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   Technology StocksDrones, Autonomous Vehicles and Flying Cars

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From: Glenn Petersen12/3/2017 10:27:15 AM
   of 1972
Amazon patents self-destructing drone that falls apart in an emergency

You and me both, drone

by James Vincent @jjvincent
The Verge
Dec 1, 2017, 4:45am EST

One of Amazon’s prototype Prime Air drones, shown here not self-destructing at all. Image: Amazon

One of the big worries about delivery drones is what happens if something goes wrong mid-delivery? We don’t want people’s parcels (or the drones carrying them) falling from the sky, causing damage and injury. Well, Amazon thinks this might not actually be a bad idea — as long as the drones fall safely. Earlier this week, the company was granted a patent for the “direct fragmentation for unmanned airborne vehicles.” In other words: a drone that takes itself apart midair if something goes wrong.

The patent describes how an onboard “fragmentation controller” would take charge in the event of a catastrophic failure, like a battery exploding or propellor failing. The computer would quickly study the drone’s flight path, weather conditions, and nearby terrain, before initiating a “fragmentation sequence,” where the drone slowly dismantles itself midair.

It sounds counter-intuitive as a safety protocol, but if a drone is going to crash anyway, it’s better that it hits the ground in small chunks, rather than as bigger, heavier intact aircraft. An illustration from the patent shows a drone dropping various components onto patches of empty ground and a small lake, before crashing itself safely in a tree.

An illustration from the patent shows a drone dismantling itself mid-air. Image: Amazon / USPTO

The patent reads: “During the fragmentation sequence, one or more parts or components of the UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] can be released. In doing so, the weight, speed, air drag coefficient, and other factors related to the UAV can be altered.” The order in which parts are jettisoned could be selected based on their value, says the patent, and then detached using hooks, springs, or “small explosive charges.”

Of course, as with any patent, there’s no guarantee Amazon is doing anything more here than exploring a left field concept. In the past, the company has either patented or applied to patent concepts including parachutes built into shipping labels, drone beehives for distribution in big cities, and drone-carrying blimps. As tends to be Amazon’s style, it’s aggressively throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. All of these inventions would need to be approved by government regulators before they ever got off the ground.

In the real world, Amazon’s plans for drone delivery face more prosaic challenges, like building a flight controller that can handle dozens of aircraft at once; or convincing people that delivery drones make economic sense in the first place. Although the basic technology is ready to go, the only real-life implementations of drone deliveries to date have been specialized services, like delivering blood and medical samples. Dismantling those packages midair would just be messy.

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From: Glenn Petersen12/6/2017 8:23:49 PM
2 Recommendations   of 1972
Driverless/semi-autonomous farming equipment:

How Automation Will Transform Farming

By Laurie Bedord
November 29, 2017

When Kyler Laird imagines the future of his 1,700-acre Indiana farm, he sees robots playing a major role.

“I’m a one-man operation. I need this technology because I really can’t afford to hire anyone. Besides, finding a skilled operator who is willing to work 24 hours a day for three or four days a year is ludicrous,” he says. “I can’t hire that, but I can make that very inexpensively.”

For the last two growing seasons Laird, who has a master’s degree in ag engineering, has developed autonomous machines to drill, harvest, and plant his crops. Starting out small, he converted a John Deere lawn tractor into a remotely controlled machine as a trial.

“That tractor gave me enough of a taste for what this technology could do that I knew I had to build a larger version,” he says. “I reworked the steering and added a power clutch to my grandfather’s Massey Ferguson 2745 tractor to allow it to run autonomously.”

Dubbed Tractobot01, he drilled 50 acres of soybeans with it in 2016. “It was impressive to see it running in the field,” Laird says. “I was able to step off the tractor, dig up some seed, and catch it on the way back. It was a good experiment.”

That same year, he also transformed a Challenger MT765 track tractor – Tractobot02 – to pull a grain cart, which totally changed efficiency at harvest.

Next on his list was planting. “I had this notion that whatever was going to pull the planter needed to be small, so I converted a John Deere 6330 tractor,” Laird says.

As part of the experiment, he wanted to ensure once the tractor delivered his planter to the field, the planter could take it from there. That meant equipping his John Deere 7300 eight-row planter with the latest technology.

“I outfitted Kyler’s planter with Precision Planting’s DeltaForce, vDrive, Furrow Jet, and CleanSweep so he can sit in the seat of the tractor – or not – and have complete confidence that everything is under control,” says Mark Waibel, Solid Rock Ag Solutions in Remington, Indiana.

This past year, Laird’s new employee – Tractobot03 – planted 535 acres of corn. He admits there were challenges along the way, like breakdowns and technical issues, but the more acres the machine covered, the better it got. “I also noticed I was a lot more aware of what the planter was doing because I was following along beside it or coming up behind it,” he says.

“By automating some of these processes, we eliminate labor as one of the defining issues in producing our food,” says Steve Gerrish, cofounder of the agBOT Challenge, CEO of airBridge, and owner of Gerrish Farms. “It also addresses other issues like soil compaction and the push to use less inputs while increasing efficiencies and yield.”

Kyler Laird

A shifting industry

One approach to address the lack of labor is follow-me systems, which allow a series of unmanned vehicles to be directed by a single manned machine. Companies like Case IH, Fendt (AGCO), John Deere, Kinze Manufacturing, and Yanmar have introduced products. Fully autonomous and even driverless tractors from Autonomous Tractor Corporation, Case IH, Kubota, and Yanmar are also emerging.

“When we introduced our autonomous concept vehicle in 2016, we wanted to show farmers what the future could look like as well as gauge interest,” says Leo Bose, Case IH AFS harvesting and marketing manager. “It’s not a product launch by any means, but it could certainly lead to one – or several – down the road.”

That, says Gerrish, is where the problem lies.

“Although agriculture has gradually migrated toward farming supervision based on site-specific crop management, the transition toward advanced robotics technology has been sluggish,” he explains. “We need to bring technology and agriculture together so we can set the tone in the development of autonomous farming and bring products to market faster.”

By hosting the agBOT Challenge on his Indiana farm, Gerrish and his team brought together 86 young scientists this past summer to achieve that goal.

Yet, employing robots could have a profound impact on the way we envision ag machinery in the future.

morphed machineryOver the past several years, equipment has morphed into super-sized machines to enhance productivity. According to a recent report, Agricultural Robots and Drones 2017-2027: Technology, Markets, Players, this approach loses some relevance if machinery becomes autonomous and unmanned.

Like many in ag, the report sees a transition from large, heavy, fast, and expensive vehicles to fleets of robots. The report’s author, Khasha Ghaffarzadeh with IDTechEx Ltd., says these ag bots would move slowly, giving extra attention to plants. They also would be lightweight, eliminate soil compaction, and be inexpensive to make up for their lower individual productivity.

“Many small robots have been developed at the research level, and a few have been commercially launched and sold. The machine designs are not a done deal yet, and there is still a ways to go,” he says.

That’s because these robots often only work on highly structured farms and on crops with limited height. They take action using mechanical means, which can be slow. Otherwise, they will need to carry tanks of water and chemicals, which adds to size and weight. The cost to capture data is also relatively high compared with other methods like drones. Ultimately, the researcher says, “We are only at the beginning of the beginning.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Deanna Kovar, director, production & precision ag marketing for John Deere. “This is only the beginning of smarter, more precise equipment,” she says of the company’s recent $305 million purchase of Blue River Technology.

Founded in 2011 by Jorge Heraud and Lee Redden, Blue River has designed and integrated computer vision and machine learning in 10% of U.S. lettuce fields. It reduces the use of herbicides by spraying only where weeds are present. The technology is currently being tested in cotton fields.

“We are using smart machines to image, detect, optimize, and act on every single plant in the field,” says Redden.

“This opportunity will allow us to work together to figure out how we can apply that technology to John Deere sprayers and to other equipment and once again transform agriculture,” says Kovar.

Consequences for farmers

The meaning of being in charge will also change, as farmers shift from driving to directing equipment remotely.

While over half of the participants surveyed by Case IH say they could see a fully autonomous machine as a good fit for tasks like spring tillage, turning over chores like planting was another matter. “Farmers weren’t comfortable turning that task over to a fully autonomous vehicle, because it sets the stage for their entire season,” says Bose.

“Are we going to replace farmers with fully autonomous technology? I don’t believe so, but these vehicles do have a place in agriculture,” says Mark Young, CTO of The Climate Corporation. “This technology can help farmers be more efficient. It can start to ease up the resource constraints.”

If Ghaffarzadeh’s projections are correct, farmers will have to wait at least another five to seven years before a fully autonomous machine shows up for work in farm fields.

Already ahead of the curve, Laird plans to employ another fully autonomous tractor at harvest and have at least three machines planting over the next couple of years.

agBOT Challenge

When the agBOT Challenge launched in 2016, its mission was to bring a fresh set of eyes to the way crops are produced.

“This contest merges technology and agriculture to develop unmanned equipment,” says Steve Gerrish, one of the masterminds behind the event. “The general public wants to be involved in how we are growing our food, so let’s invite them to be a part of the process.”

What emerged were solutions that rethink how corn is planted.

“Some teams came at the problem with the belief that if there is no need for a person, there’s no need for a seat. If there is no need for a seat, why do we need the tractor?” asks Mark Young, CTO, The Climate Corporation. “When you take away the tractor, now you have to figure out how to make the planter move.”

The result – a self-propelled planter – changes the entire economics and logistics of how farmers put a crop in the ground.

“A self-contained autonomous planter can be produced much, much cheaper than a tractor and a planter,” he says. “It also weighs far less than a traditional setup, so you don’t have to worry about compaction. The estimated price point for one of these machines may be $50,000 vs. $500,000 for a tractor and planter.”

“We used to pull combines with tractors. It was the same with sprayers,” says Mark Waibel, Solid Rock Ag Solutions in Remington, Indiana. “Both of those morphed into their own machines.”

We are seeing a similar transition in the baler industry with Vermeer’s introduction of the RZ5, a self-propelled round baler.

“I think we will see this with planters, as well,” Waibel says.

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From: Glenn Petersen12/9/2017 8:39:34 PM
   of 1972
Carmakers Want Silicon Valley’s Tech Without Its Patent Wars

By Susan Decker and Ryan Beene
December 7, 2017

-- Automakers are learning the mistakes by smartphone companies

-- Ford, BMW among those looking for licenses without lawsuits

Race To Build Self-Driving Cars Accelerates

As automakers turn their vehicles into app-laden computers on wheels, there’s one habit they don’t want to acquire from Silicon Valley: fighting over patents in court.

Manufacturers from BMW AG to Hyundai Motor Co. to Ford Motor Co. are trying to learn from the smartphone wars, which cost technology companies hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees, as they prepare to revolutionize their vehicles.

“No sane automaker wants to repeat these wars, where the lawyers were the only winners,” said William Coughlin, chief executive officer of Ford Global Technologies, Ford’s intellectual property arm.

Automakers have ramped up their patent applications as they compete to roll out crash avoidance systems, on-board Wi-Fi and cars that can drive themselves. To avoid court battles over who gets paid and how much, competitors are banding together to jointly license technology, use non-proprietary software and buying or challenging patents that might be used in lawsuits against them.

Both Toyota Motor Corp. and Ford were among the top 21 recipients of U.S. patents last year, with 1,540 and 1,530, putting them in company with Apple Inc., Qualcomm Inc., and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, according to figures compiled by the Intellectual Property Owners Association.

Toyota’s recent patents cover ways to keep a vehicle in the proper lane and respond correctly at a traffic signal; Ford won rights to sensors that gather data from other vehicles and a system to measure customer satisfaction by expressions or statements made while driving.

The smartphone wars that began in 2010 were sparked by a clash of the phone and computer industries and pitted iPhone-maker Apple against manufacturers of phones that ran on Android, the operating system owned by Google. Microsoft Corp. also got swept in when it demanded royalties on phones that used Android.

Technology companies frequently resolve patent disputes -- others have been over computer memory, networking and video cards -- in court. But the big automakers tend to settle their fights more informally or let suppliers duke it out.

One way is by joining with other companies to share technologies. Many of the groups that are attracting automakers as members were created by Silicon Valley companies to limit the number of lawsuits filed by licensing firms known as patent assertion entities -- or by the pejorative term “troll.”

Ford, Honda Motor Co., Hyundai, Tesla Inc. and Volkswagen AG are members of the LOT Network, a non-profit consortium in which companies pledge to continue to make their patents available to all members even if they sell them to another firm. Daimler AG, Ford, and Toyota are among those belonging to Unified Patents, which challenges patents at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Ford also is a member of RPX Corp., a risk management service that buys up patents and challenges patents that already have been issued.

Last week, BMW became the latest automaker to enter a licensing deal, agreeing to pay a per-car fee to gain access to a “pool” of patents related to wireless industry standards from companies including Qualcomm, Ericsson AB, Sony Corp. and eight others.

Pricing Patents

“They see every day there is litigation and they don’t want that,” said Kasim Alfalahi, head of Avanci LLC, a Dallas-based group that operates the patent pool. “They say, ‘We have looked at this, we have studied this and we would like to avoid it.’ "

Figuring out the proper royalty rates for use of industry standard technology has led to global fights among technology companies, the most prominent being Apple and Qualcomm’s three-continent combat over what patent fees Qualcomm collects from each iPhone.

Automakers “look at the fights right now, and they understand that a lot of it has to deal with the pricing and expectations,” said Alfalahi, who was Ericsson’s top intellectual property counsel before starting Avanci.

Another way carmakers are cutting costs is by using non-patented technology.

‘Wild West

Open Invention Network, which buys and cross licenses patents related to the open source Linux operating system, has signed up companies such as General Motors Co. and Daimler, giving them free access so they can then build their own individual applications for on-board systems to monitor traffic patterns, help cars avoid crashes or perform other functions akin to a computer or smartphone.

Keith Bergelt, the network’s CEO, said the battle between Apple and phones that used Google’s Android operating system “created a culture that brought out the worst in many companies.”

The automotive industry hasn’t been completely immune to litigation. When it comes to self-driving vehicles, it’s still somewhat of a “Wild West,” with companies all over the country doing research and hoping to come up with the next big thing. That’s already spawned a nasty fight, with Alphabet’s Waymo claiming Uber Technologies Inc. stole trade secrets for the laser-based sensors known as Lidar.

Thousands of cars now run Apple and Google’s operating systems for infotainment through their dashboard touchscreens in the form of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Ford and BMW are integrating the Inc.’s Echo into their dashboards.

A big chunk of the lawsuits against tech companies were an outgrowth of the dot-com bust, during which sharks picked up patents from bankrupt internet companies and then demanded royalties from companies that were still in business. Companies like Delphi Automotive Plc have expressed concern that the same thing may happen to companies that don’t succeed in the autonomous car market, said Bruce Rubinger, founder of Global Prior Art, which conducts research on the validity of patents.

The automakers and suppliers have been investing in technology companies, so they will own rights to some of the research no matter what happens with the company, Rubinger said.

The relatively slow pace of change in the auto industry can help it avoid some legal problems. In the technology industry, new products are introduced every 18 months, but it can take four years or more for a new feature to go from the design stage to the showroom floor.

“Car manufacturing is different from that perspective -- it’s not like smartphones where you can just outsource it,” said Shawn Ambwani, co-founder of Unified Patents. “There are very few players who get into the market. Market share doesn’t change dramatically every five years.”

And the auto industry will be able to draw on the legacy of the technology industry’s patent cases. Court rulings make it easier to invalidate patents and lower the amount of damages that can be awarded. Legislation also created a new procedure at the U.S. patent office that’s been embraced by Silicon Valley for its reputation as a “death squad” for patents.

So far there have been few lawsuits over the new cars, though Ford’s Coughlin said they will come because “everybody wants to protect their investments." Still, he said, he’s not expecting a lot of patent litigation “unless somebody is acting unreasonably.”

— With assistance by Keith Naughton

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To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (1513)12/15/2017 10:15:24 AM
From: kidl
1 Recommendation   of 1972
Just came across the news section of this website:

Maybe one to add to the header as a general news source for anything drone related ?

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To: kidl who wrote (1514)12/15/2017 12:30:04 PM
From: Glenn Petersen
   of 1972
Done. Thanks.

I need to radically update the header.

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From: kidl12/17/2017 9:35:36 AM
2 Recommendations   of 1972
Here’s How Drones are Taking on the Challenges of Historical Restoration

John Hopton

December 14, 2017

Credit: Intel Corporation

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The world’s great historical landmarks often share an unusual combination of features, in being huge yet incredibly fragile. This makes their restoration highly challenging – and drones are helping with the complex work.
At the 15th-century Halberstadt Cathedral in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, Intel drones are taking restoration to places that humans find hard to reach.
Inspections and damage assessment of the cathedral have been made remarkably more safe, easy and inexpensive through indoor and outdoor missions conducted with the Intel® Falcon™ 8+ drone.
The drone helped to gather data that can assist the next stages of restoration planning, meaning the cathedral and its precious artwork can be well preserved for generations to come.
Sanvada spoke to Anil Nanduri, vice president and general manager within Intel’s New Technology Group, to find out more about the project.
Sanvada: What are the main advantages that drone technology brings to a historical restoration project such as this?
Anil Nanduri: In this specific example, the delicate condition of the cathedral’s sculptures and structures necessitated a new approach to mitigate any possible damage by people ascending to the statues, or using additional ladders or scaffolding to perform initial inspections.
The statues specifically are in a very precarious and damaged condition. The conservators were concerned in getting close to the figures in an effort to prevent further damage to the sculptures, and to the delicate pigment color which is now a detached shell on the stone surface.
The Intel® Falcon 8+ drone carried out the inspections several meters away from the structures to mitigate this risk. Besides that, advantages include speed/efficiency, ability to get to greater heights, and safety.
Sanvada: Are there some things that have been achieved that simply could not have been without drone use?
Anil Nanduri: I wouldn’t say it would have been impossible. An alternative may have been somebody riding in a helicopter with a camera taking pictures of the cathedral and to get to heights that maybe ladders or scaffolding would not be sufficient. This manual way of building ladders, scaffolding, or flying in a helicopter is much more time consuming and not as systematic. The pre-programmed area of interest and automated flight of the drone ensures that the data capture is systematic and the right images are necessary to create the 3D modeling.
Sanvada: What else can we expect from the three years of this project, and are there other similar historical projects where drones are being or will be used?
Anil Nanduri: We are not announcing any further projects at this time, but you can imagine that the possibilities are endless. There are so many historical and iconic structures all over Europe that are in stages of conservation and preservation. Outside of Europe, think structures like the Statue of Liberty, or the pyramids in Egypt, Great Wall of china to name a few. All of those are structures full of history and important to maintain for our future.
Here at Sanvada, the idea of technological innovation helping to restore the marvels of the past is one we’re particularly fond of, and we look forward to covering more on this innovation as it progresses.

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From: Glenn Petersen12/19/2017 10:31:38 AM
1 Recommendation   of 1972
Robot cars may kill jobs, but will they create them too?

Millions of people drive for a living; autonomous technology could make their work obsolete

By Carolyn Said

Barreling through California’s Central Valley, his big rig’s 48-foot refrigerated trailer loaded with lettuce, peppers and tomatoes, Brett Goodroad acknowledged that he’s probably among the last generation of long-distance truckers.

At 38, he has been driving trucks since he was a teenager working on summer harvest crews in North Dakota. With a master’s degree in fine arts and a penchant for listening to classic books on the road, he doesn’t fit the standard trucker profile. But the aptly named Goodroad, who has put in more than a decade driving for Veritable Vegetable, an organic produce distributor, is an eloquent spokesman for his millions of comrades now traveling America’s highways.

“The end of our species is coming — it sounds like it should be a country song,” he said as he finished his regular five-day haul from San Francisco to New Mexico and back, his dog, Louis, riding shotgun. “I definitely see that truck drivers are going to be a relic of the past in the future.”

Brett Goodroad drives for Veritable Vegetable and will make many deliveries on his way to New Mexico and back. | Santiago Mejia, The Chronicle

That future — one in which our vehicles, including trucks like his, will drive themselves — is fast approaching. Some experts say fleets of driverless vehicles will be on the road within two years.

Along with utopian forecasts of far fewer traffic accidents, cleaner air and cheaper transportation, there’s another sobering prediction: Self-driving vehicles could cost millions of people their jobs. Autonomous autos will also create new jobs, but those most likely to lose their livelihoods, including many truck drivers, may not easily find new occupations.
Some 3.8 million Americans work as motor vehicle operators, driving trucks, delivery vans, buses and taxis, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Truck driving is the most common occupation in 29 states and the second- or third-most comon in most others. On top of that, an estimated 1 million people drive part time for Uber and Lyft in the U.S. Globally, more than 100 million people are estimated to work behind the wheel.

“This will be the biggest disruption in work and jobs that the country has ever experienced,” said Andy Stern, a labor expert and president emeritus of the Service Employees International Union. “It will happen relatively soon, and we are in denial and avoidance.”

Myriad industries and occupations depend on car and truck drivers as customers: insurance agents, parking meter attendants, truck stops, motels, parking lots, toll booths, garages, auto body shops. Some 4 million people work in trucking-related jobs other than driving, according to the American Trucking Association.

Most experts think autonomous cars eventually will end private car ownership, at least in cities and suburbs, with robot taxi services becoming the norm. That would render car dealers obsolete. U.S. dealerships employed 1.3 million people in 2016, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association.

A driver in Singapore takes his hands off the wheel as he tests a NuTonomy vehicle in Singapore. The company operates self-driving taxis in that city and recently began offering the service in Boston. | Yong Teck Lim, AP

Not everyone sees the autonomous future in apocalyptic terms.

Each technology upheaval throughout history — from the printing press to the Industrial Revolution to the automobile to the computer and Internet — has wiped out some traditional work but created new occupations, often ones not even imagined.

“The net impact of automation on employment has always been a positive, rather than a negative, economy-wide,” said John Paul MacDuffie, a management professor and director of the Wharton School’s program on vehicle and mobility innovation. “There’s no reason to expect that this time will be any different.”

Bank tellers, for example, were considered a threatened species with the advent of ATMs. Instead, the new machines made it easier for banks to open more far-flung branches, creating more teller jobs. Do-it-yourself tax software didn’t put accountants out of business.

“Luddites smashed looms 200 years ago because they thought they would do away with their craft,” said Rob Carter, chief information officer for FedEx, which operates 160,000 ground vehicles. “The reality is, work always evolves to adapt to technology.”

Airplanes already can fly themselves — but pilots still inhabit the cockpit, handling takeoffs, landings and any situations that arise, Carter said. He thinks the same will be true for trucks.

“Navigating the terminals and roads leading to interstates will require a lot of driver interaction for quite some time to come; drivers also have a lot of interaction with their cargo,” he said. “Once you get on the highway, where driving can be a monotonous task, we think automated vehicles have the potential to take over, improving safety and driver quality of life.”

FedEx is testing autonomous vehicles, including platooning technology, which allows several driverless trucks to follow a lead vehicle in close formation. Meanwhile, it has updated its current fleet with the latest driver-assistance features, such as adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, lane keeping, anti-rollover technology and alertness monitoring.

The American Trucking Association, the industry’s largest trade group, representing 37,000 trucking companies, says that freeing truckers to nap or relax during long highway stretches could make the work less stressful and attract young people to the profession, even as pickup and delivery routes off-highway still rely on drivers.

“I don’t think we’re talking about driver-less,” said Chris Spear, president of the association. “I think we’re talking about driver assist.”

If drivers are unshackled from the wheel, they could do order processing, inventory management, customer services and sales, according to a recent research report.

Technician Julio Saucedo carries parts through the George V. Arth & Son body shop in Oakland. The shop has adopted new technology as the industry changes. | Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle

Similarly, ride-hail drivers might take on new responsibilities.

“We will definitely need drivers for the foreseeable future,” Peter Gigante, head of policy research at Lyft, said at a November conference. Eventually, a driver’s role could become one of aiding passengers who need extra assistance, such as seniors and children, he said. “The concerns (about job loss) are understood and valid, but I don’t think this is an immediate issue that requires big actions right now; we have a lot of time to understand what the role of the driver will be.”

So what are those roles?

Just as no one predicted that the horseless carriage would engender millions of jobs in everything from highway construction to drive-through fast-food chains, it’s hard to imagine what the advent of self-driving vehicles might spawn. But there are some inklings.

One obvious new profession: remote vehicle operators. At least initially, companies are likely to establish command centers, similar to those for air traffic control, to monitor fleets of robot vehicles and take over if a car gets stuck.

Ron Arth manages George V. Arth & Son, the Oakland auto body shop started by his great-grandfather in 1877. | Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle

California, for one, is drafting rules that would require remote communications links for driverless cars. Silicon Valley startup Phantom Auto and a range of carmakers are hard at work on technology for remote command centers.

“The human operators could track cars on the road, click on one, and teleport into what the car sees,” said Karl Iagnemma, CEO and co-founder of NuTonomy, which runs robot taxis in Singapore and Boston. “It will be a technical job, with a unique set of skills, probably closest in spirit and practice to a drone operator.”

Of course, the country will still need people to manufacture and maintain vehicles.

Then there are more esoteric opportunities. A report from Intel predicts the rise of a new “passenger economy,” worth a jaw-dropping $7 trillion by 2050. The bulk of that revenue would derive from ride hailing and the freight industry.

Some $200 billion would consist of goods and services provided to people during their rides in robot taxis. Think manicures, massages, lattes, fast-casual meals, mobile health care, remote meetings, immersive digital entertainment. (Intel doesn’t mention it, but practitioners of the world’s oldest profession might ply their trade in self-driving cars as well.)

George V. Arth (left) is seen in a reprint of a 1902 archival photo displayed in the Oakland auto body repair shop he founded. | Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle

“We expect new opportunities to arise when cars become the most powerful mobile devices that we use, and we humans become riders instead of drivers,” said Doug Davis, Intel vice president and general manager of the automated driving solutions group.

For Ron Arth, the changes looming ahead have a familiar echo. His Oakland auto body shop, George V. Arth & Son, dates to 1877, when his great-grandfather, a blacksmith, bought a carriage manufactory. Arth & Son went from repairing and painting horse-drawn buggies to doing the same tasks for horseless carriages, and then modern automobiles.

His family-owned business has adapted to technology changes over the decades, he said, pointing to his grandfather’s original anvil, a few feet away from workers using a computer to diagnose a car’s problems. He believes it will continue to do so.

“It was a big deal back in the ’90s when we bought our first computer; now there are computers all over the shop,” Arth said. “The technology is screaming forward.”

Other benefits of robot cars could spread through the economy.

Families today spend about $9,000 a year on their vehicles, for expenses including car payments, insurance, gas and maintenance. Subscribing to a robot-car service for all of one’s transportation needs would probably be cheaper — say $4,000 a year, said Tony Seba, founder and principal of think tank Rethink X.

That $5,000-per-household boost in disposable income “would be the biggest spending boom in U.S. history,” he said. “It would benefit everyone, not just certain segments.”

Christopher Martinez takes the wheel for a practice run in a bus as fellow student Donnie Piper looks on at the Academy of Truck Driving in Oakland. | Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle

On top of that, Seba estimates that transforming much of the time spent driving into useful work hours would spur a $1 trillion jump in productivity.

Huge savings, in both dollars and lives, also could occur if car accidents plummet. Every year, some 1.4 million people worldwide, including 40,000 in the U.S., die in car crashes, most caused by human error. Millions more are seriously injured.

People with disabilities also could see their economic potential rise with self-driving cars. “A large reason for unemployment among disabled people is lack of access to transport, especially in rural and suburban areas,” said Aaron Steinfeld, associate research professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute. Some 29 percent of disabled people say their transportation options are a limiting factor; with self-driving cars, that would be largely addressed.

Millions of people drive as part of their jobs but have a different primary function. They’re emergency medical technicians, security guards, repair people, construction workers, salespeople or home care aides, for instance. All those workers are expected to become more productive once their cars drive themselves, experts said.

While some experts think it could take decades to switch to all-robot cars, Rethink X’s Seba said it will occur with surprising speed.

“Technologies are always adopted on an S-curve,” Seba said. “The cell phone, the smartphone, the color TV: Once we got to the tipping point, adoption grew exponentially and happened in months or years, not decades. Autonomous cars are not things that will happen in a generation; they are things that will happen soon.”

Brett Goodroad checks to make sure that his freight is secure before leaving San Francisco for his five-day trip to New Mexico and back for Veritable Vegetable. | Santiago Mejia, The Chronicle

Even as new occupations are created, however, today’s truck drivers still could struggle. U.S. truckers are overwhelmingly male (88 percent), lightly educated (only 7.6 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher), and middle-aged (median age of 46).

“Someone who’s been driving long-haul trucks can’t suddenly become an accountant,” said Walter Di Mantova, principal of consulting firm Liminal Futures.

Society will need to decide how to ease the challenge for potentially millions of displaced workers.

Former SEIU chief Stern, author of a book on universal basic income called “Raising the Floor,” thinks sweeping social policy changes will be needed.

One idea would be to give small owner-operators — who account for the majority of truck drivers — financing to retrofit their big rigs for autonomy. That could keep them in business, either putting the trucks to work for a larger fleet, or increasing the trucks’ time on the road.

In the long term, if jobs dwindle as automation disrupts other industries, from retail to customer service, universal basic income, in which all citizens receive a regular stipend from the government, could be a potential major solution, Stern said. But that would be as revolutionary as the new driverless future itself.

“We need to find a way to redistribute success. This would give people far more choices, protect our market economy and provide stability,” he said. “It’s a scary thing, and there aren’t any easy answers.”

“Slow down on your turns.” “Don’t forget to scan your mirrors, man.” “Don’t impede, encroach or intimidate.”

Two driving instructors peppered Donnie Piper with tips as he piloted a bus through west Oakland. In three days, he’d take his V test to get licensed as a bus driver.

A former steamfitter, Piper, 59, is among scores of students who each year come to the Academy of Truck Driving, a private school located at the Port of Oakland that prepares them to get commercial licenses for trucks or buses with a few weeks of classes and behind-the-wheel training.

“We’re helping people develop a lifelong career,” said Jennifer Walker-Kemp, who co-founded the school 18 years ago with her husband, a former truck driver. “They get hired almost immediately once they get their license.”

For now, there is plenty of work. Nationwide, there’s a shortage of truck drivers, especially for long-haul routes. Some 50,000 truck-driving jobs a year go begging for a simple reason: It’s hard to spend days on the road away from home and family. The industry will need to fill close to 900,000 jobs over the next decade as current drivers start to retire, the American Trucking Association projects.

“I don’t even call back recruiters about those over-the-road jobs,” said Johnny Johnson, the school’s job placement head, referring to the long hauls. “There are so many local jobs, and that’s what everyone wants.”

The school’s current cohort is largely in its 40s and 50s.

“Young people don’t want to drive trucks unless they had someone in their family who drove,” said Lavelle Allison, one of the instructors. “Most of our students are laid off or retired. Normally this is Plan B, not Plan A.”

Brett Goodroad rests during a stop in the Fresno County town of Firebaugh before heading back on the road to make deliveries for Veritable Vegetable. | Santiago Mejia, The Chronicle

The Oakland students don’t seem worried that self-driving trucks will take their jobs.

“I don’t think the technology will be there in our lifetime,” Arnold Higareda said.

“I love being out here,” Goodroad grinned as he navigated his rig along narrow country roads en route to a small family farm to pick up flats of lettuce. “People either get the road or they don’t — they love the romance of it, or they find it boring.”

His usual route is five days driving to New Mexico and back, followed by nine days off. He delivers food to co-ops and markets and picks up produce at farms in California’s Coachella, Imperial and Central valleys.

Sleeping in his cab’s berth four nights, he makes himself sandwiches from fixings he’s packed in the rig’s dorm-size fridge. In Taos, N.M., he treats himself to a motel room and a turkey burger. Every night he does 20 minutes of yoga to counteract the effects of sitting for hours on end. “This job can really beat people up,” he said.

Goodroad’s salary of $50,000 to $65,000, depending on the year, is tight in San Francisco, but it’s more than he’d make as an adjunct professor at most colleges. His driving schedule, meanwhile, gives him time to devote to his passion: painting big canvases he says occupy “a strange in-between place between abstraction and representation,” and bring him another $10,000 to $30,000 a year in sales. One was recently acquired by the Berkeley Art Museum for its permanent collection.

Driving has been his life, and he’s already nostalgic for the culture that will be lost.

“You have so many encounters on the road,” he said. “The solitude kind of abstracts you; you’re in your own head for hours. Every driver is affected differently; some get goofy, some get chatty, some quiet, some angry. The people you meet out here on the road; the things that happen; it’s like being at sea — Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ romantic.”

Goodroad thinks he’ll find his way if truckers go the way of blacksmiths and switchboard operators. But he’s worried about his fellow drivers.

“For a lot of these guys, it will be tough,” he said. “The ordinary Joe who doesn’t have an education, the guy who has a hard time getting into any job, for them driving is an option to actually make OK money. I don’t know what they’ll do.”

Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @csaid

About the series

The advent of self-driving vehicles portends a vast disruption in how we live and work, and the Bay Area is the engine driving that change. This story and other installments of Driving the Future explain how autonomous vehicles are going from experiment to reality, and what that means for all of us.

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From: FUBHO12/20/2017 10:51:00 AM
   of 1972
REGULATION: Uber dealt blow after EU court classifies it as transport service.
In the latest of a series of legal battles, Uber had argued it was simply a digital app that acted as an intermediary between drivers and customers looking for a ride and so should fall under lighter EU rules for online services.

“The service provided by Uber connecting individuals with non-professional drivers is covered by services in the field of transport,” the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said.

“Member states can, therefore, regulate the conditions for providing that service,” it said.
Uber’s genius in its early days was its ability to skirt the regulatory state, but that advantage was bound to fade as the company grew larger. And Uber’s toxic corporate culture virtually guaranteed that when it did come under the regulatory state’s microscope, it wouldn’t have any friends helping defend it.

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To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (1517)12/20/2017 11:25:26 AM
From: zzpat
   of 1972
What's missing is basic economics. Young people won't train to be truck drivers if there aren't any trucks to drive so they won't lose their jobs. They'll never start them. There's plenty of time for attrition to allow older drives time to retire before autonomous trucks take over.

AI has been cutting jobs from Wall Street to Main Street for decades.

Where did all the workers go when machines started doing everything? And more importantly where is all the money that was spent on workers and benefits going? To Wall Street. There's no place else for it to go. Everyone has to get in the market or get screwed but where do they get the money when there aren't any jobs left?

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From: kidl12/22/2017 12:43:06 PM
1 Recommendation   of 1972
Ballard Launches Next Generation Fuel Cell System for Drones, Expands Insitu Flight Testing PR Newswire


VANCOUVER and SOUTHBOROUGH, MA, Dec. 22, 2017 /PRNewswire/ - Ballard Power Systems (NASDAQ: BLDP; TSX: BLDP) today announced that the company has developed a next generation high performance fuel cell propulsion system to power unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. Ballard has also received a follow-on contract from Insitu, a Boeing subsidiary, for extended durability testing of the next-generation 1.3 kilowatt (kW) fuel cell propulsion system to power test flights of its ScanEagle UAV platform.

Ballard and Insitu have partnered over the past two years to integrate Ballard's prior generation fuel cell propulsion system – a complete hydrogen power system for small unmanned fixed wing and Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) platforms – into the ScanEagle platform. Successful flight testing was announced in mid-2017.

The next generation fuel cell propulsion system announced today delivers a number of important advances: increased power density, resulting from a new membrane electrode assembly (MEA) design; reduced cost, resulting from a combination of new MEA and one-step fuel cell stack sealing process; and extended lifetime. The increase in rated power, without any appreciable increase in size or weight, is a particularly significant development for UAV applications.

Phil Robinson, Vice President of Unmanned Systems at Protonex, a Ballard subsidiary, said, "The Ballard and Insitu teams have collaborated closely over the past several years to integrate our proven fuel cell technology into the industry-leading ScanEagle platform. This new fuel cell has the potential to deliver a range of benefits compared to the use of an internal combustion engine, or ICE, to power the ScanEagle. These benefits are likely to include an increase in reliability and available electrical power along with a simultaneous reduction in audible noise, thereby enabling lower altitude missions."

Fuel cell propulsion systems offer a number of advantages over ICE-powered drones (refer to accompanying chart). In addition, fuel cells offer a 3x increase in mission time compared to battery-powered drones.




Low Mean Time Between
Failures (MTBF)



Payload flexibility



Altitude flexibility



Load following flexibility



Low noise



Low vibration



Low thermal signature



Low environmental






Fuel efficiency



^ ICE – internal combustion engine

Andrew Duggan, Vice President and General Manager of Insitu Commercial added, "Insitu is pleased to continue our partnership with Ballard as we add capabilities, further increasing reliability and decreasing operating cost of the ScanEagle platform. We look forward to further performance tests and customer demonstrations in the coming year."

Insitu's ScanEagle is a versatile platform with multiple payload capabilities, including high-definition imaging, at a fraction of the cost of larger UAV systems. Insitu's platforms have logged more than one million flight hours in military and civilian applications, making ScanEagle the most proven UAV in its class. The ScanEagle is operated in conjunction with Insitu's Mark4 Launcher® – a low-maintenance, runway-independent platform – along with its SkyHook® recovery system.

ScanEagle is 1.55 meters (5.1 feet) in length, has a wingspan of 3.11 meters (10.2 feet) and maximum takeoff weight of 22 kilograms (48.5 lbs). The UAV can fly at a maximum speed of 41.2 meters per second (80 knots), reach a ceiling of 5,944 meters (19,500 feet). Additional details and images are available at

In addition to military use, the commercial market for drones is expected to growth significantly over the next few years, from 0.25 million working drones in 2017 to more than 2.5 million working drones by 2021.[1] Applications are anticipated in such areas as agriculture, construction, environmental management, urban & rural surveying, mining, emergency response and law enforcement.

For additional information regarding Ballard's work in the UAV area please visit

About Ballard Power Systems
Ballard Power Systems (NASDAQ: BLDP; TSX: BLDP) provides clean energy products that reduce customer costs and risks, and helps customers solve difficult technical and business challenges in power and energy. To learn more about Ballard, please visit

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