Toyota Motor Corp. is working on a “flying car.”

A startup backed by the Japanese automaker has developed a test model that engineers hope will eventually develop into a tiny car with a driver who’ll be able to light the Olympic torch in the 2020 Tokyo games. For now, however, the project is a concoction of aluminum framing and eight propellers that barely gets off the ground and crashes after several seconds.

Toyota has invested 42.5 million yen ($386,000) in startup Cartivator Resource Management to work on “Sky Drive .” At a test flight June 3, 2017 in the city where the automaker is based, the gadgetry, about the size of a car and loaded with batteries and sensors, blew up a lot of sand and made a lot of noise.

It managed to get up as high as eye level for several seconds before tilting and falling to the ground. Basketballs attached to its bottom served as cushions. After several attempts, the endeavour had to be cancelled after one of the covers got detached from the frame and broke, damaging the propellers.

The goal of Cartivator’s is to deliver a seamless transition from driving to flight, like the world of “Back to the Future,” said the project’s leader Tsubasa Nakamura.

“I always loved planes and cars. And my longtime dream was to have a personal vehicle that can fly and go many places,” he told The Associated Press.

The group is now working on a better design with the money from Toyota with the plan to have the first manned flight in 2019. No one has ridden on Sky Drive yet, or any drone, as that would be too dangerous.

Still, dabbling in businesses other than cars is Toyota’s trademark. In recent years, it has been aggressively venturing into robotics and artificial intelligence, investing a billion dollars in a research and development company in Silicon Valley. It’s also working in Japan on using robotics to help the sick walk. It also just announced a five-year $35 million investment in its research centre in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for autonomous and connected vehicle technologies.

The idea that each generation must take up challenges is part of Toyota’s roots, said auto analyst Takaki Nakanishi.

President Akio Toyoda’s great-grandfather Sakichi Toyoda started out developing the loom and then its automated improvements from the 1890s, before the company became an automaker. More recently, Toyota sees software and services as central to the auto industry, as cars become connected, start driving themselves and turn into lifestyle digital tools, Nakanishi said.

As Toyota gets into the business of ecological vehicles, such as hybrids, electric cars and fuel cells, it’s turning into an energy company as well.

“Toyota’s business is centred on mobility, anything that moves, including people, things, money, information, energy,” said Nakanishi.

Toyota is travelling not only in the skies but also to the waters, although that still remains a tiny part of its sprawling empire.

Toyota’s boat operations began in 1997. Toyota now offers four models and has sold a cumulative 845 boats. In contrast, Toyota sells about 10 million vehicles a year around the world.

Reporters recently got a ride in Tokyo Bay of a Lexus luxury concept “yacht,” which runs on two gas engines. With a streamlined curvaceous design, inspired by a dolphin and evocative of a Lexus car, it’s being promised as a commercial product in the next few years.

Designed for executives zipping through resort waters, it comes with fantasy-evoking features, like an anchor pulled in by a chain into a tiny door in the bow, which opens then closes mechanically.

The engine, shiny like a chrome sculpture, is visible beneath the sheer floor surface. Shigeki Tomoyama, the executive in charge, said the boat was going for “a liberating effect.” A price was not given. Many Americans have already expressed interest, according to Toyota.

The project started about two years ago under direct orders from Toyoda, who has with Tomoyama spearheaded Toyota’s Gazoo internet business, another non-auto business for Toyota.

“He asked us to create a space that can work as a secret hiding place in the middle of the ocean,” Tomoyama said. “We went for the wow factor, which requires no words.”

 

Companion robots featured at Shanghai electronics show

More than 50 companies are showcasing a new generation of robots at this week’s Shanghai CES electronics show, built to serve as companions at home, attendants at shopping malls or just provide entertainment.

Chinese companies including Shenzhen-based startup Aelos Robotic Inc. are displaying robots with heightened dexterity and skills.

Beijing’s Canny Unisrobo Technology Co. Ltd. is a pioneer in the field, with its Canbot, produced in co-operation with Microsoft, having entered mass production almost a decade ago.

Sales manager Zhang Jianting said Thursday that annual sales are about 150,000 units, with the home companion robots selling for $130 to $483 depending on size.

However, Zhang said the robot market is growing ever more crowded, with many more players entering this year alone.

“The robot market in China is increasingly diverse,” Zhang said. “However, there are still some rough edges in R&D and comprehensive abilities. Every company is at initial stage. We are still learning and making progress in terms of technology, R&D, and market.”

Artificial intelligence and virtual reality are also major features of the show, which features 400 exhibitors from 23 regions showing their innovations from June 7 to 9.

For John T. Kelly, the senior director of CES Asia, the participation of more Chinese companies at global electronics shows illustrates how China is shifting from a manufacturing economy to one based on innovation.

“Chinese companies continue to grow more and more in importance. They are creating partnerships with Western partners to really further their technology. So we are seeing development of technology advancing rapidly,” Kelly said.

Among those leading the charge for artificial Intelligence, or AI, is Rokid Corp., maker of the Pebble home companion device that can help seniors perform household chores, provide entertainment and help children learn new skills.

“AI makes our life simpler. AI is replacing human beings in more fields. It saves humans’ labour, so we can do more creative work,” said Li Yuanpeng, the company’s product manager.

 

Autonomous cars (no human backup) may hit the road next year

Autonomous vehicles with no human backup will be put to the test on publicly travelled roads as early as next year in what may be the first attempt at unassisted autonomous piloting.

Automotive electronics and parts maker Delphi and French transport company Transdev plan to use autonomous taxis and a shuttle van to carry passengers on roadways in France.

The companies on Wednesday said they plan to combine Delphi’s self-driving technology with Transdev’s knowledge of mobility operations. Transdev operates trains, buses, ferries and other transportation services in 19 countries, including the U.S.

Two on-demand Renault Zoe autonomous taxis will be deployed in Rouen, Normandy, and a shuttle van will run between a rail station and campus in the university district of Paris-Saclay. Both will start with humans on board later this year, with the intent of going fully autonomous sometime in 2018. From the start, the shuttle van won’t have a steering wheel or pedals, and humans will be inside solely to communicate with passengers, said Leriche, chief performance officer at Transdev Group.

But humans at a central dispatch centre would still be able to take control of the vehicles, said Glen De Vos, Delphi Corp.’s chief technology officer. “We’re confident that in the event they would need to intervene, they can,” he said.

The companies also plan a similar test in North America and are scouting locations, De Vos said.

He believes they’ll go through several iterations of self-driving software and systems before the French vehicles are fully operational sometime in 2019.

Transdev plans to gradually spread the technology throughout Paris and other cities that it serves, so the autonomous vehicles will be on roads along with human drivers.

It may take a while for people to trust the vehicles enough to use them, but Leriche said acceptance may not be that hard to get. Transdev has surveyed users in autonomous shuttle tests about the service and quality, and more than 90 per cent were excited about the service. “They were not afraid of the fact that there was no driver,” he said.

The partnership comes less than a month after U.K.-based Delphi joined with BMW, Intel and Mobileye to develop autonomous vehicles. Delphi, which has U.S. operations just outside of Detroit, makes the computing platform that brings together information from the car’s sensors, cameras and computers.

 

Google to teach school kids about online safety, etiquette

Google is spearheading an educational campaign to teach pre-teen children how to protect themselves from scams, predators and other trouble.

The program announced Tuesday is called “Be Internet Awesome.” Google co-ordinated the curriculum with several online safety groups, including the Family Online Safety Institute , the Internet Keep Safe Coalition and Connect Safely .

The lessons are tailored for kids ranging from eight to 12 years old, a time when many of today’s children are getting their own smartphones and other devices that connect to the internet. To make the experience more fun, Google and its partners developed a game called “Interland” to help teach children about the ins and outs of online safety.

Google is encouraging teachers to use elements of its program in their classrooms, too.

 

Latest smartphone app provides more convenience and peace of mind

Attention tech, insurance, housing and auto journalists.

Many of us can’t live without our smartphones. They’re in our pockets, purses and bags and we check them often for communication, information, or just force of habit. Now your phone can become the ultimate home and auto insurance tool by downloading the new State Farm Canada Appwww.statefarm.ca/sfcanadaapp – for free!

Telematics, Alert and easy access to Online Services all at your fingertips

The all-new State Farm Canada App includes Telematics* – a fully mobile telematics insurance program. Telematics can help you to become a safer driver by using your smartphone to track and improve your driving in real-time and then rewards you with savings of up to 25% on your auto insurance premium at renewal. – www.statefarm.ca/insurance/auto/discounts/telematics

The app also allows you to manage your home and auto insurance easily. By logging on to your Online Services account directly from your phone you can receive instant access to your insurance policies, obtain valuable information and tips, file a claim or get an online quote, anywhere, anytime, 24/7.

And for even more peace of mind, the State Farm Canada App includes Alert, our latest home insurance prevention program that detects water leaks and risk of freezing to prevent water damage.

Customers with a home insurance policy that sign up for the Alert program will receive a free water and freeze detector. The detector is a connected device and can be placed close to a potential source of leaks like a bathroom, dishwasher or washing machine. If it senses a problem it sends an alert to your smartphone by notification, text message or email, so you can act quickly to limit any damage. Participation in the program will not lead to premium increases or changes in existing coverage, regardless of how many alerts a customer receives.

In Canada, water damage accounts for more than 50% of property insurance claims, so acting fast can prevent significant damage and avoid the disruption that comes with it.

How and where do I get it?

Call your State Farm agent to enroll in Telematics and/or Alert, and download the State Farm Canada App from the App Store® – www.apple.com/itunes/download – or Google Play™ – https://play.google.com/store/apps.

About State Farm

In January 2015, State Farm’s Canadian operations were purchased by Desjardins Group, the leading cooperative financial group in Canada and among the three largest P&C insurance providers in Canada. With its 500 dedicated agents and 1700 employees, the State Farm division provides insurance and financial services products including mutual funds, life insurance, vehicle loans, critical illness, disability, home and auto insurance to customers in Ontario, Alberta and New Brunswick. For more information, visit www.statefarm.ca, join us on Facebook – www.facebook.com/statefarmcanada, or follow us on Twitter – www.twitter.com/statefarmcanada.

App Store is a service mark of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.
Google Play is a trademark of Google Inc.

*Telematics is currently available in Ontario only

State Farm branded policies are underwritten by Certas Home and Auto Insurance Company.

®State Farm and related trademarks and logos are registered trademarks owned by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, used under licence by Certas Home and Auto Insurance Company.

©Copyright 2017, Certas Home and Auto Insurance Company.

SOURCE State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

Google rolling out arsenal of services, gadgets

Google rolling out arsenal of services, gadgets

By Michael Liedtke

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. _ Google provided a look at its latest digital offerings, with a heavy focus on its efforts to extend artificial intelligence features into more of its apps and services.

CEO Sundar Pichai unveiled Google Lens, a set of vision-based computing capabilities that can understand what you are looking at. It will first be available as part of Google’s voice-controlled digital assistant _ which bears the straightforward name “Google Assistant” _ and Photos app. In the real world, that means you could, for instance, point your phone camera at a restaurant and get reviews for it.

Pinterest has a similar tool. Also called Lens, it lets people point their cameras at real-world items and find out where to buy them, or find similar things online.

Another tool in Google Photos will prompt you to share photos you take with people you know. For instance, Photos will notice when you take a shot of a friend and nudge you to send it to her, so you don’t forget. Google will also let you share whole photo libraries with others. Facebook has its own version of this feature in its Moments app.

One potentially unsettling new feature in Photos will let you automatically share some or all of your photos with other people. Google claims the feature will be smart enough so that you could auto-share only specific photos _ say, of your kids _ to your partner or a friend.

The company is also giving the crowd a look at new twists in its Android software for mobile devices, which powers more than 80 per cent of the world’s smartphones. The next version of Android, available to the mass market later this year, aims to gauge and control how much battery life your apps are using. A feature called Google Play Protect, meanwhile, will scan all your apps for malicious software.

As part of a years-old tradition, Google will name the next Android version after a dessert or sweet-tasting snack beginning with the letter “O.” (The current version of Android is the N version, Nougat.) It often takes years for a new version of the software to make it to older phones, and never arrives at all for some.

Rival Apple plans to provide unveil changes to the operating system for its popular iPhone next month. Many of Google’s products are also vying against similar offerings from other tech conglomerates like Amazon and Microsoft.

Google is also planning a slimmed down version of Android for low-end phones, primarily used in the developing world. Called Android Go, this software will automatically enable data-saving features and will steer users toward apps designed specifically for inexpensive hardware. Phones with less than one gigabyte of memory will automatically get Android Go.

 

 

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