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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Bertha Benz and the First-Ever Road Trip

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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Bertha Benz changed automotive history by packing her two teenage sons into a car and driving to her mother’s house.

It doesn’t exactly sound impressive, but the year was 1888. A 65-mile road trip by car had never been attempted before—certainly not by a lone woman toting her children.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Bertha was married to Karl Benz. Their last name might sound familiar; if you don’t know Karl as the inventor of the first car with an internal combustion engine, then you’ve probably heard of one of his little creations, the Mercedes-Benz.

But in 1888, Benz was still just a fledgling company. People weren’t convinced that Benz’ creation was safe, so Bertha hatched a PR plan that would be sure to allay fears and increase sales: She would embark upon a long journey in the Benz Patent-Motorwagen No. 3—all by herself. After all, if a woman could handle the vehicle, anyone could.

Karl Benz apparently had no knowledge of his wife’s plans. She and her sons jumped into the Patent-Motorwagen No. 3 and left while he was still sleeping, leaving a note explaining where they were going. And Bertha didn’t just drive 65 miles—she stopped along the way to fuel up, repair the leather drive belt, unclog a carburetor pipe using a hat pin, and insulate an electric ignition cable with her garter. When she got to her mother’s in Pforzheim less than 12 hours after leaving, she sent her husband a telegram to let him know that she had arrived safely, but there was really no need. Word had spread quickly from town to town as Bertha had stopped at small towns to fix problems and gas up.

The road trip stunt had the intended effect: The Benz business started thriving. The trip also helped Benz hone his invention; when Bertha reported back about the car’s struggle to get up steep hills, Karl added the world’s first gear system.

You can still drive the Bertha Benz Memorial Route today, but it’ll take you about an hour as opposed to the 12 it took Bertha—though, presumably, you won’t be making stops to make MacGyver-like repairs using only articles of your own clothing.

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Courtesy Umbrellium
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Design
These LED Crosswalks Adapt to Whoever Is Crossing
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Courtesy Umbrellium

Crosswalks are an often-neglected part of urban design; they’re usually just white stripes on dark asphalt. But recently, they’re getting more exciting—and safer—makeovers. In the Netherlands, there is a glow-in-the-dark crosswalk. In western India, there is a 3D crosswalk. And now, in London, there’s an interactive LED crosswalk that changes its configuration based on the situation, as Fast Company reports.

Created by the London-based design studio Umbrellium, the Starling Crossing (short for the much more tongue-twisting STigmergic Adaptive Responsive LearnING Crossing) changes its layout, size, configuration, and other design factors based on who’s waiting to cross and where they’re going.

“The Starling Crossing is a pedestrian crossing, built on today’s technology, that puts people first, enabling them to cross safely the way they want to cross, rather than one that tells them they can only cross in one place or a fixed way,” the company writes. That means that the system—which relies on cameras and artificial intelligence to monitor both pedestrian and vehicle traffic—adapts based on road conditions and where it thinks a pedestrian is going to go.

Starling Crossing - overview from Umbrellium on Vimeo.

If a bike is coming down the street, for example, it will project a place for the cyclist to wait for the light in the crosswalk. If the person is veering left like they’re going to cross diagonally, it will move the light-up crosswalk that way. During rush hour, when there are more pedestrians trying to get across the street, it will widen to accommodate them. It can also detect wet or dark conditions, making the crosswalk path wider to give pedestrians more of a buffer zone. Though the neural network can calculate people’s trajectories and velocity, it can also trigger a pattern of warning lights to alert people that they’re about to walk right into an oncoming bike or other unexpected hazard.

All this is to say that the system adapts to the reality of the road and traffic patterns, rather than forcing pedestrians to stay within the confines of a crosswalk system that was designed for car traffic.

The prototype is currently installed on a TV studio set in London, not a real road, and it still has plenty of safety testing to go through before it will appear on a road near you. But hopefully this is the kind of road infrastructure we’ll soon be able to see out in the real world.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Hoversurf
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technology
Dubai Plans to Outfit Police Force With Hoverbikes
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Hoversurf

Dubai is home to plenty of flashy fashion and architecture, and it has over-the-top police gear to match. The department already is outfitted with some of the fastest cars on the streets, including a Ferrari and a Lamborghini. Now, Autoblog reports that police officers in the United Arab Emirates city are getting hoverbikes to access hard-to-reach places.

The bikes, which were developed by the Russian startup Hoversurf, debuted in early October at the Gulf Information Technology Exposition (GITEX) in Dubai. Like Hoversurf’s Scorpion-3 hoverbike, the police version is battery-powered and uses propellers at each corner to float like a drone. The newly-released model can reach maximum altitudes of 16 feet and move at speeds of up to 43 mph. Though the quadcopter can only carry one passenger at a time, it can withstand weights of up to 660 pounds. A fully charged battery is enough to fuel a 25-minute ride.

The futuristic addition to the force’s fleet of vehicles isn’t designed for chasing bad guys. Rather, the city hopes to use it to reach out-of-the-way spots during emergencies. If there’s a car wreck at the end of a traffic jam, for example, the Scorpion hoverbike could simply fly over the congestion and reach the scene faster than the department could with cars on the ground.

While cities around the world are still figuring out how low-flying drones and vehicles fit into pedestrian areas, Dubai has been quick to embrace the technology. In 2015, the city invested in jetpacks for first responders. While it's still unclear when the gadgets will be used in an official capacity, the CEO of Hoversurf has confirmed that mass production of the bikes is already underway.

[h/t Autoblog]

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