Researchers look into keeping autonomous vehicles from becoming mobile vomitoriums

If you’re like me, and I’m just going to assume most of you are, motion sickness is a serious consideration on any car trip where you’re not driving. So what are we supposed to do in self-driving vehicles? Researchers are finally looking into this question with an experiment designed to see just what makes people like us so sick.

The study, at the University of Michigan, was undertaken because the researchers realized that if millions of people can’t read or do work in autonomous vehicles, that massively reduces the draw of using them in the first place. And it turns out there has been almost no investigation of why certain people get motion sickness in this context, what makes it better or worse, and so on.

“Very few studies have been conducted in cars; instead, a lot of the work has been done for sea and air transportation modes, performed in driving simulators or on motion platforms,” explained lead investigator for the project, Monica Jones, in a university news release. “A lot of scales that exist in the literature are based on nausea. If we design to a vomiting response, we have really missed the mark on autonomous vehicles.”

Basically the cars should be designed around making people actually comfortable, not stopping just short of losing their lunch. What does that even consist of? That’s what these initial experiments are meant to explore.

The team collected 52 people from a variety of demographics and had them sit in the car while it navigated the university’s Mcity Test Facility, a sort of mock urban environment meant for exactly this kind of work. The drive involved the usual turns, stops, and accelerations you would experience being driven around a city, and participants were asked to perform some basic tasks on an iPad and answer questions posed by a researcher in the car. I can tell you I’m feeling queasy just thinking about taking part.

They were observed for indications of discomfort and were told to report any such feelings — and of course let the researchers know if they needed to stop. Sensors watched for changes in temperature or perspiration, among other things.

The early findings (PDF) are not exactly surprising, but they’re a start. It may not be front page news that people using a gadget while in a self-driving car tended to feel more sick. But no one has ever actually studied this, so if we’re going to treat it seriously one way or the other, it needs to be directly observed. And indeed there were other factors that cropped up as well. Younger people reported higher motion sickness levels, for instance. Why? When?

“Passenger responses are complicated and have many dimensions,” said Jones. And to measure those responses the team built up a database of thousands of measurements and observations that extend beyond a simple “misery scale,” but include context and other types of pain or discomfort.

This is just the beginning of what is sure to be a longer-term study of how to make self-driving vehicles as inclusive — and popular — as possible. Certainly if they get to the bottom of it, I (and all of you out there like me) will be much more likely to use an AV for my daily commute.

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The 11 best startups from Y Combinator’s S19 Demo Day 1

tY Combinator, the genesis for many of the companies that have shaped Silicon Valley including Airbnb, PagerDuty and Stripe, has minted another 200 some graduates. Half of those companies made their pitch to investors today during Day 1 of Y Combinator’s Summer 2019 Demo Day event and we’re here to tell you which startups are on the fast-track to the unicorn club.

Eighty-four startups presented (read the full run-through of every company plus some early analysis here) and after chatting with investors, batch founders and of course, debating amongst ourselves, we’ve nailed down the 11 most promising startups to present during Day 1. We’ll be back Tuesday with our second round of top picks.


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Trump, advisers looking at ways to boost U.S. economy as markets fear recession

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Even as they reject talk of a looming recession, President Donald Trump and his advisers are examining ways to provide a boost to the U.S. economy should it be deemed necessary, officials said.

“We’re very far from recession,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, echoing a theme from him and his team that the fundamentals of the U.S. economy are strong.

But aware of how dangerous a recession could be to his re-election prospects in 2020, Trump has been looking at options for a stimulus behind the scenes.

Trump and his advisers have discussed the possibility of a payroll tax cut, which would give workers an immediate boost to spending but would add to U.S. deficit spending.

The option emerged from a meeting Trump had with his economic team on Monday. It was not viewed seriously, given it would be hard to get through the U.S. Congress, an administration official said.

Millions of U.S. workers pay payroll taxes on their earnings to finance the Medicare health insurance program for the elderly and Social Security, which provides income payments for retirees.

Trump said on Tuesday another option he is thinking about is indexing capital gains, which would provide a tax cut on profits from selling assets such as stocks, but that he was not talking about doing anything imminently.

Some conservatives, such as anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, believe Trump has the regulatory authority to add an inflation adjustment to the calculation of capital gains taxes.

Such a step would likely be seen by Democrats as an attempt to circumvent the authority of the U.S. Congress and prompt a court fight.

Trump’s senior economic adviser Larry Kudlow has been arguing behind the scenes that the United States should return to taxpayers the tariff money collected by higher tariffs on Chinese imports, an official said.

Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida has offered legislation on this point.

There has been no clarity on how such a move would be carried out since China does not pay tariffs directly to the U.S. Treasury. The tariffs are paid by American companies when Chinese products enter the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions from reporters as he meets with Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis in the Oval Office of the White House In Washington, U.S. August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Trade tensions with China have stoked concerns that the U.S. economy is heading for a downturn, which could dampen Trump’s prospects for re-election in 2020.

Trump said he would not need the approval of Congress to link the tax on profits from asset sales, known as capital gains, to inflation. According to tax code experts, investors would pay far less capital gains tax under an inflation index.

“I’m not talking about doing anything at this moment, but indexing is something that a lot of people have liked for a long time. And it’s something that would be very easy to do,” he said. “It is something I am certainly thinking about.”

Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Lisa Shumaker

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Microsoft makes Chromium-based Edge beta available for Windows and macOS

chredgenowinbeta.jpg
Credit: ZDNet

Windows 10

Microsoft is making the official beta of its Chromium-based Edge browser available today, August 20. The Beta channel is open to anyone running Windows 10, 7, 8/8.1 and/or macOS and the beta version is immediately available for download from the Edge Insider site.

The Beta channel is the third and final “preview” channel for Chromium-based Edge, also known unofficially by some of us Microsoft watchers as “Chredge.” Microsoft already made available the Canary (updated daily) and Dev (updated weekly) channel builds of its new Edge browser. The beta version released today will be updated roughly once every six weeks.

Microsoft says there have been more than one million downloads of its Chredge preview builds downloaded on all supported platforms since the company began making test builds available in April this year.

Microsoft still isn’t providing a target date as to when Chredge will be generally available, but it’s unlikely to happen until either very late this year or sometime in 2020. Once it’s deemed ready, it will go to the Stable channel and will be added to new Windows 10 feature updates as a Store-updatable, inbox application. (It won’t be tied any longer to Windows 10, so it does not have to release simultaneously with a new feature update, such as Windows 10 20H1.) At some point, Chredge — which will just be called “Edge” just like Microsoft’s current browser — will replace the original Edge browser.

Microsoft officials are saying that the Chredge beta version available today is “ready for everyday use,” even though it’s not done yet.

Like the other preview channels, the Chredge Beta supports extensions from the Edge Insider Addons store or other Chromium-based web stores. Beta users can turn on tracking prevention for greater privacy. And the Beta supports a number of the previously announced enterprise features coming to the new Edge, including Internet Explorer Mode; integration with the new unified Microsoft Search (built into Bing); and support for Windows Defender Application Guard. (Here’s Microsoft’s roadmap for business users for Chredge, which it made public in July.)

Microsoft is continuing to add support for more features in Chredge, starting with the Canary and Dev channels. A new enterprise-focused new tab will be coming “soon” to Canary and Dev, officials said today. And Collections will be coming to the Canary channel today and to the Dev channel “shortly.” Collections is a feature meant to help users collect, organize and export information discovered via their browsers more easily.

Microsoft officials said yesterday that the Canary channel also will be adding an option to stop auto-playing video and audio on websites; improved scrolling; and a new favorites button on the toolbar. In October, the Chredge Canary channel will get inking on PDFs and other user-requested features.

In December 2018, Microsoft officials said they were redoing Edge so that it would be built on top of Chromium in the name of improving compatibility across the web. Chromium is an open-source browser implementation that is used as a base by a number of browser developers, including Google (with its proprietary Chrome browser), Vivaldi, Opera, Yandex, Brave, and more. Simultaneous with the launch of Chrome in 2008, Google released the bulk of Chrome’s code as open source, birthing Chromium in the process.  

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PES layoffs accelerate as Philadelphia refinery closes

(Reuters) – Refiner Philadelphia Energy Solutions PESC.N is laying off the majority of its unionized workforce on Tuesday and Wednesday, the union’s president said, ahead of an initial layoff deadline.

FILE PHOTO: The Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery is shown after a fire that caused significant damage to the complex, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Laila Kearney/File Photo

PES began dismissing a small number of union workers last Thursday, before an earlier-stated Aug. 25 termination date, as the company idles its fire-damaged refinery after filing for bankruptcy.

Union employees are expected to be paid through Aug. 25, but the company has so far not offered severance pay or continued health benefits, sources have said.

“I’m concerned about the lack of benefits, and I’m concerned that a whole culture is being wiped out at this refinery,” said Ryan O’Callaghan, head of the refinery union. “It’s a 24-7 operation and people spend most of their lives working in the refinery.”

Roughly 280 of the facility’s 640 steelworkers were dismissed on Tuesday, said O’Callaghan, who works as an operator at the plant.

O’Callaghan and a team of negotiators are currently bargaining with PES to retain a crew of union workers trained to run the plant’s wastewater system and conduct other work to safeguard the site while it is closed.

An 80-member ‘caretaker force’ at the PES refinery for up to 18 months was being considered, a source familiar with the company’s plans said. However, it was not clear whether they would be union members.

PES was not immediately available for comment.

The company has said it hopes to sell the plant to a buyer that would restart it, but it has not said whether it is in talks with any prospective buyers.

PES entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 21, a month after a fire at the 335,000-barrel-per-day plant destroyed an alkylation unit used in the production of gasoline. The company had emerged from a previous bankruptcy last year.

PES initially said it would dismiss union and non-union employees by mid-July following the fire, but it later extended the employment of the plant’s union workers.

The refinery’s last crude unit was shut late last month.

Reporting by Laila Kearney in New York, Additional reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

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UPDATE 2-Walmart sues Tesla over fires at stores fitted with its solar panels

FILE PHOTO: Walmart’s logo is seen outside one of the stores in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., November 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

(Reuters) – Walmart Inc (WMT.N) sued Tesla Inc (TSLA.O), saying solar panels supplied by the electric car maker were responsible for fires at about seven of its stores, according to a lawsuit filed in a New York court on Tuesday.

The fires destroyed significant amounts of store merchandise and required substantial repairs, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket losses, Walmart said in the lawsuit.

As of November 2018, no fewer than seven Walmart stores, including in Denton, Maryland and Beavercreek, Ohio, had experienced fires due to Tesla’s solar systems, according to the lawsuit.

“This is a breach of contract action arising from years of gross negligence and failure to live up to industry standards by Tesla with respect to solar panels that Tesla designed, installed, and promised to operate and maintain safely on the roofs of hundreds of Walmart stores,” Walmart said in the court filing.

The world’s largest retailer started using solar panels made by SolarCity in 2010 and the roofs of around 240 of its stores were fitted with solar panels made by the company.

Tesla paid $2.6 billion in 2016 to buy SolarCity, a sales and installation company founded by two cousins of Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk.

Tesla is also facing a federal field investigation by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board after several Model X and Model S owners across the globe said their cars burst into flames, a major disruptor for the company as it tries to ramp up deliveries of its cars.

Shares of the California-based company were down about 1% in extended trading.

Tesla did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva

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Tesla postpones Full Self-Driving price increase until V10 and Smart Summon

Tesla was planning to increase the price of its “Full Self-Driving” package last week that was supposed to coincide with an update to its Autopilot features, like the new Smart Summon, but it now won’t happen until September/October.

Earlier this year, Tesla killed the Enhanced Autopilot package and unbundled some features to create a base Autopilot package, which they made standard on all Tesla vehicles.

They added the features to the Full Self-Driving option and increased the price to $6,000 if ordered before delivery — $8,000 if ordered after delivery.

The features include:

  • Navigate on Autopilot: automatic driving from highway on-ramp to off-ramp including interchanges and overtaking slower cars.
  • Auto Lane Change: automatic lane changes while driving on the highway.
  • Autopark: both parallel and perpendicular spaces.
  • Summon: your parked car will come find you anywhere in a parking lot. Really.

Later, Tesla changed this structure of having different prices before and after delivery.

Since May, any Tesla owner can upgrade to the Full Self-Driving package for $6,000, but the automaker reserved the right to still increase the price in the future.

Earlier this month, Tesla announced plans to increase its Full Self-Driving price again on August 16, but August 16 came and went without any price increase.

Today, Tesla CEO Elon Musk now confirmed that the price increase has been postponed until they release Version 10:

Tesla’s Version 10 software update is expected to include improvements to Tesla’s music app and other apps, especially Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features.

The most anticipated one is Smart Summon.

Smart Summon, also known as Enhanced Summon, builds on Tesla’s previous Summon feature, which was used by owners to move their cars autonomously for a few feet in their driveway or in tight parking situations.

With the new version, owners are able to Summon their Tesla vehicles from further away, and the cars will navigate more complex parking environments.

We published an exclusive first look at Tesla’s new Enhanced Summon earlier this year, and more recently, we have seen a few interesting demos.

Electrek’s Take

This isn’t surprising, but I’m still kind of disappointed.

It sounds like we are going to have to wait for Smart Summon to be sorted out in order to get version 10.

That’s probably the hardest feature to get to work safely, and it’s pushing a bunch of other features that I feel would be easier to launch, like the long-awaited music app updates.

I feel like Tesla should just release those features while Summon is still in the test program.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.


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