The self-driving car is closer than you think

Author: Steve Marshall

My dad likes to tell a story about Grandpa Charlie, who grew up in Pullman in the early 1900s, just as cars were beginning to replace horses. Harvesttime meant getting up before dawn t work, but it also meant Grange dances and parties far into the night. He figured out how to do both. When it came time to leave, he got on his horse and tied his hands to the saddle, and the horse took him home while he slept on the way.

Horses were smarter and safer than cars. They knew their way home, avoided crashing into each other, didn’t run off the road, and when you called them, they would come.

But they were slow. Cars filled a need for speed. They allowed people to do a lot more each day, and they physically connected people to each other faster and more often than any other invention in history. When Henry Ford’s Model T made cards affordable, horses disappeared from the roads within a generation.

Unfortunately, cars and their drivers created a new set of problems. More than 30,000 people die on U.S. roads each year; vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death for those between ages 5 and 34. Even minor crashes take a toll in lost time as well as repairs. Drivers are responsible for 93 percent of U.S. vehicle collisions, at a cost of $299.5 billion a year.

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Mobile phone data redraws bus routes in Africa

Author: Jane Wakefield

Researchers at IBM have redrawn the bus routes of Ivory Coast’s largest city using mobile phone data.

The research was completed as part of the Data for Development competition run by Orange which released 2.5 billion call records from five million mobile phone users in Ivory Coast.

The anonymised data is the largest of its kind ever released.

Such data could be used by urban planners for new infrastructure projects, said IBM.

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Why It’s Nearly Impossible to Make GPS Work for India

Author: Mark Bergen

Usually, one of the surest bets for a technology innovator here is to handpick a winner in the U.S., then just bring it over. When Rahul RS and his partners left Infosys, one of the nation’s largest IT companies, to start their own venture, location-based services were becoming all the rage stateside. A flurry of GPS-enabled apps sprung up allowing users to pinpoint themselves and others. They ranged from the leisurely social networkers (i.e. Foursquare) to the serious security services, now bound for profitable IPOs.

“We were trying to adapt something that worked in the West to India,” Rahul says, describing his efforts with Onze Technologies. But transplanting mapping software to Indian cities is not a simple feat. “It doesn’t quite work out,” he says.

For one, the landscape is entirely different. Very few urban pockets are laid out in a grid. They’re filled with winding, narrow roads prone to sudden turns and stops. Addresses are often out of order or sight. Streets pop up, change names and add new commercial inhabitants all the time.

Another obstacle is cultural. “People are not used to maps,” Rahul explains. Giving directions in India is an idiomatic art, well-rehearsed and rarely done following formal strictures. He goes on: “I can guarantee you nobody will say, ‘head south.'” Rather than cardinal directions, people will navigate the lost using a series of routes and familiar landmarks.

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Smartphone apps put parking spots at your fingertips

Author: Emma Beck

A growing number of drivers are turning to a high-tech solution for a low-tech problem — finding a parking spot in the nation’s congested cities.

From Pittsburgh to Los Angeles — and dozens of cities in between — mobile applications are becoming available to ease drivers’ search for a place to park.

The problem doesn’t always stem from too few spots, but from not enough information about where to find available parking, said Kelly Schwager, the chief marketing officer for Streetline, a smart parking provider.

Parker, Streetline’s integrated smartphone parking application, feeds users with real-time data of parking availability, pay-by-phone options and alerts for remaining meter times in more than 20 cities, including Reno, Nev., and Hollywood, Calif. Developed in 2010, the application combines pay-by-phone functionality with parking availability data for a “bird’s eye view of the city,” Schwager said.

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To avoid the cops, SideCar making all SXSW rides free

Author: Daniel Terdiman

Last week, the Austin City Council ruled that services built around drivers charging riders a fee without the appropriate license were illegal and constituted a crime. That meant that SideCar drivers, who are expected to be prowling the streets of the Texas capital during SXSW this week, risked getting arrested.

SideCar is built around letting drivers who have extra seats in their cars make a little money by picking up riders, who use the company’s app to call for a lift. The service is similar to that available in a number of cities, like Lyft.

Today, SideCar announced that in an attempt to keep its drivers from risking being charged with a crime, it was making all rides free during SXSW.

That decision was, the company said, merely a stop-gap, since it doesn’t consider its service illegal.

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