The Man Behind the Scooter Revolution

Sarah Holder:

Like so many inventions, the scooter was a child of necessity: Specifically, the need to get a bratwurst without looking like an idiot.

One night in 1990, Wim Ouboter, a Dutch-Swiss banker and amateur craftsman, was “in the mood for a St. Gallen bratwurst at the Sternengrill in Zurich,” or so the story goes. He wanted to get from his house to the brat place and then to a bar, stat, but the stops seemed too far apart to walk, and too close to drive. What he really needed, Ouboter decided, was a mode of transportation that would let him swiftly cover that micro-distance. A bike seemed like too much trouble to take out of the garage. What he wanted was a kick scooter.

Tech Giants Spend $80 Billion to Make Sure No One Else Can Compete

Shira Ovide:

General Motors Co. and Google couldn’t be more different. GM musters an army of people and machines to produce the 10 million cars it sells each year. What Google makes doesn’t really exist: You type on a laptop or click play on a YouTube video, and Google zips back bits of digital information.
 
 But Google parent Alphabet Inc. and the other four dominant U.S. technology companies—Apple, Amazon​.com, Microsoft, and Facebook—are fast becoming industrial giants. They spent a combined $80 billion in the last year on big-ticket physical assets, including manufacturing equipment and specialized tools for assembling iPhones and the powerful computers and undersea internet cables Facebook needs to fire up Instagram videos in a flash. Thanks to this surge in spending—up from $40 billion in 2015—they’ve joined the ranks of automakers, telephone companies, and oil drillers as the country’s biggest spenders on capital goods, items including factories, heavy equipment, and real estate that are considered long-term investments. Their combined outlay is about 10 times what GM spends annually on its plants, vehicle-assembly robots, and other materials.
 
 The splurge by tech companies is behind an upswing in capital-goods spending among big U.S. companies, which is seeing its fastest growth in years, according to a Credit Suisse analysis. The $80 billion tab also is a snapshot of why it’s tough to unseat the tech giants. How can a company hope to compete with Google’s driverless cars when it spends $20 billion a year to ensure it has the best laser-guided sensors and computer chips? There are a lot of physical assets behind all those internet clouds.

Meituan IPO Fact-Checks Mobike’s Fanciful Numbers

Tim Culpan:

A year ago the world was beset by a bicycle rental craze that resulted in piles of discarded equipment and mountains of claims about the size of each fleet’s business.

I even fielded complaints from one outfit’s PR representatives that I underreported its figures. (They didn’t get back to me with their official numbers.)

Now, thanks to securities law and Meituan Dianping’s Hong Kong IPO today, I can shed some light on these claims.

Meituan bought one of these bike-sharing startups, Mobike, on April 4, and gives details of its operations in the IPO prospectus. Because it’s generally considered unwise to lie in an offer document, it’s probably safe to assume it’s a reasonably truthful account of what’s happening at the bike rental business.

Compare the details in the prospectus with statements made in press releases and the divergence is striking.

Self-driving homes could be the future of affordable housing

Daniel Horowitz:

The convergence of new technologies including artificial intelligence, the internet of things, electric cars, and drone delivery systems suggests an unlikely solution to the growing housing crisis. In the next few years, we may use an app on our smartphones to notify our houses to pick us up or drop us off.
 
 Honda recently announced the IeMobi Concept. It is an autonomous mobile living room that attaches and detaches from your home. When parked, the vehicle becomes a 50-square-foot living or workspace. Mercedes-Benz Vans rolled out an all-electric digitally-connected van with fully integrated cargo space and drone delivery capability, and Volvo just unveiled its 360c concept vehicle that serves as either a living room or mobile office. In other cases, some folks are simply retrofitting existing vehicles. One couple in Oxford England successfully converted a Mercedes Sprinter van into a micro-home that includes 153 square feet of living space, a complete kitchen, a sink, a fridge, a four-person dining area, and hidden storage spaces.
 
 For those who are either unwilling or unable to own a home, self-driving van houses could become a convenient and affordable solution. Soon, our mobile driverless vehicles may allow us to work from our cars and have our laundry and a hot meal delivered at the same time. In Los Angeles alone, it is estimated that 15,000 people are already living in their cars and in most countries it is perfectly legal to live in your vehicle.

What Your Car Knows About You

Christina Rogers:

Car makers are collecting massive amounts of data from the latest cars on the road. Now, they’re figuring out how to make money off it.

With millions of cars rolling off dealer lots with built-in connectivity, auto companies are gaining access to unprecedented amounts of real-time data that allow them to track everything from where a car is located to how hard it is braking and whether or not the windshield wipers are on.

The data is generated by the car’s onboard sensors and computers, and then stored by the auto maker in cloud-based servers. Some new cars have as many as 100 built-in processors that generate data.

The First Quieter Megacity, Thanks to Electric Vehicles

Blake Schmidt:

On a recent afternoon at a bus stop in the business district of Nanshan in Shenzhen, China, the air was filled with the sound of chirping birds in a nearby park. The street was quiet, with the exception of the occasional diesel truck chugging past—holdouts against a future that glided in with barely a sound: an electric bus.

A woman who’d been browsing on her smartphone while she waited hadn’t noticed the bus creeping up to the stop. Not until the doors opened with a beep, beep, beep and a man barking boisterously into his phone stepped out did she spring into action and hop aboard. Passengers scanned in with their smartphones, paying through WeChat, the app developed by Tencent Holdings Ltd., the Chinese social media giant whose flashy 50-story headquarters could be seen from the bus stop.

The State of Post-Secondary Education in Canada

Alex Usher:

For decades, Canadians interested in post-secondary education (PSE) have decried the lack of easily available, easily digestible data on the post-secondary sector. In part, this lacuna results from some very large gaps in our PSE data system, especially with respect to colleges, staff, and student assistance (in contrast, statistics on institutional finances are among the best in the world). There are also some types of statistics which take an inordinately long time to appear (data on international students, for instance, routinely take three to four times as long to appear in Canada as they do in the US, the UK, or Australia). Our decentralized, federal system is partly to blame, but mainly, Canadian governments and statistical agencies just seem not to care about good education data the way some other countries do.
That said, there actually is a considerable amount of data on Canadian post-secondary education available, but it is just not usually put in a narrative form which is easily accessible. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), for instance, puts out an invaluable annual “almanac”, but the data has a profound university skew and tends to be presented in tabular form rather than through more intuitive graphics. Universities Canada occasionally puts together some good publications on the state of the system, but these have become rarer as of late and in any case largely miss the colleges. The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) has an irregularly published system of “Education Indicators” but these are more focused on education as a whole rather than on post-secondary and fall prey to the same preference for tables over graphs. Statistics Canada produces a great deal of data (if not always very promptly), but does very little to help people interpret it.
As a result of all this, Higher Education Strategy Associates has decided to produce an annual publication called “The State of Post-Secondary Education in Canada”. We took as our model a similar set of publications produced by Andrew Norton and his colleagues at the Grattan Institute in Melbourne entitled “Mapping Australian Higher Education”. Like the Australian exercise, we expect we will take on slightly different issues in each future edition, depending on what new data come available. For the inaugural year, we chose to stick to the basics: describing the Canadian system (trickier than it sounds), detailing trends in student and staff numbers, and looking at how the system is financed, both from an institutional and a student perspective. We hope that by putting all of this information in a handy and convenient format, and providing some accompanying narrative, that we can help improve the quality of public dialogue on post-secondary education policy issues. Any and all comments or suggestions about how to improve the publication for future years will be gratefully received.

Google and Mastercard Cut a Secret Ad Deal to Track Retail Sales Google found the perfect way to link online ads to store purchases: credit card data

Mark Bergen:

Google paid Mastercard millions of dollars for the data, according to two people who worked on the deal, and the companies discussed sharing a portion of the ad revenue, according to one of the people. The people asked not to be identified discussing private matters. A spokeswoman for Google said there is no revenue sharing agreement with its partners.
 
 A Google spokeswoman declined to comment on the partnership with Mastercard, but addressed the ads tool. “Before we launched this beta product last year, we built a new, double-blind encryption technology that prevents both Google and our partners from viewing our respective users’ personally identifiable information,” the company said in a statement. “We do not have access to any personal information from our partners’ credit and debit cards, nor do we share any personal information with our partners.” The company said people can opt out of ad tracking using Google’s “Web and App Activity” online console. Inside Google, multiple people raised objections that the service did not have a more obvious way for cardholders to opt out of the tracking, one of the people said.

Dyson gears up for electric car testing

Chris Johnston:

Dyson has unveiled plans for a 10-mile test track in Wiltshire where its new electric cars will be put through their paces.

The track and other facilities are part of a plan to start selling a “radical” electric car from 2021.

The company best known for its vacuums and domestic appliances bought the disused airfield at Hullavington two years ago.

Dyson has already renovated two hangars built in 1938 at the 517-acre site.

That redevelopment has cost £84m and the next phase of the airfield’s development would take Dyson’s total investment to £200m.

Bird Introduces Government data sharing and reporting

Bird:

As ridership grows across the more than 40 cities in which Bird operates, information collected about e-scooter trips becomes more robust and can be used to help paint a detailed story about the transportation opportunities and challenges that exist throughout a community. Given the dynamic nature of this anonymized and aggregated information and its ability to significantly benefit communities, Bird’s Government Technology team is creating a comprehensive, customized dashboard to provide cities direct access to digestible information. In addition to the dashboard, Bird is also delivering cities the ability to geo-fence specific no-ride and no-parking zones, providing members of any community an easy way to report irresponsible riding and poor parking and increasing rider education.

The Bird GovTech Platform, an industry-leading offering, will be rolling out to cities where Bird operates, includes four initial products:

VW.os

Reuters:

VW said it was easier to do over-the-air software updates for cars if the operating system was designed in-house, rather than depending on third-party software supplied by the different vendors providing various sensors.

VW said it expects to generate around 1 billion euros in sales by 2025 from offering new digital services including car-sharing, parking and parcel delivery services.

The digital push includes embedding smartphone applications like “We Park” into car infotainment systems and connecting vehicles with vendors like Amazon that can use an app to open cars so they can be used as delivery locations, VW said.

Volkswagen also said it would launch a car-sharing business, called “We Share”, in Berlin using a fleet of 2,000 electric cars in the second quarter of 2019.

How Technology Grows (a Restatement of Definite Optimism)

Dan Wang:

I consider Definite Optimism as Human Capital to be my most creative piece. Unfortunately, it’s oblique and meandering. So I thought to write a followup to lay out its premises more directly and to offer a restatement of its ideas.
 
 The goal of both pieces is to broaden the terms in which we discuss “technology.” Technology should be understood in three distinct forms: as processes embedded into tools (like pots, pans, and stoves); explicit instructions (like recipes); and as process knowledge, or what we can also refer to as tacit knowledge, know-how, and technical experience. Process knowledge is the kind of knowledge that’s hard to write down as an instruction. You can give someone a well-equipped kitchen and an extraordinarily detailed recipe, but unless he already has some cooking experience, we shouldn’t expect him to prepare a great dish.
 
 I submit that we have two big biases when we talk about technology. First, we think about it too much in terms of tools and recipes, when really we should think about it more in terms of process knowledge and technical experience. Second, most of us focus too much on the digital world and not enough on the industrial world. Our obsession with the digital world has pushed our expectation of the technological future in the direction of cyberpunk dystopia; I hope instead that we can look forward to a joyful vision of the technological future, driven by advances in industry.
 
 This is one of my longer essays; the final section summarizes the main points.
 
 Process knowledge is represented by an experienced workforce. I’ve been studying the semiconductor industry, and that has helped to clarify my thoughts on technological innovation more broadly. It’s easy to identify all three forms of technology in the production of semiconductors: tools, instructions, and process knowledge. The three firms most responsible for executing Moore’s Law—TSMC, Intel, and Samsung—make full use of each of these tools. Each of them invest north of $10 billion a year to push forward that technological frontier.

Phone Numbers Were Never Meant as ID. Now We’re All At Risk

Lily Hay Newman:

 “The bottom line is society needs identifiers,” says Jeremy Grant, coordinator of the Better Identity Coalition, an industry collaboration that includes Visa, Bank of America, Aetna, and Symantec. “We just have to make sure that knowledge of an identifier can’t be used to somehow take over the authenticator. And a phone number is only an identifier; in most cases, it’s public.”
 
 Think of your usernames and passwords. The former are generally public knowledge; it’s how people know who you are. But you keep the latter guarded, because it’s how you prove who you are.
 
 The use of phone numbers as both lock and key has led to the rise, in recent years, of so-called SIM swapping attacks, in which an attacker steals your phone number. When you add two-factor authentication to an account and receive your codes through SMS texts, they go to the attacker instead, along with any calls and texts intended for the victim. Sometimes attackers even use inside sources at carriers who will transfer numbers for them.

Inside James Dyson’s all-or-nothing quest for an electric car

Stuart McGurk :

Sir James Dyson – the billionaire inventor, turbo-bespectacled, closely buttoned, best known for things that suck and things that blow, but specifically ones that do each very well – took to a stage in early March 2018 in the Meat-packing District of New York and began to tell the crowd about how his latest product sucked like never before.

The item in question was a vacuum cleaner called the V10. (Dyson products tend to have names you suspect engineers coined; this is not unrelated to the fact, as Dyson himself admits, that, “The company is run by engineers now. The CEO is an engineer. All the product directors are engineers.”) It was the latest in Dyson’s range of “stick” battery-powered vacuums, which is to say it is more like a gun you fire at the floor, complete with trigger, than a hulking machine you push around. The difference has seen some unexpectedly comic consequences – when a couple buy one, for instance, the man will often start taking up cleaning duties.

“Hello,” Dyson said, arriving to light clapping. “That’s very kind. Now…”

Volkswagen develops the largest digital ecosystem in the automotive industry

VW:

The development of a Group-wide platform and digital services for the “Volkswagen We” ecosystem is being accelerated. The Group plans to invest 3.5 billion euros in digitization by 2025, making the car the central hub on the Internet of Things.

“We have a clear vision: we will continue to build vastly superior vehicles. But going forward, our Volkswagens will increasingly become digital devices on wheels”, Jürgen Stackmann, Volkswagen Brand Board Member for Sales, said today at a press conference in the Group Representative Office in Berlin. “Our customers will become part of an ecosystem that we have named ‘We’. This system complements the Volkswagen experience on wheels and enables customer to take their world into their vehicle”, Stackmann commented, adding that the brand hoped open interfaces would also encourage third parties to participate in creating a strong community by contributing their own software.

The Chinese Are Coming – #25

Zo Zo Go:

Chinese automakers appear to be cracking the powerful Japanese oligopoly in Southeast Asia -something western automakers have tried – and failed at – for more than 30 years.
 
 Southeast Asia, aka “ASEAN”, is the loose association of 10 countries – including Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines – located in the South Pacific. As a group, the nations are home to nearly 500 million people, an expanding middle-class and 3.4 million new car purchases a year. In Indonesia alone, annual car sales will reach around 1.1 million in 2018.

Open oil

Johnny West:

OpenOil was founded in late 2011 by Johnny West, and has since evolved into a consultancy, publishing house and training provider, specialised on open data products and services around natural resources.

We began with a focus on the Middle East, but have since carried out projects and workshops in many countries across the globe, published more than 20 books on the extractive industries, including “How to Read and Understand Oil Contracts“, as well as developed a series of open data applications, such as the OpenOil Contract Repository, the Corporate Network Navigator, and the Aleph Database – a fully text-searchable database of over 1,000,000 company reports, news articles and government publications.

The Packard Merlin: How Detroit Mass-Produced Britain’s Hand-Built Powerhouse

Terry Dunn:

Few engines throughout history have achieved a near mythical status among its admirers. Fewer still can share credit for the rescue of an entire nation. Perhaps only the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine can claim both distinctions. During the Battle of Britain, it was the Merlin that powered the Royal Air Force Hurricanes and Spitfires that were England’s only effective defense against German air attacks. With the battle won, and the engine’s reputation thus established, the Merlin would become the stuff of legend and the powerplant of choice for numerous other aircraft.

Even before the 1940 air battles over England, it was apparent that demand for the Merlin was far outpacing Rolls-Royce’s ability to produce them. The Ford Motor Company was asked to build 9,000 Merlins for both England and the US. Ford initially accepted the deal, but later reneged. Henry Ford explained that he would only produce military items for US defense. Interestingly, Ford of Britain in Manchester, England ultimately produced 36,000 Merlin engines, beginning at the same time period. Of course, Ford’s American factories would indeed become vital to the war effort. They manufactured unfathomable quantities of airplanes, jeeps and other war materiel–but not Merlins.

Google Data Collection Research

Digital Content Next:

In “Google Data Collection,” Professor Douglas C. Schmidt, Professor of Computer Science at Vanderbilt University, has fully cataloged how much data Google is collecting about consumers and their most personal habits across all of its products and how that data is being tied together.
 
 The key findings include:
 
 A dormant, stationary Android phone (with the Chrome browser active in the background) communicated location information to Google 340 times during a 24-hour period, or at an average of 14 data communications per hour. In fact, location information constituted 35 percent of all the data samples sent to Google.
 
 For comparison’s sake, a similar experiment found that on an iOS device with Safari but not Chrome, Google could not collect any appreciable data unless a user was interacting with the device. Moreover, an idle Android phone running the Chrome browser sends back to Google nearly fifty times as many data requests per hour as an idle iOS phone running Safari.
 
 An idle Android device communicates with Google nearly 10 times more frequently as an Apple device communicates with Apple servers. These results highlighted the fact that Android and Chrome platforms are critical vehicles for Google’s data collection. Again, these experiments were done on stationary phones with no user interactions. If you actually use your phone the information collection increases with Google.
 
 Google has the ability to associate anonymous data collected through passive means with the personal information of the user. Google makes this association largely through advertising technologies, many of which Google controls. Advertising identifiers—which are purportedly “user anonymous” and collect activity data on apps and third-party webpage visits—can get associated with a user’s real Google identity through passing of device-level identification information to Google servers by an Android device.
 
 Likewise, the DoubleClick cookie ID—which tracks a user’s activity on the third-party webpages—is another purportedly “user anonymous” identifier that Google can associate to a user’s Google account. It works when a user accesses a Google applica

Facebook is rating the trustworthiness of its users on a scale from zero to one

Elizabeth Dwoskin:

Lyons said she soon realized that many people were reporting posts as false simply because they did not agree with the content. Because Facebook forwards posts that are marked as false to third-party fact-checkers, she said it was important to build systems to assess whether the posts were likely to be false to make efficient use of fact-checkers’ time. That led her team to develop ways to assess whether the people who were flagging posts as false were themselves trustworthy.
 
 “One of the signals we use is how people interact with articles,” Lyons said in a follow-up email. “For example, if someone previously gave us feedback that an article was false and the article was confirmed false by a fact-checker, then we might weight that person’s future false-news feedback more than someone who indiscriminately provides false-news feedback on lots of articles, including ones that end up being rated as true.”

When China Rules the Web Technology in Service of the State

Adam Segal:

For almost five decades, the United States has guided the growth of the Internet. From its origins as a small Pentagon program to its status as a global platform that connects more than half of the world’s population and tens of billions of devices, the Internet has long been an American project. Yet today, the United States has ceded leadership in cyberspace to China. Chinese President Xi Jinping has outlined his plans to turn China into a “cyber-superpower.” Already, more people in China have access to the Internet than in any other country, but Xi has grander plans. Through domestic regulations, technological innovation, and foreign policy, China aims to build an “impregnable” cyberdefense system, give itself a greater voice in Internet governance, foster more world-class companies, and lead the globe in advanced technologies.
 
 China’s continued rise as a cyber-superpower is not guaranteed. Top-down, state-led efforts at innovation in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robotics, and other ambitious technologies may well fail. Chinese technology companies will face economic and political pressures as they globalize. Chinese citizens, although they appear to have little expectation of privacy from their government, may demand more from private firms. The United States may reenergize its own digital diplomacy, and the U.S. economy may rediscover the dynamism that allowed it create so much of the modern world’s technology.
 
 But given China’s size and technological sophistication, Beijing has a good chance of succeeding—thereby remaking cyberspace in its own image. If this happens, the Internet will be less global and less open. A major part of it will run Chinese applications over Chinese-made hardware. And Beijing will reap the economic, diplomatic, national security, and intelligence benefits that once flowed to Washington.

What Your Car Knows About You Auto makers are figuring out how to monetize drivers’ data

Christina Rogers :

Car makers are collecting massive amounts of data from the latest cars on the road. Now, they’re figuring out how to make money off it.
 
 With millions of cars rolling off dealer lots with built-in connectivity, auto companies are gaining access to unprecedented amounts of real-time data that allow them to track everything from where a car is located to how hard it is braking and whether or not the windshield wipers are on.

National Household Travel Survey 2017 Data Now Available!

NHTS:

Conducted by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the NHTS is the authoritative source on the travel behavior of the American public. It is the only source of national data that allows one to analyze trends in personal and household travel. It includes daily non-commercial travel by all modes, including characteristics of the people traveling, their household, and their vehicles.

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.