Pittsburgh residents get ready for driverless Uber cars

Pittsburgh residents get ready for driverless Uber cars

Brian FungThe Washington Post

Very soon, residents of this hilly city will become the first Americans to test out Uber‘s self-driving car service.

It is a historic moment not just for the ride-hailing company, but also for robotic cars in general. For many people, the technology will finally become a reality, one they can touch and experience rather than just read about.

Uber has been conducting its driverless-car tests on open roads since May. People in Pittsburgh say they have often seen the company’s prototypes driving around the city, their rooftops laden with sensors and communications equipment. But the project otherwise has been shrouded in secrecy, even from the drivers who sometimes ferry Uber employees to work in the Strip District.

Hence, what Pittsburgh locals think about Uber’s driverless cars has been shaped mostly by what they have observed with their own eyes. And their reactions run the gamut, from hope that the new technology will contribute to their city’s story of renewal, to questions about the cars’ performance on Pittsburgh’s complicated road network, to concerns about how the vehicles will affect the overall economy.

uber-referral-code5Most of all, interviews with city residents reveal a reluctance to trust a technology that Uber has kept so close to the chest.

“It’s scary, being driven by a robot,” Ada Gana said. “A person who’s driving knows what he’s doing or where he’s going. That gives me confidence.”

The San Francisco company staffs each of its driverless cars with two full-time employees, one to grasp the wheel and another to keep an eye on the computer software. That will not change when the company debuts its driverless service. But not everyone knows that. Some believed the cars would be empty, which suggests Uber has a lot of educating to do.

That is particularly the case for seniors, said Eva Tsuquiashi-Daddesio, 67. “If Uber or other companies want to be successful with the older population, they need to do a lot of demonstrations. Talk is not going to do anything,” she said. Seniors “have to see other people like them — like us, I suppose — using it, and they will have to see that it is safe.”

Even some younger people say they would be hesitant to try a self-driving Uber, although some predict that university students here will be among the most eager adopters.

For Uber drivers, however, it is no surprise that employment is the bigger concern.

Michelle Garrison has four children and treats driving for Uber as a full-time job. She wakes up at 5:15 a.m., Monday through Friday, and does not stop picking up passengers until 6 in the evening.

“I personally don’t care for it,” she said of the testing of self-driving cars. “I think it’s going to take jobs away from some of us. It’s going to take away from the actual drivers that are out here that are putting in the time and the hours.”

Uber’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, has said that he does not expect the number of human drivers to decline anytime soon and that self-driving technology will create jobs, such as for fleet maintenance.

That is not enough to alleviate some Uber drivers’ worries. A few have signed on with a group called Cabbie Central, a Pittsburgh organization that represents nearly 250 people who drive for taxi and, increasingly, ride-hailing services. Although they compete intensely for the same customers, taxi drivers and Uber drivers are discovering they have much in common in the face of Uber’s automation experiments, said Jim Jacobs, the general manager of Cabbie Central and a taxi driver who has been in the business for 11 years.

Uber’s aggressive timetable in launching an autonomous service has led many of its drivers to grapple with an uncomfortable reality much sooner than expected, said Jacobs: This is what planned obsolescence really looks like.

Some who view their gig with Uber as a part-time or temporary job are not as worried. “It hasn’t affected me yet, and I’m not career-sold on doing this forever,” said Jason Renton, a driver who lives half an hour from downtown Pittsburgh. “So no, it doesn’t really bother me.”

He and other drivers say that 70% to 95% of their customers are skeptical of the technology.

There are still a lot of questions. Some residents worry about the ability of a self-driving car to successfully navigate to a rider’s location or to avoid sudden road closures. Pittsburgh is said to be a tough — as in “good” — test case for self-driving vehicles because the city has hills, bridges and older streets.

On Sept. 2, a construction accident on the Liberty Bridge caused a fire so hot, it melted part of the bridge’s support structure. The bridge has been closed for weeks, causing commuter headaches. But Uber’s navigation system did not appear to know about the closure, said Shiquita Crumbley, a Pittsburgh native who started driving for Uber a few months ago.

“GPSes are not always correct,” she said. “It might take you to this bridge, not necessarily knowing, hey, this bridge is not open, you can’t go on it. So just making sure it’s the most updated version — that’s going to be the biggest, biggest thing for everyone’s safety.”

For the foreseeable future, navigation may not be a big issue for the self-driving cars, as the Uber employee behind the wheel can always take over.

Local transportation activists say they support Uber’s effort. “People are bad at driving,” said Scott Bricker, executive director of the bicycling advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh. “Recently, a Pittsburgh bicyclist posted video of a self-driving Uber test car giving him space and passing at a slower speed in contrast to a car driven by a person…. If you ask me, taking the human factor out of driving can’t happen fast enough.”

Other local residents say the program helps put Pittsburgh on the map. In recent years, an influx of new money has brought tremendous growth for the former industrial powerhouse, reversing decades of decline.

“A lot of people have regional pride in the universities, big companies like Uber and Google being here,” said Hassan Khan, a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University. Uber’s self-driving program, he said, “fits that narrative of Pittsburgh being a resurgent city through tech, through medicine.”

Xiaomi is getting into the drone business.

Xiaomi is getting into the drone business. The Chinese manufacturer mostly known for its aggressively priced high-end smartphones today introduced the Mi Drone, a camera-wielding quadcopter that undercuts comparable models from market leader DJI by over $300. Two models will be available: the cheaper one, priced at 2,499 Chinese Yuan (just over $380), will feature a 1080p camera, while the 4K model is 2,999 Yuan ($457).

The ball-shaped camera on the higher-end Mi Drone uses a Sony 12.4-megapixel sensor that can capture video at up to 3,840 x 2,160 at 30 fps and take RAW photos, while On the lower end 1080p model, Xiaomi has packed a 16-megapixel Sony backside illuminated CMOS and a 104-degree wide angle lens. Both feature a detachable gimbal that does 3-axis stabilization and is assisted by an optical flow sensor positioned between the camera and the battery bay on the back.

Xiaomi says the Mi drones will have 27 minutes of flying time on their 5,100 mAh batteries, with a range of of 3 kilometers. Like DJI, Xiaomi will build geofences into its drones to prevent them fromIn terms of design the drone itself looks quite a bit like DJI’s Phantom drones.

There’s a standalone controller with a dedicated button for take off and landing and a built-in smartphone clamp so you can use it as a viewfinder. flying into restricted areas. The drone will automatically return to base when its battery is dying or when it loses contact with the controller.



Pre-orders for the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Watch available

The greatly anticipated Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Watch is available for pre-order as of April 10, 2015. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Stores opened all over the world to take orders and schedule appointments, for a product that is only available online and is in limited supply. The deliveries will take place on April 24, 2015 but aficionados have already made arrangements in designated countries to test the gadget out for themselves.

Also among the designated countries are UK, Australia, China, Germany and France.There are three categories of the watch available: The Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Watch Sport at $349, the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Watch at $549 and the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Watch Edition, the price of which is $17000 and above. It’s said that there might be 38 options: 3 collections, with 6 different case types, on 18 straps, all available in 2 sizes.

A primary inspection of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Stores revealed that the reserve was severely short, and the 42mm stainless steel version and the 38 mm Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Watch Sport are the only versions to be shipped out on the delivery date.The Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Watch will take around 4-6 weeks for shipping. Specific boutiques in selected countries will put the products on display so that the customers can come and have a look at them.

Basically, the Watch was set to be released during the Christmas season after its announcement in September. The announcement created a lot of hype among the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)users and they have been waiting for the arrival of the Watch in the market ever since it was announced. If AppleInc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) had opened up pre-orders then, it would have taken even longer for the consumers to get their watches.The SVP of AppleInc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Angela Ahrents stated the advantage of using online Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)stores to sell the watches.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)planned on issuing 25000 Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)shares to the public a few days after the orders had been places. Angela Ahrents, also known as the former CEO of Burberry, is also heading the launch of the Retina MacBook, which is easier to order and attain than the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Smartwatch.The Retina MacBook is said to be available in the following colors: silver, gold and space gray at the starting prices of $1299 and the shipping time is only three days, unlike the Smartwatch whose shipping will take around one to two months.

There is also a guide available on the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Insider to help the customers decide which watch to buy. There are three main things that will aid the choosing: size, model and bands.Each watch comes in a choice of two case sizes: 38 millimeters and 42 millimeters.


Jeff Bezos’ rocket company to begin suborbital test flights this year

A space company owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos has finished work on a rocket engine for a suborbital spaceship and expects to begin flight tests this year, Blue Origin officials said on Tuesday.

The so-called New Shepard spaceship is designed to fly three people and/or a mix of passengers and payloads to altitudes about 62 miles (100 km) above Earth. It will launch from Blue Origin’s west Texas facility near Van Horn, Texas, southeast of El Paso.

Testing and development of the rocket engine, called BE-3, has been completed, the last major milestone before the liquid oxygen- and liquid hydrogen-fueled motor is attached to the New Shepard capsule for flight, Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson told reporters on a conference call.

Privately owned Blue Origin has not started selling tickets for flights on New Shepard or released pricing information.

“The engine is ready for flight … and ready for other commercial users,” Meyerson said. He declined to be more specific about when New Shepard would fly, except to say “soon.”

The capsule will fly dozens of times unmanned before the test flights include pilots, Meyerson added.

Blue Origin is among a handful of companies planning to offer commercial spaceflight services. New Shepard is a suborbital system, like Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, a six-passenger, two-pilot space plane that is expected to resume test flights later this year following a fatal accident in Mojave, California, on Oct. 31, 2014.

Another company, privately owned XCOR Aerospace, is working on a two-seater space plane called Lynx that also is slated to debut this year, founder and chief technology officer Jeff Greason said.

Other companies, including Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, and Boeing, are skipping suborbital spaceflight and developing systems to carry people into orbit.

Blue Origin intends to parlay its suborbital New Shepard vehicle into an orbital launch system, expected to begin flying later this decade. That vehicle will be powered by a liquefied natural gas motor, called the BE-4, that is being developed with United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing.

The recently completed BE-3 engine also will be modified to serve as an upper-stage motor to fly satellites into orbit, Meyerson said.


Russian hackers allegedly infiltrate White House

A US media report has said that Russians have penetrated a White House computer system. The Obama administration has confirmed the breach, but not who was behind it.
Russian hackers were able to reach sensitive, if unclassified, information from the White House computer system after intruding at the US State Department in the past few months, accessing non-public details of President Obama’s schedule, among other things.
According to CNN, who spoke to officials briefed on the investigation, the report from the State Department refers to a series of incidents beginning last October, when suspicious activity became apparent in a “network that serves the executive office of the president.”
The FBI, Secret Service, and NSA were all involved in the investigation. The White House went to lengths to stress that the system breached by the hackers was “an unclassified system…we do not believe that our classified systems were compromised” and refused to comment on CNN’s assertion that Russian hackers were behind the incident.
As CNN explains, even if the system is not top secret, information like the private details of the President’s schedule is sensitive information sought by foreign intelligence agencies. The hackers allegedly permeated the network using an email address as the jumping-off point for the infiltration.


American Airlines, US Airways to get FAA approval to fly as one carrier

American Airlines, the second-largest carrier at O’Hare International Airport, expects to receive its single operating certificate Wednesday from the FAA, an important milestone in its integration with US Airways.

As of Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to officially recognize the two airlines as one during a planned ceremony at the corporate headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas.

To get the single operating certificate, the airline has spent 18 months and devoted 700 employees to aligning behind-the-scenes policies and procedures and training employees, according to an internal fact sheet.

Though American and US Airways merged as corporations in December 2013 and have merged some functions — such as combining gates at O’Hare, they can’t combine flight operations until the FAA says so. The carriers expect to get that approval in the form of a paper certificate Wednesday.

However, some of the biggest milestones that customers care about are yet to come, including a single website and a single reservation system, a harrowing project that proved rocky in some other airline mergers.

That included Chicago-based United Airlines in its 2012 reservation-system combination with Continental Airlines. Compounded by poor employee training, the switchover resulted in months of widespread flight delays and cancellations, even leading to defections of business customers, hurting the airline’s profits.

At American, the carrier is not yet close to mixing American and US Airways flight crews and aircraft, which mostly amounts to working out union labor issues.

However, for operational purposes, US Airways on Wednesday will cease to exist.


Judge says Brooklyn woman can use Facebook to serve divorce papers

A Brooklyn woman scored a judge’s approval to legally change her relationship status to “single” via Facebook.

In a landmark ruling, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper is allowing a nurse named Ellanora Baidoo to serve her elusive husband with divorce papers via a Facebook message.

Baidoo, 26, “is granted permission serve defendant with the divorce summons using a private message through Facebook,” with her lawyer messaging Victor Sena Blood-Dzraku through her account, Cooper wrote.

“This transmittal shall be repeated by plaintiff’s attorney to defendant once a week for three consecutive weeks or until acknowledged” by her hard-to-find hubby.

“I think it’s new law, and it’s necessary,” said Baidoo’s lawyer, Andrew Spinnell.

His client and Blood-Dzraku tied the knot back in a civil ceremony back in 2009, but their relationship crumbled when Blood-Dzraku reneged on his promise to have a traditional Ghanaian wedding ceremony as well, Spinnell said. Both are from Ghana.

“She wanted their families there,” the lawyer said.

As a result, the wedding was never consummated and the husband and wife never lived together, the lawyer said — but Blood-Dzraku apparently still doesn’t want a divorce.

He kept in touch with his wife by phone and Facebook — but that was it, the ruling says.

The “last address plaintiff has for defendant is an apartment that he vacated in 2011,” Cooper said. Baidoo “has spoken with defendant by telephone on occasion and he has told her that he has no fixed address and no place of employment. He has also refused to make himself available to be served with divorce papers.”

The “post office has no forwarding address for him, there is no billing address linked to his prepaid cell phone, and the Department of Motor Vehicles has no record of him,” the ruling says.

“We tried everything, including hiring a private detective — and nothing,” Spinnell said.

The first Facebook message went out to the husband last week. “So far, he hasn’t responded,” Spinnell said.


Why critics call the imminent credit card chip system in the U.S. ‘a joke’

The way Americans spend money is on the verge of its biggest change in decades, but the drumbeat of doubters continues to get louder. New chip-enabled credit cards are slowly getting into consumers’ hands in advance of a looming deadline later this year. But a Walmart executive recently told CNN that U.S. chip cards are a “joke,” and a new report examining other countries’ changeovers suggests criminals around the globe merely switched tactics and kept right on stealing from consumers’ accounts.

The switch to chip cards goes by the shorthand EMV, which stands for Europay, Mastercard and Visa. In Europe, when banks implemented the change, government rules forced consumers to start using credit cards like debit cards – requiring that PIN codes be entered each time a card is used. The change adds two important levels of security, or two-factor security. To complete a transaction, buyers need to have in their hands a chip card, which is incredibly challenging to counterfeit. And they must know something — a PIN — that’s not on the card.

The U.S. is poised to implement only half this system. Chip cards must be accepted by merchants by the fall deadline, but not PINs. The so-called “chip & signature” system is a half-measure, according to Mike Cook, Wal-Mart’s assistant treasurer and a senior vice president.

“The fact that we didn’t go to PIN is such a joke,” Cook told CNNMoney.com.

For example, a criminal who physically steals a chip & signature credit card will have no trouble using it to commit fraud in a store by faking the consumers’ signature.

Meanwhile, a report issued recently by analyst firm Mercator raises even more concerns that the switch to chip cards might not reduce fraud, but simply nudge criminals towards different fraud.

“Unless the payment industry tackles other growing concerns like lost and stolen card fraud, overall fraud losses will continue to spiral up toward pre-EMV levels,” the report says.

Why? So-called “card-not-present” fraud is on the rise in places that adopted EMV long ago, according Mercator’s Tristan Hugo-Webb, who is Associate Director of the Global Payments Advisory Service.

For example, the United Kingdom was one of the first countries in the E.U. to complete the switchover to EMV back in 2006. While counterfeit card fraud has shrunk — from 27 percent of all fraud in 2003 to 13 percent in 2013 — other kinds of fraud have soared. Card-not-present fraud, which includes online and telephone sales, has climbed from 29 percent of fraud in 2003 to 67 percent in 2013. Chip cards have no impact on online or telephone sale fraud because the chips cannot be used for authentication.

So as e-commerce has risen, online fraud has risen right along with it. In the U.K., there has been a sharp increase since 2011, Hugo-Webb says.

New technologies that would add a layer of authentication to online purchases, such as electronic tokens that help verify consumers remotely, have been invented but have not been implemented.

“The hope is that with the creation of new security technologies like tokenization, the industry can begin to play offense rather than always having to play defense against payment fraud attacks,” Hugo-Webb says.

The trickiest part of the migration is that the U.S. is so far behind – at least a decade behind the U.K, for example – that new payment forms, such as mobile payments, may have overtaken old-fashioned plastic cards by the time the EMV adoption is complete. To some observers that lessons the urgency of the changeover.

But Hugo-Webb says the U.S. must still migrate, even if the step doesn’t reduce fraud. It’s more a matter of holding serve, he said.

“If the U.S. decided to skip EMV….it would be more of a target than it is today,” he said. “There is still value in migrating….it’s going to take a lot longer than people expect for mobile payments to really become commonplace.”

Because of the decade-long delay, however, the value of the upgraded security will be less in the U.S. than it was in Europe, however, where banks enjoyed at least a few years of reduced fraud before criminals caught up. Here in the U.S. criminals already have quite a head start on their EMV workarounds.

That fact should help inform banks and merchants as they consider how much to invest in new forms of security for the coming generation of payment systems.


Blood Transfusions Are One of the Most Overused Procedures in Medicine

Blood transfusions have saved countless lives. But blood transfusions can be risky. Emily Anthes writing in Nature gathers the evidence that the procedure is one of the most overused treatments out there, an expensive, but more importantly, potentially dangerous, problem.

It’s intuitive to understand why blood transfusions are good. When blood banks that arose out of World War II proved their use, doctors began adopting transfusions widely—without randomized clinical trials to back up many of the practices. “I think we were kind of brainwashed into thinking that blood saves lives, and the more you give the better,” anesthesiologist Steven Frank told Nature.

Lately, doctors have been trying to curb the practice. At Stanford Hospital and Clinics, doctors were prompted to reduce the number of transfusion requests, which ended up cutting costs by by $1.6 million and reducing length of hospital stays and mortality for patients.

More compelling than the money saved is the the fact that blood transfusions can do serious damage: There is the low, but not zero, risk of receiving infected blood, and then there is the complicated way in which foreign blood interacts with the immune system. Categorizing blood into different types (A, B, AB, O and positive/negative) is supposed to prevent harmful immune reactions, but it doesn’t always. Read more about the overuse of blood transfusions in Nature.


GitHub Still Fighting DDoS Attack

GitHub is still battling what it says is the largest DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack in the service’s history.
What began around 10 p.m. Eastern Wednesday was still underway on Monday morning, according to GitHub’s Twitter feed.
In a Friday blog post, GitHub suggested that the attack was launched “to convince us to remove a specific class of content.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, the ongoing cyber assault directed massive volumes of traffic from China’s popular Baidu search engine to GitHub, paralyzing GitHub’s website in what appears to be an attempt to shut down anti-censorship tools.
Citing unnamed security experts, the Journal said traffic was directed specifically to two GitHub pages with links to websites that are banned in China—one from Greatfire.org that helps users circumvent government censorship, the other the New York Times’ Chinese-language site.
As of press time, Greatfire’s website was reporting a connection error; the company has asked Twitter users to send samples of the code behind the attack.
The Times declined to comment to PCMag.
GitHub did not speculate about who is behind the onslaught, saying only that it is “completely focused on mitigating this attack.”
“Our top priority is making sure github.com is available to all our users while deflecting malicious traffic,” the company said.
Just before 8 a.m. ET, the GitHub status page said “All systems reporting at 100%. Attack traffic continues, so we remain on high alert.” The same messages was tweeted by the company about 12 hours before.
“It is reprehensible that the censorship policies and actions of a nation-state are affecting” the largest code host in the world, Richard Bejtlich, chief security strategist at FireEye, wrote in a recent blog post.”The Chinese government is forcing GitHub to expend its private resources in order to continue serving its customers.”
Bejtlich called on the U.S. and other “like-minded governments” to “tell the Chinese to immediately stop this activity.”
Confirming reports that HTTP traffic originating outside of China was being redirected elsewhere, Baidu told PCMag that its security team is conducting a thorough investigation.
“[We] can say that we did not experience a security breach,” the company said in a statement, “and do not appear to have been hacked. We have informed other security organizations and are working with them to get to the bottom of this.”
According to cybersecurity firm F-Secure, the attack likely involved Chinese authorities, and used traffic from people outside the country, making the attack harder to block, the Journal said.
A bit closer to home, Rutgers University in New Jersey said it is also battling a DDoS attack, which possibly originated in Ukraine, NBC New York reported.