All Transportation stories

Joann Muller
Oct 6, 2021 - Science

Ford brain research aims to keep drivers from zoning out

Ford brain-scanning research. Photo: Ford

Ford is working with neuroscientists to develop brain-scanning technology that can more quickly detect when drivers are getting tired or distracted.

Why it matters: It's crucial that drivers stay engaged behind the wheel, even as cars become more automated. But there's mounting evidence that people get complacent using driver-assistance features like Tesla Autopilot, which is why federal safety regulators are investigating the systems.

  • “The brain processes huge amounts of information when we are driving, but that may change as driver assistance technologies do some of the driving for us," said Stefan Wolter, research engineer, Research and Advanced Engineering, Ford of Europe.
  • "Drivers also get tired and their minds can wander. Identifying more quickly when this happens could be of critical importance," he added.

Driving the news: Ford scientists in Europe are working with medical researchers at Uniklinik RWTH Aachen in Germany to map brain patterns to driver’s reactions.

  • Ford hopes that by identifying the brain responses that reveal lapses in concentration, it may then be possible to match the scans to physical changes in heart rate or breathing, for example.
  • A change in heart rate detected via wearable technology, for example, could then trigger an alert for the driver to pay attention.

How it works: Study participants complete a driving simulation while their brain activity is scanned by an MRI machine. A mirror allows them to see the simulation on a screen inside the MRI machine.

  • The scenario, designed using gaming technology, involves a three-lane highway at night where a vehicle in the middle lane brakes suddenly and the participant has to take over and move the car to the left or right, using a handheld device.
  • The MRI machine scans the brain before and during these actions, while the researchers measure how quickly the participant reacts and if they make the right decision.
  • They also monitor changes to heart rate, breathing rate and other physiological measures.

What they're saying: "We believe that by capturing this data we could one day be able to generate unique physiological driver fingerprints so that drivers of the vehicles of the future can be prepared to react and to intervene immediately in case it is required," said Professor Klaus Mathiak M.D. Ph.D., head of Psychoneurobiology and lead consultant for Psychosomatic Medicine, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen.

American, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue add staff vaccine mandates

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

American Airlines, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines have joined United Airlines in mandating that employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19, per the Wall Street Journal.

Why it matters: The Biden administration has been pressing businesses to require workers to be vaccinated against the virus as vaccination rates flatten across the U.S.

The Bella Vista bypass is open for business

Source: Missouri Department of Transportation; Graphic: Brendan Lynch/Axios Visuals

Starting today, drivers can use the long-awaited, new Interstate 49 Bella Vista bypass, which links 265 miles of interstate between Fort Smith and Kansas City, Missouri.

Why it matters: If you've ever tried to drive south from north Bella Vista (a constant thorn in Alex's side), you know you have to allot plenty of time to sit in traffic that lets up as soon as you get on the interstate or to Walton Boulevard.

  • And you've probably noticed that a good chunk of that traffic is trucks that would likely rather be moving along the freeway than stuck by a Starbucks.

What we're driving: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is somewhere between a crossover utility vehicle and a pickup truck. Photo: Hyundai

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is one of those "neither fish nor fowl" vehicles: It's an SUV crossed with a pickup truck — and I love it.

The big picture: Truck devotees will complain that the 4-foot-bed is too short, or that the Santa Cruz can't haul a giant RV or motorboat. (For the record, it can tow up to 5,000 pounds.)

  • But for the vast majority of urban dwellers whose big adventure is an outing to the garden center, this is the perfect vehicle.

Details: The Santa Cruz drives like a crossover SUV, which isn't surprising, since it's based on the same basic underpinnings as the Hyundai Tucson.

  • That means it's refined and easy to park, which non-truck people will appreciate.
  • Some reviewers have complained that the standard 2.5-liter engine is underpowered, but I drove the turbocharged all-wheel-drive option, which, at 275 horsepower, had plenty of get-up-and-go.

One of my favorite features was the Santa Cruz's lockable, roll-up metal tonneau cover.

  • At a tailgate, we packed our valuables in the bed and safely locked them away while we went to the game.
  • The extra storage below the bed (similar to a Honda Ridgeline) was especially handy.

Other goodies: The Santa Cruz Limited also featured a 360-degree camera system, heated and cooled seats, a premium Bose sound system and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

  • Android smartphone users can use a phone app as their digital key.
  • The optional 10-inch touchscreen is lovely but difficult to use, with no buttons — keeping your eyes off the road for too long.

The Santa Cruz comes with a full suite of standard safety and available assisted driving technologies.

  • Hyundai's highway-assist technology was a bit overbearing at times, though.

The bottom line: The Santa Cruz starts at about $24,000, which is higher than Ford's new Maverick compact pickup. And at $39,720, the Limited AWD I drove seems downright expensive.

  • But if it fits the bill for weekend warriors, that's OK.

The cruise industry stages a comeback campaign

Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady sets sail for the first time next week. Photo: Virgin Voyages

The cruise line industry is in the midst of a PR campaign of a lifetime: “It’s safe to come aboard, we promise.” A sign it’s working: Carnival, a mega-operator, said bookings for this time next year already top pre-pandemic levels.

Why it matters: The industry was an early epicenter for COVID-19 outbreaks. Its comeback hinges on how comfortable people feel aboard the ships.

What we're driving: Arcimoto FUV

Joann tooling around town in Arcimoto's FUV. Video: Bill Rapai for Axios

I've spent the past week on a joyride, tooling around town in a crazy-fun, three-wheeled mashup between an electric car and a motorcycle — an "autocycle" if you will — called the Arcimoto FUV.

Why it matters: If this is the future of mobility, sign me up!

The big picture: Arcimoto, based in Eugene, Oregon, wants to lead a shift to sustainable transportation — cleaner, smaller vehicles that help reduce congestion and CO2 emissions.

  • The $17,900 FUV ("fun utility vehicle") is part of a family of electric trikes that share the same basic design. There's also the Deliverator, the Rapid Responder, the Flatbed and the Roadster.

Details: Like the Polaris Slingshot or CanAm Spyder, Arcimoto's FUV has two wheels in front and one in back.

  • It's small — about one-third the weight and one-third the size of a typical car — but it has a surprisingly roomy cargo compartment that can hold three bags of groceries.
  • It seats two people — one in front of the other, not side-by-side.
  • There's a see-through roof and a windshield, but the sides are open, with removable half-doors.

How it works: The battery sends power to an electric motor on each of the front wheels, providing the instant torque that makes driving it so much fun.

  • It's highway-legal and goes up to 75 miles per hour, Arcimoto says — but I stuck to local roads and felt like I was flying at 45 mph, to be honest.
  • The driving range is up to 102 miles in stop-and-go city driving, with regenerative braking that puts wasted energy back into the battery. The faster you go, the shorter your range.

My thought bubble: I work from home and don't really need my car as much as I used to. This seems like a hip and handy alternative for errands around town.

What to watch: The company says it has more than 4,000 "pre-orders" and has delivered 230 to date.

  • So far it's available in just four states: Washington, Oregon, California and Florida — with Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona and New York to be added soon.
  • It's also for rent in some tourist destinations like Key West, Florida, San Francisco and San Diego.

What's next: Arcimoto's goal is to scale production within the next couple of years with help from a loan under the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program.

Sep 23, 2021 - Economy & Business

Individual car owners are competing with rental agencies

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

With rental cars in short supply, enterprising car owners have amassed their own small fleets of automobiles, renting them out to travelers at a premium.

A snapshot: If you need a car in Boston for a weekend in mid-October, you can rent a Ford Fiesta hatchback from Budget for about $500 — or pay the same for a Maserati Quattroporte from Turo.com, a car-sharing site.

United Airlines says 97% of U.S. employees fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Photo: James D. Morgan via Getty Images

United Airlines said Wednesday that over 97% of its U.S.-based employees are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a company memo obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: United announced in August that it would require its 67,000 U.S.-based employees to get vaccinated by Sept. 27 or face termination. It's one of several airlines that set vaccine requirements even before President Biden issued his own vaccine mandate for employers with over 100 workers.

Sep 22, 2021 - Economy & Business

The outlook for automakers gets cloudier by the day

Photo: Francois Lo Presti/AFP via Getty Images

The outlook for global automakers and suppliers continues to worsen, amid heightened risk from supply chain disruptions, including the ongoing semiconductor chip shortage.

Driving the news: IHS Markit slashed its forecast for global light-vehicle production in 2021 by 6.2% — about 5 million vehicles. It's cutting even deeper — 9.3% or about 8.45 million vehicles — for 2022.

DOJ sues American Airlines, JetBlue to block "unprecedented" alliance

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Justice Department on Tuesday sued American Airlines and JetBlue to block an "unprecedented series of agreements" that will consolidate the two airlines' operations in Boston and New York City.

Why it matters: The civil antitrust complaint alleges that the planned Northeast Alliance (NEA) "will cause hundreds of millions of dollars in harm to air passengers across the country through higher fares and reduced choice," the DOJ said in a release.