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New York officials recognize three Uber drivers as employees

July 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

jetcityimage via Getty Images

New York authorities have reached a decision that could change the way Uber drivers are classified — at least when it comes to unemployment insurance. The New York State Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board has ruled in favor of three former Uber drivers who filed a federal lawsuit against the ride-hailing service after the unemployment insurance (UI) claim they made in 2016 didn’t go through. Two of them left Uber after being booted off the platform, while the last one quit because he was making below minimum wage. The board’s decision doesn’t apply only to them, though, but also to other “similarly situated” Uber drivers.

While Uber had to pay up to settle lawsuits in the past, most plaintiffs’ attempts at getting themselves classified as employees ended up in failure. This time, New York authorities have decided that Uber drivers in similar situations as the three who originally filed the lawsuit can be considered employees — as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance told Politico, the ruling can be broadly precedential. Bhairavi Desai, the group’s executive director, said: “It’s huge. It’s really significant, because it’s the first bona fide safety net for drivers in this economy… We now have a decision that reflects the official position of the state, one that the state has to defend and execute.”

According to Labor Department spokeswoman Jill Aurora, Uber can appeal the decision. If it doesn’t, then the company will be required to make unemployment insurance contributions for similarly situated drivers going forward. Considering it has over 65,000 drivers in NYC alone and paying insurance for everyone who gets kicked out for low ratings or those who quit for making below minimum wage would cost the company a pretty penny, it might appeal the decision.

An Uber spokesperson already told Politico that the company disagrees with the ruling and that it’s already reviewing its options: “We are confident that the ruling uniquely applies to the three claimants because many of the practices cited in the opinion never applied to one or more of the claimants, are no longer in place, or never existed at all.”

Forbes notes that by “practices,” the spokesperson was referring to the methods authorities use to determine whether someone enjoys an employer-employee relationship with a company. The three plaintiffs won the case, because a New York judge decided last year that the evidence presented established that “Uber exercised sufficient supervision, direction and control” over the drivers for them to be considered employees.

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Tesla's Model 3 Performance has an experimental 'Track Mode'

July 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Tesla’s Model 3 is very quick, especially if you spring for the dual-motor Performance variant, but it’s still tame for safety’s sake. What if you want to launch an all-out assault on a race course? You might have that option soon. YouTuber Marques Brownlee recently had an opportunity to drive the Model 3 Performance on a track, and he pointed out an experimental “Track Mode” that takes the gloves off. The in-testing feature switches on “stability control and powertrain settings configured for track driving,” and it’s no secret what that means: you can drift, understeer and otherwise push the electric car past its usual limits.

It’s not certain when this will reach customers, or even what the final name will be. And as enthusiasts will tell you, it’s not a novel concept — many sports cars have the option to turn off handholding features. It’s still relatively rare among street-going electric vehicles, though, and serves as another signal that Tesla is interested in EV performance beyond straight-line acceleration. The greater challenge may be the “Augmented Mode” for the upcoming Roadster. It’s one thing to turn features off in the name of courting experienced drivers, it’s another to use them to improve a driver’s abilities.

Taking @Tesla’s brand new car to a track and getting some power slides in. Not a bad day.

A post shared by Marques Brownlee (@mkbhd) on Jul 20, 2018 at 5:00pm PDT

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Ridesharing livestreams on Twitch raise privacy worries

July 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

When you step into a ridesharing car, you probably assume that whatever you do inside the vehicle won’t be recorded for posterity. But what if it turned out that you were not only on camera, but live on the internet? Like it or not, that’s happening — and not always with permission. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has cited the example of Jason Gargac, an Uber and Lyft driver who has been broadcasting “hundreds” of trips on Twitch without explicitly obtaining consent. While Gargac has taken steps to protect passengers (such as muting addresses and moderating lewd chat comments), at least some of these customers said they wouldn’t have entered the car had they known they were in a livestream — and it was possible to identify some of them through details in archived videos.

Gargac has asserted that his streams are legal, since Missouri allows one-party recording of conversations. However, it doesn’t appear that he’s entirely forthright with passengers about what’s happening. A sticker on the car tells passengers that they consent to being recorded if they enter the vehicle, but it describes the camera as “for security.” There’s no mention of the internet stream. And in a sense, it’s taking advantage of customers who either aren’t aware of the sticker or don’t have much choice. If you’re entering the car at night or are in a hurry, are you going to give much heed to a sticker as you hop in?

There might not be much the ridesharing companies can do, at least not without changes to their policies. Both Uber and Lyft have responded with statements that drivers are required to obey local laws, which technically puts drivers like Gargac in the clear. Uber has offered passengers credit and promised not to pair affected riders with the driver. We’ve asked Twitch for comment as well. Gargac has taken care to avoid at least some terms-of-service violations, but it’s not certain whether these are enough.

Regardless of the legality, streams like this raise plenty of questions about the nature of recording laws in the livestreaming era, not to mention the policies of the companies involved. Although Gargac argues that his car is a public space and thus doesn’t have an expectation of privacy, that’s clearly not how some passengers see it. They’re often holding deeply personal conversations or conducting themselves in less-than-flattering ways, and certainly aren’t expecting to have their behavior broadcast online. Stricter policies could ensure that passengers both offer genuine consent and know that their privacy will be protected if they do agree to a livestream.

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San Francisco aims to issue electric scooter permits next month

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Mario Tama via Getty Images

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) said this week that it is aiming to issue electric scooter permits next month, and the staff who have been reviewing the 12 permit applications will make their recommendations in the coming weeks. The move to require permits came after Bird, Spin and LimeBike unveiled their e-scooter sharing programs earlier this year, resulting in hundreds of scooters peppering public areas and taking up sidewalk space. They quickly became a nuisance and in April, the city told the three companies that they had to remove their scooters from the streets. Permit applications opened up soon thereafter.

Companies seeking a permit to operate in the city had to submit an application by June 7th, and the SFMTA has been reviewing the dozen applications it received, assessing them for safety, sustainability, access, accountability, financial impact and other measures. Up to five companies will be selected to participate in a year-long pilot program that will evaluate the scooters and their impact. As many as 1,250 scooters may be allowed to operate in San Francisco during the first six months of the trial, and depending on how things play out, an additional 1,250 may be approved for the last half of the trial period.

Once the final firms are selected, the SFMTA will work with them to finalize and clarify the permit terms and conditions. Permits should be issued in August.

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Why Elon Musk isn't the hero we imagined

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Every now and again, there’s a story of true human ingenuity that reminds us what we should aspire toward. Twelve children, trapped in a flooded cave system, were rescued by an international team of experts. Divers used their years of training and experience to find and save people when all hope was thought lost. One diver, Saman Kunan, died in the effort. And yet, rather than celebrate their sacrifice and effort, we’ve spent the better part of a week preoccupied with the word “pedo.”

You already know why: Elon Musk, the entrepreneur who revolutionized e-commerce, electric vehicles and private spaceflight, lashed out at someone in anger. Members of Team Musk raced to the aid of their hero, while others used it as yet another stick with which to beat the man. It’s impossible to talk about Musk in a rational, balanced way. He’s not simply a human being, with flaws and foibles and dreams like we all have, but a touchstone for the whole world.

Musk has become a representative for so many causes that, to many, criticizing him is somehow denigrating the cause. Look at Tesla, the car company that has disrupted the automotive and energy industries. Almost single-handedly, Musk made EVs cool, and proved that people wanted to own one. The fact that I can now even think about buying a second- or third-hand EV is, at least in part, due to Musk.

Tesla also demonstrated that concerns over battery life and range were unfounded. It’s now relatively easy to schedule your trip to include a 20-minute-or-so stop for a bathroom break while an EV recharges. And the Supercharger network has quickly been supplanted by a number of additional charging stations in hotels, in public buildings and curbside. Some of this has been the result of government incentive programs, but demand is clearly increasing.

While Musk made EVs cool, plenty of others have benefited from this perception change. In my native UK, the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV have outsold the Tesla Model S and X by a considerable margin. But that may change in the future, since the Model 3 could become what was seen as impossible a few years ago: a mass-market electric sedan.

Here’s the downside to all of that utopianism: As it stands, the Model 3 isn’t really ready to go, despite currently being sold to pre-order customers. There have been numerous issues with the car’s build quality, trim levels and braking systems that have required remedy. Panel gaps, reliability issues and component failure are all sticks used to beat the Model 3 with, for legitimate reasons. Plus, the lack of an instrument cluster may look fancy and modern, but it’s a usability nightmare. If you’re spending 60 grand on a car, you want it to be better than this.

When the Model 3 was announced, Musk made exaggerated claims about how many cars he would be able to

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Musk disputes rumors that Model 3 cancellations are outpacing orders

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Stephen Lam / Reuters

Tesla’s Model 3 production rate has been a topic of interest for some time, but lately, so has the company’s order rates. Following an analyst’s suggestion that Tesla was now receiving more cancellations than orders, CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to dispel that notion, giving a glimpse into Tesla’s order numbers that are rarely shared by either the company or its CEO. In his tweet, Musk said that last week Tesla had over 2,000 orders for its Model S and Model X vehicles as well as 5,000 new net orders for its Model 3, which are healthy rates if accurate.

Dunno where this bs is coming from. Who knows about the future, but last week we had over 2000 S/X and 5000 Model 3 *new* net orders.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 20, 2018

Model 3 production has been affected by significant delays and pauses, but earlier this month, the company revealed that it had finally reached the 5,000 vehicles per week rate it had been working towards for some time. Last week, Tesla opened up its ordering system for the Model 3 — with the exception of the base $35,000 model — to everyone in North America, and shortened delivery times for new orders of certain models. However, the $7,500 federal tax credit that customers have enjoyed until now will begin phasing out next year.

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Porsche’s Panamera hybrid brings sports car fun to a station wagon

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

The Porsche brand has never really been synonymous with family. The legendary 911 just doesn’t lend itself to playdates, Target runs and road trips with the kids. Then the German automaker introduced its SUV line in 2003 and suddenly the offspring had a place to sit. But an SUV is not a sports car. The Panamera line, on the other hand, has the potential to be a bit of both.

Gallery: 2018 Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Sport Turismo review | 29 Photos 29 +25

The 2018 Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Sport Turismo, starting at $104,000, checks off a lot of boxes for potential Porsche owners that also have family obligations. There’s room for more than two people, for starters. There’s also an honest to goodness cargo area for shopping runs. It’s a hybrid, too, so the more judgy parents you know won’t get on your case and finally (and really more importantly) it’s a sports car. Also, it looks 100 percent better than the first iteration of the Panamera and it does all this in a way that makes you realize that station wagons can be cool. Very cool.

When I received Panamera, Porsche made sure I was aware that the hybrid system wasn’t an efficiency play. The automaker is known for sports cars after all. Still, the vehicle has four modes: E-Power (pure EV mode), Hybrid, Sport and Sport plus. During startup, it defaults to E-Power mode and when fully charged Porsche says it has a range of up to 30 miles at speeds up to 90 miles per hour. That seems pretty efficient to me. If you plug in the car at night and the majority of your trips per day are less than 25 miles, it could be weeks before you hit the gas station.

In hybrid mode (which includes options for saving and charging up the battery), the Panamera is ready for longer drives on the freeway and surface streets. The switch between the gas engine and electric motors is seamless during regular driving. But going slow (below 10 miles an hour) does feel like you’re holding back an excited puppy. Sometimes it jerked a bit more than expected.

It’s that excited puppy that’s at the heart of the vehicle and once you drop off the kids or finish picking up your organic quinoa at Whole Foods, you can put the Panamera E-Hybrid into Sport or Sport plus mode and really understand what the automaker was talking about when it said that the hybrid wasn’t an efficiency play.

Driving in either of the two sport modes, the car aggressively recharges the battery so it can use that power and electric torque to deliver outstanding acceleration. With a zero to 60 of 4.4 seconds, it’s one

Tech News

China pours $1 billion into a 'Hyperloop' for cars

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Arrivo

Just a day after Hyperloop TT announced a deal in China, another high-speed transport startup has done the same. Arrivo, Brogan BamBrogan’s not-quite Hyperloop company, has entered into partnership with GTA a wholly-owned subsidiary of a company that’s owned by the Chinese government. As part of the deal, GTA will offer up $1 billion worth of credit to back potential Arrivo projects worldwide.

Arrivo, if you’re unfamiliar, is the transportation project founded by Brogan BamBrogan and other staffers who left Hyperloop One. Rather than adopt a like-for-like copy of the original trains-in-vacuum-tubes plan, Arrivo would use mag-lev sleds to carry cars in closed off tunnels. The idea being to get vehicles from point A to B at 200 miles an hour, rather than using existing highways at their far slower speeds.

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The fact that Arrivo is the second “Hyperloop” company to have accepted Chinese backing this week, and interest in their systems is increasing. Bloomberg believes that the $1 billion sum could finance up to three legs of a route, with each one running up to nine miles long. And partnerships like this could help persuade investors that these systems are worth pursuing in the longer term.

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Waze now works with Android Auto's phone display

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

AOL

Last July, Waze finally integrated with Android Auto, but the service was limited. Android Auto has two parts: What you can see on the car’s display unit and what is available on your phone’s screen. Previously Waze was only available through the car’s screen, but Android Police noticed you can now access it as an option on phones as well.

The Waze app has long been available for Android phones. This new update, however, is specifically referring to Waze on Android Auto on phones. This means you don’t need a car display unit to be able to use Waze on Android Auto.

This news comes on the heels of Apple’s announcement that iOS will finally open CarPlay to third-party maps with iOS 12. Waze and Google Maps will likely both be available when the new OS version launches this fall.

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Uber drivers can sell you goods during your ride

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Uber/Cargo

Don’t be surprised if you get a sales pitch the next time you step into an Uber car. The ridesharing service has formed a partnership with Cargo to give drivers free boxes full of goods they can sell to passengers through a mobile app, ranging from snacks to phone chargers — if you didn’t get a bite to eat before leaving for the airport, you won’t have to wait to get your fix. Drivers in Los Angeles and San Francisco can pick up the boxes today at Uber’s support centers (known as Greenlight Hubs), and there are plans to expand to other cities with Cargo service (including New York City, Atlanta and Dallas).

There are a couple of requirements before a driver can receive a box, according to Cargo chief Jeff Cripe. They need to have both a minimum 4.7-star rating on Uber and be relatively active on the service. To put it another way, they want trustworthy drivers taking enough passengers to produce a good return on the investment. They don’t have to drive for Uber when they’re selling from the Cargo box, however.

Uber isn’t shy about its motivations: this gives drivers “extra income” in addition to enticing customers. While there are questions as to whether or not Uber pays drivers fairly in the first place, this would give them an extra revenue source that wouldn’t force them to drive extra hours. Cargo estimates that drivers can earn between $1,500 to $3,000 in extra income per year. That wouldn’t represent a huge change in quality of life, but it might be enough to keep drivers faithful to Uber instead of departing for Lyft or exiting the ridesharing business altogether.