
 
 But Apple did not partner with Lexus, and it has long sought a formal partner. The company first worked with Magna Steyr, a Canadian-Austrian contract manufacturer that has produced low-volume vehicles for other automakers, like the Mercedes G-Wagen, according to two former employees. A few dozen Magna Steyr employees joined Apple’s car team in California but gradually left after the partnership ended.
 
 BMW was long Apple’s top choice, given its focus on high-end but mainstream products, former employees said. Many Apple executives, including the company’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, also drive BMWs. Mr. Cook visited BMW as early as 2014 to discuss a partnership, and those on-and-off negotiations continued for years. But a person close to the talks said any deal now appeared dead because both Apple and BMW wanted to own the customer experience and relationship.

Autonomous fleets will make Uber and Lyft cheaper than owning a car by 2027

Tristan Greene:

By the numbers: It might be hard to wrap your head around it, but the math adds up. Based on current trends, Quote Wizards predicts that the cost of operating a sedan in 2027 will be $7,598 versus $8,469 last year. But, the study claims the cost of using a ride-share app exclusively for transportation will drop from nearly $14,000 a year now to less than 7K in Seattle and under 6K in Denver.

There are, of course, a number of things still standing in the way of the autonomous car takeover. But if the potential for saving millions of human lives doesn’t convince the world to hand their keys to a responsible robot, maybe a financial appeal will do the trick.

Ford Retreats From American Car Business in Penny-Pinching Push

Keith Naughton:

Ford Motor Co. is cleaving an additional $11.5 billion from spending plans and dropping several sedans, including the Fusion and Taurus, from its lineup to more quickly reach an elusive profit target.

The automaker is almost doubling a cost-cutting goal to $25.5 billion by 2022, Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks told reporters Wednesday. By not investing in next generations of any car for North America except the Mustang, the company now anticipates it’ll reach an 8 percent profit margin by 2020, two years ahead of schedule.

Ford is trying to kick-start a turnaround that’s yet to take hold almost a year after the board ousted its chief executive officer. Getting rid of slow-selling, low-margin car models and refocusing the company around more lucrative trucks and SUVs is a crucial element of new CEO Jim Hackett’s rebound bid. By 2020, almost 90 percent of Ford’s North American portfolio will be pickups or sport utility and commercial vehicles.

“We’re going to feed the healthy part of our business and deal decisively with areas that destroy value,” Hackett said on an earnings call Wednesday. “We aren’t just exploring partnerships; we’ve now done them. We aren’t just talking about ideas; we’ve made decisions.”

Hackett, 63, is choosing a route similar to the one Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV used to pass Ford in North American profitability. Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne killed off the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 sedans and retooled the factories that had been making them to build Jeep SUVs and Ram pickups instead. Marchionne now wants to eclipse General Motors Co.’s margins in North America before his retirement in 2019.

Two new Detroit-based startups are launching car subscription services

Dustin Walsh:

They’ll be competing with automakers, most of them luxury brands, that already offer their own subscriptions
Business model will build partnerships rather than compete with dealers
Two Detroit startups are taking the traditional car ownership model and flipping it on its hood.

Startups Condor Mobility LLC, operating as Condor Detroit, and Mobiliti LLC are launching vehicle subscription programs that promise a speedier, more flexible experience for their members, who pay a flat monthly fee — insurance and maintenance included — to drive a new or used car whenever they want, for as long as they want.

It’s not a new idea. Seven automakers, mostly luxury brands, have launched their own vehicle subscription programs, which have cropped up in most major cities and favor function over formality.

But Condor and Mobiliti plan to use the auto dealer network to their advantage to take on their automaker rivals in the still-unproven market.

Condor launched its vehicle subscription service in Southeast Michigan in December, while Mobiliti will launch its services in Austin, Texas, on May 1.

Both startups target younger drivers looking to sidestep the traditional buying or leasing process and offer bundled payment options to customers looking for a more tailored, hassle-free process.

China’s Car Revolution Is Going Global

Bloomberg:

On a bright spring day in Amsterdam, car buffs stepped inside a blacked-out warehouse to nibble on lamb skewers and sip rhubarb cocktails courtesy of Lynk & Co., which was showing off its new hybrid SUV.
 
 What seemed like just another launch of a new vehicle was actually something more: the coming-out party for China’s globally ambitious auto industry. For the first time, a Chinese-branded car will be made in Western Europe for sale there, with the ultimate goal of landing in U.S. showrooms.

Experts say Tesla has repeated car industry mistakes from the 1980s

Timothy Lee:

Production had been halted for much of last week in Tesla’s car factory in Fremont, California, and its battery factory near Clark, Nevada. In a Tuesday note to employees, CEO Elon Musk said that the pause was necessary to lay the groundwork for higher production levels in the coming weeks. Musk said he wants all parts of the company ready to prepare 6,000 Model 3 cars per week by the end of June, triple the rate Tesla has achieved in the recent weeks.

The announcement caps a nine-month period of turmoil that Musk has described as “production hell” as Tesla has struggled to ramp up production of the Model 3.

Tesla had high hopes for its Model 3 production efforts. In 2016, Musk hired Audi executive Peter Hochholdinger to plan the manufacturing process, and Business Insider described his plans in late 2016: “Hochholdinger’s view is that robots could be a much bigger factor in auto production than they are currently, largely because many components are designed to be assembled by humans, not machines.”

A year later, Musk himself was touting Tesla’s advanced robotics expertise. “We are pushing robots to the limit in terms of the speed that they can operate at, and asking our suppliers to make robots go way faster, and they are shocked because nobody has ever asked them that question,” Musk said on a conference call last November. “It’s like if you can see the robot move, it’s too slow.”

Style Is an Algorithm No one is original anymore, not even you.

Kyle Chayka:

The camera is a small, white, curvilinear monolith on a pedestal. Inside its smooth casing are a microphone, a speaker, and an eye-like lens. After I set it up on a shelf, it tells me to look straight at it and to be sure to smile! The light blinks and then the camera flashes. A head-to-toe picture appears on my phone of a view I’m only used to seeing in large mirrors: me, standing awkwardly in my apartment, wearing a very average weekday outfit. The background is blurred like evidence from a crime scene. It is not a flattering image.
 
 Amazon’s Echo Look, currently available by invitation only but also on eBay, allows you to take hands-free selfies and evaluate your fashion choices. “Now Alexa helps you look your best,” the product description promises. Stand in front of the camera, take photos of two different outfits with the Echo Look, and then select the best ones on your phone’s Echo Look app. Within about a minute, Alexa will tell you which set of clothes looks better, processed by style-analyzing algorithms and some assistance from humans. So I try to find my most stylish outfit, swapping out shirts and pants and then posing stiffly for the camera. I shout, “Alexa, judge me!” but apparently that’s unnecessary.
 
 What I discover from the Style Check™ function is as follows: All-black is better than all-gray. Rolled-up sleeves are better than buttoned at the wrist. Blue jeans are best. Popping your collar is actually good. Each outfit in the comparison receives a percentage out of 100: black clothes score 73 percent against gray clothes at 27 percent, for example. But the explanations given for the scores are indecipherable. “The way you styled those pieces looks better,” the app tells me. “Sizing is better.” How did I style them? Should they be bigger or smaller?

Hard Questions: What Data Does Facebook Collect When I’m Not Using Facebook, and Why?

David Baser:

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of the US Congress. He answered more than 500 questions and promised that we would get back on the 40 or so questions he couldn’t answer at the time. We’re following up with Congress on these directly but we also wanted to take the opportunity to explain more about the information we get from other websites and apps, how we use the data they send to us, and the controls you have. I lead a team focused on privacy and data use, including GDPR compliance and the tools people can use to control and download their information.
 
 When does Facebook get data about people from other websites and apps?
 Many websites and apps use Facebook services to make their content and ads more engaging and relevant. These services include:
 
 Social plugins, such as our Like and Share buttons, which make other sites more social and help you share content on Facebook;
 
 Facebook Login, which lets you use your Facebook account to log into another website or app;
 
 Facebook Analytics, which helps websites and apps better understand how people use their services; and
 
 Facebook ads and measurement tools, which enable websites and apps to show ads from Facebook advertisers, to run their own ads on Facebook or elsewhere, and to understand the effectiveness of their ads.
 
 When you visit a site or app that uses our services, we receive information even if you’re logged out or don’t have a Facebook account. This is because other apps and sites don’t know who is using Facebook.

Retail’s New Fork In The Road: Understanding Buying Versus Shopping

Steve Dennis:

More recently, platform businesses like Alibaba and Amazon have made the buying process far more efficient in many categories, leading to major market share gains and the demise (or teetering on the brink) of many brands that could not keep pace. But let’s be clear: Amazon is not “the everything store.” It is, however, quickly becoming the anything you want to ‘buy’ store. Absent a far greater brick & mortar presence, Amazon will continue to struggle in its quest to dominate shopping.
 
 Innovation and growth in ‘buying’ has occurred outside of the purely digital world. Brands such as Aldi, Lidl, Dollar General, Ross, TJX and others have re-worked and expanded their business model by delivering ever greater ‘buying’ value. If there is a retail apocalypse someone needs to tell these brands, as they will collectively add thousands of new stores this year alone.
 
 The same is true in the ‘shopping’ world. Sephora, Ulta, Apple and many others that continue to offer a remarkable shopping experience are growing both online and offline. Moreover, many high profile pure-play e-commerce players have basically started to run out of customers that would approach their brands in ‘buying’ mode and thus they needed to go seek out ‘shoppers’ with brick & mortar locations In fact, several once stated that they would never open stores. This is because they didn’t understand how the buying vs. shopping dynamic would inevitably play out over time. It now turns out that Warby Parker, Peloton and Bonobos are seeing the majority of their incremental growth come from their physical locations.

World’s first electrified road for charging vehicles opens in Sweden

Daniel Boffey:

The world’s first electrified road that recharges the batteries of cars and trucks driving on it has been opened in Sweden.
 
 About 2km (1.2 miles) of electric rail has been embedded in a public road near Stockholm, but the government’s roads agency has already drafted a national map for future expansion.
 
 Sweden’s target of achieving independence from fossil fuel by 2030 requires a 70% reduction in the transport sector.
 
 The technology behind the electrification of the road linking Stockholm Arlanda airport to a logistics site outside the capital city aims to solve the thorny problems of keeping electric vehicles charged, and the manufacture of their batteries affordable.

Flying-car venture Terrafugia expands workforceFlying-car venture Terrafugia expands workforce

aopa:

The acquisition of Terrafugia last fall by privately held Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, a Fortune 500 company with assets “that span the automotive chain,” provided Terrafugia with resources for the expansion, Woburn, Massachusetts-based Terrafugia said in an April 10 news release.

“Technology and innovation are at the core of Terrafugia, drawing in unique talent across departments. The recent jump in staff shows our commitment to breaking ground in the emerging flying car market,” said CEO Chris Jaran, noting that a year ago, Terrafugia had fewer than 20 employees.

Japan to place accident liability on self-driving car owners

Nikkei:

As with regular vehicles, owners will generally be liable for accidents that occur while their cars operate autonomously and will be covered by government-mandated automobile insurance. Automakers will only be responsible if there is a clear flaw in the vehicle’s system. Insurers are also expected to develop optional plans now that compulsory coverage requirements are settled.
 
 To help clarify the cause of accidents, self-driving cars will be required to have devices that record such information as location, steering and the operational status of autonomous driving systems.

Reputation inflation explains why Uber’s five-star driver ratings system became useless

Alison Griswold:

How did Uber’s ratings become more inflated than grades at Harvard? That’s the topic of a new paper, “Reputation Inflation,” from NYU’s John Horton and Apostolos Filippas, and Collage.com CEO Joseph Golden. The paper argues that online platforms, especially peer-to-peer ones like Uber and Airbnb, are highly susceptible to ratings inflation because, well, it’s uncomfortable for one person to leave another a bad review.
 
 The somewhat more technical way to say this is that there’s a “cost” to leaving negative feedback. That cost can take different forms: It might be that the reviewer fears retaliation, or that he feels guilty doing something that might harm the underperforming worker. If this “cost” increases over time—i.e., the fear or guilt associated with leaving a bad review increases—then the platform is likely to experience ratings inflation.
 
 The paper focuses on an unnamed gig economy platform where people (“employers”) can hire other people (“workers”) to do specific tasks. After a job is completed, employers can leave two different kinds of feedback: “public” feedback that the worker sees, and “private” reviews and ratings that aren’t shown to the worker or other people on the platform. Over the history of the platform, 82% of people have chosen to leave reviews, including a numerical rating on a scale from one to five stars.

New mobility trends: China leads the way

Roland Berger:

The global automotive industry is gradually shifting from a manufacturing focus to a more customer-oriented services approach. China is not only leading in new mobility options but has probably moved the furthest in phasing out traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) ownership. Motivated by serious pollution issues, the Chinese government has set aggressive targets on xEV, and more generally on what it calls “New Energy Vehicles” (NEV), with further supportive policies expected. This – combined with the fact that owning a car was never as common as in Western countries – has turned China into an exciting playing field for new mobility solutions, whether from pure players (such as Didi) or traditional OEMs.

Subprime New-Car Buyers Suddenly Go Missing From U.S. Showrooms

John Lippert and Jamie Butters:

The American consumers who were stretching themselves to buy or lease a new car are starting to go missing from showrooms.

Rising interest rates and new-vehicle prices are squeezing shoppers with shaky credit and tight budgets out of the market. In the first two months of this year, sales were flat among the highest-rated borrowers, while deliveries to those with subprime scores slumped 9 percent, according to J.D. Power.

The researcher’s data highlights what’s happening beneath the surface of a U.S. auto market in its second year of decline after a historic run of gains. Automakers probably will report sales in March slowed to the most sluggish pace since Hurricane Harvey ravaged dealerships across the Texas Gulf Coast in August, according to Bloomberg’s survey of analyst estimates.

Fueling the future

Iwan Rhys Morus:

In his short story ‘Let There Be Light’, the science-fiction author Robert A Heinlein introduced the energy source that would power his Future History series of stories and novels. First published in Super Science Stories magazine in May 1940, it described the Douglas-Martin sunpower screens that would provide (almost) free and inexhaustible energy to fuel the future in subsequent instalments of his alternative timeline. It was simple, robust and reliable technology. ‘We can bank ’em in series to get any required voltage; we can bank in parallel to get any required current, and the power is absolutely free, except for the installation costs,’ marvelled one of the inventors as they worked out the new technology’s potential for rupturing the social order of the future.

How Volkswagen Walked Away From a Near-Fatal Crash

Matthew Campbell, Christoph Rauwald and Chris Reiter:

As the world’s largest automaker, Volkswagen in some ways better resembles an army or a country than a mere corporation. Its flagship factory in Wolfsburg, Germany—a city built from scratch by the Nazis for the express purpose of manufacturing vast numbers of automobiles—spreads over an expanse the size of Monaco and produces more than 3,000 vehicles every day. It is electrified by not one but two Volkswagen coal plants. It is fed by a 3,400-person Volkswagen catering brigade and a sausage-making operation so comprehensive it sells to supermarkets. Here and at more than 100 other factories worldwide, the company’s 12 brands make 355 models in millions of color and trim combinations, employing more than 600,000 people who generate $284 billion in annual revenue.

It’s hard to imagine that such a robust corporate edifice could ever be at risk of collapse, as it was less than three years ago, when Volkswagen AG was consumed by one of the largest scandals in automotive history. The revelation of a systematic effort to cheat on emissions tests—employees wrote software that made diesel cars appear cleaner than they were—brought the company to its knees, ended the career of its long-standing chief executive officer, and shattered a 70-year reputation for engineering-led competence. For a time it looked like Volkswagen might not survive, at least not recognizably, a prospect so alarming in Germany that Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped in to do damage control for what is arguably the country’s most important industrial giant

Steps to autonomy

Benedict Evans:

The standard way to talk about autonomous cars, shown in this diagram, is to talk about levels. L1 is the cruise control in your father’s car. L2 adds some sensors, so it will try to slow down if the car in front does, and stay within the lane markings, but you still need to have your hands on or near the wheel. L3 will drive for you but you need to be ready to take over, Level 4 will drive for you in some situations but not others, and Level 5 doesn’t need a human driver ‘ever’ and doesn’t have a steering wheel.

China’s battery king poised to overtake Panasonic-Tesla alliance

Ryosuke Eguchi:

Much of the success of the electric vehicle will come down to the performance and price of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, the costliest and heaviest component of the car.

Just seven years since its founding, one Chinese company has emerged as a rising star in the battery industry, backed by strong support from Beijing.

Fujian-based CATL was the center of attention at “Battery Japan,” a trade show held in Tokyo in March. Liang Chengdou, head of CATL’s research center, spoke with confidence. “Batteries produced by CATL for EVs will become as competitive as internal-combustion engines through technological innovation,” he promised.

For Tesla, Cars + Cash + Credit + Convertibles = Crunch Time

Liam Denning:

Opinions differ on the exact nature of Tesla, ranging from struggling car manufacturer to tech pioneer to something akin to the second coming. Regardless, it is undoubtedly one thing: a money machine.

I don’t mean that in the sense of Tesla making a lot of money; more that it is a machine for the raising and consumption of money.

All companies are this to one degree or another, of course; it’s just that Tesla Inc. is more at the “another” end of things. Reliably negative on free cash flow, Tesla depends on a smorgasbord of external funding, from equity raising to vehicle deposits to high-yield bonds to securitized leases to negative working capital. And that smorgasbord rests, of course, on Tesla’s famously gravity-defying stock price and faith in CEO Elon Musk.

Which is why these four charts deserve more than a glance from even the most ardent Muskovite:

a candidate for urban and suburban mobility

Steve Crandall:

I have a serious interest in how we get around. Currently the tech press seems entirely focused on car sharing and self-driving cars as THE FUTURE, but those approaches are problematic. I’ve spent a fair amount of time highlighting those issues, but rather than drone on for pages and pages I’ll recommend a new book from a friend – Elements of Access by David Levinson .. essential reading for anyone trying to make sense of cities and suburban areas. It’s non-technically, fascinating and humorous. From the about:

Bike-sharing boom in Japan a prelude to online payment war?

Kzuyuki Okudaira:

Bike-sharing via smartphone apps is on a roll in Japan, with flea market app Mercari, messaging app Line and Yahoo Japan having entered the market in the last six months.
 
 So why are online technology companies so keen on bike-sharing?
 
 Analysis suggests that it is a prelude to a “payment war” like the one that took place in China, where bike-sharing was used as a marketing tool by internet companies to boost online payment services.
 
 Mercari launched a bike-sharing service on Feb. 27, choosing Fukuoka in southern Japan as its pilot city. It set up 22 “ports,” or bases, where customers rent and return bikes.
 
 Currently, 120 bikes are available, with the company planning to increase ports to 50 and bikes to 400 by the end of March. By the end of summer, the company hopes to have a fleet of 2,000 bikes.
 
 

Can you 3D-print a car? This company will mass print cars by 2019 for US$10,000 each

Daniel Ren:

A prototype of the car, the LSEV, is currently on display at Shanghai’s China 3D-printing Culture Museum, before being exhibited at Auto China 2018 in Beijing next month.
 
 The company claims it is the world’s first mass-produced 3D-printed electric vehicle, and that it has received 7,000 orders from companies including postal service providers.
 
 Nearly all its visible parts are 3D-printed except for its windows, tyres and chassis.
 
 3D printing is a manufacturing process where materials are joined or solidified under computer control to create three-dimensional objects.
 
 Technically, the manufacturing process often shortens research and development time and can offer customers tailor-made products.

Why self-driving cars will cause sprawl (according to an Italian Physicist)

Phil Levin:

The average person still spends one hour commuting in a car in major cities. Good on you, Prof. Marchetti.

2. Are cities ~25 miles in diameter (8 times larger than Old Venice)?

Here’s where Marchetti needs some updating.

US cities seem to be significantly larger than Marchetti’s Wall would imply.

Tesla Is Facing a Crucible

Eric Newcomer:

Jim Chanos, the short seller famous for betting against Enron, has said he thinks Tesla Inc.’s stock is “worthless.” Chanos got some new evidence this week that may support his short sales against Elon Musk’s car company. A string of executives have headed for the exits, including a surprising number from the company’s finance team, as Tesla is dogged by questions about whether it can meet its production targets.

The chief financial officer left abruptly last year in a curious turn of events, where he was replaced by his predecessor: Deepak Ahuja served as Tesla’s CFO from 2008 to 2015 and then took over the job again in March 2017, according to his LinkedIn. Then late last year, one of Tesla’s audit committee members, Steve Jurvetson, went on leave from the board (following accusations of misconduct, which he has denied). The vice president of business development and director of battery technology both left in the past year. Jon McNeill, one of Tesla’s most senior executives, went to take the chief operating officer job at Lyft Inc. last month. Eric Branderiz, Tesla’s chief accounting officer, departed last week. And Bloomberg reported this week that Susan Repo, the corporate treasurer and vice president of finance, is out.

Carmakers take electric fight to the factory floor

Patrick McGee:

The success of German manufacturers, whose volumes more than trebled from 4m units in 1990 to 15m last year, was largely based on “platform sharing” that let multiple models use the same design underpinnings. VW Group, the world’s largest carmaker, uses common building blocks under “the Lego principle” to share engines, transmissions and components across its 12 brands.

These progressive changes were all based on superior methods of producing cars, forcing rivals to adapt or die. “Efficiency was always the cornerstone of success in the automotive industry,” says Oliver Zipse, head of production at BMW. “As soon as you were not able to produce in a particular cost frame, you were out of the market.”

Carmakers are today investing in production plants that integrate reams of data with processes across the supply chain. Assembly times are being accelerated and downtime is being cut by fixing problems before they occur.

“The whole system is becoming enormously complex all of a sudden,” Mr Zipse says. He refers to the need for carmakers to incorporate new drive trains and autonomous technology, while keeping the speed of production cycle at just 60 seconds. “If you’re not able to [keep] this complex system working 100 per cent faultless, you will never do 60 second [manufacturing] cycles, and if you’re not doing 60 second cycles, you’ll never build 300,000 cars.”

Who maps the world?

Sarah Holder:

“For most of human history, maps have been very exclusive,” said Marie Price, the first woman president of the American Geographical Society, appointed 165 years into its 167-year history. “Only a few people got to make maps, and they were carefully guarded, and they were not participatory.” That’s slowly changing, she said, thanks to democratizing projects like OpenStreetMap (OSM).
 
 OSM is the self-proclaimed Wikipedia of maps: It’s a free and open-source sketch of the globe, created by a volunteer pool that essentially crowd-sources the map, tracing parts of the world that haven’t yet been logged. Armed with satellite images, GPS coordinates, local community insights and map “tasks,” volunteer cartographers identify roads, paths, and buildings in remote areas and their own backyards. Then, experienced editors verify each element. Chances are, you use an OSM-sourced map every day without realizing it: Foursquare, Craigslist, Pinterest, Etsy, and Uber all use it in their direction services.
 
 When commercial companies like Google decide to map the not-yet-mapped, they use “The Starbucks Test,” as OSMers like to call it. If you’re within a certain radius of a chain coffee shop, Google will invest in maps to make it easy to find. Everywhere else, especially in the developing world, other virtual cartographers have to fill in the gaps.
 
 

Say goodbye to the information age: it’s all about reputation now

Gloria Orrigi:

The paradigm shift from the age of information to the age of reputation must be taken into account when we try to defend ourselves from ‘fake news’ and other misinformation and disinformation techniques that are proliferating through contemporary societies. What a mature citizen of the digital age should be competent at is not spotting and confirming the veracity of the news. Rather, she should be competent at reconstructing the reputational path of the piece of information in question, evaluating the intentions of those who circulated it, and figuring out the agendas of those authorities that leant it credibility.
 
 Whenever we are at the point of accepting or rejecting new information, we should ask ourselves: Where does it come from? Does the source have a good reputation? Who are the authorities who believe it? What are my reasons for deferring to these authorities? Such questions will help us to get a better grip on reality than trying to check directly the reliability of the information at issue. In a hyper-specialised system of the production of knowledge, it makes no sense to try to investigate on our own, for example, the possible correlation between vaccines and autism. It would be a waste of time, and probably our conclusions would not be accurate. In the reputation age, our critical appraisals should be directed not at the content of information but rather at the social network of relations that has shaped that content and given it a certain deserved or undeserved ‘rank’ in our system of knowledge.
 
 These new competences constitute a sort of second-order epistemology. They prepare us to question and assess the reputation of an information source, something that philosophers and teachers should be crafting for future generations.

“A tenet of the Estonian system is that an individual owns all information recorded about him or her”

Nathan Heller:

It was during Kotka’s tenure that the e-Estonian goal reached its fruition. Today, citizens can vote from their laptops and challenge parking tickets from home. They do so through the “once only” policy, which dictates that no single piece of information should be entered twice. Instead of having to “prepare” a loan application, applicants have their data—income, debt, savings—pulled from elsewhere in the system. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories. Estonia’s system is keyed to a chip-I.D. card that reduces typically onerous, integrative processes—such as doing taxes—to quick work. “If a couple in love would like to marry, they still have to visit the government location and express their will,” Andrus Kaarelson, a director at the Estonian Information Systems Authority, says. But, apart from transfers of physical property, such as buying a house, all bureaucratic processes can be done online.

Self-driving cars will profoundly change the way people live

Economist:

ROAD TRIPS. DRIVE-THROUGHS. Shopping malls. Freeways. Car chases. Road rage. Cars changed the world in all sorts of unforeseen ways. They granted enormous personal freedom, but in return they imposed heavy costs. People working on autonomous vehicles generally see their main benefits as mitigating those costs, notably road accidents, pollution and congestion. GM’s boss, Mary Barra, likes to talk of “zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.” AVs, their champions argue, can offer all the advantages of cars without the drawbacks.
 
 In particular, AVs could greatly reduce deaths and injuries from road accidents. Globally, around 1.25m people die in such accidents each year, according to the WHO; it is the leading cause of death among those aged 15-29. Another 20m-50m people are injured. Most accidents occur in developing countries, where the arrival of autonomous vehicles is still some way off. But if the switch to AVs can be advanced even by a single year, “that’s 1.25m people who don’t die,” says Chris Urmson of Aurora, an AV startup. In recent decades cars have become much safer thanks to features such as seat belts and airbags, but in America road deaths have risen since 2014, apparently because of distraction by smartphones. AVs would let riders text (or drink) to their heart’s content without endangering anyone.
 
 Evidence that AVs are safer is already building up. Waymo’s vehicles have driven 4m miles on public roads; the only accidents they have been involved in while driving autonomously were caused by humans in other vehicles. AVs have superhuman perception and can slam on the brakes in less than a millisecond, compared with a second or so for human drivers. But “better than human” is a low bar. People seem prepared to tolerate deaths caused by human drivers, but AVs will have to be more or less infallible. A realistic goal is a thousandfold improvement over human drivers, says Amnon Shashua of Mobileye, a maker of AV technology. That would reduce the number of road deaths in America each year from 40,000 to 40, a level last seen in 1900. If this can be achieved, future generations may look back on the era of vehicles driven by humans as an aberration. Even with modern safety features, some 650,000 Americans have died on the roads since 2000, more than were slain in all the wars of the 20th century (about 630,000).

Ride-hailing apps are now 65% bigger than taxis in NYC, and the impact of “DeleteUber”

:

In Brooklyn, Uber is now bigger than taxis
 
 October 12, 2015 marked the first day that Uber made more pickups in Brooklyn than yellow and green taxis combined. As of June 2016, Uber makes 60% more pickups per day than taxis do, and the gap appears to be growing. Lyft has also surpassed yellow taxis in Brooklyn, but still makes fewer pickups than green boro taxis.