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Elon Musk frames his company’s aggressive push into driverless car technology as a moral imperative. Along with sustainable electric transportation, he views autonomy as a core element of Tesla Inc.'s “fundamental goodness.”

Humans will be freed of the tedium of driving, he told Wall Street last year. Millions of lives will be saved.

There is another incentive for Musk to put driverless cars on the road, though. The day he does that, hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of stored-up revenue become eligible for a trip straight to Tesla’s perpetually stressed bottom line.

All Tesla cars built since late 2016 are equipped with sensors and other hardware that allow them to function without a human driver at the wheel, according to the company. Since then, buyers of Tesla Models S, X, and 3 have been able to pay $3,000 to $6,000 to eventually get what Musk calls Full Self-Driving technology, or FSD. (The price will soon rise to $7,000.)

Tesla has sold approximately 500,000 cars over that period. The electric-vehicle website Electrek has estimated that 40% of customers choose the FSD option. Owners who haven’t can buy it when available, albeit at a higher price.

Tesla cars will just need new lines of computer code beamed into the car to go full robot when the software is ready, the company says. Musk is aiming to make that happen by the end of the year.

But is Tesla anywhere close to ready with fully driverless technology? And what would that even mean?

The answers concern many in the auto industry, and not just for reasons of competitiveness. Auto executives worry that premature deployment of driverless technology would result in crashes, injuries and deaths and rile up politicians and regulators. It could also damage public trust in the technology — which surveys show is already low — and set the field back by years, they fear.

On Tesla’s website, where FSD is offered for sale, the company says that automatic driving will be available on city streets by the end of the year. FSD will recognize stop signs and traffic lights, it says. And Musk is aiming to release a self-parking feature by the end of the year. The technology, originally scheduled for a May release, would allow a car to drive itself around a parking lot, find an empty spot and park.

Tesla does not say how a car equipped with FSD might respond to a child crossing the street chasing a ball, or whether it would swerve over a double yellow line to avoid a bicyclist. It is “edge cases” such as these that Waymo — the autonomous-driving unit of Google parent Alphabet, and the acknowledged industry leader — and others say are taking them so much time to perfect.

Asked to provide a timeline for Tesla’s transition to totally driverless cars, a Tesla spokeswoman pointed to the Autopilot section of its website where the company discusses future use of Tesla cars without driver supervision. As for what Tesla means by “full” self-driving, she offered the following quote from a recent presentation by Musk:

“There’s three steps to self-driving. There’s being feature complete, then there’s being feature complete to the degree where we think that the person in the car does not need to pay attention. And then there’s being, at a reliability level, where we also convince regulators that that is true.”

The lack of clarity on FSD’s capabilities and timeline concerns the National Safety Council, a nonprofit health and safety advocacy group. “Most people don’t understand the technology that’s already in their cars,” said council Vice President Kelly Nantel. “It’s confusing to drivers. When you call something Full Self-Driving or Autopilot (Tesla’s driver-assist technology) you give the impression that the vehicle has capabilities it doesn’t have.”

Moving the millions collected from FSD customers onto Tesla’s bottom line could be enough to ensure a profit in the fourth quarter, which Musk told stock analysts last month he’s “pretty confident” Tesla can do. That would be huge for a company that is struggling to prove it’s not a perpetual money loser. Tesla hasn’t produced an annual profit since its founding in 2003. In the second quarter of this year, Tesla sold a record 95,000 cars but lost $389 million.

As of the second quarter, Tesla listed $1.18 billion in deferred revenue. The c
Lucas Jackson/Reuters
A new analysis by the ride-hailing giants sheds some light on a long-asked question about their congestion impacts on U.S. cities.

After the 2008 economic crash, Americans began driving less. But it didn’t last long: In every year since 2013, U.S. drivers have packed on more miles behind the wheel. This rise in vehicle-miles traveled (VMT, in wonk-speak) can be seen and felt in the nation’s metropolises. Congestion on major arteries like L.A.’s I-405 or San Francisco’s Geary Boulevard is getting worse; pedestrian death counts are reaching record heights; tailpipe emissions are growing thicker.

Also new since the Great Recession—Uber and Lyft. These ride-hailing services stormed into cities in the 2010s with a grand utopian promise: By tapping into America’s vast reservoir of idle vehicles, on-demand, app-based rides would reduce the need for personal car ownership and ultimately remove cars from the road.

But now, less than a decade into this experiment, the industry is ‘fessing up. Today the ride-hailing giants released a joint analysis showing that their vehicles are responsible for significant portions of VMT in six major urban centers. Still, Uber and Lyft’s combined share is still vastly outstripped by personal vehicles. As Chris Pangilinan, Uber’s head of global policy for public transportation, wrote in a blog post accompanying the findings, “although TNCs are likely contributing to an increase in congestion, its scale is dwarfed by that of private cars and commercial traffic.”

Led by the respected transportation consultancy Fehr & Peers, the analysis provides a high-level view of the combined mileage contributions from Uber and Lyft, as a share of overall VMT, over a recent month in the Boston, Chicago, L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. areas. Results are shown at the level of the larger metropolitan landscape, which includes both the central city and its surrounding suburbs, as well as the level of the core county that contains the city’s most concentrated homes and jobs.

Alongside their big mea culpa, Uber and Lyft are also pointing their fingers elsewhere—and justifiably so.

Notably absent here: New York City, the largest U.S. market for these “transportation network companies,” or TNCs. A Lyft representative said that this was partly because the city is unique in terms of its extremely low rate of car ownership and expansive transit system. Previous research by the independent transportation consultant Bruce Schaller has shown that yellow cabs and TNCs together make up 50 percent or more of traffic in central Manhattan—findings that pushed New York City lawmakers earlier this year to approve congestion fees for drivers entering the downtown core.

The new findings show that Uber and Lyft account for just 1-3 percent of total VMT in the larger metropolitan regions surrounding the six cities. But they have a far heavier traffic impact in core urban areas, as the table below shows: In San Francisco County, Uber and Lyft make up as much as 13.4 percent of all vehicle-miles. In Boston, it’s 8 percent; in Washington, D.C., it’s 7.2 percent.

These numbers suggest that ride-hailing is hitting traffic harder in many cities than previously understood. For example, independent research by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority in 2017 showed that, as of fall 2016, TNCs generated about 6.5 percent of the county’s total VMT on weekdays, and 10 percent of weekends. And the agency found that the grown in ride-hailing was already a major contributor to noticeable slow-downs on San Francisco streets.

Now, the Fehr and Peers memo indicates that TNCs accounted for nearly twice the VMT in San Francisco than the SFCTA had estimated, said Gregory Erhardt, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Kentucky who has researched Uber and Lyft’s effects on public transit ridership. That means the services are likely delaying commuters more, too. “This difference may be due to the continued increase in TNC use over the intervening two years,” Erhardt said. “With nearly double the TNC VMT, we would expect the effect of TNCs on congestion to be much higher in 2018 than was estimated for 2016 conditions.”

Ride-hailing did not seem to have an equally large footprint in all cities. Uber and Lyft posted lower shares of total VMT in L.A., Seattle, and Chicago.
Humble Hand Craft
Founder Ryan O’Donnell takes us inside three of his artful, handcrafted tiny homes and camper vans.

Woodworker and tiny home builder Ryan O’Donnell has been honing his craft since he was a kid, when he first worked for his father, a contractor in Ojai, California. "I worked for him for about 15 years, or since I was just a little guy of about 12, sanding boards for him," says O’Donnell.

Fast forward to 2012, and O’Donnell started applying his love of finish carpentry and custom building to tiny houses. He set up a small shop off the "main drag in Ojai" and spent about a year and a half of nights and weekends building his first model. "I ended up finding a buyer for that house, and the rest is sort of history, from one tiny house to the next," he says.

Since August of 2018, O’Donnell has run Humble Hand Craft out of a 1940s Quonset hut in Ventura, where he builds artisanal tiny homes and converts vans into campers using a more "conscious approach." This includes powering his shop with solar energy and relying on salvaged and sustainably sourced wood, as well as other green building materials such as low- or no-VOC finishes and vegan, recycled denim insulation.

The material that O’Donnell finds on his "wood-sourcing adventures" up and down the West Coast often guides the aesthetics of the finished home. "California has really good wood if you look enough and you’re willing to travel for it," he says. "I have a passion for working with old-growth material and trying to source it as ethically as possible."

Each house ends up being unique because of the nature of the reclaimed wood. "There are a lot of stories behind the material," says O’Donnell. "That might be why I like it so much."

M Moser via The New York Times
In recent years, new office designs have encouraged employees to get moving. Cafes and lounges beckon workers when they need a break. Open staircases spur them to climb floors rather than take the elevator. Sit-stand desks offer them a chance to stretch while continuing to work.

Now, the offices themselves are on the move.

M Moser Associates, a design firm in New York, calls its office “a living lab.” Green walls of plants are set on casters and can be used to block off one end of the 6,000-square-foot open space for private meetings, or they can be pushed against other walls to make room for large gatherings. And custom birch-topped work tables have wheels on back legs so they can be tipped and easily rolled elsewhere.

M Moser continually tinkers with its office, seeking new ways to support its staff and offer a “proof of concept” to visiting clients, said Grant Christofely, a senior strategist and associate at M Moser, who led a recent tour of the firm’s office in the historic Woolworth Building in lower Manhattan.

The desire to be able to switch things up at a moment’s notice has spread to companies in other fields, too. “Businesses are changing at a rate architects almost can’t keep up with,” Christofely said.

The flux is a result of many factors, including wave after wave of technological change that has prompted repeated adjustments to office designs. (Remember the need for a 150-square-foot room for the computer servers? Now, data is likely to be stored off-site or in the cloud.)

More collaborative ways of working have also been a driving force. A growing emphasis on teamwork often requires temporary settings for groups working on short-term projects.

And there is always economic pressure to keep real-estate costs down. Many companies have done away with private offices in favor of more efficient open plans, but some are shying away from long-term leases at permanent addresses altogether. The alternative: renting instant offices often called, appropriately enough, flex space.

Flex space represents 5% of overall office space in the 18 cities around the world surveyed for a recent report from real-estate services company Instant Group. Demand for short-term offices in flex-space facilities and other venues increased 19% last year.

“It’s a systemic shift in commercial real estate,” said Tim Rodber, chief executive of Instant, which procures space for Amazon, among other companies, and has an online platform listing more than 14,000 flex-space locations for rent, including about 4,000 in the United States.

CBRE, another real-estate services company, said that three-quarters of its large-scale clients were looking to add flex space to their real estate portfolios. Those findings are behind a new venture for the company: Hana, a flex-space subsidiary.

Hana’s first project has been leasing 67,000 square feet on 2 1/2 floors in a recently constructed building in Dallas. The company is outfitting the space for rentals that can range from hours to years, according to Andrew Kao, Hana’s vice president for product and design experience. Kao said the new space is expected to open in August.

But even some companies that sign traditional long-term leases are building kinetic elements into their designs to provide workplace flexibility.

Digital content provider Wiley has a banquet-size space at its headquarters in Hoboken, New Jersey. When folding wall panels are pulled open, the expanse can be divided into three conference rooms.

“It can accommodate a 225-person town hall or be broken up,” said Joseph Orrico, Wiley’s director of real estate and facilities for the Americas.

Law firm Nixon Peabody achieved flexibility in a different way in its midtown Manhattan offices, designed by architecture firm Perkins and Will. Its reception area is backed by a pivoting 12-foot-wide custom media wall that incorporates screens displaying branding content and company stats. When the wall pivots, reception and the cafe behind it are merged into one big space that can accommodate a crowd.

The pods allow employees to carve out space for meetings in Pixel’s open plan, said Philippe Paré, a Gensler design principal and director in London.

“It gives them a sense of control over their environment,” he said, adding that such pods were part of “the next ch
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
It’s not easy to raise a family in a big U.S. city—but it’s not any easier anywhere else in this country

In January, a young mother wheeled her stroller into a New York City subway station that—like most New York City subway stations—had no elevator. As many city parents have done out of desperation at one time or another, she picked up the stroller and carried her baby down the dozens of stairs to the platform. The 22-year-old mother, who had a history of heart problems, fell to her death. Her 1-year-old survived.

This tragic event epitomizes how American cities are openly hostile to families, and it was the only thing I could think of when I read a story in The Atlantic this week that opens with a New York City mom trying to get her two kids and a stroller up a staircase.

“The mom would fold the stroller to the size of a boogie board, then drag it behind her with her right hand, while cradling the younger and typically crying child in the crook of her left arm,” writes Derek Thompson in “The Future of the City is Childless.” “It looked like hell—or, as I once suggested to a roommate, a carefully staged public service announcement against family formation.”

Thompson’s essay addresses what’s become an obsession for urbanist writers, including the writers at his own publication: For all the people, attention, and money currently pouring into U.S. cities, it turns out that few of those resources are being devoted to raising the next generation of city-dwellers.

The narrative presented by Thompson is that young adults who move to big cities end up facing unsurmountable debt and housing costs, wait longer to have kids, then voluntarily leave once they decide to procreate.

San Francisco, which is cited in the story, is the most notorious example. In 2017, only 13 percent of the population was under 18, the lowest percentage of any major U.S. city. There are officially more dogs than children in San Francisco.

That statistic seems shocking until you consider a few other city stats, like the fact that one out of every 100 people in San Francisco doesn’t have a home.

Across the country, many Americans are spending too much on housing to contemplate the added expense of having kids: Over 11 million Americans—the populations of New York City and Chicago combined—spend more than half of their paycheck on housing costs. San Francisco might get all the headlines, but this is not a city-specific problem. There’s not a single county in the U.S., urban or rural, where a person making minimum wage can afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment and have enough money left over to purchase basic necessities for living—let alone the necessities for two or three additional people.

In Los Angeles, where I live, rising rents and a shortage of affordable units mean that the number of families who are homeless went up again last year, even as the city’s social services placed a record number of families in supportive housing. According to a Los Angeles County report, families headed by women are more likely to be evicted, forcing them to live in overcrowded apartments, in vehicles, and on the streets.

Those families aren’t leaving cities. They’re getting left behind.

Sure, affluent parents might opt to pack up the SUV and flee to the suburbs, but the truth is that most people in this country who have children do not have that type of economic mobility. In 2016, the percentage of Americans who moved to another home during that year fell to all-time low of 11.2 percent—about half the rate of domestic migration in 1965.

At the same time, America’s suburbs are also failing families. In a recent Los Angeles Times series, columnist Steve Lopez spent weeks at an elementary school located in a corner of the San Fernando Valley lined with ranch-style homes, grassy yards, child-friendly dining options, and box-store parking lots filled with minivans. Yet a quarter of the school’s children are homeless—living in garages and motels.

In his piece, Thompson poses a handful of solutions that might spark an urban baby boom. “Surely, downtown areas can be made more family-friendly,” he writes. “Mayors can be more aggressive about overcoming the forces of NIMBYism by building affordable housing near downtown areas. The federal government can help.”

But it’s not just a laundry list of kid-friendly amenities that families need, it’s giving parents the financial breathing room to enjoy them. Within
Jeff Swensen for The New York Times
Ford and other companies say the industry overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles, which still struggle to anticipate what other drivers and pedestrians will do.

A year ago, Detroit and Silicon Valley had visions of putting thousands of self-driving taxis on the road in 2019, ushering in an age of driverless cars.

Most of those cars have yet to arrive — and it is likely to be years before they do. Several carmakers and technology companies have concluded that making autonomous vehicles is going to be harder, slower and costlier than they thought.

“We overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles,” Ford’s chief executive, Jim Hackett, said at the Detroit Economic Club in April.

In the most recent sign of the scramble to regroup, Ford and Volkswagen said Friday that they were teaming up to tackle the self-driving challenge.

The two automakers plan to use autonomous-vehicle technology from a Pittsburgh start-up, Argo AI, in ride-sharing services in a few urban zones as early as 2021. But Argo’s chief executive, Bryan Salesky, said the industry’s bigger promise of creating driverless cars that could go anywhere was “way in the future.”

He and others attribute the delay to something as obvious as it is stubborn: human behavior.

Researchers at Argo say the cars they are testing in Pittsburgh and Miami have to navigate unexpected situations every day. Recently, one of the company’s cars encountered a bicyclist riding the wrong way down a busy street between other vehicles. Another Argo test car came across a street sweeper that suddenly turned a giant circle in an intersection, touching all four corners and crossing lanes of traffic that had the green light.

“You see all kinds of crazy things on the road, and it turns out they’re not all that infrequent, but you have to be able to handle all of them,” Mr. Salesky said. “With radar and high-resolution cameras and all the computing power we have, we can detect and identify the objects on a street. The hard part is anticipating what they’re going to do next.”

Mr. Salesky said Argo and many competitors had developed about 80 percent of the technology needed to put self-driving cars into routine use — the radar, cameras and other sensors that can identify objects far down roads and highways. But the remaining 20 percent, including developing software that can reliably anticipate what other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists are going to do, will be much more difficult, he said.

The industry’s unbridled confidence was quickly dented when a self-driving car being tested by Uber hit and killed a woman walking a bicycle across a street last year in Tempe, Ariz. A safety driver was at the wheel of the vehicle, but was watching a TV show on her phone just before the crash, according to the Tempe Police Department.

Since that fatality, “almost everybody has reset their expectations,” Mr. Abuelsamid said. It was believed to be the first pedestrian death involving a self-driving vehicle. Elsewhere in the United States, three Tesla drivers have died in crashes that occurred while the company’s Autopilot driver-assistance system was engaged and both it and the drivers failed to detect and react to hazards.

Companies like Waymo and G.M. now say they still expect to roll out thousands of self-driving cars — but they are much more reluctant to say when that will happen.

Waymo operates a fleet of 600 test vehicles — the same number it had on the road a year ago. A portion of them are the first set of vehicles it will be buying through the agreements with Chrysler and Jaguar. The company said it expected to increase purchases as it expanded its ride service.

“We are able to do the driving task,” Tekedra Mawakana, Waymo’s chief external officer, said in an interview. “But the reason we don’t have a service in 50 states is that we are still validating a host of elements related to offering a service. Offering a service is very different than building a technology.”

G.M. declined to say if it was still on track to start a ride service “at scale” this year, as it originally planned. Its chief executive, Mary Barra, told analysts in June that Cruise was moving “at a very aggressive pace” without saying when commercial operations would begin.

China, which has the world’s largest auto market and is investing heavily in electric vehicles, is trailing in development of self-driving cars, analysts say. The country allows automakers to test such cars on public road
Alex Brandon/AP
A new study claims the effects of neighborhood change on original lower-income residents are largely positive, despite fears of spiking rents and displacement.

Anyone can see the changes at work in a gentrifying neighborhood. Rents rise, crime drops, wine bars bloom in vacant storefronts. But it’s harder to see what’s happening inside people’s homes and lives. For all the handwringing that accompanies gentrification—from how common it is to the meaning of the word to what people should do to stop it—there are rarely robust efforts to tease out the impact of a neighborhood’s economic upswing on its original residents. Few resources exist to show how change really affects residents, for good or bad.

The study looks at original residents of low-income, central-city neighborhoods of the 100 largest metro areas using census data from 2000 and American Community Survey data from 2010 to 2014. Using the earlier data as a base, researchers Quentin Brummet and Davin Reed tracked changes in educational achievement and household status among less-educated renters and homeowners as well as more-educated renters and homeowners. While some of these neighborhoods saw gentrification, not all did, providing a basis for comparison.

For less-educated renters, who are among a neighborhood’s more vulnerable demographic groups, gentrification drives out-migration by 6 percentage points. Migration among renters is high whether a neighborhood becomes fancy or not: The research finds that 68 percent of less-educated renters and 79 percent of of more-educated renters move over the course of a decade. So, on average, gentrification spurs around 10 percent of moves for less-educated renters (and much less so for renters with more education).

Given the high rate of change within neighborhoods, the data suggest that gentrification itself is overdetermined as a direct cause of displacement. “This effectively places a limit on the potential for gentrification to cause displacement and makes it possible for neighborhoods to change quickly even without strong displacement effects,” the paper reads.

No doubt, there are unobservable costs associated with moving, which the paper acknowledges. Moving is pretty awful under the best of circumstances, and “displacement” usually summons a worst-case scenario. But leaving a neighborhood can lead to a perfectly neutral outcome. The research shows that “for all types of individuals, movers from gentrifying neighborhoods do not experience worse changes in observable outcomes than movers from nongentrifying neighborhoods.” The paper continues, “That is, they are not more likely to end up in a higher-poverty neighborhood, to become unemployed, or to commute farther than individuals moving from nongentrifying neighborhoods.”

For those original renters and homeowners who stick around, the benefits of improving neighborhood conditions are several. Gentrification reduces the exposure of original residents to poverty, which is tied especially to healthy outcomes for children. For less-educated renters, gentrification appears to be absolutely responsible for reduced exposure to poverty: The baseline change for poverty exposure within this group was zero.
Inspired to take a long summer adventure in a sweet tiny camper? Well, French start-up Carapate has unveiled a 10.5-foot-long, boat-like travel trailer for adventurous souls to travel in style and comfort. Although compact, the interior space of the Carapate Travel Trailer is incredibly flexible with a modular bed/sofa combo, a sliding galley kitchen and an extra-wide swing door to take in panoramic views.

According to the company, the design for the trailer was inspired by the beloved teardrop campers. Using the classic teardrop design as a starting point, the designers gave the camper a rounded trapezoid shape to create a bit more square footage. With traditional shipbuilding techniques, the team constructed the trailer to be incredibly lightweight. Coming in at approximately 990 pounds, the tiny trailer is easily towed by most vehicles and is extremely road-friendly. The nautical inspiration can also been seen in the camper’s exterior cladding, which includes wood, white and navy detailing. This sleek, yet classic feel continues throughout the interior.

The entrance is through an oversized door that swings open and upward. This extra large doorway provides plenty of natural light to the interior as well as wide, unobstructed views of whatever incredible scenery may be surrounding the vehicle.

Inside, white walls and wood detailing pay homage to boat interiors, as does the savvy storage solutions found throughout. The tiny camper comes equipped with a number of flexible furnishings that are meant to make the most out of minimal space.

A modular bed layout includes three single mattresses that can be folded up into a sofa or fit together on the floor to create a sleeping area for two. The galley kitchen is also a smart, space-saving design. The concealed countertop slides out to reveal the basic amenities, including a single-burner stove, sink and a pull-out cutting board.

The basic Carapate trailer package, which unfortunately is only available in Europe at the moment, starts at just under $16,000. However, the campers can also be customized with extra features including LED lighting, solar panels, an electric/gas fridge box and more.

Launching entirely new aircraft types in the 2020s will be a huge technical and regulatory challenge. Brazil’s Embraer aims to keep the design as simple as possible.

This week, Uber convenes its third Elevate Summit in Washington, D.C., to promote a future of quiet, electric air taxis whisking us from urban rooftop to rooftop for close to the price of an earthly car share. It’s like a science-fiction convention.

Not that these technologies are impossible: Experts I’ve spoken with say they are 5, 10, maybe 15 years away, limited by batteries, infrastructure, and regulations, among other things. To keep that time frame as short as possible, one of Uber’s aircraft makers, Brazil’s Embraer, proposes a deliberately simple aircraft design.

“Embraer could do a very complex design—we have technology to do that,” says Antonio Campello, president and CEO of the company’s “market accelerator” division, EmbraerX, which shared its mock-ups with Fast Company. “A very complex design will not bring very low operating costs, will not bring the reliability that these aircraft need, will not bring the availability that these aircraft need.”

The clearest example is how Embraer approaches Uber’s requirement that aircraft be able to take off and land like a helicopter, as well as fly on wings to conserve energy. Several makers of these so-called electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) craft propose one system for both. Fellow Uber partner Karem Aircraft, for instance, proposes rotors that point up for helicopter mode, then tilt forward for airplane mode. Airbus, which is building its own non-Uber flying car, would use tilting wings, a mechanism the company says it has successfully air-tested.

Embraer instead proposes two sets of rotors: eight atop the wings to lift and lower the craft, and two in the back to push it forward. The design resembles concepts that Embrarer and Uber proposed last year. It is also similar to Cora, an eVTOL backed by Google cofounder Larry Page, which is perhaps the furthest along. Cora, whose former head, Eric Allison, now heads Uber Elevate, declined to comment for this story.

After surveying potential future fliers, Embraer opted for a simple cabin design. “Some people say, ‘I want these aircraft to be like an SUV, because I don’t like to feel like being in an aircraft,'” says Campello. A design that feels familiar, like an automobile, also feels safer, according to the company’s research.

Embraer’s design (which does not have a name) might be closer to a shuttle van than an SUV, though, due to the large doors and ability to accommodate passengers in wheelchairs. Embraer has also surveyed blind people to understand their needs and expectations.

Finally, Campello promises that the craft will be simple to fly, thanks to partial automation. Uber and other eVTOL boosters have tempered initial exuberance for autonomous craft, conceding that pilots will be required for some time. That will be a serious hit to affordability, replacing a seat for a paying customer with one for a highly paid operator.

In addition to pretty renderings, Embraer has a full-scale mock-up of the design, says Campello, but nothing that’s ready to fly. “This probably will not be the last configuration that we’re going to present to commercial operation because it’s part of the process to evolve,” he says.

So the clock hasn’t even started ticking on the long process of getting a design certified for flight. That typically takes 10 years for even a conventional design, says Mike Hirschberg, an aeronautical engineer and executive director of the Vertical Flight Society. Though a big eVTOL supporter, Hirschberg cautions that evaluating these new technologies will present a lot of challenges to regulatory authorities like the FAA in the United States and EASA in Europe. (Uber’s announcement last week of a New York City ride-sharing program using traditional helicopters is a sign that it’s not pinning all its hopes on sci-fi craft coming to market soon.)

“Today we are in the early stage of this project,” says Campello. “We don’t feel comfortable to disclose dates that may experience change because it’s just starting in a new market and new product.”
Flying taxis? More Uber buses?

There were no splashy announcements accompanying Uber’s initial public offering Friday morning. And the person chosen to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange wasn’t CEO Dara Khosrowshahi or exiled founder Travis Kalanick but the company’s first intern, Austin Geidt, who started her career by handing out flyers to potential riders on the streets of San Francisco almost a decade ago.

“We are focusing on what we can control,” said Khosrowshahi, a surprisingly subdued sentiment about the biggest tech IPO in years.

It was a calculated departure from the stock market debut of Uber’s arch-rival Lyft a few weeks earlier. Lyft’s founders rang the bell remotely at a hot-pink pop-up space in downtown Los Angeles, paired with an announcement that the company would spend $50 million per year funding local transportation initiatives. (Lyft’s stock price promptly plummeted.)

In its early days, Uber’s businesses model was deemed so disruptive that other startups began billing themselves as “Uber for...” Yet, over the last decade, tracing the #DeleteUber hashtag serves as a retrospective of the company’s many public missteps. The hashtag was deployed after Kalanick said Uber could track the movement of reporters who wrote negatively about the company; to protest the company’s questionable surge pricing practices; in response to a landmark workplace harassment case; and in memory of Elaine Herzberg, who was killed in 2018 by an Uber-operated autonomous vehicle.

And then there was the strike: On Wednesday, Uber and Lyft drivers in 10 cities staged a walkout to protest what they called exploitative pay policies at the two companies, whose shareholders are now poised to make millions.

But the strike also highlighted just how engrained Uber and Lyft have become in local transportation. As the strike’s hashtag #AppsOffMay8 began to circulate, riders who wanted to boycott Uber and Lyft’s cars in solidarity with drivers found themselves in a predicament. Uber and Lyft now own and operate so many urban transportation services it’s difficult to know how exactly to extricate from them. Uber owns Jump, the dockless electric bike share company. Lyft owns Motivate, the country’s biggest bike-share operator.

There’s no question that Uber has a tight hold on cities. Nearly a quarter of all Uber’s revenue comes from just five: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, and São Paulo, all places where studies have asserted that Uber and Lyft increase congestion and hurt transit ridership. In San Francisco, where 1 of every 11,600 people is a billionaire, mostly thanks to IPO offerings like Uber’s, Uber and Lyft are the largest contributors to traffic congestion.

But in many more smaller cities across the U.S., Uber and Lyft work directly with public transit agencies, providing on-demand transportation during off-peak hours, and even operating actual buses to fill service gaps. It’s worked so well in some places that cities, unable to subsidize the growing number of trips, have capped the number of rides allowed per passenger. What happens when these smaller cities—the ones without great bike and scooter infrastructure, the ones that are making cuts to public transit—go all in for Uber’s services?

In 2015, The Awl’s Matt Buchanan, now an editor at Eater, wrote “The Uber Endgame,” one of the first stories predicting how Uber would cannibalize public transit:

Let’s grant that Uber’s vision will come true. (It might!!!!!) While zero car ownership will undoubtedly and unremittingly be a net social good — can’t wait until driving is something one does for fun, ban cars! — and while perhaps nearly everybody will be able to afford Uber the Utility, what happens in the time between now and the Ubertopia? Capitalism may eventually provide everything for everyone (so we keep hearing!), but what about the people who can’t quite afford to Uber everywhere during the years when it costs more than public transit — which becomes broken and neglected as a large portion of the population effectively abandons it and no longer demands its maintenance, much less improvement?

Just a few weeks ago Uber was, perhaps for the first time, honest about these ambitions, as Jalopnik’s Aaron Gordon first spied in its IPO filing documents. “We believe we can continue to grow the number of trip
KZ RV Sonic X
But what does that mean?

KZ Recreational Vehicles just introduced the Sonic X, described as “the industry’s first self-sustainable lightweight RV." Now, when I am not writing for TreeHugger, I am teaching sustainable design at the Ryerson School of Interior Design in Toronto, and one question I put on every final exam is “What is sustainable design?” I keep hoping that some day someone will give me an answer that makes sense – and I have no idea what “self-sustainable” means.

Bill McDonough has a standard joke about the word sustainable, once telling Andrew Michler at Inhabitat:

"I think it’s a nice word because so many people can use it. But, nobody knows how to define it. That’s part of the issue, and that’s why we never use it. For example, if I say what’s your relationship to your wife? Do you say just say sustainable? Don’t you want more than that? Don’t you want creativity and fun and all these things? If we just sustain what we are doing now, then we’re all dead."

That is the root of the problem with this Sonic X. If we keep towing three-ton trailers behind giant pickups, we are all dead. Is this "sustainable" at all?

But they are trying. Making it out of carbon fibre is theoretically a plus; it will be much lighter and take less fuel in the pickup to tow it. The unit has “the same durability and lighter weight of some of the world’s fastest and most luxurious supercars. The lightness of the carbon fiber allows for greater versatility, as it can more easily navigate the confinements of a city as well as the great outdoors.”

But they left it in its original carbon black, which is not going to be comfortable in the sun. And the material itself is actually carbon fibre-reinforced plastic, layers of carbon fibre laid up in a plastic resin. Mark Harris of the Guardian calls it "the wonder material with a dirty secret." The fibre and the plastic cannot be separated and the material cannot be recycled. It may not even be legal to make luxurious supercars out of it in Europe soon, because of EU rules that state that 85% of a car must be reusable or recyclable. That’s not sustainable.

There are a thousand watts of solar panels on the top, and nine batteries of unspecified capacity that are said to provide “endless solar power.” There is also a "Secondary Infinite Water System (S.I.W.S) with a heavy-duty water pump, 25-foot hose and water filtration, which can be connected to fresh water sources such as a stream, river or lake and can store up to 100 gallons of water."

But judging from C.C. Weiss's photos at New Atlas, there is a standard RV toilet and blackwater tank which is not infinite, and has to be pumped out.
Aly Song/Reuters
Cities have a key role to play in confronting climate change, and it starts with shared mobility—and taking back the streets from the private car.

Today, hundreds of thousands of students from over 100 countries are walking out of their schools to join a Global Climate Strike, part of a wave of youth protests around the world aimed at demanding immediate government response to the climate crisis. “I don’t want your hope,” said Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish student who initiated the movement, in her quiet, eloquent demand at Davos in January. “I want you to act. I want you to act as if you were in a crisis … as if the house were on fire. Because it is.”

The demand? That governments acknowledge the crisis, and move with commensurate speed and action.

In an urbanizing world, the transportation sector is a major generator of climate-altering gases, contributing as much as 60 percent of a city’s emissions. It’s also a profound influence on the lives of the children who grow up amid fossil-fuel burning behavior: Air pollution from transportation leads to lower birth weights and higher incidence of asthma; traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for American teenagers.

To hold warming to a 1.5 degree Celsius rise, as urgently laid out in the most recent IPCC report, we must reduce CO2 emissions by 50 percent by 2030. There are a suite of transportation-related actions that can be taken in cities that could achieve this goal.

Two years ago, I convened eight of the world’s largest city and transport NGOs; together, over seven months, we hammered out a vision for resilient, sustainable, and thriving cities and a set of clear principles to guide execution. This framework, the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities, has been adopted by more than two hundred companies and city advisors. If put into practice worldwide, they would not only dramatically reduce emissions in cities, but would also dramatically improve the quality of life for those who live in them. And they could do it without expensive and time-consuming infrastructure investments. Here’s how:

How cities spend their money

Right now, too many transportation investments take us further away from a carbon neutral world, rather than closer. We need to stop investing in new automobile infrastructure and put that money into improving the quality and service of more efficient ways of travel, such as public transit and segregated bike lanes. Not only have these been typically underinvested in, the investments that have been made are not commensurate with the fraction of travel that should be made by these means.

It’s also time to recognize how heavily subsidized private automobile travel is—and remove those subsidies. At the local level, that starts with removing free parking, and pricing this limited resource properly. We should unbundle parking spaces from residential and office buildings, and make residents feel the true cost of that not-free parking. We must recognize the price we pay from local car-generated pollution and integrate those costs into actual transport prices.
Cities are desperate to tame the sidewalk chaos of the e-scooter industry. One startup offers a solar-powered parking solution.

To understand the promise and peril of dockless scooters, look at Austin, Texas. This week, at least 9,000 of the zippy rentables are scattered on the capital city’s streets during this year’s South by Southwest festival. Nine different operators are vending cheap car-free transportation for the roughly 200,000 festivalgoers that have descended upon the city.

That might be great in theory, but mixed with big crowds, car traffic, a general lack of bike lanes, and a ton of free booze, the reality is cluttered sidewalks, tripping pedestrians, and some brutal scooter crashes.

Austin, in other words, is experiencing a Class 5 scoot-nado—a particularly intense variation on the shared-mobility disruption that cities nationwide have seen over the last two years. Which is why there’s a growing demand to bring scooter-sharing back to its roots, at least partly: Cities want docks for the dockless.

“We’ve all seen the problems associated with these things,” Colin Roche, the co-founder and CEO of Swiftmile, told me as he packed up his company’s booth at the National Shared Mobility Summit in Chicago last week. “But we also know the promise. In high-impact areas, they need to bring some order to the chaos.”

Swiftmile makes parking stations for e-scooters and bikes in support of what it calls a “semi-dockless” operating model. Their docks can pack in up to 24 Birds, Limes, Spins, and Skips in a space the size of a standard parking spot, using individual holsters equipped with anti-theft locks. More than glorified bike racks, the stations also use solar power to charge scooters while they’re tethered. They accommodate virtually all scooter models, and can gather data about vehicle use and condition.

The idea isn’t necessarily to bring all dockless scooters in from the wild. In high-scooting cities, Roche thinks the sweet spot is making parking available for about 25 percent of the total fleet, especially in areas with heavy foot traffic where sidewalk space is limited and vehicles tend to get carelessly dumped. With the rest roaming untethered, providers can still reap what are seen as the economic advantages of a dockless system, Roche explained: When rentables are freed from their expensive docking infrastructure, companies can invest in the volume and scale that may be needed to grow ridership. For the sake of comparison, docked bikesharing programs generally cost about $4,000 to $5,000 per bike; electric scooters retail for between $100 and $500.
Joe Fletcher
California firm Edmonds + Lee Architects has converted a 1960s travel trailer into an office and crash pad for an on-the-go tech entrepreneur who enjoys spending time in nature.

Named after the German word for bullet ship, the Kugelschiff trailer was designed for a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur who desired a highly flexible work setup. The client, Jeff Kleck, was urged by his daughter Alaina – an industrial designer passionate about sustainability – to create a mobile office.

"From that came this dream of the Airstream – a fully connective but simultaneously disconnective mobile office that could allow Jeff to focus intensely on his work in the midst of inspiration wherever he might find it," said San Francisco-based Edmonds + Lee Architects in a project description.

The client and his daughter spent a year searching for the ideal caravan. They ultimately selected an Airstream Bambi II – a rare model that was briefly produced in the 1960s. They found one in Hamburg, Germany, and had it shipped over to the US.

The client turned to Edmonds + Lee and Washington-based Silver Bullet Trailer to outfit the vehicle, with help from the client's daughter. The project offered Edmonds + Lee – a firm known for creating high-end modern homes – the opportunity to create an "ultra-condensed" environment with a heightened level of precision.

"Seamlessly integrated, multi-functional programmatic elements are something we've explored in every project, because they're an honest response to how people live their lives," said firm partner Robert Edmonds. "But in the constraints of this space, we needed to expand on that greatly, making the space not only highly functional within the spatial constraints, but also truly fluid in how it is lived."
Micromobility Conference/Vin Chandra
At a Bay Area summit devoted to electric scooters and other new mobility devices, fans evangelized about the potential of technology. But safety was an afterthought.

Inside a luminous former factory on the Bay Area waterfront last week, software geeks, VCs, and sundry tech evangelizers zipped around on electric bikes, scooters, and hoverboards. Industry representatives from Jump, Spin, and Lyft hawked their compact transportation widgets. This was the Micromobility Conference, billed online as “an event focused on unbundling the car with lightweight electric vehicles.”

It wasn’t the world’s first summit for aficionados of tiny shared urban conveyances—one in Copenhagen in 2017 might have taken that honor. But the event’s historically resonant setting (an Albert Kahn-designed industrial space that once churned out military jeeps during World War II) and grandiose manifesto signaled a deeper seriousness than the toy-like transport devices might have implied. On the convention’s website, organizers characterized the conference as part of a movement to replace society’s dependence on the automobile with just about anything battery-powered and bike-lane-scaled. Such a shift promises be “a transformation that is not only virtuous but highly profitable.”

Like many manifestations of Silicon Valley’s obsession with disruptive transportation, the (overwhelmingly male) Micromobility Conference invited a healthy amount of disbelief. Near the entrance, two men in button-ups steered a motorized desk around a course of safety cones; another dude took a stumble on gyroscopic skates. On stage, one presenter made bold declarations about the transhumanist potential of the unicycle. Towards the end of the day, a speaker on panel of venture capitalists half-kidded about the idea of “monetizing walking.”

But the rate of the industry’s growth is no joke. The global explosion of shared bikes and scooters in the past few years amounts to the “the fastest technological adoption in history,” as the event’s website noted. And it’s just getting started. “Logarithmic is the way to go with everything,” explained Micromobility Conference founder Horace Dediu, a tech industry analyst, in his keynote address. He pointed to charts showing the expected rise in adoption of shared electric scooters and their one-to-three-wheeled brethren. “If you’re not measuring in logarithmic, you’re in the wrong business.”

Investors apparently agree. Globally, they’ve plowed more than $5.7 billion into micromobility start-ups over the past four years, a new McKinsey analysis estimates.
Dave Burk/courtesy The We Company
There’s no membership required at We Company’s new retail space, where visitors can rent desks and conference rooms–and browse products by member companies.

The newly rebranded We Company (formerly known as WeWork) is the biggest private office tenant in Manhattan. But those spaces are primarily for members only, who pay up to $750 per month for a permanent desk at one of the 59 WeWorks across the city. Globally, the company has some 400,000 members at 400 locations.

But this week, We Company opened a new kind of space in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood–one that’s entirely open to the public. It’s a retail store-cum-cafe-cum-coworking space, where you can buy products made by WeWork member companies, grab a bite to eat, and reserve a desk or a conference room by the minute.

The space, called Made by We, looks like a cross between a hip college library, a coffee shop, and a cutesy gift store: One entire wall is dedicated to showing off member companies’ products, which include laptop cases, reusable water bottles, and handmade cards. It’s similar to the four small stores We Company operates within some of its office spaces that also sell member companies’ products, but this is the first one that’s open to the public.

Made by We’s 96 desks are rentable for at least 30 minutes, starting at $6, which you can reserve online. After your 30 minutes are up, they cost $.20 a minute. You can also book an entire day, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., for $65. That’s definitely more expensive than parking yourself at a Starbucks and buying a tea so you can use the Wi-Fi, though you won’t have to pray for a power outlet near your seat.

You can also book a conference room for groups of four to 10 people, with prices ranging from $50 an hour to $125 an hour.

The space functions as a place to try out We Company’s main product–its coworking memberships–and reinforce the company’s brand as a hub for creative entrepreneurship by selling member products, like pencil and laptop cases by the brand Dynomighty. This combo makes Made by We similar in ethos to other recent retail concepts like Casper’s The Dreamery, where you can test out the startup’s famed mattress while taking a 40-minute nap. Given We Company’s prevalence in New York City, Made by We could easily be scaled up and implemented across the company’s other ground-floor commercial spaces–if it’s successful.

Will people be willing to pay to sit in a what’s essentially a branded cafe, with some merchandise? In New York, where there’s a coffee shop on every corner, maybe not. But the
Mary Altaffer/AP
Ride-hailing services drive down bus and rail ridership in urban markets, a new University of Kentucky paper claims.

When Uber and Lyft arrived on the urban scene a decade ago, they claimed to pair well with buses and trains. By shuttling riders to train stations, guaranteeing late-night returns, and plugging in as paratransit, on-demand transportation could encourage travelers to abandon private cars and use public modes, they said. A lot of people believed them.

But now, transit systems are in crisis. Some 31 of 35 major metropolitan areas in the United States lost passengers in 2017, including the cities with largest ridership bases. There are numerous factors at play, but a small mountain of research singles out the rise of Uber and Lyft. A new paper by University of Kentucky scholars piles on: For every year after ride-hailing companies enter an urban market, rail ridership can be expected to fall by 1.3 percent, and bus ridership by 1.7 percent, it shows.

“We are starting to piece together multiple parts to the story,” said Gregory Erhardt, a University of Kentucky civil engineering professor and the lead author of the study. “For a long time it’s been about ride-hailing complementing transit in different ways. That is true to a degree. But it’s a question of whether it’s happening enough.”

This research picks up where some other recent attempts to uncover the cause of transit declines have left off. Last year, a study from McGill University pointed to service cuts across North American transit agencies as the primary driver for ridership downturns between 2000 and 2015. The methodology was sound, Erhardt believed, but the data it relied on didn’t capture the most recent trends. Similarly, another 2018 paper from UCLA pointed to an uptick in car ownership by lower-income immigrants as the explanation in Los Angeles. But again, as Erhardt points out in the paper, it only looked as far as 2015.

That year was important: It marks the take-off point for ride-hailing’s most dramatic growth and transit’s biggest stumble in many cities. Between 2015 and 2018, Uber and Lyft trips ballooned from 60,000 to nearly 600,000 in New York City, the largest U.S. ride-hailing market and one of the few that requires for-hire transportation services to report trip data. Meanwhile, subway and bus ridership there fell by about 580,000 boardings per day. Such a magnitude of change also indicated to Erdhardt that the effects of ride-hailing might accelerate the more the services grew.
Rune Fisker
Employees don’t like them. Research proves they’re ineffective. Why is it taking so long for us to get rid of them?

First, you tear down the walls and dispense with the soulless cubicles. Then you put everyone at long tables, shoulder to shoulder, so that they can talk more easily. Ditch any remaining private offices, which only enforce the idea that some people are better than others, and seat your most senior employees in the mix. People will collaborate. Ideas will spark. Outsiders will look at your office and think, This place has energy. Your staff will be more productive. Your company will create products unlike any the world has ever seen.

That is the myth of the open office, a workplace layout so pervasive that its presence is taken for granted, and its promises–of collaboration and innovation–are sacrosanct. According to a 2010 study by the International Facility Management Association, 68% of people worked in an office with either no walls or low walls–and the number has undoubtedly grown.

There’s just one problem. Employees hate open offices. They’re distracting. They’re loud. There’s often little privacy. “The sensory overload that comes with open-office plans gets to a point where I can barely function,” says one 47-year-old graphic designer who has spent more than two decades working in open environments. “I even had to quit a job once because of it.”

For as long as these floor plans have been in vogue, studies have debunked their benefits. Researchers have shown that people in open offices take nearly two-thirds more sick leave and report greater unhappiness, more stress, and less productivity than those with more privacy. A 2018 study by Harvard Business School found that open offices reduce face-to-face interaction by about 70% and increase email and messaging by roughly 50%, shattering the notion that they make workers collaborative. (They’re even subtly sexist.) And yet, the open plan persists–too symbolically powerful (and cheap) for many companies to abandon.

As with so many things today, we have Google, at least in part, to thank. Open floors have existed since the secretarial pools of the 1940s, but when the then seven-year-old Google renovated its headquarters in Mountain View, California, in 2005, the lofty, light-filled result was more than a showcase for the company’s growing wealth and influence; it signaled the dawn of a new professional era. Architect Clive Wilkinson eschewed the cubicle-heavy interiors of the company’s previous office for something that resembled a neighborh
at CES 2019 bosch presents the future of transportation with its concept shuttle, an all electric, self-driving pod. the shuttle comprises a light, airy, minimalistic design, with a futuristic outer shell made of display screens and glass, and a spacious interior.

whilst traditionally bosch doesn’t actually build cars itself, it is one of the biggest suppliers to other manufacturers of cars. with this expertise, it believes that by 2020 there could be up to a million on-demand shuttles on the road, and up to 2.5 million by 2025. bosch presents this concept at time where autonomous road vehicles are in abundance so what sets this concept aside from the others? there isn’t a huge deal.

users can book a shuttle via smartphone, accessing a system which uses an algorithm that identifies the vehicle closest to the requested location and finds other users who wish to travel a similar route. the more passengers a single shuttle can transport, the cheaper the journey for everyone. this approach hopes to reduce the amount of traffic in cities and mitigates the impact on the environment.

bosch is developing the necessary software platforms to make this a reality with some special attention to the experience of the individual consumer. when the shuttle pulls up to the requested pick-up point, users again use their smartphones to identify themselves – thanks to bosch’s perfectly keyless digital access service. it recognizes the owner’s smartphone as unmistakably as a digital fingerprint and opens the vehicle only for them. every passenger always gets the seat that they reserved. bosch services don’t just end when a rideshare journey is over: the company’s camera-based system for the vehicle interior checks whether anyone has forgotten something and informs them directly via smartphone (unless they’ve forgotten that). the camera can also detect gum on the seat or an overturned coffee cup – in other words, whether the shuttle needs cleaning – and can make the necessary arrangements immediately.

bosch has designed the interior of its concept vehicle to provide space for four passengers, seating them across from one another to maximize legroom and comfort. infotainment is provided on screens that can be used either by each passenger individually or in groups; for example, a family can watch a movie together as they travel somewhere for the weekend, or colleagues can work on a presentation on their way to the office.
IF YOU SAY you saw this coming, I don’t believe you. In 2018, electric scooter-share stole the mobility show. They arrived unannounced in cities. They provoked fierce council meetings and protests. They launched debates about who owns sidewalks, anyway, and what role regulators play in bossing around big business. They sucked up VC dollars, mountains of them, as upstarts crowed about the revenue generated per scoot. They got damaged and fixed, they launched their own new gig economy jobs.

Why it happened is part crystal clear, part murky. Thanks to Uber, Lyft, and bike-share programs, the smartphone-toting masses have become more comfortable with the idea of using vehicles they don’t own. Traffic is on the rise (thanks in part to ride-hail!), which no doubt pushed some sick n’tired commuters to try the two-wheeled things that just showed up. The scooters are also easy to ride, even fun. Putting Insta-friendly models and celebrities on the things probably didn’t hurt. (Congratulations to the scooter companies’ marketing teams. Ish.) But why does any trend happen, anyway? Investors got hyped about scooters, so they poured money into it: The Wall Street Journal reports Bird is currently raising money at a $2 billion valuation, and Lime between $2 and $3 billion. Remember, pretty much no one had heard of these companies less than a year ago.

But now, the Journal has reported that investor enthusiasm for scooters has cooled amid questions about the economics of the whole concept. So in 2019, expect scooter companies and scooter-ed cities to get to the grind—and enact some shake-ups. Here are our biggest outstanding questions:

Who will win the hardware throwdown?

In the second year of the post-scooter era, competitors will continue to differentiate themselves by hardware. They will need to make their products easier, safer, more reliable, and more satisfying to use for customers. They need to keep them easy to clean and maintain, and hardy enough to survive for longer on the streets, vandals be damned. (Both companies operating scooters in San Francisco right now have openly admitted that theft and vandalism is a big problem.) The companies also might need to make some modifications to satisfy their real overlords: city governments, which often retain control of the sidewalks and parking spots where scooters rest.
Bloomberg Philanthropies. Reproduced with permission by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the National Association of City Transportation Officials.
The Road Ahead, a new Cooper Hewitt exhibition, frames conversations around equity, street design, UX, freight, and more

Stand at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 90th Street for a couple minutes and you’ll notice that, like many other New York City street corners, it’s loud. Cars and buses zoom by and horns blare. The occasional bike jockeys for space. Waves of pedestrians cross the three-lanes to enter Central Park.

That same intersection also welcomes visitors to The Road Ahead, a new exhibition on the future of mobility at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, on view through March 2019. The sound engineers at ARUP created a 3D-audio installation that offers a tantalizing glimpse of what the intersection could be like in the future, if new modes of transportation featured in the exhibition—such as autonomous vehicles, scooters, and drones—become widespread.

“We don’t know what the future is going to hold,” says curator Cynthia E. Smith, who organized the exhibition with curatorial director Cara McCarty and curatorial assistant Julie Pastor. “It could be a utopia or dystopia. It could be more congestion or less congestion. We’re trying to help people see how design can play a really important role [in the future] and understand what’s possible through design.”

As the rumble of gas engines fades, lightsaber-like whooshes of electric cars and bike bells enter into ear shot. The street narrows, and a lane of parked cars becomes a patch of greenery. Clinking utensils and laughter from a sidewalk cafe enter the soundscape.

“Livable streets, a place to be,” the video reads.
Jesse Rieser for Fast Company
So is it everyday troublemaking, or is this a meaningful protest to automation?

When I landed in Phoenix, Arizona, last month, to be one of the first members of the public to ride in a Waymo One driverless minivan, a funny thing happened on the way to the demo from the airport. My driver explained, with a guilty laugh, how you could screw with Waymo cars on the road: stopping in front of them abruptly, or merging into their lane to run them off to the shoulder.

It wasn’t a confession, per se, but it was pretty clear from the conversation that he was speaking from experience. And it was only in that moment that I realized, while I was visiting Phoenix to get a taste of the future, this local had already been confronted by it here in the present. He was offended by the very presence of robotic vehicles on the road, perhaps because his own livelihood was at stake.

So it came as no surprise to learn that over the past two years, 21 police reports have been filed by Waymo drivers (the humans who sit in the robot cars as an additional safety measure) to local authorities in Chandler, Arizona, where the majority of Waymo’s fleet is based. A new report from the Arizona Republic describes how Waymo drivers have reported everything from a case of slashed tires, to thrown rocks, to a drunken man stopping a Waymo van by standing unflinchingly in the middle of the street. In one case, a Waymo driver even saw a 69-year-old man waving a gun at their vehicle. Police apprehended the suspect–whose wife said he had age-related cognitive impairment.

Some of these reports actually have some overlap, too: The same Jeep was found running Waymo vehicles off the road six separate times.

A total of 21 reports amassed over the course of nearly two years across hundreds of vehicles operating 24/7 doesn’t necessarily sound like an epidemic by any means. For a point of comparison, I asked the region’s public bus service about its own damage reports. Local police were contacted to deal with damage and other incidents on Valley Metro’s public bus service 15 times in the last quarter alone. That’s not a perfect comparison, though. The 350 buses in that data set ultimately serve hundreds of thousands of people, while Waymo’s Early Rider program served just hundreds.
Don’t believe me? Listen to the CEO of Waymo.

How quickly perceptions can change. It may seem hard to remember now, but a year ago the hype machine was still full steam ahead on self-driving cars and their presumed future dominance of the transportation system. Cars weren’t going anywhere, many presumed, but drivers would be liberated as software took over their role, making everyone a passenger.

The fatal Uber crash hadn’t happened. People still believed that Tesla’s Autopilot system was safe and that Full Self-Driving was on the horizon. There was little question in the reporting on autonomous vehicles that they were safer than human drivers, despite the complete lack of evidence. The tech visionaries had spoken, and as is too often the case, the media fell in line.

However, around the turn of the new year, criticism of the previous optimism was emerging. In January, I was among those pointing to the delayed timelines, growing number of collisions, and the slowing progress in reducing the number of times that human test drivers had to take over from the computers. As the year has played out, critics have been proven right, and a much more inspiring vision for the future of transportation has emerged.

The Decline of the Self-Driving Car
Waymo, a division of Alphabet, has long been acknowledged as the leader in autonomous vehicle technology. Based on the limited data that’s been released, its vehicles are acknowledged as having driven the most miles in self-driving mode and have the lowest rate of disengagements (when humans have to take over).

However, even Waymo’s CEO, John Krafcik, now admits that the self-driving car that can drive in any condition, on any road, without ever needing a human to take control — what’s usually called a “level 5” autonomous vehicle — will never exist. At the Wall Street Journal’s D.Live conference on November 13, Krafcik said that “autonomy will always have constraints.” It will take decades for self-driving cars to become common on roads, and even then they will not be able to drive in certain conditions, at certain times of the year, or in any weather. In short, sensors on autonomous vehicles don’t work well in snow or rain — and that may never change.

It’s still surprising to hear such a statement by someone leading a self-driving vehicle company, but given what has happened throughout 2018, it shouldn’t be. There were a number of negative stories about self-driving