Google ditched autopilot driving feature after test user napped behind wheel

A Chrysler Pacifica minivan equipped with Waymo’s self-driving car technology, being tested with the company’s employees as a biker and a pedestrian at Waymo’s facility in Atwater, California Waymo. (Julia Wang/Waymo via AP)
Updated 31 October 2017
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Google ditched autopilot driving feature after test user napped behind wheel

ATWATER, California: Alphabet Inc’s self-driving car unit stopped developing features that required drivers to take control in dangerous situations, its chief executive said Monday, as autopilot reliance left users prone to distractions and ill-prepared to maneuver.
The decision followed experiments of the technology in Silicon Valley that showed test users napping, putting on makeup and fiddling with their phones as the vehicles traveled up to 56 mph.
John Krafcik, the head of Waymo, which was formed in 2009 as a project within Alphabet’s Google unit, told reporters that about five years ago the company envisioned technology that could autonomously drive cars on highways as a quick way to get on the market.
Other self-driving automakers include similar autopilot features for highway-driving in vehicles, but they require drivers to take over the steering wheel in tricky situations. Waymo planned to do the same.
“What we found was pretty scary,” Krafcik said onMonday during a media tour of a Waymo testing facility. “It’s hard to take over because they have lost contextual awareness.”
Krafcik said the company determined a system that asked drivers to jump in at the sound of an alert was unsafe after seeing videos from inside self-driving cars during tests.
The filmed tests were conducted in 2013, with Google employees behind the wheel. The videos had not been publicly shown until Monday’s event, Waymo spokeswoman Lauren Barriere said.
The company decided to focus solely on technology that didn’t require human intervention a couple of days after the napping incident, said Krafcik, who joined as CEO in 2015. It has also since argued against allowing “handoffs” between automated driving systems and people.
“Our technology takes care of all of the driving, allowing passengers to stay passengers,” the company said in report this month.
The two drive controls provided to passengers in Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica minivans are buttons for starting a ride and asking the vehicles to pull over at their next chance.
Waymo is running a ride-hailing pilot program around Phoenix, Arizona that chauffeurs an undisclosed, but growing number of users in self-driving cars. The service area is limited to well-mapped roads on which Waymo has extensively tested.
Krafcik declined to specify when the company would expand beyond the small experiment, saying only that such a moment is getting “close.”
He reiterated that the company is simultaneously also identifying ways to launch self-driving trucks, municipal transit services and partnerships with carmakers.
“We see four potential applications, whether it’s Waymo branded or not,” he said.


Tech accessories: Are these ‘side’ devices worth your money?

Updated 7 min 29 sec ago
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Tech accessories: Are these ‘side’ devices worth your money?

  • Tech retailers have continuously introduced side accessories to augment daily gadget use
  • Some accessories can really be helpful, but there are some that are just unnecessary

DUBAI: Using your phone to capture a moment has become second nature. A reflex stimulated by literally any experience – from the time the waiter delivers your food to the table, to the moment your best friend gets married – they are all documented, hundreds and thousands of photos and videos stored in an easily accessible digital storage. Our phones have indeed become our photo albums.

But while the memories we make every day are endless, the storage capabilities of our devices are limited, and tech companies have introduced a number of side accessories that address this rather disconcerting fact.

We take a look at some of the most popular storage-enhancing tech accessories in 2018 – Virtual storage is big business, but is it worth the money and is it necessary?

SanDisk Extreme MicroSDXC UHS-I Card with Adapter

Action cameras have long caught the eye of frequent travelers – if you’re one of them, this might be for you. The SanDisk Extreme memory cards are among the most popular ones in this niche, with its 4K Ultra HD and Full HD video recording and playback capability, especially built for adventurers who are fond of taking content while on the rush. 

The memory card’s selling point is its ability to survive in the most severe conditions. The manufacturers say it still functions in extreme temperatures and after being submerged a meter-deep salt water for three days. 

Read and write speeds are remarkable, especially for a very good deal that does not involve splashing out too much cash – the 32GB version sells at $18.99, while the 256GB sells at $139.99.

SanDisk Ultra MicroSDXC UHS-I Card with Adapter

The SanDisk Ultra memory card is one of my favorites. For starters, the memory capacity ranges from 16GB to a whopping 400GB – and it handles file transfers in a breeze. Packaging suggests a read speed of 100Mbps, with a slightly lower write speed. But over-all performance still depends on the host device – my Samsung Galaxy S9 plus is a perfect match.

Ideal for smartphones and tablets, this high-powered memory card works wonders in capturing and storing full HD videos. I watch a lot of my favorite TV shows on the go – and this memory card’s performance ups that experience by a notch. Smooth app launches are also very noticeable, credit that to its A1 rating, which means that the card is fully optimized for app use.

The higher capacity versions of SanDisk Ultra are worth the extra cash, especially for users who are heavy on storing multimedia content on their mobile devices. 

But cheaper options are available, with the 16GB version at $8.99. The 400GB version sells at $184.99.

SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick 

As the name suggests, the SanDisk Connect Wireless is a USB flash drive that uses built-in Wi-Fi to transfer and stream files wirelessly to and from multiple mobile devices. Available in several memory capacities up to 256GB, this comes with a free mobile app for file management. 

Upon testing, transfer speed is as slow as I expected, as the wireless stick only uses the older USB 2.0 technology – a weird choice in a spur of USB 3.0-capable flash drives. Wireless functionality can easily be dismissed in this area – I’d still use the classic wired-only memory sticks. But the multiple devices streaming feature was interesting, which is probably the product’s main selling point. However, I see very rare instances where this function really becomes necessary. For a $15.99 device, I’d pass on it.

SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive and Mini Flash Drive

Apple devices are notorious for their lack of flexibility when it comes to expanding storage capacity, compared to their Android counterparts, and this product is a clear attempt to address that. The flash drives sport a back-to-back connectivity setup – one for a regular USB port and the other for a lightning USB port, and are available in 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB versions.

But these flash drives can easily be brushed aside especially for MacBook or iMac users given Apple’s sophisticated cloud ecosystem. If you want to free up your memory by dumping photos and other media content, you can already do that directly to your laptop without using a thumb drive, potentially rendering this device redundant, if not unnecessary. 

Prices start at $25.99.

SanDisk Ultra Dual Drive m3.0

For Android users there is SanDisk’s Ultra Dual Drive m3.0. With a micro-USB and a USB 3.0 connectors on both ends, this OTG flash drive allows users to move content easily from both phones and computers.

As an Android loyalist myself, the Ultra Dual Drive does its job well in terms of speed and performance. As soon as it’s plugged in, the drive auto-mounts with ease – especially with the newer versions of the Android OS. The USB 3.0 connectivity was good enough for its price with an average write speed of 32Mbps and read speed of 110Mbps. The drive can also be used on USB 2.0 ports in slower read and write paces. 

But this Ultra Dual Drive is slowly becoming obsolete in the face of USB-C mobile phones. Recent releases from Samsung, for instance, are no longer compatible with this device. If USB-C is the future, then this OTG flash drive is definitely out of the list. Other android users can still take advantage of this product though, since some mobile developers have yet to join the USB-C craze. 

Prices start at $9.99.