Self-Driving Car Rules Will Lag Tech, Think Tanks Predict

Like an impatient teenager, self-driving car technology will be ready to hit the road well before authorities are ready to license it, predict a pair of studies released last week. That may not be such a bad thing, write researchers at RAND, a think tank in Santa Monica, Calif. Waiting until the technology’s potential and impacts are more clear could help policymakers establish better rules for driverless roads, they write.

Read the rest of this blog post in IEEE Spectrum’s Tech Talk blog: [html] [pdf]

Europe waters down transnational ‘research buddy’ plan

Europe’s latest research-funding programme includes, for the first time, money for ‘low-performing’ member states to set up research centres in their regions, in partnership with well-established institutions from other countries. But some observers were disappointed earlier this month when the European Union (EU) announced that the host countries will manage the centres — a rule that critics say could be challenging for fledgling institutions and perhaps perpetuate problems, such as nepotism, that have contributed to their poor performance in the first place.

“There are lots of really good scientists [in southern and eastern Europe] but it’s the management of institutions that is inefficient, old style, corrupt,” says Botond Roska, a neuroscientist at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland.

In the ‘teaming’ scheme, partners would submit business plans for new or upgraded research centres and a strategy for complementing local strengths. Those with the best plans would win initial funding of €200,000–500,000 (US$ 273,000–684,000) from Horizon 2020 — the EU’s €80-billion research-funding scheme for 2014–20 — and could compete for a further €15 million–20 million in a second round.

Read the rest of this news story at Nature News [html] [pdf]

See also my previous coverage of the teaming scheme for Nature News ["European ministers back research-buddy plan" 18 December 2012] and Science Magazine ["Europe Mulls Plans to Boost Research in Poorer Regions" 7 June 2012]


The Moon Belongs to No One, but What About Its Artifacts?

In 1969, the third man to walk on the moon, astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr., also became the first lunar archaeologist. As part of the Apollo 12 crew, he examined an earlier robotic lander, Surveyor 3, and retrieved its TV camera, aluminum tubing and other hardware, giving NASA scientists back on Earth the evidence they needed to study how human-made materials fared in the lunar environment.

This week’s planned robotic landing by the Chinese National Space Agency, the first controlled landing since the 1976 Luna 24 mission, signals a renewal of sophisticated lunar exploration. This time around, more countries will be involved, as will commercial entities. Private organizations are in hot pursuit of the Google Lunar X Prize, which offers cash rewards for achieving technical milestones, one of which is landing near the Apollo sites. A recent bill introduced in the House, called the Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act, proposes a novel form of protection. Unfortunately, it appears to interfere with existing space law.
Read the rest of this post at Smithsonian’s Surprising Science blog: [html] [pdf]

See also my 2011 story on this topic for Science Magazine: [html]

Volvo to Test Self-Driving Cars in Traffic

Volvo and a consortium of Swedish research institutions will test self-driving cars in street traffic in and around Gothenburg starting in 2017, they announced yesterday. The project begins next year with customer research and hardware development. It will culminate in a fleet of 100 cars that will alternate between driving themselves and allowing their human occupants to drive, depending on where they are.

Read the rest of this blog post on IEEE Spectrum’s Tech Talk blog: [html] [pdf]

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