Tag Archives: cars

In France, car ads will have cigarette-like disclaimers to discourage driving

France has taken a bold step to remind people that cars aren’t necessarily the best way to move around. In December, the government passed a law asking the creators of cars advertisements to encourage viewers to try not to drive a car whenever it’s possible. The law will now become operational this March across the country.

Image credit: Flickr / Luc Mercelis.

Similar to mandatory messages such as “abuse of alcohol is dangerous for your health” and “smoking causes cancer” currently found some advertisements, the new car ads will recommend that drivers adopt more environmentally responsible options for transportation. The new recommendations will be mandatory for all media across France – including radio, internet, print, and television.

Carmakers will have three options when running an ad:

  • “For short trips, opt for walking or cycling”
  • “consider carpooling,” and
  • “for day-to-day use, take public transportation.”

All ads will also have to include the hashtag #SeDeplacerMoinsPolluer, which is French for “move more and pollute less”. Not fulfilling the rules could mean fines of up to $72,000. 

The legislation asks the companies to present the messages in an “easily readable or audible manner” and that they are made “clearly distinguishable from the advertising message and from any other obligatory mention.” The ads will also have to include the vehicle’s CO2 emission class, a new ranking system that was recently implemented. 

Tackling fossil fuels

Environmentalists in France have long asked for a ban on advertising for all cars, such as the prohibition imposed on the tobacco industry. But while the French government has taken a measure against car advertising, it won’t go quite that far yet. As currently stated in French legislation, only advertising of the most polluting vehicles (emitting more than 123 grams of CO2 per kilometer) will be outlawed, and only in 2028. 

Transport accounts for a quarter of the European Union’s greenhouse gas emissions and is also the main cause of air pollution in cities. Within the sector, road transportation is the highest emitter. The bloc aims for at least a 60% reduction of its CO2 emissions from transportation by midcentury as part of its climate change strategy. 

Personal vehicles are one of the most carbon-intensive ways to move around. Taking a train or a bus drastically reduces the carbon footprint and overall emissions, while walking or biking eliminates emissions entirely. That’s why the transition towards a zero-carbon transportation system is very important to cope with the climate crisis. 

At the recent COP26 climate summit, 24 countries, including Canada, the UK, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Ireland, committed to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2040 or earlier. Carmakers such as Ford, Mercedes, and Volvo also signed the pledge, saying they won’t sell fossil-fuel-powered cars in leading markets as early as 2035. 

The International Energy Agency (EIA) warned last year that the world must stop fossil fuel car sales by 2035 in order to have a chance at meeting the Paris Agreement climate targets. The world’s average temperature has already increased 1ºC compared to pre-industrial times, with the Paris deal hoping to limit the increase to 2ºC at most, and ideally 1.5ºC. 

Cities need to wean off of cars in the future or become endless traffic jams

If we want cities to remain viable in the future, we’ll have to rethink transportation and car use, a new paper warns.

Image via Pixabay.

Researchers at the University College London (UCL) trying to understand the city of the future say it doesn’t mix well with automobiles. If current trends continue, they explain, cities will eventually be swamped by cars. This will drain ever-more resources on infrastructure, and waste ever-more of our time through busy, slow commutes.

Cars will still be used, undoubtedly, but the authors recommend that walking or cycling should be promoted instead of these for short, local trips. Public transport networks should be improved and encouraged for longer journeys, where possible. In order to keep cities livable in the future, the team concludes, cars should only be used for special occasions or emergencies.

Too many

“The city of the future, with millions of people, cannot be constructed around cars and their expensive infrastructure,” explains lead author Dr. Rafael Prieto Curiel. In a few decades, we will have cities with 40 or 50 million inhabitants, and these could resemble car parks with 40 or 50 million cars.”

“The idea that we need cars comes from a very polluting industry and very expensive marketing.”

The results are based on a mathematical framework that models the use of cars in a city. For the purposes of this study, the model assumed that citizens would either use a car on a daily basis or used public transport. What the model tracked was how long (in terms of time) each journey would take, as time was considered to be the main cost individuals consider when deciding on how to travel. The baseline for the model was a city in which there is no personal car traffic, just cycling, walking, and public transport.

On the other extreme, the model considered a city with 50 million inhabitants and 50 million cars, where all residents would commute to work with their own vehicle in order to save up on time. This virtual city, quite understandably, saw much higher levels of congestion and required more spending on infrastructure such as avenues, bridges, and car parks in order to accommodate all that traffic.

Surprisingly however, while the people in this city opted to drive to work to get there sooner, they actually lost more time than those in other scenarios. While driving is the fastest solution for individuals, when everybody opted for it, commuting times were the longest seen in any of the simulated cities. The team explains that this comes down to traffic — all those cars on the road create jams and slow everybody down significantly.

Where to go from here — and how?

The paper offers reliable evidence that better public transport infrastructure would improve the travel time for citizens, as more of them would opt for public transport over personal vehicles. It also shows that even without any improvements in public transport, time costs for commuters and citizens travelling through the city can be reduced by lowering the number of people driving at any single time.

While they don’t advocate for this solution, the authors give a scenario where a group of people is allowed to drive one week, but must use other transportation options the next one, such as ride-sharing or public transport. Average commuting times could be reduced by up to 25% (depending on the size of the group) for all citizens due to reduced car traffic, less congestion, and faster transportation throughout the city on average.

However, the authors underline that decreasing car use in cities hinges on giving people efficient travel alternatives, as well as local shops and services (so as to reduce demand for transport in the first place). Interventions such as congestion charges, tolls, and driving and parking controls can help discourage car use, but unless people have alternatives to pick from, and are informed as to the local costs of car use, we can’t reasonably expect them to give up the use of their cars. Some cities have tried simply banning some vehicles based on their license plate, such as Mexico City, but this backfired as residents purchased older, cheaper, and more polluting cars to get around the ban.

Not making any changes isn’t a viable option, either. They note that car production is fast increasing, and has actually outstripped population growth. In 2019, 80 million cars were produced, while the population increased by 78 million worldwide. Pollution is a big concern: globally, car manufacturing (including electric vehicles) contributes 4% of total carbon dioxide emissions. Energy use, be it petrol, diesel, or electricity, also generates pollution (right under our noses, in the case of combustion engines) and added costs. Material costs related to the construction and maintenance of infrastructure required by these cars, as well as time lost in traffic due to congestion, are also added costs most people don’t consider.

“Currently, much of the land in cities is dedicated to cars. If our goal is to have more liveable and sustainable cities, then we must take part of this land and allocate it to alternative modes of transportation: walking, cycling, and public transport,” says co-author Dr. Humberto González Ramírez from the Université Gustave Eiffel.

Such research is actually very important, as sustainable transportation is a key objective for many large cities as part of one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. This model, the authors explain, can easily be adapted to other cities around the world, although it is particularly useful for locales where the majority of travel (>90%) is done by car, which is most common for cities in the US.

The paper “A paradox of traffic and extra cars in a city as a collective behaviour” has been published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Is this the year European cities start banning cars?

As anyone who’s used the public transportation in Birmingham, UK, can tell you — it’s not great. There’s no subway, train stations are few and far between, and buses often find themselves delayed by traffic.

But Birmingham is confident in its ability to compensate for all that and reduce people’s reliance on personal cars. Under plans being considered by the council to reduce emissions, the city would ban private cars from the city center completely, allowing only lorries, buses, and taxis.

Birmingham is far from alone in this quest. Cities all over Europe are starting to ban cars. It’s usually a partial ban — only for some types of cars, for some days, or for some areas. But European cities (and a few outside of it) are starting to take this idea more and more seriously.

This year may be the year we finally see car bans becoming mainstream.

Different approaches, same goal

The city of Dubrovnik became famous as the filming site of some of the most iconic scenes in Game of Thrones. But travelers have known about it for years. Its medieval buildings, Mediterranean cuisine, and clear blue sea have drawn millions, and few did not enjoy it.

But in recent years, people have probably enjoyed it even more. In early 2016, the city banned private cars from its historic center. “We are doing it to reduce congestion”, said then Dubrovnik Mayor Andro Vlahušić .

The argument is simple and straightforward: Dubrovnik’s small, windy streets were not built to deal with high levels of traffic. There are too many cars on the streets, they cause traffic jams and inefficiency. In Dubrovnik, like in most other places, cars usually contain only one or two people, and cars needlessly fill up the streets (and often sidewalks). After the car ban, the city center became much more walkable and friendly, encouraging both locals and tourists to explore its beauty on foot or bikes.

Dubrovnik is no longer an exception.

As of  January 2020, the most polluting cars have been banned from Ghent, Belgium. This comes after several areas in the city were already car-free. ‘The streets are more alive’, one local was quoted as saying, and despite expected protests from some motorists, the ban was well-received overall. Local owners of high-emission cars can apply for grants to trade their vehicle for a lower-emission one.

There is another argument, and it’s surprising that Vlahušić did not emphasize it more given his medical background: health. Pollution is a well-known trigger of asthma and other respiratory diseases. Emissions from cars are known to cause a number of health issues.

‘The air tastes better’, said journalist Tine Hens, commenting on Ghent’s car ban.

Pandemic changes

The pandemic has, of course, also had an impact on plans to ban cars. In many parts of Europe, the pandemic has sparked interest in cycling and walking. The city of Milan, one of the first to be hard-hit by the virus, announced ambitious plans to reallocate street space from driving to cycling and walking. It’s not a new idea, but it has massive popular support for a change.

“We tried to build bike lanes before, but car drivers protested,” says Pierfrancesco Maran, Milan’s deputy mayor for Urban Planning, Green Areas and Agriculture. “Someone said to me: ‘You needed coronavirus to [introduce them] here!'”

Milan is far from the only town to do so. From Bucharest to Brussels, and from Lisbon to Lyon, Europe’s appetite for cycling lanes has been fueled by the coronavirus pandemic, triggering unprecedented investment. It’s not just Europe: pop-up bike lanes have appeared in cities including Berlin, Budapest, Mexico City, New York, Dublin and Bogotá. The lockdowns drastically reduced the number of cars on the street, and some saw a possibility to keep it that way. This has contributed to a drop in carbon dioxide and pollutant emissions, and encouraged people to replace driving with other forms of transportation. In the Colombian capital of Bogotá, mayor Claudia López closed 117km (72.7 miles) of streets to cars to make cycling and walking easier during the lockdown. In Paris, mayor Anne Hidalgo’s had already promised to make every street cycle-friendly by 2024 and remove 72% of Paris’s on-street car parking spaces. But a post-lockdown plan was also announced, including the creation of temporary cycle lanes on metro line routes. 

Though these are temporary measures for the most part, they may last in the long-term. London’s mayor Sadiq Khan has made it clear he wants these changes to last and not just return to a business-as-usual scenario, and in many cities, people seem to overwhelmingly support these measures. A recent survey in Toronto demonstrated overwhelming support for these initiatives. It found that 84 per cent of respondents supported the construction of protected bike lanes and 85 per cent wanted the city to do more to protect vulnerable road users.

Making cities unfriendlier to cars can also save lives, as was observed in Norway’s capital, Oslo. In the past year, Oslo has not had a single fatality on its streets, and this is largely owed to anti-car and pro-pedestrian measures.

Larger cities, such as Barcelona, Paris, and Berlin, are also launching similar schemes. In Paris‘ central areas, the first Sunday of every month is free of cars, and cars made before 1997 have been banned from the city center on weekdays. Berlin was less ambitious than other German cities and only banned some cars from select shopping streets. But Barcelona took a more decisive approach.

In Barcelona, the poor air quality is responsible for more than 350 premature deaths annually. This is not an unusual figure — most major cities have poor air quality, and this poor air quality translates into premature deaths. Barcelona designated an area of 95 km2 as a low-emission zone — essentially covering the entire metropolis — and all petrol cars registered before 2000 and diesel cars bought before 2006 are banned from entering it.

Spain’s capital Madrid also has a similar area. It’s much smaller but more restrictive. It’s still a step in the right direction, but it’s only a step.

A total ban?

These attempts are varied in their approach and scope, but they all have one thing in common: they’re incomplete.

Calling it a car ban is not exactly true. It is a partial car ban, but the “partial” part still refers to a minor part of all cars — the worst offenders, but still a minor part.

The next logical step is a total car ban.

Barcelona’s beautiful streets without cars might not be a pipe dream. Image credits: Alfons Taekema.

In December 2016, Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis joined the mayors of Paris, Madrid, and Mexico City in a pledge that they would ban all diesel vehicles from the cities by 2025. Kaminis hoped to eventually ban cars altogether from city’s core. But here’s the thing about these pledges: they extend beyond the mayor’s mandate. It’s something common to all long-term pledges, particularly when it comes to things like climate change: sure, you can promise that you’ll do this or that in 20 years, but how can you guarantee it with electoral cycles of 4 years?

Similarly, the pledges to keep cities car-free ring somewhat hollow. In Madrid, the newly-elected mayor pledged to reverse the partial car ban, even as most of the population supported it. Madrid eventually kept its car ban, but it goes to show just how easily this type of project can be undone.

A definitive car ban would be more permanent and harder to overturn, but it would also need to be carefully planned. Roads still need to be maintained not only for lorries, but also for emergency access. Public transport would need to be improved — if you take cars away from people, you have to offer an easy transportation method to replace it. New cities could be carefully designed with this in mind, but older cities (especially European cities, many of which are based on medieval or ancient cities) cannot be easily retrofitted.

In addition, partial attempts to reduce congestion and the number of cars on the streets can often have unpredicted effects — as some cities are already noticing.

London’s woes

Cabs and Ubers are driving London congestion despite expectations. Image credits: Garry Knight.

Perhaps no city has struggled as much with fighting car congestion as London. The British capital introduced a congestion tax all the way in 2003, adding another, additional tax for older diesel cars. This additional tax alone is £24 ($31) — a hefty sum for a day’s driving. But despite all these measures, and despite London’s reliable, world-class public transport, the city still struggles with congestion.

Why does this happen? A mixture of more vans and Ubers, sprinkled with reckless cycling.

Lorries and buses are realistically impossible to eliminate. You’d condemn all commercial activity in the area and make cities accessible. The goal behind car bans is to make cities just as (or even more) accessible.

But London’s problems show that simply taxing or banning private cars isn’t going to solve the problem.

For a brief while, there was a big change. Buses were dominant in the ecosystem, encouraging more people to travel by bus, which seemed to lead to a righteous cycle. But with fewer cars on the road, people have started taxi-ing in, and shops started using lorries more often to ship things in and out. Bike lanes (a positive idea on its own) slowed traffic down, and this affects buses the most. With buses running slower, people are discouraged from using them and take taxis instead — and we have a vicious cycle instead of a righteous cycle.

But the major problem, and one that wasn’t properly anticipated in London, is the taxis. I mean, taxis and Ubers. In 2013, there were 49,800 Uber drivers in London. In 2017, the number almost doubled to 87,400. Uber experienced a massive surge worldwide, and London is one of the hotspots of Uber development. London is an expensive city, so Uber’s low-cost approach fit like a glove. Uber might lose its license in London, but that’s due to safety issues and has nothing to do with congestion — even if Uber disappears, there are already a bunch of companies ready to take its place.

As a result, even though London’s measures effectively reduced the number of cars on the road, it did little to reduce congestion. This seems to be at least good pollution-wise — but as the traffic draws to a standstill, cars produce more emissions.

Despite all its struggles and well-intended measures, London has not managed to make a major dent in its car traffic outside of the pandemic. Mexico City, another city at the forefront of traffic bans, prohibited cars from driving on Saturday, but a study showed that air pollutants haven’t changed that much as a result of this measure.

This is another nod to the idea that partial car bans are not as effective as we’d hope. This could mean that more decisive measures are necessary, or that car bans just don’t work.

Are car bans even good?

In the end, are urban car bans even desirable? Sure, it would be great to have lower levels of pollution, congestion, and emissions (tackling the climate emergency is another argument in the favor of urban car bans) — but can that really work?

Venice is one of the very few truly car-free cities. This is owed, of course, to its unique geography. Venice is built on more than 100 islands, and apart from a few proper streets, it virtually has no cars.

Venice gets very crowded due to the overflowing stream of tourists, but if we put tourism aside, Venice is doing just fine. It’s one data point, and Venice has its fair share of problems, but the city is functional. It doesn’t collapse. It’s an example that even without cars, cities work.

Sure, excellent planning is required. Even so, there will likely be a set of unanticipated problems that will need to be required. But is there anything that innately prevents cities from banning private cars? Not likely.

The politic and social stars also seem to be aligned. Europe (and much of the developed world) seems to have has reached peak traffic. Driving seems to be on the decline, and Millennials aren’t nearly as fond of cars as previous generations. This suggests that future generations will be less likely to oppose traffic bans (making the push political more feasible), and are also less likely to be dependent on cars.

A set of legal decisions is also pushing in this direction. In September 2018, a federal court ordered Germany’s financial capital to ban 60,000 cars — all but the newest diesel vehicles and electric cars. Berlin has received a similar order. Germany is one of six countries taken to court by the European Union for exposing their own citizens to too much pollution. It’s ironic that the larger political body is pushing countries to do what’s right for its citizens, but this could all work for the best in the end.

Outside of Europe

Europe has a set of distinct peculiarities that push it to ban cars. A relatively small and affluent population (with a relatively high interest in the environment), generally good public transit, and old cities with perpetual congestion and parking issues — all these are stepping stones paving the way for potential traffic bans. But that doesn’t mean that this is a moot topic outside of Europe.

Bogotá, Colombia, has been running a car-free program called Ciclovía since 1974. Every Sunday, the program shuts down more than 75 miles of roads to cars. This attracts a whopping 1.7 million pedestrians — some 25% of the city’s population. Runners, skaters, and bicyclists take to the streets, as aerobics and yoga in parks are quite common. It’s become a tradition by now, and when a Colombian congressman tried to eliminate Ciclovía in 2007, his proposal was widely criticized.

New York City has also taken notable car-free initiatives. These initiatives, while still not as ambitious as those of some European cities, put it way above the pack in the US. Cars are banned from the streets of Central Park, as well as popular areas such as Times Square or Madison Square Park. Biking is popular in New York, in part thanks to an impressive number of bike lanes.

In addition to creating permanent, pedestrian-only zones in popular areas like Times Square, Herald Square, and Madison Square Park, the city has banned cars from the internal streets of Central Park, which receives around 42 million visitors each year.

How far this trend will go is hard to say, but 2020 and the pandemic brought some major changes in how we operate in cities. Whether or not these changes will be long-lasting remains to be seen but, for now at least, urban netizens seem to be more willing than ever to take cars away from cities.

Japan plans to join the pack and ban sales of new gasoline cars by 2030

Japan will soon join the growing list of countries set to ban sales of new gasoline-engine cars. The new policy, which should be announced as soon as next week, would ban sales by the mid-2030s, encouraging instead the use of electric or hybrid cars across the country to lower the country’s carbon emissions.

The streets of Tokyo. Image credit: Flickr / SoulSonic

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga wants to accelerate the decarbonization of the automobile industry as part of the country’s climate goals. Japan has already committed to being carbon neutral by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, but questions remain on how it will accomplish this.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry will hold a meeting next week with automakers representatives to discuss the details of the policy to reduce the use of gasoline vehicles. Electric and hybrid cars currently account for about 29% of the country’s 5.2 million new registration.

Japanese manufacturer Toyota was among the first producers to popularize hybrid vehicles years ago with the Prius and now, Japanese automakers are considered the world’s top producers in the segment. Nevertheless, the domestic market for electrified vehicles has plateaued in recent years, with registrations in decline last year.

If the government moves forward with its plan, “pure gasoline vehicles will likely disappear from Japanese roads by 2050,” Satoru Yoshida, a commodities analyst at Rakuten Securities, told Bloomberg. This would lead to a decline in gasoline demand, depending on the number of hybrid cars, as they are partially based on gasoline.

Still, Yoshida said Japan will likely seek to keep hybrid vehicles on the road considering a complete halt in production of gasoline engines would negatively affect small factories and parts-suppliers. This means the transition to transportation that doesn’t rely on polluting fossil fuels might take a longer time.

Japan was the sixth-largest contributor to global greenhouse emissions in 2017, according to the International Energy Agency. Following the meltdown in Fukushima, after which the nuclear reactors were shut down, the country has struggled to reduce its carbon emissions. Its reliance on fossil fuels only increased since then.

The country has regularly received criticism for continuing to build coal-fired plants at home, as well as financing projects to build them abroad, especially in Southeast Asia. Japan currently has 140 coal-fired power plants under operation, which provide a third of its total electricity generation.

Nevertheless, Japan has taken some steps to reduce its emissions. The country’s upcoming plan for cleaner vehicles is part of a global trend of reducing sales of diesel cars. China, the largest vehicle market in the world, has already announced a plan to phase out sales of conventional by 2035. The UK also set a goal for 2030, while France and Singapore hope to achieve this by 2040.

Old used cars are being exported to poor nations, increasing air pollution and traffic collisions

Rich countries are dumping millions of highly polluting, used cars in developing nations, according to a report by the United Nations. This is contributing significantly to air pollution and hindering efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, especially in Africa, the authors concluded.

Credit Flickr Mobilius

The report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) showed that 14 million used light-duty vehicles were exported worldwide from Europe, Japan, and the United States between 2015 and 2018. Some 80% went to low- and middle-income countries, with more than half going to Africa.

The fast-growing global vehicle fleet is a major contributor to air pollution and climate change; globally, the transport sector is responsible for nearly a quarter of energy-related global greenhouse gas emissions. Vehicle emissions are a significant source of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen oxides.

“Cleaning up the global vehicle fleet is a priority to meet global and local air quality and climate targets,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “Over the years, developed countries have increasingly exported their used vehicles to developing countries; because this largely happens unregulated, this has become the export of polluting vehicles.”

The report, based on an in-depth analysis of 146 countries, found that some two-thirds of them have weak or very weak policies to regulate used vehicle imports. However, it also showed that countries that set up rules to control the influx gained access to high-quality used vehicles, including hybrid and electric cars.

For example, Morocco only permits the importation of vehicles less than five years old and those meeting the EURO4 European vehicles emission standard. As a result, it only receives relatively advanced and clean used vehicles from Europe. Recently a group of 15 African countries announced strict new rules for vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency.

African countries imported the largest number of used vehicles (40%) in the period studied, followed by countries in Eastern Europe (24%), Asia-Pacific (15%), the Middle East (12%) and Latin America (9%), the report showed. The Netherlands is one of the main exporters through its ports.

Most vehicles were between 16 and 20 years old, and most fell below EURO4 European Union vehicle emission standards. For example, the average age of used vehicles exported to the Gambia was close to 19 years old, while a quarter of used vehicles exported to Nigeria were almost 20 years old.

“These results show that urgent action needs to be taken to improve the quality of used vehicles exported from Europe. The Netherlands cannot address this issue alone. Therefore, I will call for a coordinated European approach, and a close cooperation between European and African governments” Stientje Van Veldhoven, The Netherlands Minister for the Environment, said.

Poor quality used vehicles also lead to more road accidents. According to the report, many of the countries with “very weak” or “weak” used vehicle regulations, including Malawi, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Burundi, also have very high road traffic death rates. Countries that have introduced used vehicle regulations see safer fleets and fewer accidents.

The UN is part of a new initiative supporting the introduction of minimum used vehicle standards. The initiative’s first focus will be countries on the African continent. A number of countries there have already put in place minimum quality standards with many more showing interest in joining the initiative.

California plans to ban new gas-powered cars by 2035

California is officially saying goodbye to gasoline-powered vehicles, phasing them out by 2035 in a move to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Although sales of new vehicles will be banned, the government will still allow vehicles to be owned and sold on the used-car market.

Governor Newson announces the plan. Credit State of California

Governor Gavin Newsom enforced the plan through an executive order. It’s the most aggressive clean-car policy in the United States so far. Newson also supported a ban on petroleum fracking but he will let the California Legislature decide on that instead of signing another executive order.

“This is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change,” the governor said in a statement. “Our cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse — and create more days filled with smoky air. Cars shouldn’t melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines.”

California has been severely hit by wildfires and heatwaves, with Newson claiming the fight against climate change has to be accelerated. Nevertheless, the state’s efforts have clashed with the Trump administration, which has sought to revoke California’s authority to enforce a shift towards zero-emission vehicles. The issue is now in court.

While the state has successfully tackled several sources of emissions, transportation remains its biggest (and growing) problem. Former Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order in 2018 to have 200 hydrogen fueling stations and 250,000 electric vehicle chargers installed by 2025 to support the growing numbers of clean vehicles.

The number of zero-emission electric vehicles being sold in the state has been growing in recent years. Nevertheless, they accounted for fewer than 8% of all new cars sold in California last year. By 2035, Bloomberg projects, about half of US passenger vehicle sales will be battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

“The Governor’s Executive Order is a meaningful step in addressing the climate crisis and protecting the health of Californians,” the California-based Coalition for Clean Air said in an email to NPR. “Electrifying transportation will also create jobs and help California move forward in its economic recovery.”

Newsom’s order, which he signed on the hood of the forthcoming electric Ford Mustang Mach-E, will probably set the tone for the whole country. California is the largest car market in the US and also one of the biggest gasoline consumers. Still, questions remain, including whether the state will allow the sale of plug-in hybrid cars.

Whether other states join or not will likely depend on the upcoming presidential election. While the Trump administration has challenged California’s efforts to reduce transportation emissions, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has advocated for the widespread adoption of electric cars and the construction of a national charging network.

Credit: Pixabay.

Fleets of driverless cars could smoothen traffic by at least 35%

Driverless cars that are networked and in constant communication on the road could improve the flow of traffic by at least 35%.

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

The findings were reported by researchers at the University of Cambridge who programmed miniature robotic cars to drive on a multi-lane track where various traffic obstructions occurred. Each tiny robotic car was fitted with motion capture sensors and a Raspberry Pi which enabled them to communicate via WiFi.

Researchers adapted a lane-changing algorithm originally designed for autonomous cars to work with a fleet of cars. A driverless car typically changes lanes based on whether it is safe to do so and whether the procedure helps the vehicle move through traffic faster. The adapted algorithm adds a new layer of complexity and efficiency, allowing the cars to be more neatly packed when changing lanes. A fleet of cars also makes for safer roads due to constraints that prevent crashes at various speeds. The Cambridge researchers also included a second algorithm that detects cars moving in front of a vehicle and sends instructions that make space on the lane.

The authors tested to see how the fleet reacted in ‘egocentric’ and ‘cooperative’ driving modes when faced with an unmoving car. They also tested how the fleet reacted when a single car was controlled by an unpredictable human via a joystick. Both “normal” and “aggressive” driving behaviors were tested on the lanes.

In the “egocentric” mode, any cars behind a stopped car would also stop or slow down, waiting for a gap in traffic. Sounds familiar? That’s what happens on nearly every road on the planet. And naturally, in this situation, a queue quickly formed behind the stopped cars, halting overall traffic.

However, in cooperative mode — when the cars communicate with one another and respond accordingly to minimize traffic time for all parties involved — as soon as a vehicle stopped on the inner lane, those in the outer lane in the immediate proximity of the stopped car slowed down. This gave cars in the inner lane enough space to maneuver around the stopped car without having to stop or slow down significantly.

When a human driver controlled one of the robotic cars aggressively, the autonomous cars responded by giving way to the aggressive driver, improving safety.

In the normal mode, cooperative driving improved traffic flow by 35% over egocentric driving, while for aggressive driving, the improvement was 45%.

“Autonomous cars could fix a lot of different problems associated with driving in cities, but there needs to be a way for them to work together,” said co-author Michael He, an undergraduate student who designed the algorithms for the experiment.

“If different automotive manufacturers are all developing their own autonomous cars with their own software, those cars all need to communicate with each other effectively,” said co-author Nicholas Hyldmar, an undergraduate student who designed much of the hardware for the experiment.

Studies that assess the operation of numerous autonomous vehicles are typically simulated digitally or use just a few scale models — both inadequate approaches for a fleet of self-driving cars. The new study, on the other hand, uses an inexpensive and relatively realistic approach, offering one of the first evidence of traffic improvements in road-like conditions for self-driving fleets.

The findings were presented at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Montréal. In the future, similar studies will help researchers develop technology that allows cars to communicate with each other to improve traffic and safety.

“Our design allows for a wide range of practical, low-cost experiments to be carried out on autonomous cars,” said Dr. Amanda Prorok from Cambridge’s Department of Computer Science and Technology. “For autonomous cars to be safely used on real roads, we need to know how they will interact with each other to improve safety and traffic flow.”

Next, the researchers plan to use the fleet to test multi-car systems in more complex scenarios including roads with more lanes, intersections and a wider range of vehicle types.

Parking lot.

Uber-like services can reduce demand for parking — so let’s use the lots for something better

Our increasing appetite for car-sharing and ride-hailing services are driving parking demand into the ground, new research from the University of Colorado Denver reports. I can’t help but feel happy about that.

Parking lot.

Image credits Harut Movsisyan.

Parking lots — a necessary evil, or an evil necessity? Judging by a new paper published in The Journal of Transportation and Land Use, the part about them being a ‘necessity’ is rapidly decreasing — at least in America — as people increasingly leave their cars at home in favor ride sharing and ride-hailing services.

Driving? Gods no!

“We wanted to understand how these new services, Uber and Lyft, are impacting a city in regards to how people shift travel behavior, overall congestion and changes in landscape,” said lead author Alejandro Henao, former CU Denver PhD student and current mobility researcher with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Americans are relying on these services more than ever before, the paper unsurprisingly found. Something most of us probably didn’t expect, however, is that people are willing to pay someone to drive them around even if this would cost more than driving themselves. “Parking stress is a key reason respondents chose not to drive,” the paper explains, and I empathize deeply with that statement.

The study concludes that parking demand is pushing people to opt for ride-hailing services which, in turn, drives down the demand for (and value of) parking spots. This is most evident at restaurants and bars, event venues, and airports. The shift is also reducing our cities’ dependency on cars.

Rethinking parking

The authors say the findings should prompt us to reconsider the current pattern of parking infrastructure. Given its diminished use, and thus value, most of this infrastructure can be replaced with things we actually want and need in our cities — such as parks, plazas, or other elements that make cities vibrant and enjoyable to live in.

One of the authors’ previous papers looked at the impact of ridesharing services on today’s transportation systems. It found that ride-hailing increased deadheading (drivers circulating around without passengers), congestion, and total vehicle miles traveled. At the same time, these services lure passengers away from more sustainable travel options like walking, biking, or public transportation. Not the prettiest picture. However, they also suspected that parking may be one area where ride-hailing had a beneficial effect.

Due to a lack of public data from ride-hailing companies — as well as tenuous cooperation when courts have ordered them to share, the paper notes — the authors had to take matters into their own hands. So, in the fall of 2016, Henao took to the streets of Metro Denver at the wheel of a 2015 Honda Civic, for 14 days, as an Uber and Lyft driver.

“I just don’t want to look for parking space”

City parked cars.

Can’t blame them.
Image via Pixabay.

He logged a few hundred rides during this time and gathered 311 surveys from his passengers. Henao also compiled a “driver dataset,” containing the GPS tracking, date, time of day, travel time, travel distance, the reason for travel of the rides he performed, and whether parking was a reason his passengers left their cars at home. This data, combined with ethnographic research and further customer interviews, allowed the team to assess the shift in parking demand and how much of that was contributed to parking stress.

The team says that 26.4% of Uber/Lyft riders would have driven and needed a parking space if the services did not exist. On the one hand, these services replaced more sustainable forms of transportation by almost a third, roughly 30% of respondents said they enable them to drive less. Parking stress was the second-most cited reason for people not driving their personal car — even if, the researchers estimate, the relative time and cost of parking were negligible compared to the cost of their ride.

“We found that the stress of the uncertainty of finding a parking spot downtown was enough to discourage people from driving themselves and made them willing to pay more to avoid it,” said Wes Marshall, associate professor in the College of Engineering, Design and Computing, and the paper’s co-author.

The findings could help cities set parking rates and manage supply and demand. Henao said cities should rethink and better manage curb space by allocating more space to walking, biking, and transit, while monetizing car trips (private cars as well as ride-hailing) to meet sustainable goals. Some airports are already charging a pick-up and drop-off fee for the curb space allotted to ride-hailing companies, allowing them to collect revenue lost to parking, he adds.

“Historically, cities have relied upon parking minimums,” said Marshall. “But too much parking is just as bad as — if not worse than — too little parking. Parking lots don’t make for great places. If you are a city, you’d see more bang for the buck from another land use, and having options like ride-hailing available should make doing so easier.”

“We need to make the technology fit our cities, not the other way around,” said Marshall. “If we focus on the fundamentals of walking and biking, the city will be livable on a human scale, and the technology will adapt to that.”

The paper “The impact of ride hailing on parking (and vice versa)” has been published in The Journal of Transportation and Land Use.

Electric vehicle charging sign.

There are now over three million electric vehicles on the world’s roads, after massive sales in 2017

Global sales of electric cars rose by over 50% in the past year, the International Energy Agency reported on Wednesday.

Electric vehicle charging sign.

Image credits Ken Kistler.

People still love cars, but they seem to be more careful about the vehicles’ impact on the environment — at least, judging by what they’re buying. Sales of electric cars across the world rose by 54% in 2017, passing the three-million units mark, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), an autonomous Paris-based intergovernmental organization that “works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy” for its member countries.

China remains the largest single market for electric vehicles (EVs) in the world, with the IEA reporting that sales there rose roughly by half. However, EVs maintain a relatively small market share of 2.2%. On the other end of the scale lies Norway, the country where EVs can boast the highest market share — but even here it’s only 6.4%.

Despite their relative scarcity so far, the rise in sales of EVs is a good sign, the International Energy Agency’s report adds. Over 1 million new EVs were sold worldwide in 2017, setting a new record. The three countries that saw the most sales of new EVs were Norway (39.2% of total), Iceland (11.7%), and Sweden (6.3%). China came in fourth (2.2% of total sales), followed by Germany (1.6%).

If policymakers stand true to the environmental goals they pledged to in Paris, we’ll see an even more significant increase in personal EVs in the near future — up to a total of 125 million by 2030, the IEA estimates.

“Supportive policies and cost reductions are likely to lead to significant growth in the market uptake of (electric vehicles) in the outlook period to 2030,” the report reads.

In case we pursue a more ambitious policy in favor of electronic vehicles, that total could get as high as 220 million by 2030, it adds.

While governments have the power to make this transition happen, they also have the power to break it: without policy to promote the sale and use of EVs in the future, they likely won’t overtake their petrol and diesel competitors, the report explains.

“The main markets by volume (China) and sales share (Norway) have the strongest policy push,” the IEA said. “Looking ahead, the strongest current policy signals emanate from electric car mandates in China and California, as well as the European Union’s recent proposal on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions standards for 2030.”

The EU has so far made some important moves in favor of EVs — which do not release greenhouse gases — as part of its pledge to reduce emissions by “at least 40% below 1990s levels” and boost renewable energy use up by at least 27%. EVs are made even more attractive here by recent announcements of EU countries such as France that the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles will be banned by 2040 in order to meet the targets of the Paris climate accord.

Manufacturers are also keen to get a foothold into the EV market, with the likes of Volkswagen investing heavily in their development. Furthermore, decreasing battery costs, coupled with higher capacity, and a more robust infrastructure (be it charging stations or electrified roads) are also powering the success of EVs.

EV charging.

Europe will get 10,000 EV charging points and an ‘electric highway’ to connect Italy to Norway by 2020

International energy company E.ON and Denmark-based e-mobility service provider CLEVER have released more details on their plan to roll out charging stations across Europe. These include an ‘electric highway’ equipped with ultra-fast charging stations that would connect 7 European countries, all the way from Italy to Norway.

EV charging.

Image part of the public domain.

The companies first announced their intended debut on the charging-station market about a week ago. They’re shooting for as many as 10,000 charging points across Europe by 2020 and said that some of them will sustain a charging rate of up to 350 kW. Apart from that, however, they were pretty scant on specifics. Now they’ve returned with more details, and it looks highly promising.


E.ON intends to connect 7 European countries with 180 fast charging stations. They partnership with Clever aims to deliver a final 400 such stations on the continent. The stations are designed as a modular system that enables an initial charge rate of 150 kW and can be later upgraded to handle 350 kW. This upgrade-able design is intended to allow the ‘e-highway’ enough flexibility to handle advancements in electric vehicle technology, especially upgrades in battery capacity and supported charging speeds.

“Together with strong partners we are taking a joint step towards establishing a comprehensive ultra-fast charging infrastructure in Europe,” said Frank Meyer, Head of Innovation and B2C at E.ON. “It is a testament to our commitment to provide convenient e-mobility solutions for our customers in Europe. We see a reliable ultra-fast charging network in combination with our home and destination solutions as main prerequisites for a mass market adoption of electric mobility,”

Here are some of the main takeaways from E.ON’s announcement:

  • The project will receive 10 million euros in support from the EU (through the CEF program) between 2017 and 2020.
  • Work has already begun on sites in both Germany and Denmark. The European Commission has selected this plan as a flagship project.
  • The first stage of the project will include 180 sites in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the UK, Italy, France, and Norway. YX Energi will be a ‘facility partner’ for the project in Norway.
  • Sites will be placed every 120 to 180 km along motorways. Initial charging will be limited to 150 kW, with a potential upgrade to 350 kW. This means the stations will be able to charge a 400 km-range battery in roughly 20-30 minutes (depending on each car’s specifications), and that interval will shorten as battery tech advances and charging capacity is increased.
  • Each station will have between 2 and 6 charging points and will support CCS charging, the European standard for fast charging.

Overall, there’s a lot of good news here to get excited over if you’re a fan of electric vehicles. The chargers would be faster than those today, which usually revolve around 50 kW. Their built-in upgrade potential to 350 kW is particularly welcome as it will let the network meet the requirements of future e-vehicles which will likely support much higher charges.

But there are potential red flags here as well. Most of all, the low number of charging points per station. In the US, Tesla also started out with 6 points per Supercharger station but have since moved to 12, 16, 20, even 50 chargers per station in their newer stations. E.ON’s higher charge capacity should allow each point to serve customers faster, but even so, topping up an electric vehicle will take some time. Given that a lot of EVs are expected to hit the road in the next few years, and that you’d need 20 to 30 minutes to charge a more accommodating battery, 2 to 6 chargers per station might just not be enough.

Hopefully, the stations will meet requirements and E.ON will expand on them, adding new charging points as needed. Until then, the project is a testament to the huge appeal such vehicles hold in Europe, and the trust business and government have in them.

porsche electric car

Porsche announced it wants half of its cars to be electric by 2023

Another emblematic car manufacturer just announced it’s making the switch to electric.

porsche electric car

The Mission E (pictured here) is Porsche’s first electric car model. The company plans to sell 20,000 copies a year. Image credits: Porsche / Wikipedia.

In a recent issue of the German business magazine Manager Magazin, Porsche CEO Oliver Blume discussed the company’s future. He described a detailed roadmap which involves a battery-powered future for half of the company’s car fleet.

Of course, Porsche’s intention doesn’t really come as a surprise, especially considering the much-awaited Mission E car, Porsche’s first fully electric car. The Mission E has over 600 horsepower, going from 0–100 km/h in 3.5 seconds and 0–200 km/h in 12 seconds, clocking in at a top speed of 250 km/h. The concept was presented in 2015, with the car expected to go into production by 2019 at the Zuffenhausen plant. Porsche wants to sell some 20,000 Mission Es a year.

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, Blume says. The biggest change will come around 2022 when, Blume says, around half of their cars will become electric. However, the bulk of this will be represented by the next-generation Macan crossover, which is Porsche’s best selling car. The non-electrical version sold almost 100,000 copies last year, and if the figures continue to add up, the Macan and the Mission E will make the bulk of Porsche’s sales.

With this, Porsche solidifies its sustainability track record, which has had its ups and downs.

For lovers of the company’s classic sports models, not much will change. Porsche hasn’t announced any plans to re-vamp its older hits and make them electric. The Mission E, however, will usher in a new age for fast, sleek Porsches, entering a market that’s already surprisingly competitive.

When we think of fast sports cars, we usually think of big, gas chugging engines, but Tesla changed all that in 2008 when they started producing the Tesla Roadster: the first highway legal serial production all-electric car to use lithium-ion battery cells, and the first production all-electric car to travel more than 200 miles (320 km) per charge. The Roadster was also a fast and sleek car, being able to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph (0 to 97 km/h) in 3.7 or 3.9 seconds depending on the model — almost the same as the Mission E. Since then, several companies have started work on electric sports cars, whereas hybrid sports cars are already well established.

A model of a single-molecule car that can advance across a copper surface when electronically excited by an scanning tunneling microscope tip.

World’s tiniest race will pit nanocars against each other in Toulouse this April

This April, Toulouse, France will be host to the world’s first international molecule-car race. The vehicles will be made up of only a few atoms and rely on tiny electrical pulses to power them through the 36-hour race.

A model of a single-molecule car that can advance across a copper surface when electronically excited by an scanning tunneling microscope tip.

A model of a single-molecule car that can advance across a copper surface when electronically excited by a scanning tunneling microscope tip.
Image courtesy of Ben Feringa.

Races did wonders for the automotive industry. Vying for renown and that one second better lap time, engineers and drivers have pushed the limits of their cars farther and farther. Seeing the boon competition proved to be for the development of science and technology in pursuit of better performance, the French National Center for Scientific Research (Centre national de la recherche scientifique / CNRS) is taking racing to a whole new level — the molecular level.

From April 28th to the 29th, six international teams will compete in Toulouse, France, in a 36-hour long nanocar race. The vehicles will only be comprised of a few atoms and powered by light electrical impulses while they navigate a 100-nanometer racecourse made up of gold atoms.

The fast (relative to size) and sciency

The event is, first of all, an engineering and scientific challenge. The organizers hope to promote research into the creation, control, and observation of nanomachines through the competition. Such devices show great promise for future applications, where their small size and nimbleness would allow them to work individually or in groups for a huge range of industries — from building regular-sized machines or atom-by-atom recycling to medical applications, nanomachines could prove invaluable in the future. It’s such a hot topic in science that last year’s Nobel Prize for chemistry was awarded for discovering how to make more advanced parts for these machines.

But right now, nanomachines are kind of crude. Like really tiny Model T’s. To nudge researchers into improving this class of devices, the CNRS began the NanoCarsRace experiment back in 2013. It’s the brainchild of the center’s senior researcher Christian Joachim, who’s now director of the race, and Université Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier Professor of Chemistry Gwénaël Rapenne, both of whom have spent the last four years making sure everything is ready and equitable for the big event.

Some challenges they’ve faced were selecting the racecourse — which must accommodate all types of molecule-cars — and finding a way for participants to actually see their machines in action. Since witnessing a race so small unfurl could prove beyond the limitations of the human eye, the vehicles will compete under the four tips of a unique tunneling microscope housed at the CNRS’s Centre d’élaboration de matériaux et d’études structurales (CEMES) in Toulouse. It’s currently the only microscope in the world allowing four different experimenters to work on the same surface.

Scanning Tunneling Microscope explained.

Image credits CNRS Universite Paris-Sud / Physics Reimagined, via YouTube.

Scanning Tunneling Microscope in action.

Image credits CNRS Universite Paris-Sud / Physics Reimagined, via YouTube.

The teams have also been hard at work, facing several challenges. Beyond the difficulty of monitoring and putting together working devices only atoms in size, they also had to meet several design criteria such as limitations on molecular structures and form of propulsion. At the scale they’re working on, the distinction between physics and chemistry starts to blur. Atoms aren’t the things axles or rivets are made of — they’re the actual axles and rivets. So the researchers-turned-race-enthusiasts will likely be treading on novel ground for both of these fields of science, advancing our knowledge of the very-very-small.

Out of the initial nine teams which applied for the race before the deadline in May 2016, six were selected for the race. Four of them will go under the microscope on April 28th. The race is about scientific pursuit, but it’s also an undeniably cool event — so CNRS will be broadcasting it live on the YouTube Nanocar Race channel.

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”The rules of the race” footer=””]The race course will consist of a 20 nm stretch followed by one 45° turn, a 30 nm stretch followed by one 45° turn, and a final 20 nm dash — for a total of 100 nm.
Maximum duration of 36h.
The teams are allowed one change of their race cars in case of accidents.
Pushing another racecar a la Mario Kart is forbidden.
Each team is allotted one sector of the gold course.
A maximum of 6 hours are allowed before the race so each team can clean its portion of the course.
No tip changes will be allowed during the race.[/panel]


London to introduce £10 ($12) vehicle tax for polluting cars

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced the implementation of a new tax which will affect the most polluting vehicles.

Cars in London. Image credits: David Holt / Flickr

The announcement comes after a disastrous couple of months for London in terms of air quality. London has reached its yearly NO2 pollution limit in just 8 days, air pollution alerts were issued several times, and a judge has officially ordered the city to solve its problem.

While some measures were taken, it was simply not enough to alleviate the worsening problem. Such a tax, Khan mentions, was a necessity.

“It’s staggering that we live in a city where the air is so toxic that many of our children are growing up with lung problems. If we don’t make drastic changes now we won’t be protecting the health of our families in the future.

“That is why today, on the 14th anniversary of the start of the congestion charge, I’ve confirmed we are pressing ahead with the toughest emission standard of any major city, coming to our streets from 23 October.”

The new tax only applies to the central parts of London, and it will address only the oldest, most polluting vehicles, around 10,000 of them. Particularly, it applies to motorists with cars without the Euro-4 standards — something which has already been in place for more than 10 years. When you add it up to the congestion tax, a pre-Euro 4 car owner will pay £21.50 a day to drive his car in central London.

The move has been generally praised. Dr Peter Steer, from the Great Ormond Street hospital for children where a consultation on the tax was held, said:

“The mayor’s drive to clean up the capital’s air is fantastic news for our patients and staff. Children living in highly polluted areas are four times more likely to have reduced lung function in adulthood, yet improving air quality has been shown to halt and reverse this effect.”

Many children in London go to school in areas with pollution levels way above what’s considered legal and healthy, and Khan has made it one of his priorities to clear the British capital’s polluted air. However, this is just a small step towards that goal. Ultimately, his plan is to extend the so-called ultra-low emission zone beyond central London to the North and South Circular roads. The big accomplishment would be implementing a diesel scrappage scheme, but that’s out of the mayor’s hands and in the hands of the Parliament.

The need for action is acute. According to The Guardian, air pollution is believed to cause almost 40,000 premature deaths every year in the UK and was in April labelled a “public health emergency” by a cross-party committee of MPs. The UK’s government has been sued several times and has even lost a couple of legal cases due to its lack of action. Unfortunately, not everyone in the UK is as motivated as mister Khan.

FF car

Faraday Future’s secret all-electric SUV spotted in Los Angeles

FF car

Credit: Twitter

Faraday Future, a new electric car company with billions in undisclosed funding, has been making waves in the past 12 months. The company has recruited a lot of talent, like top executives from Apple, Google and even its direct competitor Tesla Motors. It’s all sitting on a big pile of cash and plans to open a $1bn. factory soon in Nevada. But all this hype and absolutely nothing to show apart from a fantasy muscle car has made a lot of people weary, including yours truly.

It seems, however, that FF is actually farther ahead than critics thought. A Twitter user spotted one of the company’s SUV prototypes on the streets of L.A., and though the vehicle was camouflaged, its defining features are too similar to the silhouette sneak peak Faraday showcased at CES 2016, Las Vegas, a couple of months back.

The FF crossover silhouette presented at CES 2016. Credit: Autoblog

The FF crossover silhouette presented at CES 2016. The hatch hinges protruding from the rear of the roof match those photographed earlier in L.A.  Credit: Autoblog

Judging from the single picture, it seems FF’s intention is to compete directly with Tesla Motors’ Model X — a large and lengthy crossover. But right now, that’s only speculation based on appearance given that we have absolutely no specs at hand.

One thing we know for sure, however, is that this crossover and any other vehicle FF eventually releases will feature the company’s signature Variable Platform Architecture chassis. We’ve seen it presented at CES when FF showcased a monster concept car called the FFZERO1. What’s interesting about the architecture is that it enables a modular and flexible platform. Basically, a customer can order his own custom car based on specs like battery capacity, four wheel drive, etc.

How the Variable Platform Architecture works.

Previously, Faraday Future received permission from the California DMV to test driverless cars on the state’s roads. Will this secret crossover also drive itself or at least partially? It’s very likely at this point.

The hype is still here to stay, though. Faraday Future has a lot of things to do and show before it can prove itself.

The first self-driving taxis are here — and by “here” I mean Singapore

This Thursday, Singapore will become the first city in the world to use self-driving taxis.

The first ever autonomous taxis will be available in Singapore. Image credits nuTonomy.

The first ever autonomous taxis will be available in Singapore.
Image credits nuTonomy.

With huge players such as Google or Volvo toying around with self-driving cars on public roads, most of us probably expected that the future fully automated vehicles we’d zip around in would be developed by one such huge company. But, for a handful of Singapore residents, the future is now — and it’s brought by the small, autonomous vehicle software startup nuTonomy. The company will become the first to ever offer the public a chance to ride in autonomous vehicles, beating ride-hailing service Uber — which plans to offer a similar service in Pittsburgh — by a few weeks.

Their fleet will start out small, six cars right now, but will double by the end of the year. Their end goal is to have Singapore’s taxi system fully automated by 2018, NuTonomy officials said. This will drastically reduce the numbers of cars clogging Singapore’s congested roads. But there’s nothing to stop them from expanding the model to other cities later, they added.

Right now, however, the taxis will only operate in a 2.5-square-mile office and residential district known as “one-north,” with specific pick-up and drop-off locations. The users will have to receive an invitation from nuTonomy to use the service, and the company says dozens have signed up for the launch, with several thousands more expected to join within the next few months.

NuTonomy vehicles — modified Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric models — will be fitted with six sets of Lidar to help it navigate its surroundings, including one that spins on the roof for a full 360-degree field of detection. Lidar is a system very similar to radar, only it uses laser beams instead of radio waves. Two cameras installed on the dashboard will scan for obstacles and detect changes in traffic lights. And, if all these fail, there’s a human driver in the front seat ready to take the wheel in an emergency, and a researcher in the back monitoring the car’s computers.


The testing time frame is open-ended, said nuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma. Users will eventually start paying for the service, as more pick-up and drop-off points are added. He also said that company plans to test similar services in other Asian, European, and U.S. cities, but didn’t give any dates or places.

“I don’t expect there to be a time where we say, ‘We’ve learned enough,'” Iagnemma told the Associated Press.

Doug Parker, nuTonomy’s chief operating officer, says that their autonomous taxis could reduce the number of cars on Singapore’s roads by two-thirds, from 900,000 to some 300,000 cars.

“When you are able to take that many cars off the road, it creates a lot of possibilities. You can create smaller roads, you can create much smaller car parks,” Parker added. “I think it will change how people interact with the city going forward.”

NuTonomy was formed in 2013 by Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli, two Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers working on robotics and autonomous vehicles for the Defense Department, and currently has offices in Massachusetts and Singapore. They received Singapore’s approval to test self-driving cars in one-north earlier this year, and it announced a research partnership with Singapore’s Land Transport Authority earlier this month. Pretty impressive for a 50-man strong company.

The team behind the autonomous taxis. Image via nuTonomy.

The team behind the autonomous taxis.
Image via nuTonomy.

Iagnemma says that they chose Singapore for their testing area because it has good weather, quality infrastructure, and drivers who tend to obey traffic laws — an ideal spot to test autonomous vehicles. Due to limited available space, Singapore’s also been on the lookout for non-traditional ways to grow its economy, so it’s been supportive of autonomous vehicle research. Delphi Corp., which is also working on autonomous vehicle software, was recently selected to test autonomous vehicles on the island and plans to start next year.

“We face constraints in land and manpower. We want to take advantage of self-driving technology to overcome such constraints, and in particular to introduce new mobility concepts which could bring about transformational improvements to public transport in Singapore,” said Pang Kin Keong, Singapore’s Permanent Secretary for Transport and the chairman of its committee on autonomous driving.

Users are reporting that nuTonomy’s taxis work like a dream. Olivia Seow, one of the riders the company selected, took a one-mile ride on Monday. She said she was nervous at first, then surprised as the steering wheel started turning by itself.

“It felt like there was a ghost or something,” she said.

The ride was smooth and controlled, she said, and she was relieved to see that the car recognized even small obstacles like birds and motorcycles parked in the distance.

“I couldn’t see them with my human eye, but the car could, so I knew that I could trust the car,” she said.

An Associated Press reporter took a ride on Wednesday and reported that the safety driver had to step on the brakes once when a car was obstructing the test car’s lane and another vehicle, which appeared to be parked, suddenly began moving in the oncoming lane.

Iagnemma is confident that the software can be relied on to make good decisions. For the future, nuTonomy hopes to eventually partner up with automakers, tech and logistics companies and other industry leaders to further the development of autonomous vehicles.

“What we’re finding is the number of interested parties is really overwhelming,” he said.


The City of London Corporation bans leasing or purchasing diesel vehicles for its businesses

London’s ruling body, the City of London Corporation, has banned the purchase or hide of diesel vehicles for its businesses, it announced on Friday. The decision was taken in the interest of protecting the public’s health and well-being.

Image credits Joseph Plotz / Wikimedia.

Chris Bell, head of procurement at the City of London Corporation, said that the organization takes improving air quality “extremely seriously,” and has thus decided to clamp down on diesel vehicles. It announced Friday that it will no longer lease or purchase diesel models when vehicles from its extensive fleet of 300 need replacement. While not as drastic as the bans other cities have set, their decision is a step in the right direction.

“This agreement is a major step forward in our drive to protect the millions of London tourists, workers and residents from air pollution,” Bell said in a statement. “We are taking responsibility for the cleanliness of our fleet and encouraging the use of low and zero emission vehicles with our partners.”

The authority said it has reduced the NOx (nitrogen oxide) emissions from its vehicles by over 40 per cent and PM10 (particulate matter 10 micrometers or less in diameter) emissions by over 50 per cent since 2009. The brunt of this reduction was achieved by reducing the number of vehicles it employs and replacing the remaining ones with newer, cleaner models. It also tries to promote the use of hybrid cars and encourage business owners to limit deliveries in the Square Mile.

But not every type of vehicle can be replaced. The Corporation said it will continue to use such vehicles — tractors for example — in their current diesel-chugging models until a clean alternative becomes available.

Simon Birkett, founder of Clear Air in London, welcomes the initiative, saying that London is showing Mayor Sadiq Khan and other members of the government that it’s possible to ban diesel vehicles.

“It’s no longer ‘if’ but ‘where’ and ‘when’ diesel will be banned,” he told BusinessGreen, adding that such bans should be supported by a massive investment in active travel and public transport.

Simulate your way out of (or into) the perfect traffic jam

Traffic jams are a universally miserable experience, no matter when or when they happen. There are numerous factors that can cause one to happen. Sometimes, when the cause is clear, say construction works or a car crash that needs to be cleared away, most of us can keep our frustration in check. But when you’ve been spending the last half hour inching your way to an intersection and then passing through without seeing any apparent reason for the slowdown, it’s much, much worse. The pointlessness of it all is enough to bring you to your boiling point.


But there’s always a cause behind the jam, even if not readily apparent. Computer models like Traffic-Simulation are designed to figure out how each traffic component adds towards this infuriating result. The simulation models various conditions such as the number of trucks or cars on the road, average distance and speed of cars, lane geometry and so forth, to explain how traffic jams develop. The idea is to use the simulations to figure out what might happen if traffic patterns shift, and predict problem areas before they happen.

The website was created by Dresden University of Technology Professor Martin Treiber, and can currently model a single scenario, but more features are planned for the future. The ring road was implemented first to illustrate ‘shockwave’ slowdowns — traffic jams that progress through a line of traffic from the first row of cars, as described in this video from the University of Nagoya, Japan:

So even in perfect conditions, with everyone driving at the same speeds, it’s still really hard for everything to run smoothly (except if you’re an ant). Even something as innocuous as adjusting the number of trucks on the road can cause unbelievable congestion in the simulation. So give it a go, try toying around with the variables to find what it takes to make traffic flow merrily along or create the mother of all traffic congestions.

And next time you’re stuck in traffic you’ll have a much better understanding of exactly “why. aren’t. we. moving. forward?!” Not sure that’s going to make the experience any more pleasant, though.


Expert warns smart-cars will promote sex behind the wheel and distracted driving

Will widespread use of smart cars make roads safer or actually more dangerous? One Canadian expert is raising concerns that as automated systems take up the bulk of navigating tasks, drivers will keep their hands less on the driving wheel…and more on the person (persons?) next to them.

Image via scmp.com

Drop whatever you were doing and rejoice because science has delivered.

“I am predicting that, once computers are doing the driving, there will be a lot more sex in cars,” said Barrie Kirk of the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence.

It truly is a wonderful time to be alive. But, before we go about congratulating and patting each other on the back in satisfaction, is this a good thing? I mean beyond the obvious fact that we all like to get it on.

There is legitimate concern around this question, not because of the cars themselves but because of the drivers. I see people texting or talking on the phone at the wheel — and these aren’t particularly enjoyable activities — every day, driving regular vehicles without any computers to watch the road for them. But if people trust their cars enough to handle themselves in traffic, they’ll throw their phones along with their pants on the back seat before you can say “responsible driving practices.”

“That’s one of several things people will do which will inhibit their ability to respond quickly when the computer says to the human, ‘Take over.'”

Canadian Press obtained several federal emails discussing Tesla’s self-driving cars under the Access to Information Act. In them, officials tasked with constructing the legislative framework for autonomous cars took up the issue in the briefing notes compiled for Transport Minister Marc Garneau after his appointment last fall.

“The issue of the attentive driver is … problematic,” one such email reads. “Drivers tend to overestimate the performance of automation and will naturally turn their focus away from the road when they turn on their auto-pilot.”

The emails cite several pieces of footage showing Tesla drivers doing anything else than paying attention to the road, such as reading a newspaper for example. Other videos show Tesla owners recording flaws in how the car’s autopilot system reacts to changes in road markings.

Therein lies the problem: Tesla itself made it clear that the autopilot system only has limited autonomy and functionality. It’s designed to work in tandem with a human, not to replace him. And people still behave like it’s their personal chauffeur. Transport Canada tested several semi-autonomous vehicles, such as Mercedes’ C-Class or the Infiniti Q50 (but not the Tesla so far,) the documents go on to detail. While they found the systems efficient at what they do, the technology is still in its infancy.

“It really needs to be emphasized that these vehicles are not truly self-driving,” officials said. They predicted that fully-autonomous cars and trucks are “still a few years away.”

Current vehicle safety standards don’t prohibit driverless cars from zooming on Canada’s roadways, and the country is now considering how to regulate such vehicles.

“But last month’s federal budget included money for Transport Canada to develop regulations around automated vehicle design. Those regulations, at least initially, would require that the vehicles are equipped with a ‘failsafe mechanism that can respond to situations when the driver is not available,'” CBC writes. “Ontario also set out some regulations, including a requirement that an expert in autonomous vehicles be in the driver’s seat and able to assume full control at a moment’s notice.”

The “failsafe mechanism” basically means that the car should be able to safely get out of traffic until a human assumes control — and that should be at the center of how we handle this I think. Because that “expert in autonomous vehicles,ready at a moment’s notice” part? I think that’s wishful thinking.

The whole point of having autonomous cars is that no driver is required, and people won’t be willing to wait, clutching the wheel, on the off chance they’re needed. It’s got to go all the way, or at least allow for a window of time in which the driver can analyze the situation, plan his movements and assume control. Assuming that a driver who may not have been paying attention to his or her surroundings can control a vehicle right off the bat is a tall order however, Kirk believes.

“People will not be able to respond in time.”

It’s a good thing that we come face to face with these issues now, before autonomous vehicles truly hit the roads. But they just aren’t here yet, so you’ll have to keep your eyes on the road until they do. And yes, your hands on the wheel, too.


97% of Diesel Cars Don’t Respect Official Pollution Limits

According to the most comprehensive set of data, almost no diesel cars respect pollution limits, with a quarter producing over six times more than the limit.

Breaking the rules

The report included graphs such as the one picture here. It reveals the bare the difference between emissions in a lab setting, left, and on a track, right, when car engines were run hot

About six months ago, in September 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act to the Volkswagen Group. The notice was issued because Volkswagen had intentionally cheated on the emission tests. The announcement was met with public outroar, and a swarm of legal repercussions which are still in process. But soon after that, another question emerged: is Volkswagen a singular bad apple, or is this a more common practice than we thought?

A study conducted by Adac, Europe’s largest motoring organisation, revealed that diesel cars made by Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat, Volvo and many others also emit more than they should – and more than they declare. The figures were staggering. These weren’t minor breaches, with pollution levels exceeding the allowed ones by 10 or 20 percent – in some cases, cars emitted ten times more than the limit. It became clear fast that this is a much bigger problem than previously thought, and this new analysis confirms those fears.

The new data comes from the Emissions Analytics (EA), a UK-based emissions consultancy agency and one of the biggest in the business. They covered 250 vehicles in more stringently standardised road conditions, finding that just one Euro 5 diesel (the EU standard from 2009) did not exceed the limit. Another seven Euro 6 Diesels (the stricter standard from 2014) fell into the accepted limits. In total, a whopping 242 out of 250 cars emitted more than they should have. Over a quarter emitted six or more times the accepted limit.

Legally illegal

The Range Rover Sport is one of the worst emitters.

Robert Goodwill, a transport minister, said he was “disappointed” by the results and accused manufacturers of “gaming” the testing system. However, in the strictest sense of the law, the producers may have done nothing wrong – it’s the testing system that is flawed.

Several notable universities including the Imperial College London carried out tests in the laboratory, on testing tracks and in real life conditions. They found that the lab tests (which are the current norm for establishing the pollution levels of a car) are nowhere near accurate when it comes to real-life conditions. This is not a case of car producers “fixing” the cars to cheat on the tests, it’s a case of the tests themselves being inaccurate. In other words, lab simulations greatly underestimate the amount of pollution. Ironically, Volkswagen cars fared among the best in the real-life tests.

Naturally, the involved organizations tried to downplay these results, with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders stating that the difference between lab and real world tests were ‘well known’. Sure, this may be the case in the academic world or for the car industry but for the general public (and I’d bet some policy makers as well) these differences are certainly not ‘well known’. The emission limit is set for real-life conditions, so if the differences are indeed known, then the system should be changed to reflect these real conditions.

EA also highlights another trend: some car manufacturers are actively trying to reduce their emissions while others are simply trying to pass tests.

“There is a growing worry about air pollution, but while some car manufacturers have been more proactive, others have done only the minimum,” said Nick Molden, the CEO of EA. “The point is diesels can be clean.”

More emissions, shorter lives

Photo by Jensbn~commonswiki.

It’s well documented that diesel emissions cause a number of health conditions and lead to overall shorter life expectancies. Urbanized areas like London, New York or Shanghai have experienced a significant reduction in air quality, a reduction that can be at least partially attributed to cars. According to The Guardian, the British government estimates this pollution is responsible for 23,500 premature deaths a year. The government already lost a supreme court challenge in 2015 over the adequacy of its plans to tackle the crisis and is uncertain about its future strategy.

Over the last few months, it has become evident that at least in the Western World, this problem is at a much greater magnitude than previously thought. When Adac published their analysis last year, things seemed pretty dire. At the time, Reinhard Kolke, head of test and technical affairs at Adac’s state-of-the-art test centre in Bavaria, told the Guardian:

“If all cars complied with [the official EU NOx limit], we would have solved all the worst health effects. Every consumer has the right to expect all manufacturers to do this. But still there are these gross emitters.”

Now, as more and more studies are revealed on the matter, it’s looking even worse. We need a unified strategy to ensure that car producers are respecting emission limits but that seems nowhere in sight. As mentioned above, several universities and research groups are working closely with producers, so the data is probably there – we just need to do something useful with it.

Faraday Future

Faraday Future shows off an electric roadrunner concept car – we’re not impressed

The fledgling California company with billions in undisclosed funding held a press conference the other day at CES where it showed to journalists and tech enthusiasts the FFZERO1 — a high-performance concept car. It looks slick, has 1,000 horsepower, goes 0-60 in under three seconds and a maximum speed of 200mph. Since it’s all electric, it makes less noise than the purr of a cat while it eats up the highway.

Faraday Future concept care

Credit: Faraday Future

Problem is the FFZERO1 ca do this only in videos and virtual reality presentations, which Faraday Future uses to build hype around its brand. Practically, they have nothing to show and years away from building an actual running vehicle, yet some people after seeing this demo actually believe Faraday Future is a serious competitor to Tesla Motors. It’s not.

Faraday Future vehicle

Credit: Faraday Future

Faraday Future is a mysterious 18-months old company that’s been quietly hiring loads of highly qualified people from the automotive industry, to AI, to aerospace. Operating from a former Nisan office in L.A., Faraday Future wants a share of the growing EV and autonomous car market. In a couple of weeks, it will start construction of a massive new factory, its first, worth $1 billion in the Nevada desert. The head of R&D,  Nick Sampson, has heard all about how Faraday looks like a Tesla copycat, to which he told The Verge that what they’re trying to do is create “an environment that’s even more creative, even more innovative for people. Many people look at Tesla and think they’ve done it differently than the traditional auto industry — and they have. But there’s other ways and other things we can capitalize on,” he said.


Faraday Future

Credit: Faraday Future

Faraday Future

Credit: Faraday Future

Faraday Future

Credit: Faraday Future

At CES, we were offered a sample of what he meant. It’s called the Variable Platform Architecture: a  modular and flexible platform that allows you, the buyer, to sort of order your own custom car. For instance, if you want more autonomy, four wheel drive and more power, Faraday Future can quickly add more batteries in a stack or electric motors on the drive.

Faraday Future

“We can change the physical size and electrical size of the battery packs, so we can get bigger and larger packs and smaller packs both on the electrical size and physical size because of the modularity of how the battery architecture is being done, which is unique compared to anybody else in the industry. The underlying story is all about the platform that’s being built,” Sampson told The Verge.

Inside, Faraday’s concept car features a glass roof, a placeholder right in the wheel to mount your smartphone,  the Halo Safety System that supports the driver’s head and neck and even a crazy helmet that feeds the driver oxygen and water (?!). The designers say the car is supposedly littered with sensors that collects data on the driver’s biological signals and data, which are presented on the dashboard.

Faraday Future


Faraday Future

Credit: Faraday Future

Faraday Future

Credit: Faraday Future

Faraday Future

Credit: Faraday Future

Faraday Future

Credit: Faraday Future

Faraday Future

Credit: Faraday Future

While it sounds impressive, just like the Edison Electron One, the FFZERO1 will likely never see the light of day. Personally, I’m all for competition and I hope Faraday lives to its hype. But don’t get too exited. At CES, Sampson said the first car will be out “within the next couple years.”

Faraday Future

Faraday Future

Faraday Future