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Uber is making flying cars so you can commute in a private jet

(TECH NEWS) No word yet on whether or not Uber Elevate will provide peanuts, but the future is here, dear readers!

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No longer top secret

The race is on to put a car in the sky. And Uber is crouched at the starting line and plans on going the distance (and for speed).

Last year, we found out Google founder Larry Page had funneled millions from his own fortune into the construction of small electric aircrafts. The top-secret projects were inspired by NASA engineer Mark Moore’s 2010 research, and are being executed by two Silicon Valley startups, Zee.Aero and Kitty Hawk. Then Airbus announced plans to release self-driving taxis within the next year.

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Batting for Uber’s team

But you can’t make history without stirring up a little drama: the very Mark Moore that inspired Page has now joined one of Google’s major rivals, Uber Technologies, Inc, as director of engineering for aviation, for perhaps the most promising and powerful of all airborne auto projects.

“I can’t think of another company in a stronger position to be the leader for this new ecosystem and make the urban electric VTOL market real,” Moore stated while somewhere in Silicon Valley, Page narrowed his eyes in quiet rage.

Uber has an ambitious, groundbreaking vision for this emerging industry and the future of airborne commutes, and expects to achieve it in the next 1 to 3 years — compared to Page’s estimated timeline of 5-10 years. The company wants an organized, strategic approach that will allow for further developments. Their head of product for advanced programs, Nikhil Goel, referred to the company as “an accelerant-catalyst” of the flying car ecosystem.

Uber Elevate

The rideshare company’s flying car initiative is called Uber Elevate, and has not officially begun yet.

As whimsically delightful as the concept of flying cars sounds, the reality involves numerous technical and political challenges.Click To Tweet

For example, vehicle efficiency, noise pollution, vehicle efficiency, limited battery life, negotiating with suppliers to lower prices, lobbying regulators about aircraft certifications and air-traffic restrictions — to name a few.

Uber wants to go about this carefully, anticipating all possible obstacles and developing solutions to overcome each one.

With its 55 million active riders, and without the bureaucratic limitations of NASA, Uber has the potential influence to prove their project could lead to a huge, highly profitable and safe market. This pragmatically planned vision differentiates Uber Elevate as a promising endeavor rather than just another “wild tech game”, Moore explains.

Now, all logistics aside, let’s take a moment to revel in the surreal world Uber intends to create: an ordinary Uber picks you up, drives you to the closest “vertiport”, then soars into the sky and all the way to your office. How’s that for a daily commute? The flying cars would only have to travel between 50-100 miles, and would likely be able to partially recharge between flights. Passengers would not be alone in the clouds; human pilots would operate the onboard computers.

No word yet on whether or not they’ll provide peanuts.Click To Tweet

Extreme ambitions

When it comes to innovation, Uber isn’t only looking to the sky — their recent partnership with Mercedes-Benz will make it possible to hail a self-driving car through the ridesharing platform. With Lyft and Ford working towards the same goal, the pressure is on, so autonomous Ubers could be rolling up to the curb very soon.

Whether it’s taking flight or being steered by robots first, one thing’s for sure: calling an Uber is about to be quite the adventure.

#FlyingCars

Helen Irias is a Staff Writer at The American Genius with a degree in English Literature from University of California, Santa Barbara. She works in marketing in Silicon Valley and hopes to one day publish a comically self-deprecating memoir that people bring up at dinner parties to make themselves sound interesting.

Tech News

App turns your phone into an intercom, great for remote teams

(TECH NEWS) Turn your phone into an intercom with one quick switch without having to install anything on any wall. #NewSchool

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Growing up, I lived in a blended family home. It was essentially like The Brady Bunch just without Alice and the general merriment.

Us kids would often keep to ourselves in our bedrooms and would sometimes communicate with our parents via phone – even though we were under the same roof. While I’m acknowledging that it was incredibly lazy, it was convenient.

It helped to cut out the fruitless, across-the-house conversations that would often result in miscommunications. In those times, I wished there had been an intercom system in the house.

This is no longer a problem for people to have as an app has been created that sets up an instant voice network. It was designed for work use or communication with people outside of the home, but this piece of machinery would’ve been very helpful in the Leddin household.

The app is called Switchboard and it creates an intercom for your friends and colleagues. Like a phone, there is a friend/contact list available or you can dial using voice command.

The nice thing about this compared to a regular phone call is that there are availability settings. You can control interruptions by “switching off” to go on Do Not Disturb mode, and it will not list you as available for calls.

Switchboard uses Slack integration that allows users to leave voice messages and automatically have them sent to Slack with a transcript.

“Switchboard is your instant voice network. It gives you a hands-free intercom between close friends and colleagues to let you chat more spontaneously, as though you’re in the same room,” explains developers.

“You control your availability so that you’re easy to reach when you want and you can focus when you need.”

The idea is to make it easier to communicate more efficiently, rather than using text messaging; though most smartphones do have a voice messaging component. While they refer to the app as an “intercom” it definitely reminds me more of walkie talkies, (similar to Voxer which is a walkie talkie app for team communication).

Switchboard is an interesting concept, and is something that could benefit teams that work remotely (or are too lazy to yell down the hall to another office).

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Tech News

Uber has secretly set up tip limits for drivers #classy

(TECH NEWS) Uber has had a shaky year, but their latest move proves that perhaps a new leader doesn’t mean a new culture.

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After frequent requests from drivers, Uber finally added a tipping option to their ride-sharing app this June. But, after a few months to try it out, riders and drivers alike have been disappointed to discover that Uber puts an upper limit on how much a rider can tip.

Lyft has allowed riders to tip for almost five years, but Lyft too has a tipping maximum. In many cases, Lyft and Uber drivers aren’t aware that there’s a limit to tips until they have a generous customer who finds that they can’t tip as much as they’d like.

Initially, these apps were seen as a convenient, tip-free alternative to traditional cab services. However, because fares are calculated in mileage and not time, tips can be especially appreciated when rides take a long time but have low mileage, such as in dense traffic, or when the driver has to make multiple stops. And of course, tipping is always a great way to say thanks to a driver who goes the extra mile (no pun intended) to help out the rider or make the ride especially pleasant.

Unfortunately, some riders have found that they can’t tip as much as they’d like. Uber told CNET that they placed a maximum on tips to help avoid “fat fingers” typos, such as when a customer means to type $10, but accidentally types $100 instead – a problem that could seemingly be solved by adding a secondary confirmation before withdrawing the payment.

Uber limits tips to 200 percent of the cost of the ride, or $100. Lyft also limits to 200 percent of the fare, but also blocks tips above $50. Of course, riders can always tip in cash – but not having to carry cash was one of the perks of ride-sharing apps in the first place.

Generally, drivers for Lyft get more tips than Uber drivers. That’s because Lyft riders receive a prompt to tip upon reaching their destination, whereas Uber drivers have to reopen the app and rate the driver before tipping. Since few Uber riders take the time to rate their driver, even fewer ever make it to the tip screen.

Granted, an extra big tip is a rare and precious thing. But it shouldn’t be up to the company to cap tips if riders feel compelled. Says Denise, a Los Angeles Uber driver, “Generosity should be something that you have no limit on.”

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Tesla to build largest ‘virtual power grid’ on this round Earth

(TECH NEWS) Tesla teams up with Australia to create a virtual power grid, cutting energy costs and preventing blackouts.

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Tesla’s teaming up with Australia to provide an energy efficient solution to blackouts and price surges in the Southern Australian state.

Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill announced a new partnership with Tesla that will provide solar panels and batteries to homes in the southern state. Since the area consistently struggles with adequately powering homes, Weatherill and Tesla hope to create a “virtual” power grid to stabilize electricity infrastructure.

In the extreme wilderness area of South Australia, nearly half of all power comes from wind farms. Last September, issues with wind farms caused a statewide blackout. Sure, tornadoes were to blame too, but backup generators also failed, so the whole system collapsed.

To address this issue, a combination of solar panels and Tesla batteries will eventually be installed in 50,000 homes in the state. Any surplus energy generated by the home’s solar panels can contribute back to the larger grid.

Excess energy can be routed back to a centrally controlled grid to provide energy to the rest of the state as needed.

For the initial test, 1,100 public housing properties will receive the batteries and solar panels free of cost, using the sale of electricity to cover expenses. An additional 24,000 more public houses will get added to the program as well.

If the trial runs succeed, private homes will be included by 2019. Eventually, the plan is to have batteries and panels installed in 50,000 homes, creating a 250MW Virtual Power Plant.

Participating homes will have 5kW solar panels and Tesla Powerwall 2 13.5kWh batteries installed, providing a more reliable source of power, and potentially lowering power bills by thirty percent.

Installation is proposed to take four years, and according to Tesla, the virtual power plant will have as much capacity as a coal plant or large gas turbine.

Funding comes from a $2 million Australian ($1.6 million USD) grant, and a loan from the state’s Renewable Technology Funds for $30 million Australian ($23.8 million USD).

While the plan seems well-meaning, Austalian Prime Minister Malcomlm Turnbull called Weatherill’s previous strategies as “reckless” experiments, leading to excessive energy costs. Partnering with Tesla may give Weatherill some street cred for the upcoming South Australian election, proving he has a game plan for curbing energy costs.

According to the South Australian government, the virtual power plant could provide around twenty percent of the state’s daily average energy requirements. Tesla plans to review all properties to determine if the homes can support their systems and be able to participate.

If you happen to live in South Australia and are reading this, you can register to participate in the program. Registration doesn’t guarantee participation, but if initial interest exceeds original estimates, the government may consider extending the program.

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