Web Roundups

Web Roundup: Transportation Technologies and Futures

This month’s Web Roundup is about transportation—technologies, politics, and histories. Much of it has to do with driverless/autonomous cars, which have been in the news a lot this month.

Time has a piece on the technical details of how driverless cars work, and what hurdles need to be overcome before they do. The Atlantic’s CityLab has an interesting article on the project of “humanizing driverless cars,” which aims to address the fact that autonomous cars may have the technical ability to drive in such a way that makes human passengers uncomfortable. For instance, they did a test with a car passing through a narrow gate, something most drivers would slow considerably to do, but the autonomous car, judging the distance and clearance, went through at around 30 M.P.H., which rather terrified the human passengers. How do you make a driverless car that still drives like a human?

Daimler unveiled a demonstration of a driverless truck in Germany, which it hopes to be able to mass-produce by 2025, with the goal of reducing carbon emissions and road accidents.

Is your connected car spying on you? From the BBC. The BBC also has a longish review article on various forms of transportation technology, with varying degrees of futuristic-ness (jet packs to trains to autonomous cars).

In, To Make Roads Safe, Make Them Feel Dangerous, The Atlantic reviews research relating to what kinds of signs, cues, and road infrastructure makes people more or less cautious drivers, along with efforts in the U.S. and Europe to make roads “feel” more dangerous—narrower lanes, fewer traffic lights—which correlate with more cautious driving.

PBS Newshour interviewed Dr. Christopher Mason, a geneticist at Weill Cornell Medical College, who, along with his team collected swabs from the New York City subway and tested them for bacteria, in an effort to create, as Dr. Mason says, “the first city-scale genetic profile ever.” You can see the PathoMap here.

India has plans to revamp its railway system, which carries 13 million passengers daily, to the tune of £88 billion (USD 135 billion, INR 8.5 trillion). This announcement came just days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to release his first, highly anticipated budget; said Modi: “The Indian railways is not only for going from one place to another, but it is a powerful tool for speeding up India’s economy.”

Spain’s Directorate General of Traffic has announced plans to institute a breathalyzer test for pedestrians, among other laws governing “dangerous walking” (though it remains unclear if the laws will be successfully passed). This article from The Guardian reviews the potentials, and potential perils of such laws, and details briefly the history of the invention of jaywalking.

Slate has a piece on discrimination and segregation (both historical and contemporary) in the US transportation system and policy.

Check out the project Back of the Bus: Mass Transit, Race, and Inequality, a radio documentary about racism, discrimination, and history in US transportation policy. You can also follow them on Twitter @TransportNation.

And finally, The Washington Post has a lovely long article called The myth of the American love affair with cars in which the writer traces how, when, why, and for whom cars became so ubiquitous in American cities, and wonders about our future—as companies like Google, Ford, Uber, Sony, and (now, reportedly) Apple race each other to come out with driverless cars safe for the road, are we losing the opportunity to consider whether that is the direction we want our transportation technology to move in? What kinds of city infrastructure will need to be built for these cars, at the expense of what kinds of other transportation futures?


In unrelated but interesting news…

Research at a Japanese bank showed that workers were more productive in inclement weather.

Alaya Dawn Johnson wrote a piece for NPR on black science fiction writers and writings, on the history and present of discrimination in the genre, and on slow change as more and more science fiction writers of color gain recognition for their work.

The Attorney General in New York ordered that major retailers Walmart, Walgreens, Target, and GNC remove herbal supplements from their shelves after testing revealed that four out of five supplements tested “did not contain any of the herbs listed on their labels.” Building on that, The Atlantic has an article on the history of nutritional supplements in America, including an interview with Catherine Price, author of Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection, out this month from Penguin Press.