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‘Self-driving’ lorries to be tested on UK roads

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-41038220

Small convoys of partially self-driving lorries will be tried out on major British roads by the end of next year, the government has announced.

A contract has been awarded to the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) to carry out the tests of vehicle “platoons”.

Up to three lorries will travel in formation, with acceleration and braking controlled by the lead vehicle.

But the head of the AA said platoons raised safety concerns.

In the platoons, the lead vehicle will be controlled by a human driver and will communicate with the rest of the convoy wirelessly.

The following vehicles will be instructed to accelerate and brake by the lead vehicle, allowing the lorries to drive closer together than they could with human drivers.

Lorries driving close together could reduce air resistance for the following vehicles, as the front lorry pushes air out of the way.

This could lead to fuel efficiency savings for haulage companies, which Transport Minister Paul Maynard hopes will be passed on to consumers.

The following vehicles could also react more quickly to the lead lorry braking than human drivers can.

However, human drivers will still steer all the lorries in the convoy.

The TRL will begin trials of the technology on test tracks, but these trials are expected to move to major roads by the end of 2018.

The government has been promising such a project since at least 2014.

Last year, for example, it announced its intention to carry out platooning trials but was later frustrated after some European lorrymakers declined to participate.

A Department of Transport spokesman told the BBC that the experiments are now expected to go ahead as the contract had been awarded.

The TRL has announced its partners for the project:

  • DAF Trucks, a Dutch lorry manufacturer
  • Ricardo, a British smart tech transport firm
  • DHL, a German logistics company

Platooning has been tested in a number of countries around the world, including the US, Germany and Japan.

However, British roads present a unique challenge, said Edmund King, president of the AA.

“We all want to promote fuel efficiency and reduce congestion but we are not yet convinced that lorry platooning on UK motorways is the way to go about it,” he said, pointing out, for example, that small convoys of lorries can block road signs from the view of other road users.

“We have some of the busiest motorways in Europe with many more exits and entries.

“Platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada but this is not America,” he added.

His comments were echoed by the RAC Foundation.

Its director, Steve Gooding, said: “Streams of close-running HGVs could provide financial savings on long-distance journeys, but on our heavily congested motorways – with stop-start traffic and vehicles jostling for position – the benefits are less certain.”

Campaign group the Road Haulage Association said “safety has to come first”.

Transport Minister Paul Maynard said platooning could lead to cheaper fuel bills, lower emissions and less congestion.

“But first we must make sure the technology is safe and works well on our roads, and that’s why we are investing in these trials,” he said.

 

Swansea Bus Museum is on the move

Moving one heritage bus can sometimes prove difficult, but relocating a museum full of them is about to present a mammoth challenge for one group of South Wales-based road transport enthusiasts.

Swansea Bus Museum is planning to relocate its collection and displays as part of a major development plan and that means a huge logistical task for its small band of regular volunteers.

Before the end of the year the museum will leave the former industrial building in Swansea’s SA1 Business Park that has been its home for many years and relocate to a modern property in Swansea Enterprise Park.

The move comes as the lease on its current home ends and the museum seeks to expand its road transport restoration and preservation activities into the future as well as improving facilities for the storage of its unique collection of vehicles and also those for visitors and educational purposes.

Chairman Alan West, one of those who have helped nurture the museum from its early beginnings, welcomed the move along with the wide-ranging future opportunities it offers.

“We have an important collection of vehicles at Swansea Bus Museum and the move will allow us to extend this as well as creating a more welcoming environment for visitors who are very important to our survival.

“There is no doubt the transfer of our collection will present an array of problems particularly with vehicles awaiting restoration and heavy or bulky parts in our stores. The logistics are a nightmare and we are hoping that our predicament will attract some favourable support from at least one of our local haulage companies.

“Interest in the museum is on the increase both with volunteers and visitors. Shortly we will be welcoming a party of transport enthusiasts from Ireland keen to view our collection and others are set to follow. Members want the museum to grow and provide an additional point of interest for visitors to the city.

“The move is a mammoth task, but one we are confident we can achieve within the timescale,” he said.

The museum houses an array of passenger transport vehicles. Among them are a number of rarities like the oldest surviving AEC Regent V and the world’s only AEC Regent V single deck vehicle, built to tackle low bridges in Llanelli’s New Dock area.

The museum is planning to complete the move in the run up to Christmas, but in the meantime is organising a farewell running day at its current site at SA1 Business Park, Langdon Road, East, Swansea, SA1 8PB, on Sunday October 29 from 10am to 4pm.

www.swanseabusmuseum.com

Bus Museum newsletter – July 2017

Further information from David Roberts, SBM Secretary Tel: 01792 732832.

Driverless lorry makes late-night beer run

The Times, October 27 2016,

The lorry drove itself for 120 miles down Interstate 25, though a driver took over once it left the motorway
The lorry drove itself for 120 miles down Interstate 25, though a driver took over once it left the motorway   AFP/Getty Images
 

It was after midnight and the executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation was at the back of a convoy escorting an articulated lorry loaded with beer down the motorway.

“It looked like a truck going down the road. It had to respond to [traffic], vehicles passing it, merging in front of it, curves in the road,” Shailen Bhatt said. “The only thing that looked off was when you passed the vehicle and you looked in to see the driver and there was no driver.”

 
 

The future of cargo hauling may have arrived on Thursday morning when a driverless 53ft lorry travelled more than 120 miles along Interstate 25, including through the city of Denver. It was delivering 2,000 cases of Budweiser from the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Fort Collins to Colorado Springs.

“This milestone marks the first time in history that a self-driving vehicle has shipped commercial cargo, making it a landmark achievement for self-driving technology, the state of Colorado and the transportation industry,” the brewer said in a joint statement with Otto, the San Francisco-based company owned by Uber that developed the technology for the experiment.

The test run was carried out between 1am and 3am. The lorry travelled in the centre lane as part of a convoy that included four police vehicles, two tow trucks and four Otto vehicles.

The lorry was on a familiar route. It had already done the same run hundreds of times before with someone in the driving seat to survey the route.

On this occasion a driver was in the sleeper berth of the lorry to monitor the system. He was not required to take over at any point, Otto said, although he drove the truck onto the motorway and away from it.

Uber, which paid almost $700 million for Otto shortly after the company was set up in February, tested self-driving cars in Pittsburgh last month, but the technology is expected to take longer to come into widespread use than driverless lorries.

The hope is that the technology will allow long–haul drivers to sleep on main roads so that they are fresh for the more complex parts of the journey, making roads safer. About 400,000 lorries crash every year in the US, killing about 4,000 people, and human error is to blame for almost every case.

“We think that self-driving technologies can improve safety, reduce emissions and improve operational efficiencies of our shipments,” James Sembrot, head of logistics for Anheuser-Busch, said.

BP and Shell face huge challenge from switch to electric cars

The Times, July 31 2017,

Petrol pumps will become a thing of the past as charging points replace them
Petrol pumps will become a thing of the past as charging points replace them     Weegee (Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images
 

Oil investors are getting worried. Electric cars have accelerated on to the front pages. Sales are surging, carmakers are unveiling plans for all-electric models and this week Britain vowed to ban sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

Yet if Big Oil believes that death is about to pull up in a Tesla, it’s doing a good job of hiding it. On Thursday, Ben van Beurden, the boss of Royal Dutch Shell, welcomed Britain’s plans and declared that his next car would be electric. And earlier in the year Spencer Dale, BP’s chief economist, bluntly described the arrival of electric vehicles on the oil majors’ lawn as “not a game-changer”, adding that not even “enormous” growth in sales of such vehicles would make a big dent in global oil demand.

That’s partly because the world needs oil for much more than just cars. BP reckons that fuel for passenger vehicles accounts for about a fifth of the 95 million barrels consumed globally every day. Most of the rest is used in industry, plastics manufacturing or to fuel heavy goods vehicles, aircraft and ships. Such sectors do not have easy non-oil alternatives and companies believe that some, especially petrochemicals, will keep growing strongly for decades.

Oil companies also believe that the substantial fuel demand for cars won’t disappear overnight, whatever the growth in electric vehicles sales. “You have still got a big [existing] car fleet that is going to be on traditional fossil fuels for quite some time,” Lydia Rainforth, an oil analyst at Barclays, said.

Then there is basic geography. In emerging economies, petrol sales are expected to continue rising because, in Mr van Beurden’s estimation, these countries “cannot simply make that switch [to electric vehicles] because they do not have the electrical infrastructure to do so and do not have the wealth to do so”. Indeed, while BP estimates that there will be 100 million electric cars on the road by 2035, up from two million today, this will equate to only about 6 per cent of an enlarged global fleet, dampening global oil demand by just 1.5 million barrels a day.

To some, perhaps inevitably, that seems optimistic, at best. Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts that steep battery cost reductions will make electric vehicles cheaper than their traditional internal combustion engine peers by late next decade and expects 530 million of them on the road by 2040, a third of all cars.

That could destroy eight million barrels a day of oil demand, with “very strong implications for refiners”, Colin McKerracher, BNEF head of advanced transport, said. “It is safe to say this would have a negative impact on the oil companies.”

Even this bullish forecast assumes that only 80 per cent of UK car sales will be electric by 2040. Britain’s new policy was significant because it pointed to even faster progress, Mr McKerracher said, with the government intent on pushing this “even further and faster than the economics alone would”. Crucially, “it isn’t just the UK doing this”, with France announcing similar plans last month and China and India also looking at targets.

“We could be wrong,” Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, admitted to shareholders at its annual meeting in May. But no matter. “We have a very resilient portfolio,” Mr Dudley added. “We can shift our activities as a company.”

Mr van Beurden makes the same case. In the most aggressive scenarios, oil demand could peak as soon as the late 2020s, he said this week. “Is that an issue for us? We have to adapt to it.

“Every year we invest between $25 billion and $30 billion. We are a $280 billion company, so every decade we build a new Shell all over again. We are not some sort of sitting duck that has nowhere to go with only one business model or only one asset base. We continuously reinvent ourselves.”

When peak oil demand will occur may be a matter for debate, he said, but “that it will happen we are certain”.

“The idea that they are energy companies rather than oil companies will be very much the mantra from all of them,” Ms Rainforth said.

Shell and BP have already increased their focus on cleaner-burning gas. They have also started to develop renewable energy businesses to tap into rising global power demand.

And they are finding ways to capitalise on the rise of electric vehicles. Shell is already preparing to install charging points at its service stations around Britain, which it says represents an opportunity to sell drivers more products at its convenience stores while they wait.

As Big Oil evolves into Big Energy, the sight of Mr van Beurden behind the wheel of an electric vehicle might not seem so crazy, so long as he’s charging it up on a Shell forecourt.

Cost of batteries will decide the future of petrol and diesel
Analysts differ wildly in their forecasts for the future growth of electric vehicles, but they seem to agree at least on why.

“It all depends on what you believe will be the rate of decline of battery costs,” Alan Gelder, a senior vice-president at Wood Mackenzie, said.

The oil consultancy expects relatively modest growth in electric cars, which it believes will account for only one in three British vehicle sales by 2035. That is far below Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s estimate of 80 per cent by 2040, let alone the UK’s plan to end petrol and diesel sales by that year. Bloomberg says that battery costs have fallen by 73 per cent since 2010 and it expects improved energy density and increased scale in manufacturing to drive further cost reduction. Yet Mr Gelder questioned whether costs could keep coming down, given the huge requirement for lithium and cobalt. “It’s hard for that to increase in scale significantly and still become cheaper,” he said.

Colin McKerracher, of Bloomberg, believes that this risk is overplayed. “Today, if lithium prices went up 300 per cent, that would increase the cost of a battery pack about 2 per cent,” he said.

We want more cycle lanes not honours, say Olympians

The Times, September 1 2016,

Katy Marchant, Laura Trott and Rebecca James signed the letter to Theresa May
Katy Marchant, Laura Trott and Rebecca James signed the letter to Theresa May      MATTHEW CHILDS/REUTERS
 

Team GB’s world-beating cyclists from the Rio Olympics have written to Theresa May to demand that 5 per cent of the transport budget be spent on cycle lanes on Britain’s roads.

Jason Kenny and Sir Chris Hoy, Britain’s most decorated Olympians with six gold medals apiece, have signed the letter, along with Laura Trott, Britain’s most decorated woman Olympian.

Other signatories include Joanna Rowsell Shand, Elinor Barker and Owain Doull, who won team pursuit golds in Rio; Mark Cavendish, who won silver in the omnium; Rebecca James, who took silver in the keirin and the sprint; Katy Marchant, who won bronze in the sprint; and Chris Boardman, a gold medallist in 1992 and policy director of British Cycling.

Budgets for bikes

  • £450 million Minimum annual budget for cycling in England outside London recommended by a parliamentary inquiry, the Commons transport committee and the Times campaign.
  • £60 million Average annual amount committed by the government.
  • £1.39 per head What the Department for Transport will spend on average.
  • £24 per head Spending on cycling in The Netherlands.

The letter, which will be sent today and has been seen by The Times, tells the prime minister: “You were widely reported in the media as saying that there will be ‘no limits’ on the honours that could be bestowed on our medal winners. But the best way to honour the achievements of our athletes would be a legacy of everyday cycling in this country — a place where cycling is the choice form of transport for people to get around in their daily lives.”

It reminds Mrs May that the Conservative manifesto pledged to double the number of cycle journeys and that her predecessor promised a “cycling revolution” for commuters.

The stars draw attention to the government’s “cycling and walking investment strategy”, a draft of which was condemned by campaigners for committing a “derisory” amount of funding.

It pledged £300 million over five years to cycling in England outside London, worth £2.07 per capita in 2016-17, falling to 72p by 2020-21. This is less than the £10 per head recommended by a cross-party Commons inquiry and the Times Cities Fit for Cycling campaign, backed by the AA.

The letter adds: “We need 5 per cent of the government’s transport spend allocated to cycling. This is the only way that cycling will be integrated into transport strategy and given the priority it deserves. Investment in cycling . . . will pay off for the nation’s health, wealth, transport infrastructure and the vibrancy of our towns and cities.

“Our athletes have inspired the country and now we urge the government to take cycling seriously as a transport option for everyone.”

Boardman said that he had applied to chair the government’s expert committee for its cycling strategy and that Mrs May must give funding for cycling the same guaranteed status as for roads, rail and aviation. He warned against “positive indifference” from government.

THE LETTER IN FULL

Thursday 1 September 2016
Dear Prime Minister,




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The Great Britain Cycling Team athletes topped the cycling medal table for the third Olympic Games in a row at Rio 2016. It was a truly outstanding performance and enhances Britain’s status as the world’s leading elite cycling nation.

You were widely reported in the media as saying that there will be “no limits” on the honours that could be bestowed on our medal winners. But the best way to honour the achievements of our athletes would be a legacy of every-day cycling in this country – a place where cycling is the choice form of transport for people to get around in their daily lives.

Your predecessor called for a “cycling revolution” and your government’s manifesto sets out a target to “double” the number of journeys cycled. While some steps have been made, cycling is still a transport mode which does not enjoy the government investment or political leadership given to roads, rail or aviation.

The government is now considering feedback on the draft Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS). We urge the government to publish this and set out a timeline to address the chronic underfunding and lack of leadership which is keeping cycling for transport in the slow lane. Only networks of segregated cycle lanes in towns and cities across the country can achieve and influence growth.

The success of the CWIS will be felt not only across government but in all areas of the nation’s life. The government’s sports strategy seeks to extend the number of people living physically active lives and could be truly transformative. Active travel – walking and cycling – is the easiest way for people of all ages to fit physical activity into their lives. Currently, only one in five people achieve the recommended levels of physical activity.

Around one in three children is overweight or obese. The government’s childhood obesity strategy recognises the value of physical activity and the importance of walking and cycling to school. I am sure you know that this will seem a fanciful idea for most parents without the convenient walking and cycling routes which would give them the confidence that their children will be safe getting to school. Yet we know it can be achieved – in the Netherlands, 50% of education-age children cycle to school.

As cities like Copenhagen and New York have shown, cycling also creates better places to live and work. More cycling cuts congestion, reduces noise pollution and fuels local economies. Small businesses in New York have seen a 49% increase in business where cycle lanes have been installed.

There is huge latent demand for cycling. Two thirds of people would cycle more if they felt safer on the roads. The government’s road safety statement reiterates the manifesto commitment to reduce the number of cyclists killed or injured. The CWIS needs to set targets to improve road maintenance, enhance enforcement of the laws, and update the rules of the road to better consider the needs of cyclists.

To make this happen, we need 5% of the government’s transport spend allocated to cycling. This is the only way that cycling will be integrated into transport strategy and given the priority it deserves.

Investment in cycling as a form of transport isn’t purely an investment in cycle lanes. It is an investment that will pay off for the nation’s health, wealth, transport infrastructure and the vibrancy of our towns and cities. It has the added benefit of just making it easier for ordinary families to get to work and get to school.

Our athletes have inspired the country and now we urge the government to take cycling seriously as a transport option for everyone.

British Cycling’s policy adviser Chris Boardman would welcome a meeting to discuss this further. We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Boardman, policy adviser, British Cycling and Olympic gold medalist

Sir Chris Hoy, six-time Olympic gold medallist, joint most successful British Olympian

Laura Trott, four-time Olympic gold medallist and Britain’s most successful female Olympian

Jason Kenny, six-time Olympic gold medallist, joint most successful British Olympian

Mark Cavendish, Olympic silver medallist

Joanna Rowsell Shand, double Olympic gold medallist

Elinor Barker, Olympic gold medallist

Owain Doull, Olympic gold medallist

Becky James, double Olympic silver medallist

Katy Marchant, bronze medallist

Blindspot lorries to be banned in capital

The Times October 1 2016,

HGVs make up about 5 per cent of traffic on the roads in the capital but account for more than half of cyclist fatalities
HGVs make up about 5 per cent of traffic on the roads in the capital but account for more than half of cyclist fatalitiesYui Mok/PA Wire
 More than 30,000 dangerous lorries with extensive blind spots are to be banned from London roads in a victory for the Times cycle safety campaign.

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, said that HGVs would be given a rating out of five for the visibility offered to drivers. Those scoring zero would be banned by 2020; those scoring below three would be banned by 2024.

HGVs make up about 5 per cent of traffic on the roads but account for more than half of cyclist fatalities and more than a fifth of pedestrian deaths, blamed on the large blind spots on their left flank and in front of the driver’s cab.




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Transport for London said there were about 35,000 zero-rated lorries on the capital’s roads. Most of these are “off-road” vehicles designed for construction sites. The cabs in these lorries tend to be high off the ground and have narrow windows with large blind spots.

Safety campaigners, including the Times Cities Fit for Cycling campaign, have backed calls for haulage and construction companies to use lorries with safer designs, including large windows, see-through doors, lower cabs, side bars and extra mirrors and sensors.

Mr Khan said: “I’m not prepared to stand by and let dangerous lorries continue to cause further heartbreak and tragedy. Our direct vision standard will be the first of its kind in the world, directly addressing the issue of lethal driver blind spots. I’m also proud that TfL will lead by example and will not use any zero-star lorries in its supply chain from the new financial year.”

The Greater London Authority will not give contracts to firms whose lorries fall below the standard and TfL has encouraged developers and councils to do the same.

Leon Daniels, managing director of surface transport at TfL, said: “Lorries designed in the 1970s for use in a quarry have no place on the streets of a 21st-century city.”

Zero-rated lorries will get one star for fitting extra side windows or lower dashboards. Those with side bars and extra mirrors will get three stars and those with low cabs and panoramic views will get five stars.

Experts at the Transport Research Laboratory warned that even five star-rated lorries would pose a significant risk to cycling, making the case for more segregated bike lanes.

London has an average annual budget of £91 million for cycling; the Department for Transport spends £60 million a year on the rest of England.

Shared spaces for drivers and pedestrians ‘are causing chaos’

The Times October 24 2016, t

 
Exhibition Road in central London was designed so that cars and pedestrians could co-exist without the need for signs or barriers
Exhibition Road in central London was designed so that cars and pedestrians could co-exist without the need for signs or barriers    Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea
 Trendy shared space schemes that attempt to declutter streets by stripping out kerbs, road markings and traffic signs are causing “chaos and catastrophe”, ministers have been told.

The system — adopted by town planners across Britain — has created a “traffic free-for-all” in busy shopping areas, putting pedestrians and cyclists at risk, it was claimed.

The Conservative peer Lord Holmes of Richmond said that at least 14 local councils had scrapped shared space schemes by reintroducing zebra crossings and segregated cycle lanes.

He made the comments as experts prepared to publish a government-backed review of the system this year. The review, led by the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation, is expected to be critical of the process, saying that planners often fail to ensure an “inclusive environment” is created that benefits motorists and pedestrians at the same time. It suggested that the Highway Code may have to be rewritten to tell drivers how to approach shared spaces.

Shared space was developed in the Netherlands in the 1970s to declutter streets. It seeks to blur the lines between pedestrians and vehicles by taking out kerbs, surface markings, crossings and signs.

Drivers are supposed to reduce their speed because of uncertainty over who has priority. In some areas, zebra crossings have been replaced by “courtesy crossings” that have no basis in law and rely on the goodwill of motorists. About 100 roads have been adapted in Britain, figures suggest.

Safety groups have been highly critical of the development, claiming that it puts pedestrians at risk, particularly those with disabilities or sight problems. MPs from the Commons women and equalities select committee have begun an inquiry into shared spaces and other aspects of the “built environment”.

In a written submission to the inquiry, Lord Holmes, a former Paralympic swimmer, said that shared space had “absolutely failed to achieve an inclusive experience”. He added: “Shared space is not a safe place nor a pleasant place; it has turned high streets into traffic-free-for-alls; it has caused confusion, chaos and catastrophe.”

A number of deaths have been linked to shared space schemes. In 2012 David Thompson, a pensioner, died when he was hit by a bus while crossing a junction without traffic lights or road signs in Coventry.

Lord Holmes reported that 14 schemes had been scrapped in recent years. These included a zebra crossing that was reinstated at a cost of more than £100,000 in Dunstable, Bedfordshire. Another crossing was reinstated in Bath after the council was warned that pulling it out had created a safety risk.

In its submission to the inquiry, the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation said that the Highway Code may have to be rewritten to make sure that drivers give proper consideration to pedestrians in shared space areas.

“There may be a requirement to consider how we balance the needs of people driving vehicles and other people in certain areas of our built-up areas, in particular where those needs interact,” it said. “There are a number of ways that this may be achieved, including changes to the Highway Code . . . or to primary legislation.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “We are absolutely clear that the needs of the whole community, including disabled people, need to be considered by councils looking to introduce shared space schemes.”

Chocks away: Google founder’s prototype means flying cars could really take off

The Times October 26 2016,

A prototype of a flying car being developed by the Google co-founder Larry Page has been spotted — and it’s not nearly as sleek as Back to the Future’s DeLorean DMC-12. But some experts believe that the vehicle represents the future of your commute, even if it does not let you time travel.

The prototype from Zee.Aero, one of two flying-car companies said to be funded by Mr Page, was seen at the airport at Hollister, California, where the business has a hangar.

Employees of a nearby aero turbines company said that they had seen the aircraft take off vertically, hover about 7.5m above the tarmac, then land. “It sounded like an electric motor running, just a high-pitched whine,” Steve Eggleston, who took the photograph, said.

Some experts believe that the flying car being developed by Larry Page represents the future of commuting
Some experts believe that the flying car being developed by Larry Page represents the future of commutingJEFF CHIU/AP

Zee.Aero would not comment but the aircraft photographed resembles drawings that the company submitted in a patent three years ago. The design cannot be properly analysed from the image, but experts said the fixed wing must incorporate horizontal rotors to provide the necessary thrust for a vertical take-off. This would fit with the old patent drawings, and the propeller pictured at the back would provide forward motion.

There is also speculation the vehicle could be self-flying, or semi-autonomous. The “car” is not roadworthy, with relatively tiny wheels, but gets the name because owners could take off and land from a driveway and use it day to day.

The prototype is not the only flying car with vertical take-off abilities in development but is considered significant because of Mr Page’s record as a tech visionary.

After decades of appearances in popular culture, such as the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and working models dating back to the 1940s that never took off commercially, experts say mass-market flying cars are coming much closer. Reasons include better, more efficient batteries, lower-cost aviation electronics, lower manufacturing costs and better automated systems — the consequences of advances in drone design.

There’s no price or launch date for Zee.Aero’s vehicle but companies such as AeroMobil and Terrafugia plan to sell flying cars for several hundred thousand pounds.

Tim Robinson, editor of Aerospace magazine, said: “The idea of flying cars has been there as long as there have been cars and planes. However, the technology really seems to be converging and now you’ve got people like Page and Airbus involved, there is serious momentum.”

The Airbus subsidiary A³ is working on a self-piloted flying car for one passenger or cargo and seems to have a similar vision to Mr Page. Despite the received wisdom that flying cars are best suited to longer-distance travel in relatively quiet airspace, the company’s Project Vahana vehicle is designed to address “rising transportation challenges in metropolitan areas”.

The company says that motorists in London spend the equivalent of 35 working days a year idling in traffic. It is aiming to fly a full-size prototype before the end of next year and to have a market-ready vehicle by 2020. It believes that automated flying cars could revolutionise urban travel for millions of people in as little as ten years.

Rodin Lyasoff, A³ chief executive, said: “We seek to help enable truly vertical cities by opening up urban airways. We believe full automation will allow us to achieve higher safety by minimising human error. Our aircraft will follow predetermined flight paths, with only minor deviations if obstacle avoidance is needed. We believe this mode of operation will be compatible with future airspace management systems and will allow more aircraft to share the sky.”

Google buys system that controls gadgets with just a look
Google knows what you look at online, but it could soon find out what you’re looking at in everyday life, too, after it acquired a Silicon Valley startup that has pioneered eye-tracking technology.

The system from Eyefluence lets you use your eyes as a mouse while wearing a virtual-reality headset or augmented-reality glasses, enabling the real world to be seen through a computer display. It could be used to play games such as whack-a-mole with eye movements, or take a picture of something just by looking at it. It could also be a lifeline to people with disabilities, who could use it to control devices such as their television.

Mark Skilton, professor of practice at Warwick Business School, said that Google may use the technology to collect and profit from data on what users look at. Facebook and Microsoft have also been investing heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality.

Growing tribe of staycationers seek freedom of the open road . . . in a luxury motorhome

The Times April 13 2017,

The “glamping” revolution, which has added a little luxury to camping, is being replicated in the motorhome market
The “glamping” revolution, which has added a little luxury to camping, is being replicated in the motorhome marketAlamy

Once the preserve of hippies, the campervan is booming in popularity as staycationers holiday closer to home.

Far from the “turn on, tune in, drop out” vibe of the vehicles 50 years ago, motorhomes are being sold for six figure sums, with everything from gas hobs to wine coolers included.

The “glamping” revolution, which has added a little luxury to camping, is being replicated in the motorhome market. The National Caravan Council (NCC) said that motorhome registrations were exceptionally high last year at 12,332, compared with 10,572 the previous year.

Kevin Lafferty, of Forestry Commission Scotland, which manages camping and caravanning sites across Scotland, said that modern campers are looking for a more comfortable way of enjoying the outdoors. He said: “There has been a significant increase in the number of motorhomes and requests for provision for them. How people use the outdoors and stay overnight is changing.

“In areas such as Loch Ness, there are a lot more motorhomes than there were five or ten years ago and the sites are more geared up for that.”