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Google's Self-Driving Cars Will Hit the Road This Summer

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Google’s new self-driving car is getting ready to hit the road—as early as this summer, in fact.

These pod-like vehicles—the designs for which were unveiled last May—are completely autonomous and the first to be totally developed by the Internet giant. (Its previous fleet of self-driving cars were converted Lexus SUVs; some of these have already been making regular trips on roadways.) This newer prototype will begin taking its own test drives around Mountain View, Calif., where Google’s headquarters are based, this summer.

“Vehicles that can take anyone from A to B at the push of a button could transform mobility for millions of people, whether by reducing the 94 percent of accidents caused by human error, reclaiming the billions of hours wasted in traffic, or bringing everyday destinations and new opportunities within reach of those who might otherwise be excluded by their inability to drive a car,” Chris Umrson, director of the project, explains on Google’s official blog.

The new model uses the same software as the Lexus SUVs, which have “logged nearly a million autonomous miles on the roads since we started the project,” Urmson says. “So the new prototypes already have lots of experience to draw on—in fact, it’s the equivalent of about 75 years of typical American adult driving experience.” But just in case, so-called “safety drivers” will ride along for this stage of the project, and will be able take over driving—using the car's removable steering wheels and pedals—if needed.

The Los Angeles Times points out that four of the 48 self-driving cars that have been cruising around California’s roadways have been involved in accidents so far; according to a report, however, all were caused by human error.

Google plans to do more than just fine-tune its software during this phase of test-drives—it also hopes to gain a better understanding of how other drivers on the road will react to the vehicles. Says Urmson, “We’re looking forward to learning how the community perceives and interacts with the vehicles, and to uncovering challenges that are unique to a fully self-driving vehicle.”

[h/t BBC, LA Times

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iPhone’s ‘Do Not Disturb’ Feature Is Actually Reducing Distracted Driving (a Little)
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While it’s oh-so-tempting to quickly check a text or look at Google Maps while driving, heeding the siren call of the smartphone is one of the most dangerous things you can do behind the wheel. Distracted driving led to almost 3500 deaths in the U.S. in 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and even more non-fatal accidents. In the summer of 2017, Apple took steps to combat the rampant problem by including a “Do Not Disturb While Driving” setting as part of its iOS 11 upgrade. And the data shows that it’s working, as Business Insider and 9to5Mac report.

The Do Not Disturb While Driving feature allows your iPhone to sense when you’re in a moving car, and mutes all incoming calls, texts, and other notifications to keep you from being distracted by your phone. A recent survey from the insurance comparison website EverQuote found that the setting works as intended; people who kept the setting enabled did, in fact, use their phones less.

The study analyzed driver behavior recorded by EverDrive, EverQuote’s app designed to help users track and improve their safety while driving. The report found that 70 percent of EverDrive users kept the Do Not Disturb setting on rather than disabling it. Those drivers who kept the setting enabled used their phone 8 percent less.

The survey examined the behavior of 500,000 EverDrive users between September 19, 2017—just after Apple debuted the feature to the public—and October 25, 2017. The sample size is arguably small, and the study could have benefited from a much longer period of analysis. Even if people are looking at their phones just a little less in the car, though, that’s a win. Looking away from the road for just a split second to glance at an incoming notification can have pretty dire consequences if you’re cruising along at 65 mph.

When safety is baked into the design of technology, people are more likely to follow the rules. Plenty of people might not care enough to enable the Do Not Disturb feature themselves, but if it’s automatically enabled, plenty of people won’t go through the work to opt out.

[h/t 9to5Mac]

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David B. Gleason, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
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Why You Sometimes See Black Tubes Stretched Across the Road
David B. Gleason, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
David B. Gleason, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

If you spend enough time driving down the right route, you may notice them: the skinny black tubes that seem to appear on stretches of road at random. But the scaled-down speed bumps are easy to miss. Unlike other features on the highway, these additions are meant to be used by the government, not drivers.

According to Jalopnik, those mysterious rubber cords are officially known as pneumatic road tubes. The technology they use is simple. Every time a vehicle’s tires hit the tube, it sends a burst of air that triggers a switch, which then produces an electrical signal that’s recorded by a counter device. Some tubes are installed temporarily, usually for about a day, and others are permanent. Rechargeable batteries powered by something like lead acid or gel keep the rig running.

Though the setup is simple, the information it records can tell federal agencies a lot about traffic patterns. One pneumatic tube can track the number of cars driving over a road in any given span of time. By measuring the time that passes between air bursts, officials can determine which time of day has the most traffic congestion. Two pneumatic tubes installed slightly apart from each other paint an even broader picture. Using this method, government agencies can gauge the class, speed, and direction of each vehicle that passes through.

Based on the data, municipalities can check which road signs and speed limits are or aren't working, and decide how much money to allot to their transportation budgets accordingly.

For a closer look at how these tubes are installed, check out the video below.

[h/t Jalopnik]

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