Want to beat LA traffic? Chargers QB Philip Rivers has found a way

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Slogging through traffic in Southern California is about as pleasurable as being slowly eaten by bears or being the awkward third wheel on a bad first date. It feels like it’s never going to end. After the team relocated to Los Angeles from San Diego, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers decided that three hours wasted each day in a car was too much. As The San Diego Union-Tribune reports, Rivers’ rolling office makes his days more productive than ever.

After deciding that he wasn’t going to relocate his family to Orange County, Rivers was stuck with the prospect of either spending considerably less time with his children or skipping out on much-needed film work at the team’s training facility (not really an option given his profession). Instead, he began investigating a number of options to make his lengthened commute slightly more viable and productive. First, he considered carpooling with a teammate. That was still too much of a pain. He looked at flying a helicopter, but unless it could land close to both his home and the practice field, it too was useless. A quick online search eventually led to the rolling footage review room you see here.

Becker Automotive Design in Oxnard, Calif., builds these rolling offices for a wide range of customers. It sells modified Mercedes-Benz Sprinters, Ford Transits, and, in Rivers’ case, a Cadillac Escalade with a raised roof. His needs were simple: a television and an HDMI input so he can hook up his computer. No fancy armor or recumbent exercise bicycle. His goal was to review game footage on his commute rather than slowly waste away behind the wheel of a car. Photos show a sea of leather and wood and a mini fridge, so it’s not totally without niceties.

The Union-Tribune lists the price of the Escalade at about $200,000. That’s not including the driver’s salary. In 2015, Rivers signed a four-year deal with the Chargers worth $84 million, so he’s not hurting for cash. If it increases productivity and saves the headache of being behind the wheel in traffic, we can imagine more people with means (and not just quarterbacks) will be opting for such daily transport.

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Uber Movement traffic data finally makes it out of beta

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Uber Movement, announced back in January, finally went live today. The service gives anyone access to some of Uber’s internal demand and usage data. The hope is that cities and urban planners can use the data to support projects that would help reduce congestion and generally help people get from point A to point B faster.

For now the data is only available for a handful of cities, including Bogotá, Boston, Manila, Sydney and Washington, D.C. From within the available web app you can explore average travel times between any two neighborhoods. The map data comes with accompanying charts that display helpful facts, like travel times broken down by time of day and day of the week.

The most valuable asset here though is the time series data. Uber is making this data available for download in CSV files under Creative Commons, Attribution Non-Commercial licenses so that it can be easily added into models.

Uber mentioned previously that it hopes to eventually release an API to help with access. This hasn’t happened yet, but Uber encourages researchers to email the team if they have a creative use case requiring additional granularity.

I’d imagine that it would make sense for Uber to perhaps release data for a specific locality within a city for a specialized project, but I can’t see the company giving out enough to allow for anyone to build anything overly cool (competitive). All the data is anonymized to accommodate privacy concerns.

Any infrastructure improvements that cities can make with Uber data will improve outcomes for Uber drivers and customers. The faster drivers can get passengers to their destination, the faster they can jump to the next fare.

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MIT’s new Ford-funded robot can deftly navigate pedestrian traffic

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Robots have a lot of challenges remaining before they become commonplace in our lives, and many of those are likely not even something you’d think about when trying to make a list. One good example is simply walking around among people, and keeping pace with pedestrians on streets and sidewalks. MIT engineers have created a new autonomous robot that can do exactly that, however, in a way that doesn’t impede or inconvenience the people it’s walking alongside.

Why is this important? Because future robots employed in service roles will have to navigate densely populated spots with a lot of foot traffic, including hospitals, malls, neighborhoods and campuses. That’s why an MIT team led by MIT researcher Yu Fan “Steven” Chen set out to create a robot that can move around completely on its own using “socially aware navigation” – in other words, following the unspoken social codes we all unconsciously observe when moving around together in shared space.

The robot itself is not humanoid, but is instead just a few feet tall with wheels. It’s designed to resemble what eventual mobile service kiosks and delivery robots might look like, and it includes a LiDAR array on top for high-resolution environment sensing. The robot uses webcams, too, for visual input, and a depth sensor, and it makes use of machine learning to deal with both a requirement to be continually moving, while at the same time dealing with the highly unpredictable movement of people moving around in crowds.

In tests, the robot proved able to drive on its own for up to 20 minutes at a time, smoothly navigating actual pedestrian groups without any collisions. This is key if we’re ever to actually have service robots interacting with us in the real world, the way you often see them depicted in fictional worlds like the Star Wars cinematic universe.

Just navigating pedestrian situations is tough enough, but what this project specifically sought to do was to accomplish this in a way that also left people around the robot feeling comfortable with its presence. Social norms are a huge, powerful unspoken element of interpersonal interaction, which you’ll recognize if you’ve ever tried walking down the street in a different part of the world where the unspoken codes of conduct might be subtly different.

MIT’s socially aware robot could be a big step towards workable real-life service bots, which is something research funder Ford and other automakers are very interested in.

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Google error disrupts corporate Japan’s web traffic

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Online banking services were among those affected.

Google has admitted that wide-spread connectivity issues in Japan were the result of a mistake by the tech giant.

Web traffic intended for Japanese internet service providers was being sent to Google instead.

Online banking, railway payment systems as well as gaming sites were among those affected.

A spokesman said a “network configuration error” only lasted for eight minutes on Friday but it took hours for some services to resume.

Nintendo was among the companies who reported poor connectivity, according to the Japan Times, as well as the East Japan Railway Company.

The country’s Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has launched an investigation into the error which resulted in Google temporarily hijacking traffic to a major telecoms provider, NTT Communications Corp, which claims to have over 50 million customers in Japan.

Because Google cannot provide transit to third party networks, explains industry expert BGPMon, the traffic was lost.

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Bank holiday getaway: Do we still need radio traffic alerts?

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It is an annoyance familiar to many drivers: you are cruising along, listening to a song or sports match, when suddenly…

“Here’s your latest traffic and travel update!”

Radio traffic alerts, which interrupt a CD, tape or radio station when there is an update, are likely to sound in the millions of cars taking to UK roads for the bank holiday.

Drivers have relied on alerts since the late 1980s, but may also now use modern alternatives to avoid jams – including sat-navs, mapping apps or smart motorway signs.

So is the era of the “traffic and travel update” coming to an end?

Radio is ‘king’

The alerts – which can be turned off quite easily in a car radio’s settings – are sent via the Radio Data System (RDS) standard.

RDS is a communications code in the FM signal which can be embedded into a BBC or commercial local radio broadcast.

It allows a vehicle’s radio to temporarily turn to a station for the duration of a travel announcement, before switching back again.

They can also be indiscriminate – you might pick up alerts from several different local radio stations if you are at a high point and get a signal, for example.

“They can be annoying,” says the AA’s Ian Crowder.

“Sometimes the alert comes on and there’s a load of banter from the previous speaker before they get round to the traffic update.

“I’d urge local ratio stations to stick to the traffic reports.”

But Mr Crowder says that – while annoying to some – they can be “invaluable”. And David Bizley, the RAC’s chief engineer, says drivers are surprisingly enthusiastic about radio.

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About 72% of motorists get information about incidents and delays via the radio, according to the RAC’s research.

“It appears radio is still king,” Mr Bizley says, even though “motorists have the likes of variable message signs and live traffic information on their sat-navs.”

He adds: “I am surprised by the high level of dependence on the radio to find out about traffic problems.”

The motoring group surveyed 1,700 drivers and found just 47% use road signs and 36% their sat-nav.

Bob Pishue is an economist at Inrix, the firm which provides traffic reports to most local radio stations in the UK, as well as to sat-navs and smartphone apps.

“Radio alerts are still useful for people who don’t use smartphones, but we are seeing people switch,” he says.

Smarter traffic?

Unlike a radio DJ announcing a traffic jam, sat-navs and smartphone apps will work out a new route for you.

“Not only can the apps route you to avoid congestion and road works but also do things like real-time parking,” says Mr Pishue.

He says navigation technology no longer has a reputation for being clunky to use, or unreliable. “The data is getting better all the time,” he says.

In a sign the technology is now commonplace, learner drivers will have to be able to follow directions from a sat-nav as part of changes to driving tests from December.

Mr Pishue, however, says not everyone has – or may want – a navigation unit in their car.

“We supply traffic data all over the place, and we see a future for radio alerts,” he says.

And if technology fails, drivers can always use road signs to avoid a traffic bottleneck.

As well as old-fashioned diversion signs, Highways England says it has installed electronic signs on hundreds of miles of its “smart” motorways, which display real-time traffic data.

They can alert drivers to traf­fic jams and haz­ards up ahead, and are present on about 240 miles (386 km) of UK motorway.

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The AA’s Ian Crowder warned that the signs could be ignored.

“I have concerns about how drivers react,” he says.

“If it says congestion ahead but you can’t actually see it, you don’t know whether you can trust this information, especially if no one else is slowing down.”

A Highways England spokesperson says: “We give drivers as much real-time information as possible to help them with their journeys, both before they set out and while they are on the road.”

Highways England nevertheless still recommends drivers tune into local radio travel bulletins.

Whether they are useful, or an annoying interruption to your bank holiday soundtrack, perhaps it is not yet the end of the road for radio alerts.

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Driver, 13, in Colorado caught with 25 pounds of meth in traffic stop, police say

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A Colorado deputy on Tuesday pulled over a 13-year-old boy driving a car and found 25 pounds of methamphetamine loaded into the vehicle, officials said. 

The deputy stopped the Dodge Avenger on Interstate 70 in Mesa County Tuesday morning and found three people in the car, FOX31 said. The unidentified boy and two passengers, identified as German Michel-Arreola, 22, and Irene Michel-Arreola, 19, agreed to a vehicle search. 

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The deputy uncovered 23 packages of methamphetamine in the car — about 25 pounds in total, according to police.

The Michel-Arreolas and the 13-year-old driver face charges including manufacturing, possession and distribution of a substance. 

The boy was also charged with driving without a license and failing to drive in a designated lane. 

Click here for more from FOX31 Denver.

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Dashcam video of alleged sexual assault by Texas deputies during traffic stop is released

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Dashcam footage released by a Texas lawyer shows what he calls sexual assault of a woman at the hands of police.

Attorney Samuel Cammack III, who represents now-23-year-old Charneisha Corley, released the video this week, which shows two Harris County deputies allegedly performing a cavity search on Corley during a traffic stop in June 2015. Cammack told Fox 26 Houston that the search amounts to “rape by cop.”

The video appears to show a deputy forcefully pushing a handcuffed Corley to the ground, and then looked as though the deputies removed her pants and searched her. Cammack said the deputies searched her vaginal area, and the entire process took at least 11 minutes.

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According to a lawsuit filed by Corley after the 2015 incident, the woman said that deputies claimed they smelled marijuana but found nothing in a search of her car, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Corley was charged with possession of marijuana and resisting arrest, but the Harris County District Attorney’s Office later dropped the charges, according to the Chronicle.

The deputies were indicted by a grand jury for official oppression, KPRC reported, but after the case was taken to a second grand jury, the charges were dismissed.

“We discovered new, and significant, evidence that we believed had to be presented to grand jury,” Natasha Sinclair of the DA’s office told KPRC.

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A statement released by Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez on Monday night said:

“I understand and respect the community’s concerns regarding the parking lot search of a female suspect during a June 2015 traffic stop. I want to be emphatically clear that today’s Harris County Sheriff’s Office is fully committed to ensuring that every resident of our community is treated with dignity and respect, even if they are suspected of committing a crime. We hold the public’s trust as sacred, and we will always strive to be worthy of that trust.

“Harris County Sheriff’s Office policy prohibits deputies from conducting strip searches without a warrant. In cases in which a warrant is obtained, strip searches must be conducted in a private, sanitary, and appropriate facility.

“Criminal charges are no longer pending against two of the deputies involved in this case. Deputy W. Strong, who did not actively participate in the search of the suspect in this case, will be allowed to return to patrol duties. Deputy R. Pierre, who initiated the search, will remain in her current assignment within the Communications and Technology Bureau.”

Corley has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit that will go to trial in January, KPRC added.

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Money from traffic camera fines padded DC police salaries, lawsuit claims

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Hundreds of police officers in the nation’s capital padded their salaries with more than $80,000 a year from money generated by automated traffic devices, commonly known as speed and red light cameras, a civil lawsuit alleges.

The revelation comes out of a racial discrimination lawsuit that was filed in 2015 but was green-lighted for trial by a federal judge earlier this month.

Sgt. Mark E. Robinson, a 27-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department, claims that he was excluded from lucrative overtime opportunities in favor of white sergeants who were less qualified – including other officers whom he trained himself and certified.

“If D.C. is going to receives tens of millions yearly from these tickets, the least they can do is utilize the most-qualified candidate to make sure the tickets are legitimate,” said Kenneth McPherson, a Maryland-based attorney representing Robinson, who still works for the police department.

In 2011, the Metropolitan Police Department “civilianized” the automated traffic enforcement unit, meaning contractors – not police officers – were in charge of issuing the tickets, according to McPherson. Robinson raised concerns over the practice at the time, arguing the law required trained police officers to issue such traffic citations, his lawyer said.

‘The citizens believed they were being cited by well-trained law enforcement officers.’

– Kenneth McPherson, attorney

“The citizens believed they were being cited by well-trained law enforcement officers when, in fact, they’re receiving tickets from companies whose purpose is profit,” McPherson told Fox News, saying he believes the outrage should center on the city for changing procedure to allow a private company – not officers — to profit from the automated traffic devices.

“When police issue the citations, their careers are on the line because it’s under oath. When the contractors issue the citations, where are there any meaningful consequences to fudging the tickets in order to increase the revenue?” asked McPherson.  

The process of using civilians to staff the traffic unit has taken years. During the transition period, officers have continued to rake in overtime money by working to write tickets to drivers flagged by the devices – some doubling their salaries in certain cases. Robinson, however, claims he was unlawfully excluded from the overtime earnings based on race, prompting him to file suit in 2015.

“Even though the overtime opportunities [for officers] diminished with the civilianization, they were still substantial, amounting to roughly $10 million in a two-year period,” McPherson said, referring to 2014 to 2016.

An MPD spokeswoman said Monday the department cannot comment on pending litigation. 

The city has argued that no full-time MPD employees were overseeing the automated ticketing once the unit was manned by civilians in 2011 using Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS). But the new procedure still required officers to approve the violations submitted by ATS before the company could send them to drivers in the mail. McPherson noted that because of this, substantial overtime opportunities continued for MPD officers. 

“By 2014, MPD was utilizing some civilian technicians to deploy automated traffic devices under the supervision of sworn members,” Robinson testified in a deposition. “This was consistent with General Order OPS 303.10 which required a ‘member’ to issue a notice of infraction for a traffic violation in the District of Columbia. A ‘member’ is defined to include only a sworn officer.”

In an Aug. 1 decision, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled there was evidence of a viable racial discrimination claim and it could move forward to a jury trial.

“Mr. Robinson’s supervisors knew that he wanted to work overtime but did not allow him to do so,” Contreras wrote in his ruling. “A jury could reasonably find that MPD’s decision significantly changed the nature of Mr. Robinson’s employment, because he lost the benefits — financial, professional and otherwise — that come along with working in the Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit overtime program.”

Washington, D.C., collected nearly $100 million from speed camera tickets in 2016 — nearly double that issued the previous year – according to data released last month.

A July 19 report by AAA Mid-Atlantic – which obtained the figures through a public-records request to the District’s Department of Motor Vehicles — showed that the city issued 994,163 speed-camera tickets in 2016 compared to 520,104 issued the year before. The number of tickets resulted in $99.2 million in revenue for the city.

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