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The Future Of Transportation: What I Learned In San Francisco

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I recently spent a month living in the hustle and bustle of San Francisco—car free. It’s a bit of a shift to go from the instant mobility of having your own car, especially a sweet little EV like my Fiat 500e, to relying on public transit, walking, and cabs and car sharing. But I have a feeling that living sans car is the big wave of the future for a lot of people, particularly those living in urban environments.

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I knew, more or less, even before I came to San Francisco, that Silicon Valley and the City are the epicenter of much of the innovation in transportation today. Living there for a month I had the chance to use and witness many of these innovations firsthand.

Is the end of the ICE (internal combustion engine) age coming soon? If San Francisco is an indication of the global future, that answer is “yes.” This article is a follow up to my article here, taking a broader look at the future of cars and electric vehicles.

So what did I learn in the big city? Let me tell you.

Battery Swapping Is Getting Closer To Reality

Better Place, an Israeli company that pioneered the battery swap idea for electric cars, unfortunately went bankrupt because it couldn’t get buy-in for its ideas soon enough. The idea of battery swaps has not, however, died, and it’s a fundamentally sound idea. The point is that rather than charging the battery in the vehicle, which can take a long time, you just swap out the battery for one that is fully charged. This process can be far faster even than filling up a gas tank in an ICE.

Tesla is now pilot testing its battery swap option at a single location in California. Given the relatively plodding pace of Tesla’s battery swap program, I’m not particularly optimistic that it will become widespread anytime soon.

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A particularly exciting new battery swap model is coming out of Taiwan. Gogoro is now offering a polished and stylish electric scooter with swappable batteries that it calls the world’s first “smartscooter.” It started selling these scooters in Taiwan this summer. Gogoro’s business model rests on the viability of its GoStations, which are small kiosks distributed widely in urban areas (in those cities that have been selected by Gogoro). The smartscooter carries just two of these easily swapped batteries and it takes only moments to pull up, swipe your card, and swap out your scooter batteries. Each swap gives the scooter about 120 kilometers of range, according to the company.

Gogoro’s vision is to use these energy hubs for all kinds of electric vehicles in the future. GreenTechMedia’s Julia Pyper wrote in a piece about Gogoro last year: “The company, headed by former HTC execs, quietly raised $150 million to build its urban scooter of the future. Over time, Gogoro’s modular battery-swapping infrastructure could serve other types of vehicles and products.” This seems like a highly viable model to me, at least for smaller vehicles in urban areas. For larger vehicles, however, I’m not sure how practical swapping out a number of batteries will be for the average user.

People Want To Design Their Own Vehicles

An exciting option that may become real before long is the ability to design your own car. An increasing number of cars allow many personalization options for colors and other features. Going much further, we now have options to co-design cars from the ground up, working as part of a “crowd.”

tamhunt-solarLocalmotors.com is one of the more viable sites allowing designers and enthusiasts to design all sorts of vehicles collaboratively. The site describes itself as a “global co-creation community … made up of enthusiasts, hobbyist innovators and professionals. We are designers, engineers, and makers. We operate a growing global network of microfactories. Each destination is a place where innovators create amazing products and consumers come to marvel and shop.”

With the widespread availability of home-based 3D printing and access to creative individuals online, making one’s own car is actually not a pipe dream anymore. Here’s a list of the cars that teams are working on at various stages of completion at Local Motors. One of my favorites at the site: an adult Big Wheel powered by a hub-mounted electric motor!

I learned about crowd-designed cars from Peter Diamandis, entrepreneur and author of the new book, Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the World. Diamandis writes about crowdsourcing car design here.

Owning Your Own Car Is So Last Year…

The future of transportation may be having no car at all for most of us. Ride-hailing services like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar (all of which happen to be based in San Francisco) have taken the transportation world by storm. Uber may be worth over $40 billion now and it’s just a few years old. It seems that the sky’s the limit for this model, but it is limited of course to urban areas for now. The large majority of people live in urban areas now (over 80 percent in the U.S.), however, so this isn’t much of a limit.

Uber’s gross revenue is expected to hit $10 billion this year, and smaller competitor Lyft’s revenue about 1/8th that amount, both up from, well, nothing just a a few years ago. That’s market transformation for you. Under this current trajectory, Uber and its cousins may take over the taxi market in just a few years.

I used Uber regularly in SF and many other places and I enjoy their newest low-fare option: UberPool. This option allows you to pay just $7 to go anywhere in some cities by splitting a ride with up to two other people. You might wait a bit longer to get to where you’re going but you know the price in advance and if you’re lucky you’ll meet some cool people while you ride.

Right now there is no necessary connection between ride-hailing companies and EVs, but as EVs become more pervasive and the fuel-saving and ride-quality benefits of EVs become more well-known, we can rest assured that ride-hailing services will include more and more EVs.

The next step in ride-hailing and car sharing will be a combination of these new app-based services with self-driving cars. This will be unfortunate for those drivers who want to continue to make money from driving, but users will still benefit from these services. Rather than rely on human drivers to comb the streets waiting for a fare, self-driving cars can remain parked until needed or simply cruise the streets like drivers do today until required by a fare. The big question with this business model is whether cars will be legally allowed to drive themselves with no human on board as a back up plan at any time in the foreseeable future.

Who Needs Drivers?

When will fully automated cars arrive? Tesla, for example, is releasing new autopilot features this summer, including self-parking and the ability to summon your car to your front door with an app. These are exciting new abilities and we’ll find out soon how robust these features are. Musk also stated that the cars are “technically capable of going parking lot to parking lot” in self-driving mode, but this ability won’t be enabled because of the dangers inherent in driving in urban areas.

That qualifier in Musk’s statement turns out to be a pretty big deal. There are a ton of hurdles to overcome before fully autonomous driving will become a reality and it seems that a lot of companies are playing market positioning games as much as they are working on the underlying technology. What is clear, however, is that we’ll see incremental additions to the suite of automated driving options in the coming years, a continuation of the already existing trend among various automakers, including Mercedes, Audi, Tesla and others.

The big question is when will fully autonomous cars become reality? One expert I’ve spoken with recently, Steve Casner, a research psychologist at NASA who has done some work on autopilot issues in relation to airplanes and cars, suggests that it will likely be far later than 2020 before fully automated cars are a reality and that many of the companies today suggesting that full automation technology is already here are blowing smoke.

A number of other analysts at a conference last year feel the same way, according to the MIT Technology Review: “The 500 experts in attendance were not optimistic such problems would be solved soon. Asked when they would trust a fully robotic car to take their children to school, more than half said 2030 at the very earliest. A fifth said not until 2040, and roughly one in 10 said ‘never.’ ”

The essence of the problem is that driving requires the skills acquired by humans to make sense  of and navigate their environment over a period of almost four billion years (since life originated). What we take for granted as easy and intuitive is the end process of this eons-long evolutionary process. We are, each of us, the latest in a literally unbroken chain of organisms that were successful in navigating their environment and reproducing. Teaching a computer that same process is a difficult problem indeed, given the unpredictability of the world around us.

Casner has also explored the difficulties of partial automation and the transformation of drivers into “drivengers” (passenger/drivers). Drivengers may find it difficult to step in when and if required by partially autonomous cars and we might find this a difficult hurdle in getting to fully autonomous vehicles.

From a big picture perspective, however, it doesn’t matter very much whether full self-driving cars arrive in 2020 or 2030. The fact that they are very likely coming before too long is what is important. Even though I fully recognize the difficulties in achieving full automation, and the diversity of expert opinion on this issue, my feeling is that we have reached a tipping point in investment, interest, and technical ability on this issue, such that it’s just a matter of time before the software, engineering, and legal hurdles are resolved.

Last, history has shown that betting against Elon Musk is a bad idea. So even if he’s off by a few years in his projections for fully automated driving, we’d still see such cars sometime sooner than the mid-2020s. Time will tell, as with all things.

My time in San Francisco was a lot of fun and educational at the same time. I have seen the future of transportation and it is bright.

Tam Hunt is a lawyer and writer, owner of the renewable energy consulting company Community Renewable Solutions LLC, and author of the new book Solar: Why Our Energy Future Is So Bright.

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Discover

South African Doctor Cures Deafness With First-Ever Middle Ear Transplant

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    The South African Department of Health has announced that a team of South African doctors have successfully completed the first ever middle ear transplant that restores hearing caused by certain types of deafness.

  • Reflect On:

    Does our current economic system truly support innovation? Does it value things that truly make humanity thrive? Or does it seem like there is always a need for us to convince someone to invest in something that is obviously important for society?

The South African Department of Health revealed earlier this year that a team of South African doctors have successfully performed the first-ever transplant of a patient’s middle ear, allowing them to once again hear. The surgery can be performed on people of any age and sets out to cure deafness caused by physical damage, infection in the middle ear as well as congenital birth defects and metabolic diseases.

Once again we see the value and innovation of 3D printing at work as this new invention helps to reconstruct the broken bones of a middle ear. Unlike other forms of transplants, this new innovation is seen as a long-term solution to conductive hearing loss.

It was 40-year-old Thabo Moshiliwa who lost his hearing in a car accident that underwent the first ever surgery dreamt up by the medical team at the University of Pretoria’s Steve Biko Academic Hospital. This first ever surgery lasted about an hour and a half. The next patient to receive this treatment was 62-year-old Simon Bohale, who had an underdeveloped middle ear. His occupation as a welder also contributed to worsening his hearing loss. “I am excited. I have had two surgeries before but was not 100% okay. I cannot wait to hear people when they speak to me.” said Bohale.

The most influential person behind this new discovery was Professor Mashudu Tshifularo who had been studying conductive hearing loss over the past decade. When his interest turned to 3D printing technologies as a means for solving the intricate physical issues associated with certain types of hearing loss, he realized this highly useful discovery.

In the South African Department of Health press release, Tshifularo stated:

“By replacing only the ossicles that aren’t functioning properly, the procedure carries significantly less risk than known prostheses and their associated surgical procedure.

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We will use titanium for this procedure, which is biocompatible. We use an endoscope to do the replacement, so the transplant is expected to be quick, with minimal scarring.”

Tshifularo told local radio station Jacaranda FM:

“This was one of our patients we have been waiting for, for this reconstruction for almost three years now because they are not affordable … [but] we have done something new in the world and people will remember us for that.”

 Tshifulara understands that this new treatment must become accessible and affordable for poor and working-poor patients for its benefits to fully be realized. This includes those who use South Africa’s public hospitals.

Tshifularo continued:

“Because we are doing it in the country and we are going to manufacture here, it has to be affordable for our people in state hospitals.

It will be very accessible because as long as we can train the young doctors to be able to do this operation, then it will be accessible for them as well.”

Now it comes down to funding and support to continue moving forward with making this treatment accessible. The university’s Department of Otorhinolaryngology (Ear, Nose and Throat) requires government funding and private sponsors to ensure this innovation continues forth.

More good news, South African Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi pledged that the Department of Health will “do everything in our power to assist and mobilize resources to make sure that Prof. Tshifularo gets all the help he needs for this far-reaching innovation.”

The Takeaway

There is no shortage of innovative people and incredible creativity on this planet, but does our current economic system truly support this innovation? Does it value things that truly make humanity thrive? Or does it seem like there is always a need for us to convince someone to invest in something that is obviously important for society?

The truth is, we hold back our own healing and thrivability as a species by accepting the belief that our current economic system is the way to go.

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Alternative News

Female Sorcerer’s Fascinating Arsenal of Charms Discovered In Pompeii

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Courtesy Cesare Abbate (ANSA).

In Brief

  • The Facts:

    On August 12th archaeologists uncovered a trove of jewels in Pompeii that are thought to have been part of a 'sorcerer's treasure trove' used to bring fortune and fertility, and protect against bad luck.

  • Reflect On:

    As we dive into all of the magic that crystals, amulets, and similar tools have in this day & age, it's even more magical to see this latest finding & remember that we have been utilizing such tools for as long as we can look back all over the world.

My initial reaction to this story was, ‘WOAH. I love and have to share this!’

As someone who has gone on a very specific path in life, my journey has been filled with tools much like these. I am forever fascinated by all things magic (you can tune into my interview with Collective Evolution The Magic Within on CETV to understand this even further if you wish) and when news like this pops into my frequency, it solely reaffirms that there are so many of us out here and that energetic practices are, of course, nothing new.

On August 12th archaeologists in Pompeii discovered an array of amulets, gems, and lucky charms thought by researchers to have belonged to a female sorcerer who could have been a victim of the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius more than 2,000 years ago.

More than 100 miniature objects were found in a wooden crate which had all but decomposed except for its bronze hinges. The findings include miniature dolls, phallic amulets, necklace beads, and a tiny skull among other objects made of bone, bronze, glass, and amber. The researchers have come to the hypothesis that they were likely used for adornment or protection by a woman in the years before Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, which later buried the city and its population in volcanic ash.

“They are objects of everyday life in the female world and are extraordinary because they tell micro-stories and biographies of the inhabitants of the city who tried to escape the eruption,” said Pompeii’s general director, Massimo Osanna, in a statement.

See items from the treasure trove below.

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Courtesy Cesare Abbate (ANSA).

Courtesy Cesare Abbate (ANSA).

Courtesy Cesare Abbate (ANSA).

“The objects… were found at the Casa del Giardino, the same area where an inscription was recently uncovered that made historians change the date of when they think the Vesuvius eruption that destroyed Pompeii took place, shifting it from August 24 to October 24 79 AD.” – ANSA

Courtesy Cesare Abbate (ANSA).

Courtesy Cesare Abbate (ANSA).

Courtesy Cesare Abbate (ANSA).

At this very location, the researchers also discovered a room containing the bodies of ten victims, which included women and children. Archaeologists will use DNA analysis to determine if the victims were related. “Perhaps the precious box belonged to one of these victims,” Osanna suggested. “The iconography of the objects and amulets invoke fortune, fertility, and protection against bad luck,” Osanna said. He has suggested to the Italian news agency Ansa that it could have been a “sorcerer’s treasure trove.”

Since there was no gold found in the trove, it is likely these objects belonged to a servant or a slave, rather than the owner of the house, Osanna told Ansa.

Courtesy Cesare Abbate (ANSA).

 

Courtesy Cesare Abbate (ANSA).

Courtesy Cesare Abbate (ANSA).

The jewelry will go on display soon at Pompeii’s Palestra Grande in an exhibition set to be a follow-up to its recently closed show on Roman jewelry called “Vanity.”

The Takeaway

Though the past potential usage for these items is stressed to be simply a hypothesis at this time, it is incredible to simply see and imagine the time they existed in through these images.

As humans in a material, physical, 3D world, we ourselves are continuously building our own treasure troves in a way. Every piece of jewelry or product we purchase, find, or create flows its way into our homes, cars, pockets, backpacks, etc. and in the end shall remain and live on well beyond us to share a glimpse into our story. What would you like to leave behind? A trunk filled with magical amulets, or a legendary story (or both)?

Though it is nearly impossible to always be thinking of this when adding more ‘stuff’ into our lives, I do believe it serves as a good reflection point that these things are simply that – things – and that the real magic lies within each and every one of us. Remember that the energy and intentions that we at times give to others, things, or tools, is always coming from & through US.

Now, this is not to say that treasures themselves can not be treasured. If you just so happen to love the look, feel, and energy that they give off or wish to utilize these physical objects as an extension of yourself, by all means (and I get it – I’m with you!). As a final note, however, from a real-life gem collector to the hearts of all of you,  know that the answer, the love, the magic IS YOU.

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Consciousness

Study Shows That Horses Understand Our Emotions & Remember Us Deeply

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    In a recent study, researchers at the universities of Sussex and Portsmouth have discovered that horses can recognize and recall human expression.

  • Reflect On:

    We are all interconnected and it is beautiful to see more studies coming up that clearly showcase just how aware and in tune animals can be and are.

The more in tune with myself I strive to become, the more drawn I am to explore how connected we all are – not solely with one another, but with everything. This, like many other deeper concepts surrounding life, begs to answer the ever-present question of ‘are there other emotionally intelligent beings out there?’

One could argue that their dogs or other galactic beings (if real) could be emotionally intelligent, but as we look at all of the research, it is clear that most living organisms actually display a very obvious intelligence. From lobsters to plants, they have all been known to display some form of intelligence. This is precisely what was revealed when a recent study explored horses and their interaction with humans.

Let’s take a step back real quick. If you have ever owned or spent a lot of time riding with one particular horse, chances are good that you’ve felt some sort of special connection with them — and wondered if horses even like humans. Maybe you’ve felt like they were actually your friend, or a small part of your family, and wanted to know if the feeling was reciprocal. Research is now confirming that that connection isn’t all in your head — and anyone who has ever had a pet before, horse or not, definitely won’t be surprised at some of these recent findings.

In a recent study, researchers at the universities of Sussex and Portsmouth showed domestic horses photographs of humans with either a happy or angry expression on their faces. Then, later on, the horses were introduced to the same people they saw in the photographs, now with neutral expressions. This new study shows that horses can actually understand and remember human emotions, which is something that makes them seem even more magical than they already did.

“Researchers watched the eye movements of horses as they met the photograph subjects in real life. The horses perceived those who had been photographed with an angry face as more threatening.” – UPI

Horses were more wary of people they previously saw in a photo with an angry expression on their face. Photo by University of Portsmouth/University of Sussex

UPI reports that previous research showed horses tend to focus on negative or threatening objects and events with their left eye, as the right hemisphere of their brain is tasked with assessing risk. In the new experiment, researchers found horses stared at subjects who had been photographed with an angry expression using their left eye.

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“What we’ve found is that horses can not only read human facial expressions but they can also remember a person’s previous emotional state when they meet them later that day — and, crucially, that they adapt their behavior accordingly,” Karen McComb, a professor at the University of Sussex, said in a news release. “Essentially horses have a memory for emotion.”

Scientists have previously shown horses can recognize expressions, but the latest findings, published this week in the journal Current Biology, are the first to show the mammals can recall an expression linked with an individual’s face.

“We know that horses are socially intelligent animals, but this is the first time any mammal has been shown to have this particular ability,” Portsmouth researcher Leanne Proops said. “What’s very striking is that this happened after just briefly viewing a photograph of the person with a particular emotional expression — they did not have a strongly positive or negative experience with the person.”

This is a beautiful discovery in and of itself as stated above, outside of ourselves there had not been any recording of other mammals showing this ability.

The Takeaway

With more of us beginning to turn inward for growth, it is beautiful to see that more and more research is coming to the forefront revealing our fellow animal kingdom as being connected and in tune with us as much as their surroundings. At times when everything else seems to be chaotic, remember to be still. The real magic within us and our connectedness to everything is what oneness consciousness is all about. You are not alone in this world, let alone in the universe. It is in our awareness that we allow bonds that were seen as less than to blossom — it is in our remembrance of Self that we re-member as One with all.

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