Friday, February 6, 2015

General Motors may 'kick the tires' on Google's self-driving car

Automaker says it'd be open to talking to Google about teaming up on driverless-car tech.

2014 Google Self-Driving Cars PrototypeGeneral Motors says it would consider the possibility of partnering with Google to build self-driving cars, according to the automaker's chief technology officer.

Speaking to Reuters in an interview published Monday, CTO Jon Lauckner says his company would "certainly be open to having a discussion" with Google about partnering to build a self-driving car.

"You have to figure out how would something like that actually work," Lauckner told Reuters. "Would it be something where it would be an opportunity to work together in a joint development agreement? I'd say probably anybody who's interested ought to at least go over and kick the tires," he added.

Google has been logging thousands of miles of road time on its driverless car since it revealed in 2010 it was working on the technology. Over the past several years, the Internet giant has unveiled incremental improvements. In December, Google showed off its first complete working prototype. (That compares with a previous version that didn't have a steering wheel or real headlights.) The technology uses a series of sensors to detect objects, analyze what they are and respond accordingly.

In a statement to The Wall Street Journal last month, Chris Urmson, the head of Google's autonomous vehicle project, said that the prototype relies on 64 lasers that scan across 360 degrees, a camera and GPS map data to generate a map of its surroundings and drive safely. Google uses software and algorithms to make the car react to predictable and unpredictable scenarios.

That GM is at least considering working with Google on a self-driving car is good news for the search giant. Last month, Urmson told the Journal that Google does not "particularly want to become a car maker," adding that his company was in talks with automakers.

Urmson is scheduled to speak Wednesday at the Automotive World News Congress in Detroit, where he could announce plans for partnering with automakers, according to Reuters. 

Google has been flirting with car partnerships for at least the past couple of years. In 2013, Elon Musk, founder and CEO of electric-car maker Tesla, said he held "some technical discussions with Google." However, he went on to say that it was unlikely he would ink a deal with Google because the company's laser technology is too expensive. Musk also said that he would likely build his own autopilot system.

At the Consumer Electronics Show last week, Mercedes-Benz showed off its own self-driving concept car, called the F 015, that looks more like a living room inside than an actual vehicle. That car does not rely on Google's auto-driving technology.

Still, Google has formed relationships in the car industry, announcing last year that it had inked deals with Honda, Audi and GM to deliver cars that include its Android operating system. 

Whatever technology companies use, it appears self-driving cars will be hitting roadways in increasing numbers in the coming years. The trouble for all of the players is getting the go-ahead to put autonomous cars on the road. As of this writing, in the US just a handful of states allow self-driving cars, including Florida and California. 

Neither Google nor GM immediately responded to a request for comment.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

New York City Launches City-Specific ID Card

NYC is joining a small group of municipalities offering city identification cards to its residents.


Residents of New York City will soon have a chance to receive a free, city-specific ID card.

In an attempt to bring official documentation to disenfranchised groups like illegal immigrants and the formerly incarcerated, a new ID card -- available only to those living within city bounds -- will be offered starting mid-January. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration said the program, called IDNYC, will help to enhance public safety by providing more people with identification and help to fight inequality. Funded through the mayor’s office with city funds, the 2015 budget for the program is $8.4 million.

“We are launching the most ambitious municipal ID program in the country, by scale, benefits, security and privacy,” NYC Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal wrote in an email to Government Technology. “The IDNYC program underscores Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to fighting inequality and integrating into our communities the most vulnerable New Yorkers, including undocumented immigrants, homeless individuals and disconnected young adults.”

The new ID card will not serve as a replacement for existing ID cards because the card will not be usable to purchase tobacco or alcohol, receive public assistance benefits, travel by air, gain work authorization or grant immigrant status. The card is intended as a supplementary ID or alternative for those who can't obtain legitimate identification otherwise.

Several California municipalities offer citizens city-specific ID, including Los Angeles, Oakland, Richmond and San Francisco. Washington, D.C.; New Haven, Conn.; Asbury Park, N.J.; Mercer County, N.J.; and Monmouth County, N.J., also offer similar identification.

Benefits of IDNYC include access to city buildings and some city services, and carriers will receive a free one-year membership to 33 cultural institutions, such as museums, zoos and concert halls.

In addition, the New York Police Department (NYPD) recently reported that it would recognize the identification. As such, the city anticipates the program will reduce arrests because low-level offenders that would have otherwise been arrested can now be issued summonses. NYPD reported that IDNYC will be an acceptable form of identification in the issuance of summonses, desk appearance tickets and property claims. NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said the program is “part of our larger mission to forge public trust with the communities we serve.”

Those who apply for IDNYC will be required to prove identity and residency in New York City. Acceptable proof of identity will include things like foreign passports or drivers' licenses. Residency can be proved by providing things like a U.S. driver’s license, property lease or utility bill. All city residents ages 14 and older will be eligible for IDNYC, and applications will be available in 25 languages.

Not everyone sees the program as a great social equalizer. Chairman of the Conservative Party of New York State Michael Long said the program is costly and encourages law breakers by legitimizing illegal immigrants.

“New Yorkers are already the highest-taxed citizens, especially New York City citizens, in the country, and we don’t need to be spending this kind of money on this kind of program,” Long said, adding that he doesn’t believe IDNYC will reduce strain on the police force.

“I don’t think that’s realistic at all. The NYPD has to accept the ID, they have to enforce the regulations that are imposed by city council or the mayor,” he said. “I think [de Blasio] ought to worry about how he has made the New York Police Department disenfranchised and feel unwanted. I think he should be trying to work on his relations with the law enforcement in the city of New York and stop worrying about the feelings of people who are law breakers in our city.”

At a recent NYPD graduation ceremony, de Blasio was booed by some members of the crowd, and some crowd members turned their backs to the mayor as he spoke. As anti-police sentiment grows following the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., and the Dec. 20 murder of two NYPD officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, de Blasio continues to fight a perception held by some that he is unsupportive of police.