Autonomous vehicles will soon be ubiquitous on city streets. Before this happens, we should ask ourselves: Will they whisk us quickly through cities or make traffic worse?
A car is a car, whether self-driving or people driven—taking up a great deal more space than busses, streetcars, or trains—so let’s make sure the cost is right. Traffic has already increased in many cities due to widespread ride-hailing. Once Uber further rolls out autonomous vehicle fleets, calling a car will be cheaper, more competitive—and a potential burden on our streets.
A new study by UC Santa Cruz Professor Adam Millard-Ball in the Journal of Transportation Policy makes a convincing case that self-driving cars will dramatically increase traffic further. Millard-Ball forecasts that the number of cars on the street could grow exponentially as more people are able to take their hands off the steering wheel and just sit back and ride.
Furthermore, when not in use, autonomous vehicles need to go somewhere. There are three options: go back home, park somewhere, or circle around. Most likely, these cars will endlessly circle the streets rather than parking and paying fees.
The rise in ride-hailing speaks to the need to think about congestion pricing — even more so in light of autonomous vehicles potentially circling the city aimlessly in the years to come — in more dynamic terms.
Existing congestion pricing schemes work a few different ways. Most programs either identify a core part of the city or specific zones within the city to institute a flat or variable rate fee on vehicles that drive into the specified areas. The systems monitor compliance through gantry and camera systems that record license plates, or some version of transponders in vehicles. All congestion pricing systems attach a price to road usage.
Particularly, variable pricing that captures usage throughout the city could lead to different decision-making by autonomous vehicles. Rather than ghosting through the streets waiting to pick up passengers, these cars could instead choose to park in either the core of the city or on the periphery, helping to unclog streets rather than adding to traffic.
Variable pricing increases as traffic increases, thereby pushing some drivers—or in the future self-driving vehicles—off the road and making cars glide more smoothly. In the US, we are most familiar with variable tolling schemes implemented on highways, but congestion pricing systems like those in Singapore and Stockholm include a variable nature to them throughout the congestion zone.
Congestion pricing could directly counteract an increase in vehicle usage, and ensure self-driving cars pay full freight for the impact they create. New York City will be implementing a congestion zone starting in 2021 that will affect all drivers south of 60th Street entering Manhattan. While the final structure is still to be determined, experts say it could bring in more than $1 billion a year to support public transit upgrades.
Across the pond, London’s policy — first implemented in 2003 — covers a core eight mile square zone and currently costs around $15. From 2002 to 2014, private cars entering the central zone dropped 39%. However, with the rapid increase in ride-hailing brought about by Uber and other companies, congestion has again increased.
In the Washington, D.C., and LA regions, variable pricing — just not in a downtown congestion zone — already provides highway drivers with the option to pay to drive in a free-flowing lane. The cost to consumers is anything but free, because the cost must line up with demand to keep traffic moving. In the Washington, D.C., region, the charges to drive from the city from far-out suburbs peaked near $40. But that was what it cost to keep traffic moving.
Singapore, on the other hand, extends this logic to the core of its city with its congestion pricing model. The city has over 50 points within the designated area in and around the central business district, and each of these points charges between $0 – $3, depending on the time of day and traffic conditions. Stockholm follows a similar logic to Singapore’s system with a total cap of around $11.30 per vehicle per day.
Good, responsive public policy can help us make the right choices. Congestion pricing can serve as a market-based regulator that gets the right number of cars on the street at a given time. At the same time, depending on the fuel mix of cars with gas versus electric, these systems can improve air quality and public health. And the funds from these plans can help support and improve transit systems.
When you ask city leaders what kind of cities they and their residents are trying to build, the resounding answer is cities for people, not cars. Let’s make sure self-driving vehicles help make cities better for everyone.
Amazon sets a date for its big 2021 Echo and Ring devices event
Amazon has set the date for its next big devices and services event, and if previous years are anything to go by we can expect new Echo and Ring hardware along with potentially a few surprises. The event will kick off at 9am PT (12pm ET) on Tuesday, September 28, and as with last year’s it’ll be online-only.
Last year Amazon didn’t hold back on new smart home hardware. Along with the new Echo Show 10, which could rotate under its own power to face the person interacting with it, Amazon also had a new, spherical Echo smart speaker.
The smaller Echo Dot – and its Echo Dot with Clock sibling – offered a lower price point, and the new Echo Dot Kids Edition dressed that up in more playful designs. As for Ring, we saw the Ring Car Alarm debut, plus the promise of end-to-end video encryption. Amazon also announced a collaboration with Tesla, with the Ring Car Connect for the automaker’s EVs.
Elsewhere, the Eero Pro 6 and Eero 6 added WiFi 6 to the familiar mesh networking, while the Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick Lite kicked off pricing at under $30. Amazon also introduced Luna, its cloud gaming service, complete with a dedicated wireless controller.
Just as much a showcase for hardware, though, Amazon’s events have become demonstrations for its software changes. Alexa typically plays a key part in that – last year we saw group calling support, Netflix on Echo Show, and interactive teaching tools – but it’s also an opportunity to see what developer tools and improvements have been introduced.
Finally, it’s a chance for Amazon to surprise. Last year, that meant the Ring Always Home Cam – a flying camera drone that promised automated patrols of your house – though the gadget is still yet to actually launch commercially.
For 2021, it’s likely we’ll see refreshes of Amazon’s core Echo range. After all, with the holidays approaching, that’s a key opportunity for Amazon to put more smart speakers in users’ homes – and double-down on their commitment to Alexa as a platform, rather than the Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri. The new Amazon-branded Fire TV range could also be expanded.
We’ll probably also hear more about the controversial Amazon Sidewalk, the shared neighborhood network that Amazon opted to enable by default earlier in the year.
On the “weird tech” side, that could well be the rumored wall-mounted Echo touchscreen. Billed as being an in-wall smart home hub, it would help position Alexa as a key way of interacting with the connected home and IoT, if the rumors are to be believed.
After iPhone 13: The new tech coming in 2022, 2023, and 2024
Over the next few years, the iPhone will see some significant changes. This year’s iPhone 13 didn’t exactly make major waves when it came to upgrades VS last year’s model lineup. According to high-level Apple product predictions released this week, the changes will come in the years 2022, 2023, and 2024 in the form of punch hole front-facing cameras, under-display Touch ID, and foldable smartphones from Apple.
Notes from Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo relayed by 9to5Mac suggested that the iPhone line released in the year 2022 would include two higher-end devices with a punch-hole display. Kuo also suggested that these devices would include a new 48MP wide camera, and would be joined by a new and “more affordable” 6.7-inch iPhone.
Kuo also noted the addition of an under-display fingerprint reader for the year 2023. This technology began to appear in Android devices over the last few years, but hasn’t yet matured to the point at which Apple has been comfortable releasing it on a release-level iPhone. The iPhone under-display Touch ID system is predicted to be a part of the iPhone 15 (or whatever it’ll be called) released in the year 2023 – or later.
The most massive change to the iPhone line comes in the prediction of a foldable device. Ming-Chi Kuo suggested that the “foldable iPhone” won’t be released until the year 2024. It is not yet known whether this foldable iPhone will be released at the same time as the traditional iPhone, what it’s price will be, or if it’ll actually truly ever be released at all!
ALSO NOTE: There’ll likely be a new iPhone SE coming in the year 2022 with expanded mobile data radio coverage. This means 5G support for said iPhone SE, likely appearing in the first half of the year 2022.
If you’re currently preparing to purchase an iPhone and want to wait for the newest possible device – you’re in luck, since the iPhone 13 will be available in stores on September 24, 2021. The release date is the same for iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max, all coming on September 24th, 2021. Take a peek at comparisons between the iPhone 13 models and iPhone 12 and see what you make of them. Then stick around as we prepare to release our review of the iPhone 13 and beyond!
IKEA Sjomake makes DIY hidden wireless charging a $40 upgrade
IKEA is making it easy to hide wireless charging in your nightstand, desk, or coffee table, with the new Sjömäke wireless pad keeping its Qi out of sight. Unlike IKEA’s earlier charging pads, which slot into circular cut-outs in the tabletop, this new high-power pad is intended to hide underneath yet still allow for wireless charging through the surface.
In fact, IKEA claims, it should work just fine through tables and other worktops that are 3/8″ to 7/8″ thick, just as long as they’re not metal. The Swedish retailer includes double-sided tape for mounting it underneath, though there’s also support for screws or other fixings if you prefer.
Plug in the six foot long power cable, meanwhile, and then you have a discreetly hidden Qi charging pad. IKEA includes some stickers that you can optionally use on the top of the table or nightstand, so that you know whereabouts to position your phone or other device for best charging results. Or, you can leave them off altogether, and have the whole thing seem a little more magical.
The pad is a fairly uninspiring design, given it’s intended to be hidden from sight. It’s 1-inches thick, 7-inches long, and 3-inches wide. An indicator LED on the side shows whether or not it’s actively charging a device, though of course there’s a fair chance that you won’t be able to see that in day to day use.
Indeed, IKEA says that you really shouldn’t use the pad with a phone or other device without anything in-between. According to the user manual, there should be at least around 8mm between the two, presumably because IKEA has tuned the charging coils to take into account some sort of gap.
As for the charging rate, expect around 5W. Less, certainly, than you’d get from some of the other Qi pads on the market right now, but certainly sufficient if you’re leaving your phone to one side as you sleep or work.
Currently, the Sjömäke is listed at $39.99 on IKEA’s site, though it’s not yet available to order. The retailer confirmed to The Verge that it will be going on sale in October, both in the US and in other international stores, both at its physical locations and online.
This isn’t, of course, IKEA’s first flirtation with wireless charging. Back in 2018, the company ran a high-profile welcome campaign for the iPhone 8, highlighting how Apple’s addition of Qi support meant that the smartphone would now work with the Swedish company’s chargers that were build into tables, lamps, and more.
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