By now, anybody watching the self-driving car space is familiar with the “trough of disillusionment,” the stage of the Gartner hype cycle that follows the “peak of inflated expectations,” and—for the lucky ones—precedes the “slope of enlightenment.” This is the part where instead of puffing their chests out, the technologists put their heads down to work on delivering what they’ve promised. It’s also where self-driving has been for a few years now, but encouraging signs have emerged that robo-cars have started the climb.

Like, for example, Luminar’s announcement this week that it has developed a lidar scanner it will sell for just $500—cheap enough to bring a new level of autonomy to consumer cars. Or that after breaking up with self-driving developer Aurora earlier this year, Volkswagen on Friday invested $2.6 billion in Argo AI, with plans to use its tech to launch an autonomous service (likely meaning robo-taxis or trucking, somewhere, sometime). These are small signals, to be sure, but every springtime starts with green shoots.

Elsewhere in the world of transportation, we have a look at Sikorsky’s nimble new helicopter, a dispatch from electric-loving Norway, an airplane seat design that might make you want to sit in the middle, and more. It’s been a week—let’s get you caught up.

Headlines

Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week

  • For all Facebook’s efforts to connect people around the world, new research from Princeton, NYU, and the social media giant itself shows that in New York City, friendships form along subway lines.
  • Let the elbow wars end in peace: Colorado-based Molon Labe has received FAA certification for a staggered seat design that makes the middle seat a comfort zone and gives everyone their own place to rest their arms. The company has already locked down its first (unnamed) customer.
  • You use Waze to predict where you’ll get stuck in traffic and cut your stress levels. Turns out that data can also be used to predict where crashes will happen—and cut emergency response times.
  • It’s been four decades since American Airlines invented the frequent flier mile—and now the idea has hit the ground. Along with Uber and Lyft, public transit agencies around the country are launching rewards programs to attract and keep riders.
  • Norway has so many electric cars, wandering its streets is like seeing the future. And now the Scandinavian country invites you, tourist, to come for a ride.
  • The US Army is on the hunt for a new light attack and scout helicopter, and Sikorsky thinks its funky, fast, and nimble S-97 Raider is the chopper for the job.
  • When Elon Musk poo-poohs lidar for self-driving, he cites cost as a key weakness. Now, Luminar has introduced the Iris, a laser scanner it plans to sell to automakers for just $500 apiece.
  • Volkswagen announced Friday it’s investing $2.6 billion in Argo AI. The move further tightens its relationship with Ford, and makes it the latest automaker to seek outside help in developing its driverless future.

Drone Hero of the Week

Sure, drones are a fun toy to bring to the beach. But did you know they can also spot sharks hanging out near where your kids are swimming?

Stat of the Week

$189 billion

The amount of money cities will be spending on “smart city” tech by 2023, according to a new report from International Data Corporation. Big ticket items include smart grid and lighting tech, visual surveillance, and better public transit.

Required Reading

News from elsewhere on the internet

In the Rearview

Essential stories from WIRED’s canon
While we wait for the Army to decide which new helicopter design it will take to war, have a look back at that time Tom Cruise insisted on learning to fly a chopper for the latest Mission Impossible—and pulled off a horribly dangerous stunt.


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