The Race To Get Your Hands Off The Wheel

9.16.13.SelfDrivingcars.Daimler.13C857_10A fleet of cars and drivers whisks visiting journalists around the Frankfurt Motor Show’s sprawling, 144-hectare site. Judging by the number of exhibits of self-driving car technology this year, future visitors can expect their courtesy cars to lack drivers. It’s a matter of putting together many existing technologies in an affordable, safe system.

One piece of that future system nearly clobbered a two-dimensional cutout of a child last week on a fenced-off piece of asphalt outside Hall 10. There, Bosch employees led by Werner Uhler were demonstrating a stereo optical camera system Uhler says could be cheaper than combined radar and optical systems used for collision avoidance today. The device is mounted on the front window of a testbed car, adjacent to the rear-view mirror. As the testbed approached a parked car, Uhler, seated in the backseat, said, “We will drive along…and suddenly a child will turn up and we will brake.”

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Head Up Displays Go Down Market

91113PioneerHUD-1378926860093Heads Up Displays (HUDs), once the domain of fighter pilots and luxury car drivers, now come in a clip-on variety affordable to a much wider market. The systems project information on to a see-through screen to help keep their users’ attention outside the vehicle. But until now, such clarity of mind never came cheap: BMW charges over US $1000 for its built-in HUD system.

At this week’s Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany, several cheaper alternatives were on offer. Car accessory maker Pioneer showed off its NavGate HUD, which it will sell in Europe starting in October. The HUD uses Texas Instruments’ DLP projector instead of the more expensive laser found in a Japanese-market predecessor. That move shaves a few hundred dollars off its cost, but it still comes through at €699, or $927. Navigation system maker Garmin last month announced a dashboard-mounted HUD display for $150.

Unlike built-in HUDs systems, these after-market versions require drivers to provide a smartphone and to download separate applications (an additional $50 in Garmin’s case). But the ubiquity of smartphones is helping accessory makers to nip at the heels of car manufacturers in yet another product range. And for the DIYers, there’s always Lifehacker.

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Greenpeace campaign prompts Philippine ban on Bt eggplant trials

homecoverA court in the Philippines has ordered scientists to halt field trials of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant, over concerns that the genetically modified (GM) crop poses a risk to human health and the environment. On May 17, 2013, the Philippine Court of Appeals issued a cease-and-desist order to scientists running the field trials, a ruling that, if upheld, could set a precedent that may affect other biotech crops in development locally, such as the Golden Rice and GM papaya and abaca under development in the country.

Read the rest of this news story in this month’s Nature Biotechnology: [html] [pdf]

SARS-like virus reignites ownership feuds

homecoverA new human coronavirus isolated from a patient in Saudi Arabia is raising questions over how to handle the intellectual property (IP) of newly emerging infectious diseases. As Nature Biotechnology went to press, the World Health Organization (WHO) had been notified of 81 cases and 45 deaths globally since September 2012 attributed to the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, (MERS-CoV). Ali Mohamed Zaki, a microbiologist at Soliman Fakeeh Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, who isolated the virus from a patient, has lost his job after announcing the existence of the virus through a public medium. Saudi officials accuse him of mailing a virus sample to a laboratory in The Netherlands without permission. They also claim that patents filed by the Dutch researchers have delayed the Saudi health response.

Read the rest of this news story in Nature Biotechnology [html] [pdf]

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