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Texas opens the floodgates for testing autonomous cars

(TECH NEWS) Approval has officially been granted to allow the testing of autonomous vehicle technologies in the Lone Star State. When will testing get underway, and how long until we see them on the long stretches of Texas highway?

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autonomous cars driverless

The future has been approved

The state of Texas recently took a significant step forward towards approval of automated vehicles on its roadways. With the recent agreement between the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), approval has been granted to allow the testing of automated vehicle technologies that have been proven in a lab-setting on the more than 80,000 miles of roadways in the state.

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Partnering with other deparments

“We are rapidly moving into a new world of transportation that will include cars communicating with other cars and cars that drive themselves,” TxDOT Executive Director James Bass said. “As the transportation industry is on the leading edge of this transformation, testing is vital in real driving environments. We’re excited to be part of that along with Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to make sure those technologies are tested in the safest possible ways.”

Such a partnership to test technology in a real-world driving environment is common. TxDOT routinely partners with TTI and other universities throughout the state to review, test, and enact proposed improvements to highway conditions throughout the state. The Texas A&M Transportation Institute is allowed to test not only any automated vehicles or related technologies that it may design, but also those developed by other partners, including industrial ventures or other universities.

Timeframe for testing

Once a technology is deemed suitable for road testing, TTI will inform TxDOT, and the two will jointly collaborate on a plan for testing that includes the specific technology under test, previous results from both laboratory and controlled test trials, and the location and duration of the Texas highway test. An additional component of their testing protocols also addresses the conditions by which the technology can be safely piloted under road conditions among other drivers on Texas’ highways.

The timeframe for real-world testing may occur in the near future as there are already several research projects from multiple entities that are close to completion. For example, TxDOT currently has five different research projects under evaluation at the TTI Proving Ground, and Texas A&M joined other partners, including the University of Texas at Austin, the Southwest Research Institute, and municipalities across the state to form the Texas Automated Vehicle (AV) Proving Ground Partnership in December. This partnership allows the members to pool their expertise and resources to collaboratively advance connected vehicle and automated vehicle technologies.

Rise of auto autonomy

“Those technologies range from detection of wrong way drivers, to new pavement markings and signs that can be read by automated vehicles,” said TTI Assistant Agency Director Christopher Poe, the Institute’s CV/AV transportation strategy lead. “Working with TxDOT, the first real-world technology testing plans under this agreement could begin within months.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the number of states that have addressed autonomous vehicles through legislation have continued to rise. Since 2012, 34 states as well as the District of Columbia, have proposed legislation related to autonomous vehicles, including 20 states in 2016 alone.

#AutonomousCars

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Tech News

Not just for gaming: How virtual reality can save PTSD patients

(TECH NEWS) Thanks to its ability to simulate situations safely, virtual reality technologies are proving effective in therapy for PTSD patients.

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Woman wearing a VR headset in warm sunny lighting, PTSD patients treatment

Over the last year, a great many people have developed a new and sometimes dangerous relationship with a new emotional state, anxiety. I know that personally I’d never had a panic attack in my life until the middle of the pandemic. For many these emotions have taken the form of actual disorders. Actual mental influences which affect everyday life on a large scale. One of the most common forms of which is PTSD.

This disorder has many different aspects and can affect people in a number of different and debilitating ways. Finding treatments for PTSD patients and other anxiety disorders – especially treatments that don’t involve drugging people into oblivion has been difficult.

A lot of these disorders require exposure therapy. Putting people back into similar situations which caused the original trauma so that their brains can adjust to the situation and not get stuck in pain or panic loops. But how do you do that for things like battlefield trauma. You can’t just create situations with gunfire and dead bodies! Or can you?

This is where VR starts coming in. Thanks to the falling cost of VR headsets, noted by The Economist, psychologists are more capable of creating these real world situations that can actually help people adjust to their individual trauma.

One therapist went so far as to compare it to easy access opioids for therapy. This tool is so powerful that of the 20 veterans that they started with, 16 of them no longer qualify for the categories of PTSD. That’s a 75% success rate with an over-the-counter medicine. I can think of antihistamines and painkillers that aren’t that good.

I’ve grown up around PTSD patients. The majority of my family have been in the military. I was even looking at a career before I was denied service. I have enough friends that deal with PTSD issues that I have a list of things I remember not to invite certain people to so as not to trigger it. Any and every tool available that could help people adapt to their trauma is worthwhile.

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Tired of email spam? This silly, petty solution might provide vindication

(TECH NEWS) If you struggle to keep your inbox clean thanks to a multitude of emails, the widget “You’ve Got Spam” could provide some petty catharsis.

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Email icon with 20 possible spam emails on phone screen.

We’re all spending a lot of time behind our computers and inside of our inboxes these days, so it makes sense that some people—not naming names—might be sick of seeing several unsolicited emails a day from marketers and other unsavory businesses.

While we can’t recommend a mature, adult solution that hasn’t already been beaten to death (looking at you, “inbox zero” crowd), we can recommend a childish one: Signing solicitors up for spam.

If you do decide to go the petty route, “You’ve Got Spam”—a free email widget from MSCHF—has you covered. Upon installing the widget, you can configure it to respond automatically to incoming cold-marketing emails with tons of subscriptions to spam sources, thus resulting in overwhelming the sender with a crowded inbox and cultivating a potentially misplaced sense of catharsis for yourself.

The widget itself is fairly simple: You only need to install it to Gmail from the MSCHF website. The rest is pretty self-explanatory. When you receive an email from a person from whom you can safely assume you’ll never be receiving favors ever again, you can open it and click the “You’ve Got Spam” icon to sign the sender up for spam lists galore.

See? Petty, but effective.

The developer page does fail to make the distinction between the promised “100” subscriptions and the “hundreds of spam subscriptions” discussed on Product Hunt. But one can assume that anyone who dares trespass on the sacred grounds of your squeaky-clean inbox will rue the day they did so regardless of the exact number of cat litter magazine subscriptions they receive.

Of course, actually using something like “You’ve Got Spam” is, realistically, a poor choice. It takes exactly as much effort to type, “We’ll pass – thanks!” as a response to anyone cold-emailing you, and you’re substantially less likely to piss off the actual human being on the other side by doing so. Services like this are heavy on the comedic shock value, but the empathy side tends to lack a discernible presence.

That said, if you absolutely must wreck someone’s day—and inbox—MSCHF’s “You’ve Got Spam” is a pretty ingenious way to do it.

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Clubhouse finally made it to Android, but has its time passed?

(TECH NEWS) Social media felt the impact of Clubhouse, but the internet moves fast, and even though it is finally on Android, it’s time may be waning.

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Woman holding book and a phone, with headphones, participating in Clubhouse.

Clubhouse finally got an Android release, and while many people clamored for such a thing months ago, others argue that it’s too little, too late.

If you aren’t familiar with Clubhouse, it’s an audio-only “social platform” that encourages discussions through live chat rooms. Users can drop into various rooms and listen to people talk, request the option to chime in, and follow a variety of rooms (or “topics”) to stay engaged over time. Users can even create their own rooms that feature them as speakers.

Clubhouse also has a certain allure to it in that the app requires new users to put their names on a waitlist that creates an “invite-only” culture of exclusivity.

But while iPhone users have had access to Clubhouse since its inception, Android users have been not-so-patiently waiting for their own release—and, now that Clubhouse for Android is available, it may have outstayed its welcome.

Part of the problem is the launch itself. The Android Clubhouse app launched with limited functionality; Android users weren’t able to follow the topics they like, change their account information, and so on. This made the release feel underwhelming, further highlighting Clubhouse’s affinity for Apple users.

A more complicated problem is the prevalence of audio options in other social media services. Slack, for example, recently released their audio-only rooms, and services such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have placed a spotlight on voice-only mediums of expression.

Initially, Clubhouse was the only app to incorporate audio as a strong central focus, but the ubiquitous fascination with voice-posting has expanded to comprise most major communication platforms. As such, Clubhouse’s sought-after exclusivity is no more—something that was also arguably damaged by expanding to Android.

It should be noted that interest in the app itself is decreasing, and not just on Android. Social Media Today reported that, in March of 2021, Clubhouse downloads were down 72 percent from February’s 9.6 million downloads. The publication also pointed out that difficulty finding rooms was a substantial issue that is unlikely to do anything but worsen with a surge of Android users, necessitating some back-end fixes from the owners.

As it sits, Clubhouse is still very much in use, and Android users are poised to reignite interest as iOS users stagnate. Whether or not that interest will persevere in the current social media ecosystem remains to be seen.

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