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Self-driving Cars Will Not Fix Our Current Transportation Woes

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by Cameron Roberts for The Conversation

It’s 2035, and you’re going to a movie. As you walk out the door, you reach for your phone instead of the car keys because you don’t have a car. Instead, you’ve ordered your ride to come to you.

The car that arrives has no driver or steering wheel. As you climb in, the electric motor silently comes to life, and the car whisks you into an aerodynamic Peloton of vehicles, slipping through cross-traffic at intersections without stopping.

This utopian vision is a common prediction for the disruption of today’s road transportation . This future of autonomous, on-demand electric vehicles is tantalizing. It promises a hands-free solution to various transportation woes.

The prevailing belief is that a system of self-driving cars will solve several environmental and social problems without us needing to worry about messy stuff like politics, activism or changing our travel habits.

Unfortunately, this future will almost certainly never come to pass. Self-driving cars, left to their own devices, will likely do more harm than good. To avoid that outcome, we’ll have to turn off autopilot and shape the system of autonomous mobility so that it best serves both our needs and the needs of the planet.

More roads, more cars

Futurama, a General Motors-sponsored diorama at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, made a similar promise: fast and efficient highways would make traffic congestion and accidents a thing of the past.

Once these highways were actually built, however, induced demand quickly clogged them up, as people took advantage of the new roads to make new trips that they didn’t make before.

The 1939 Futurama exhibit, like today’s predictions about autonomous vehicles, promised an easy technical solution to transportation problems. (Richard Garrison/Wikimedia)

Autonomous vehicles risk a more dangerous version of the same phenomenon. Not only will efficient autonomous highways tempt people to drive further, but the ability to work — or even sleep — while travelling will make people think much less of a two-hour commute.

Cars might also become less energy-efficient as they’re modified to meet the demands of users. Passengers may run them at higher speeds because they’re safer, which consumes more energy due to aerodynamic resistance. Car manufacturers may also begin to design larger vehicles to accommodate mobile offices and bedrooms.

This might be mitigated somewhat by electric vehicles, but that electricity may still come from fossil fuels. Plus, bigger vehicles with bigger batteries will produce more carbon emissions as a byproduct of their construction.

These processes could, theoretically, be carbon-neutral, but that may not occur quickly enough. The safe bet is to reduce the number of kilometres travelled, rather than increasing them.

There’s also the threat of an empty vehicle traveling many kilometers. Why search for a parking spot when you could send your car home?

Scholars who have used computer models and other techniques to predict the environmental impact of autonomous vehicles have found the mass use of private self-driving cars could lead to increases in carbon emissions of up to 200 per cent.

Robo-taxi rejection

Most of the utopian visions of self-driving cars assume that they will be shared, rather than owned privately. This would be a more sustainable option.

Unfortunately, people are attached to their cars. They like having a vehicle that is instantly dispatchable, that they can use as a mobile storage locker, and that signals their social status.

Shared vehicles might also be uncomfortable. Because of the risk of vandalism and mess caused by unsupervised passengers, robo-taxis might be equipped with hard plastic, bus-style seats, rather than the plush upholstered interiors that motorists are accustomed to.

A Lyft self-driving car drives on the streets in Palo Alto, Calif., in December 2019. (Shutterstock)

Surveys show that if autonomous taxis cost US$1 per mile, only 10 per cent of respondents would give up their car to use them. Even if they were completely free, a quarter of motorists would still keep their cars.

Autonomous taxis are far more likely to win over cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders. But this would likely make those people’s trips less sustainable.

None of this will be helped by the fact that autonomous vehicle enthusiasts envision a future of road systems free of traffic lights, which will rarely provide space for cyclists or pedestrians.

Best-case scenario

But what if your autonomous trip to the theatre looked a bit different?

In a model being explored by many scholars and experiments in Europe, the autonomous vehicle that picks you up on your way to the movie theater would be more like a last-mile shuttle for public transit.

It would move slowly but comfortably, picking up multiple passengers on its way to the local transit hub, where you would board a fast and efficient light rail line. You would still arrive at the movie with time to spare.

An autonomous shuttle service in Vincennes Woods, in Paris, fills the gaps in commuter transportation. (Shutterstock)

This model could supplement existing forms of sustainable mobility rather than competing with them, making car ownership less mandatory. And because owning a car predisposes people towards using a car, this could be a powerful way to support sustainable transportation.

Shared, slow, autonomous shuttles integrated with public transit and other forms of sustainable mobility would get around a lot of the technology’s current hurdles. They could, for example, drive slowly enough that there would very little risk of them hurting or killing anyone.

If paired with other forms of sustainable urban transportation policy, such as committed support for bike lanes, as well as fast, efficient, and cheap public transit networks, they could play a key role in helping to realize a transportation scenario with vastly reduced car use, which could be our best shot at averting the worst consequences of climate change.

This outcome, however, will not emerge autonomously. It will require us to actively shape the mobility system through regulation, activism and planning.

It will require pushing back against vested interests that support dependence on private cars. And it will require us to reconsider our travel habits.

In short: Autonomous vehicles will not automatically drive us to a better transportation future. We’ll have to take the wheel ourselves.

Cameron Roberts is a Researcher in Sustainable Transportation at Carleton University.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Consumer News

WeHo Tech Company Shows Off Water-Proof Earbuds at CES 2020

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WEST HOLLYWOOD — For 2020, EarFun will be releasing its second pair of headphones- the Air, a next-generation True Wireless earbuds experience serving as an enhanced version of their critically-acclaimed earbuds, the EarFun Free.

CNET selected the EarFun Free as one of the Best True Wireless Earbuds of 2019, and it was also recommended by both CNET and PCMag as a budget-conscious alternative to other brands.

The new earbuds have been recognized by CES 2020 (Consumer Electronics Show- in Las Vegas this year) for featuring proprietary water-proofing technology, a substantial improvement over the basic design requirements needed to achieve IPX7 certification, all designed by EarFun’s R&D. Attendees can get a sneak peek at the new earbuds.

Just over a year ago, EarFun emerged from the plethora of small audio brands. What has separated them from the newcomers is how quickly EarFun has solidified themselves as a curator of value-conscious audio. 

“We wanted to create something very comfortable for casual listening and secure enough for physical sports or exercise” said Directing head of EarFun, CEO and Founder White Wong, “Our research and development team have been dedicated to achieving a combination consisting of a perfect fit that is wireless and convenient, and produces great sound all at an affordable price.”

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California

New Year, New Data Privacy Rights: CA Setting the Standard for Consumers

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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has issued an advisory for consumers highlighting their new rights as part of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which went into in effect on January 1, 2020.

The advisory describes consumers’ basic privacy rights under the CCPA and methods for consumers to exercise those rights, information about the data broker registry, and new guidelines related to data security. Enforcement of CCPA is the responsibility of the Office of the Attorney General.

“Knowledge is power, and in today’s world knowledge is derived from data. When it comes to your own data, you should be in control,” said Attorney General Becerra.

“In California we are rebalancing the power dynamic by putting power back in the hands of consumers. I encourage all Californians to take a moment to understand their new rights and exercise these rights to take control of their personal data.” 

CCPA grants new rights to California consumers

  • Right to know – Consumers may request that businesses disclose what personal information is collected, used, shared or sold by the business, in both categories and specific pieces of information;
  • Right to delete — Consumers may request that a business delete the consumer’s personal information held by both the business and by extension, the business’s service providers;
  • Right to opt-out —Consumers may direct a business to cease the sale of the consumer’s personal information. As required by the law, businesses must provide a “Do Not Sell” information link on their websites or mobile apps;
  • Rights for minors regarding opt-in consent — Children under the age of 16 must provide opt-in consent, with a parent or guardian consenting for children under 13; and
  • Right to non-discrimination — Businesses may not discriminate against consumers in terms of price or service when a consumer exercises a privacy right under CCPA.

Businesses subject to CCPA

Not all California businesses are subject to CCPA. A business is subject to CCPA if the business:

  • Has gross annual revenue in excess of $25 million;
  • Buys, receives, or sells the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households, or devices; or
  • Derives 50 percent or more of its annual revenues from selling consumers’ personal information.

In addition, as proposed by the draft regulations, businesses that handle the personal information of more than four million consumers will have additional record-keeping obligations.

Data Broker Registry 

As required by California Civil Code section 1798.99.80, a data broker must register with the Attorney General at oag.ca.gov/data-broker/register. The law mandates that a data broker shall pay a registration fee and provide information including primary physical, email, and internet website addresses, as well as any additional information or explanation the data broker chooses to provide concerning its data collection practices. The registry is accessible to consumers.

Consumers’ private right of action in the case of a data breach 

Businesses are required to implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices to protect consumers’ personal information, and CCPA authorizes a consumer to institute a civil action if their personal information, as defined in subparagraph (A) of paragraph (1) of subdivision (d) of Section 1798.81.5 is subject to an unauthorized breach as a result of a business’s failure to reasonably secure this data.

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Business

AI Dental Care Company Upgrades Scan Quality for Restoration

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WEST HOLLYWOOD — Pearl, the AI dental care company that is delivering AI and computer vision solutions that advance efficiency, accuracy, transparency and patient care, is launching its Scan Clarity Score, a product that addresses the inefficient and expensive process of working with poor quality intraoral scans for dental restorations.

Paramount Dental Labs, one of the country’s oldest and largest dental laboratories, is a pilot customer.

For a patient, when it comes to getting crowns, implants, and other dental restoration products into their mouth, time can pass at a glacial pace.

While dentists are eager to provide the best care and solutions to their patients’ dental needs, the quality of dental scans can hold up the manufacturing process due to myriad issues: lack of a visible margin, missing contact points, or defects in the scan itself. All of this leads to costly product duplication, assumptions and interpretation that lead to additional mistakes, and wasted administrative time between the dental practice and the dental lab.

All the while the patient waits anxiously to be relieved of pain, to be able to eat regularly, or to feel confident in their physical appearance again.

Pearl’s Scan Clarity Score allows dental labs to score and bucket each patient scan based on margin clarity. If the scan is of high enough quality, the margin is automatically marked and sent on for crown design. If the margin clarity score is low, it is flagged for human intervention and/or for a call to be placed to the dentist. By systematically processing the quality of margins, dental labs, dentists, and, most importantly, patients benefit from higher quality dental restorations.

Paramount Dental Studio, which has already been using Pearl for AI-powered margin marking (Pearl Smart Margin), has begun to integrate Pearl’s Scan Clarity Score to increase the speed with which they can deliver dental restorations to dentists and their patients. Scan Clarity Score’s ability to reduce human error and manual process iterations in the restoration process has the potential to create a bottom line impact for Paramount.

“One of the trickiest aspects of incorporating AI into our business is finding datasets large enough. Predictive modeling simply falls short if there is not enough data,” said Philip Kim, Paramount Dental Studio. “Pearl clearly has a big head start with its dataset, the size of which was one of the reasons we developed so much confidence in their margin scoring ability. We’re looking forward to continuing to integrate Pearl AI and computer vision into our business.”

Artificial intelligence deploys a combination of computer vision (the processing and understanding of digital imagery), machine learning (data-driven algorithms that enable computers to learn underlying patterns about the data they process), and predictive analytics (statistical modeling used to find or forecast patterns and outcomes).

Pearl trained its AI platform on millions of images annotated by leading global experts in dentistry and uses computer vision and machine learning to identify dozens of pathologies with greater accuracy. Pearl’s Scan Clarity Score is the latest product from the company to alter the dental care landscape.

“After seeing strong interest in our Smart Margin product, the launch of Scan Clarity Score is a natural next step, with strong applicability to the dental laboratory market,” said Ophir Tanz, CEO, Pearl. “The cost and efficiency savings enabled by Scan Clarity Score also underscore the big potential AI has for dental laboratories. We look forward to continuing to roll out new AI and computer vision features for dental providers, DSOs, dental insurers and dental laboratories alike.”

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