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Tech wrap: Lyft's robot car move; Fukushima update; UK drone crackdown; remembering Princess Leia

Bulldog

Jul, 24 2017, 5:53 AM

In today's Bulldog wrapup of high-tech, science and related news:

The details:

Lyft said Friday that it is setting up its own unit to develop autonomous vehicle technology, but its approach will be different from other companies and partnerships working on self-driving cars.

The San Francisco-based ride-hailing service said it will open its network, inviting automakers and tech companies to use it to haul passengers in their self-driving vehicles and gather data. It may even share computer software and sensor technology.

Raj Kapoor, the company's chief strategy officer, says Lyft is pursuing the open strategy as a way to bring the environmental and safety benefits of autonomous vehicles to market faster. Lyft brings network expertise to the table, he said.

"We believe this is inevitable where the world is going," he said. "We need to be playing this role."

Like other tech companies and automakers, Lyft has partnerships with companies like Google's Waymo autonomous vehicle operation and with General Motors. It does not want to produce cars, but wants to make a standardized system for use on its network. At first, the network will be open to Lyft's current partners.

Just how it would make money off the system is yet to be determined, but it likely would take a cut of passenger fares from everyone who uses its network or shares its system.

For example, General Motors, which has invested $500 million in Lyft, would be invited to run its own autonomous vehicles on Lyft's network. Data gathered by GM and vehicles from other companies would be used to help build high-definition maps that are needed for the vehicles to navigate streets across the world. The data also would be used to develop computers that would make decisions to run the autonomous vehicles.

Images captured by an underwater robot showed massive deposits believed to be melted nuclear fuel covering the floor of a damaged reactor at Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

The robot found large amounts of solidified lava-like rocks and lumps in layers as thick as 1 meter (3 feet) on the bottom inside of a main structure called the pedestal that sits underneath the core inside the primary containment vessel of Fukushima's Unit 3 reactor, said the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co.

On Friday, the robot spotted suspected debris of melted fuel for the first time since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused multiple meltdowns and destroyed the plant. The three-day probe of Unit 3 ended Saturday.

Locating and analyzing the fuel debris and damage in each of the plant's three wrecked reactors is crucial for decommissioning the plant. The search for melted fuel in the two other reactors has so far been unsuccessful because of damage and extremely high radiation levels.

During this week's probe, cameras mounted on the robot showed extensive damage caused by the core meltdown, with fuel debris mixed with broken reactor parts, suggesting the difficult challenges ahead in the decades-long decommissioning of the destroyed plant.

TEPCO spokesman Takahiro Kimoto said it would take time to analyze the debris in the images to figure out debris removal methods.

British officials announced plans Saturday to further regulate drone use in a bid to prevent accidents and threats to commercial aviation.

The new rules will require drones that weigh eight ounces (226.79 grams) or more to be registered and users will have to pass a safety awareness exam.

The government acted because of concerns that a midair collision between a drone and an aircraft could cause a major disaster. Pilots have reported numerous near-misses in the last year alone in Britain. Earlier this month London's Gatwick Airport briefly closed its runway over safety concerns when a drone was spotted in the area and several planes had to be diverted.

The British Airline Pilots Association said independent tests show even a small drone could cause severe damage to a helicopter or an airline windscreen. The union's general secretary, Brian Strutton, said pilots "have been warning about the rise in the number of cases of drones being flown irresponsibly close to aircraft and airports for some time."

He said a new report "clearly shows that readily available drones which can be flown by anyone can shatter or go straight through an aircraft windshield or shatter a helicopter rotor. And those impacts would have catastrophic consequences."

British police have also reported a sharp rise in complaints from the public about intrusive drone use.

Four "Star Wars" costuming clubs held a tribute to their favorite fallen princess at Comic-Con.

The fan groups celebrated the life and work of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia at the pop-culture convention in San Diego on Sunday.

Several women dressed in Leia's flowing white gown and iconic twin buns spoke about how much the character inspired them. One said she walked down the aisle at her wedding to Leia's theme. Another said, "You put on a pair of buns, and you're unstoppable."

The presentation included an exhibit of fan art created after Fisher's death last year.

The fans also celebrated the life of Kenny Baker, the actor who played R2-D2, who also died last year. Members of the R2 Builders Club honored him by bringing out four replica droids they built.





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