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From The Editors

New York City Clips the Wings of Uber and Lyft by Voting to Cap New Ride-Hail Vehicles

The New York City Council on Wednesday (August 8) voted overwhelmingly in favor of enforcing a year-long cap on new vehicle licenses for ride-hailing services – a move that is being expected by many to result in increased fares and longer wait times.

This happens to be the first legislation of its kind passed by a major U.S. city and is part of a series of proposals that also calls for establishing a minimum wage for drivers.

Before they come into effect, both bills will need the final approval of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has nothing but good things to say about the proposed actions and has already expressed his intention to authorize their implementation.

“More than 100,000 workers and their families will see an immediate benefit from this legislation,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement, obviously referring to the megacity’s horde of for-hire drivers.

“And this action will stop the influx of cars contributing to the congestion grinding our streets to a halt,” the Mayor added.

While the 12-month legislation is in effect, the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) will conduct a study to gauge the effects of ride-hailing services on the city’s traffic.

Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, also voiced his consent to the bills, saying that the legislation would put a curb on proliferation by ride-hailing services that have gone on unchecked all this while.

“We are pausing the issuance of new licenses in an industry that has been allowed to proliferate without any appropriate check or regulation,” stated Johnson, going on to say that the new rules would not affect existing services availed by New Yorkers.

“I think New Yorkers can rest assured,” Johnson said. “If they depend on an Uber or a Lyft — that’s not going anywhere.”

With New York City being one of the most lucrative areas of operation for these businesses, it was but obvious that companies like Uber, Lyft, and Via would feel hard done by and would speak up against the idea of putting a cap on new licenses for as long as a whole year.

“The City’s 12-month pause on new vehicle licenses will threaten one of the few reliable transportation options while doing nothing to fix the subways or ease congestion,” Uber said in a statement.

“We take [Council Speaker Corey Johnson] at his word that the pause is not intended to reduce service for New Yorkers and we trust that he will hold the TLC accountable, ensuring that no New Yorker is left stranded,” the statement further said.

“These sweeping cuts to transportation will bring New Yorkers back to an era of struggling to get a ride, particularly for communities of color and in the outer boroughs,” San Francisco-based Lyft said in a separate statement.

“We will never stop working to ensure New Yorkers have access to reliable and affordable transportation in every borough,” assured the statement.

NYC-based Via Transportation also opposed the move but remained optimistic that the city would not impose any sanctions on carpools, as they contribute towards reducing congestion and ensure the highest remuneration for drivers.

Refuting the claims of ride-hailing services that their protests were falling on deaf ears, Johnson said, “Uber might not be saying this on the record, but they were involved throughout the entire process.”

He added: “They were real full stakeholders in all this.”

As was expected, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA), which is an 18,000-strong union for the city’s cab drivers, welcomed the decision in favor of the drivers.

“Today, NYTWA members won a historic victory as New York City Council voted YES on the first legislation of its kind to regulate App companies like Uber and Lyft!” said the NYTWA website.

“New York City is the first city in the country enact drivers’ demands into legislation! Months of tireless organizing from members of every sector – yellow, App-based, green, livery, black car – made this victory possible!” it said.

Bronx Democrat and Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr. did not mince words in his support for the legislation.

“Uber has about 80,000 vehicles in the city already, and no regulation — you think Uber is a taxi? We don’t even know what Uber is,” Diaz said.

“Now, we want to regulate Uber, and Uber will be a taxi,” he added.

While Uber rides are relatively more comfortable and economical compared to taxis, its drivers are finding it increasingly difficult to manage with what they are left with after deductions, a TLC study released on Monday (August 6) has revealed

“Their low pay has persisted despite the rapid growth of the industry,” said the study report.

New wheelchair-accessible vehicles, however, will not come under the purview of the new legislation and will, hence, enjoy exemption from the proposed year-long restriction.

Having lost an acrimonious showdown with Uber over a similar cap proposal back in 2015, Mayor de Blasio seems to have had the last laugh after Wednesday’s overwhelming majority in support for the bill.

“Our city is directly confronting a crisis that is driving working New Yorkers into poverty and our streets into gridlock,” de Blasio also said in his statement.

“The unchecked growth of app-based for-hire vehicle companies has demanded action – and now we have it,” the Mayor added.

If the new legislation succeeds in achieving its goal of easing congestion and improving the plight of drivers, it could well set the tone for similar action in other U.S. cities that are reeling under the influx of ride-hail vehicles, as well.

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From The Editors Technology

Uber Showcases “Flying Car” Prototype for its Air Taxi Service – UberAir

San Francisco-based ride-hailing company Uber took the wraps off its latest ‘flying car’ prototype at the second Uber Elevate Summit, today, in a bid to showcase the aircraft that will make up the fleet of UberAir – the company’s airborne taxi service it is endeavoring to launch in the next 2-5 years.

The VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) capable aircraft will ferry paying passengers to and from skyports, which the company plans to build a network of on building rooftops.

“We want to create the network around those vehicles so that regular people can take these taxis in the air for longer distances when they want to avoid traffic at affordable prices,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told CBS.

According to Uber officials, the skyports will be designed and equipped to handle around 200 takeoffs and landings per hour, which works out to one every 24 seconds.

While the initial phase of UberAir will involve piloted air taxis, they will be phased out over a period of time and replaced with self-flying, or autonomous, versions.

The prototype, which looks something like a cross between a winged aircraft and a helicopter, gets its lift from four stacked rotors fitted atop wings, while a fifth rotor on the tail of the machine provides the propulsion.

“Stacked co-rotating rotors or propellers have two rotor systems placed on top of each other rotating in the same direction,” says Uber.

“Initial experimentation of this concept has revealed the potential for significantly quieter performance than traditional paired rotors and improved overall performance.”

In the event of a rotor failure, the other rotors will compensate to ensure a safe landing, making the “flying cab” a safer bet than the single-rotor helicopter, claims the company.

Not only is it safer than a chopper, it is eco-friendly as well, running on electricity and not fuel.

Capable of flying 1,000 to 2,000 feet above terra firma at a cruising speed of up to 200mph, these Teslas of the skies, if you will, are much quieter, more efficient, and certainly more cost-effective than your conventional helicopter.

And, once pilots are phased out, UberAir will become cheaper still to operate and consequently more affordable for passengers.

Khosrowshahi told CBS that the four-riders-per-taxi arrangement would reduce the cost per ride, making it affordable for the common man.

“One of the key tenants of this technology is for us to have four riders in each vehicle so that, essentially, the cost per ride goes down to a combination of mass market and sharing, which is really what Uber is all about,” he said.

“Can bring this to the masses – can make it affordable for normal people,” added the Uber chief.

Khosrowshahi envisions this as an app-based service, allowing would be passengers to call an air taxi using the Uber app and reach the nearest skyport at the scheduled time for a pickup.

“The eCRM design is pedestrian friendly, as the propeller blades are as high as possible, leaving ample room for individuals to board and de-plane without having to duck,” Uber explained in a Tuesday statement.

“The high placement of the wings provide shaded entry into the cabin, shielding riders from light rain as they board. Finally, point of entry into the eCRMs is limited to one side, simplifying ground crew operations and reducing confusion for riders when they approach their eVTOL vehicle,” the statement further said.

In February last year, Uber hired the services of Mark Moore – an aeronautical engineer with 30 years experience as a conceptual design engineer of advanced aircraft at NASA – to head the company’s Uber Elevate project.

“I can’t think of another company in a stronger position to be the leader for this new ecosystem and make the urban electric VTOL market real,” Moore told Bloomberg at the time.

In 2010, Mark Moore, researched and published a white paper on the feasibility of electric aircraft with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities.

It inspired Larry Page of Google fame to secretly start and finance Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk – two Silicon Valley startups – to develop the technology, as was reported by Bloomberg Businessweek the year before.

Uber is believed to have impressed Moore with its own white paper on VTOL technology; technical hurdles that needed overcoming; and its long-term vision of taking everyday commute to the air, with the intention of providing noise-free and eco-friendly rapid commute to its customers.

“On-demand aviation has the potential to radically improve urban mobility, giving people back time lost in their daily commutes. Uber is close to the commute pain that citizens in cities around the world feel. We view helping to solve this problem as core to our mission and our commitment to our rider base,” Uber had said in its Uber Elevate white paper of October 27, 2016.

The “flying cars” for UberAir will be developed by Uber engineers in collaboration with reputed aircraft manufacturers like Embraer, Bell and Aurora Flight Services.

Meanwhile, under a new Space Act agreement between Uber and NASA – their second – the space agency will conduct studies on low-altitude air traffic issues, in the Dallas area.

NASA confirmed the signing of the second agreement in a Tuesday statement saying that it was intended to “further explore concepts and technologies related to urban air mobility.”

“Urban air mobility could revolutionize the way people and cargo move in our cities and fundamentally change our lifestyle much like smartphones have,” said Jaiwon Shin, who is part of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.

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From The Editors Technology

Uber Hard-Pressed into Selling Southeast Asia Operations to Singapore-based Grab 

San Francisco-based Uber Technologies Inc. is going ahead with its decision to sell its ride-hailing and food delivery businesses to Southeast Asian powerhouse Grab.

Reports suggest that the deal, which has already been finalized, ensures a 27.5 percent stake for Uber in the Singapore-based company, along with a place for CEO Dara Khosrowshahi on Grab’s board. The value aspect of the acquisition is not in the public domain, yet.

In addition to Singapore, Grab’s business interests encompass neighboring Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia – a region of 620 million potential customers.

Khosrowshahi attributes this most recent Uber retreat to the company’s unprecedented growth in the region over the past few years, saying that it would allow the company to channel its resources towards developing better products and technology to cater to the growing needs of the global customer.

“This deal is a testament to Uber’s exceptional growth across Southeast Asia over the last five years. It will help us double down on our plans for growth as we invest heavily in our products and technology to create the best customer experience on the planet,” Khosrowshahi said.

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It must be mentioned that this is Uber’s third exit from a regional market, having sold its China business to local rival Didi Chuxing in 2016, and its Russian end of operations to Yandex, as recently as the end of last year.

It would appear that Uber is selling off its overseas operations as part of a larger plan to avoid head-on collisions with strong regional rivals.

‘If you can’t beat them, join them,’ seems to be the way the company is going, and Khosrowshahi kind of acknowledges that in his letter to Uber employees.

“It is fair to ask whether consolidation is now the strategy of the day, given this is the third deal of its kind, from China to Russia and now Southeast Asia. The answer is no,” he wrote.

“One of the potential dangers of our global strategy is that we take on too many battles across too many fronts and with too many competitors. This transaction now puts us in a position to compete with real focus and weight in the core markets where we operate, while giving us valuable and growing equity stakes in a number of big and important markets where we don’t,” he added.

In another merger-related email to his team, Khosrowshahi portrays the deal as well worth Uber’s while.

The merger, according to him, is a winning combination that translates to a stake worth billions of dollars in the Southeast Asian company, after a relatively meager investment of $700 million.

“After investing $700 million in the region, we will hold a stake worth several billion dollars, and strategic ownership in what we believe will be the winner in an important global region,” said the Uber boss.

Khosrowshahi may want to make it look like all’s hunky-dory with his company, but the fact remains that the latest Uber acquisition is more of a triumph for Grab and its biggest shareholder SoftBank Group Corp., which has a stake in Uber, as well.

Karishma Vaswani, BBC’s Asia business correspondent hits the nail on the head, as she notes that “Uber is keen to push the message that this isn’t a retreat from South East Asia – that instead, this is a merger of equals – a partnership of sorts,” going on to suggest that regardless of how substantial Uber’s stake is, abandoning three markets does raise a few eyebrows.

Experts feel that Uber’s withdrawal from three potentially lucrative long-term markets is a quick-moneymaking tactic ahead of its plans to go public in 2019.

“Uber is now under pressure to move towards making money for a 2019 IPO, which has been promised to shareholders,” wrote John Colley, of Warwick Business School. “In China, Russia and now South East Asia it has been out-flanked by local competition with better local knowledge and connections.”

So, are we looking at similar Uber withdrawals from other regional markets as well?

Is India, which accounts for 10 percent of Uber’s global ride business, the next in line for a massive merger?

Well, with the SoftBank Group’s substantial stake, not only in Uber but a number of its competitors as well, including India’s own ride-hailing app Ola Cabs, it would be in the Japanese conglomerate’s interest to push for an Ola-Uber merger.

Grab CEO Anthony Tan had this to say about his company’s potentially lucrative grab: “Today’s acquisition marks the beginning of a new era. The combined business is the leader in platform and cost efficiency in the region.”

Previously headquartered in Malaysia, Grab has been running its operations from Singapore ever since it shifted base to the small but affluent island republic in 2014.

During the course of its relatively short existence, the company has grown into a formidable ride-hailing force in the region, recently valued at $6 billion.

Said to be one of Southeast Asia’s hottest start-ups, Grab offers a decent range of ride-hailing services, like the GrabTaxi, GrabCar, GrabBike, GrabHitch, GrabExpress, and GrabPay, in nearly 200 cities across eight countries.

The company boasts App downloads in excess of 86 million, which is likely to increase exponentially, given the takeover of Uber’s activities in the region.

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From The Editors

Self-Driving Vehicle Claims Its First Pedestrian in a Fatal Crash in Arizona

An Arizona woman was hit by a self-driving Uber-owned Volvo in what appears to be the first fatal crash involving an autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian.

Tempe police have confirmed that the vehicle was in autonomous mode when it mowed down the unfortunate woman, although there was a human safety driver behind the wheel.

“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident,” Uber said in a tweeted statement.

The San Francisco-based ride-hailing company said it was suspending all operations involving its self-driving vehicles in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto with immediate effect.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has regretted the unfortunate loss of life, saying that the company’s thoughts were with the victim’s family and that Uber was cooperating with the Tempe authorities in the investigations.

“Some incredibly sad news out of Arizona. We’re thinking of the victim’s family as we work with local law enforcement to understand what happened,” Khosrowshahi said on his Twitter page.

https://twitter.com/dkhos/status/975778435455995905

Police said that 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was walking outside of the crosswalk while crossing the road when she was run over by the Volvo in Tempe, Arizona, at around 10 pm Sunday night.

“The vehicle was traveling northbound … when a female walking outside of the crosswalk crossed the road from west to east when she was struck by the Uber vehicle,” said the police statement.

Sgt. Ronald Elcock, who had watched the so far unreleased-to-the-public footage of the crash, said at a Monday presser that the Uber Volvo was doing some 40 mph when it hit Herzberg.

44-year-old Rafael Vasquez – the safety driver behind the wheel at the time – was unhurt and was cooperating with the law enforcement officials.

While Elaine Herzberg may have been the first pedestrian fatality involving an autonomous vehicle, she is definitely not the only per se.

Back in 2016, a man was killed at the wheel of a Tesla vehicle when he failed to heed the vehicle’s safety alerts to take back control of the car, which was in autopilot mode when it crashed into the truck that had cut across its path.

It goes without saying that Sunday’s accident will – and, not for the first time – get skeptic tongues wagging against the practicality of self-driving ventures, which the makers just about guarantee would actually save many, many lives on the roads.

Their argument – and a valid one at that – is that self-driving vehicles would take human error, such as drunk driving or dozing off at the wheel, to name a couple, out of the equation, altogether.

It, however, remains to be seen how soon the makers can achieve the required perfection to make the technology a viable and safe option.

“There will no doubt be an exhaustive investigation,” noted Akshay Anand, an analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

“It’s clear is that this has the potential to severely impact public perceptions of autonomous technology, and should be handled with utmost prudence by regulators, authorities and the industry alike,” he said.

John M Simpson, privacy and technology project director at Consumer Watchdog, said the collision highlighted the need for tighter regulations governing this still teething technology.

“The robot cars cannot accurately predict human behavior, and the real problem comes in the interaction between humans and the robot vehicles,” said John M Simpson – Consumer Watchdog’s project director for privacy and technology.

The non-profit advocacy group for consumers and taxpayers has demanded a national moratorium on autonomous vehicle testing on public roads, at least, until all investigations are complete and conclusions arrived at.

“There should be a national moratorium on all robot car testing on public roads until the complete details of this tragedy are made public and are analyzed by outside experts so we understand what went so terribly wrong,” said Simpson.

“Arizona has been the wild west of robot car testing with virtually no regulations in place.  That’s why Uber and Waymo test there. When there’s no sheriff in town, people get killed,” he added.

According to Consumer Watchdog, the Arizona accident highlights the areas of concern in the autonomous vehicle technology, at least in so far as the vehicle’s ability to safely deal with pedestrians, cyclists and other self-driving or human-driven vehicles is concerned.

“If robot cars are already killing people even with the presence of a human driver in the car, how lethal are these technologies going to be next month when they will roam public roads without a human onboard ready to take control?” asked Sahiba Sindhu, a consumer advocate at Consumer Watchdog.

“Disengagement reports” released by twenty companies this year reveal that robot cars need human-intervention after 5,596 miles – at best, which is not always the case, as most cars cannot make it beyond a few hundred miles without needing a human to take over the driving responsibilities, says Consumer Watchdog.

Regardless of these reports, the California DMV has gone ahead and given its nod to robot cars hitting the roads without a human safety driver behind the wheel, as early as next month.

“If robot cars are already killing people even with the presence of a human driver in the car, how lethal are these technologies going to be next month when they will roam public roads without a human onboard ready to take control?” questioned Sahiba Sindhu, an advocate at Consumer Watchdog.

An email conversation between Travis Kalanick, former Uber CEO, and robot car developer Anthony Levandowski – revealed in the recent Uber-Waymo court case – clear shows the insensitivity of the parties involved with regard to safety standards.

“I just see this as a race and we need to win, second place is first loser” reads one email sent by Levandowski in March 2016, and in another message, sent the same day, he writes, “We do need to think through the strategy to take all the shortcuts we can find.”

Simpson says that public roads are not Uber’s private laboratories and it cannot go on endangering people’s lives. Safety parameters and regulations need to be put in place and met with before such tests should be allowed.

“Uber simply cannot be trusted to use public roads as private laboratories without meaningful safety standards and regulations,” Simpson said.

One is forced to conclude that the two fatalities are an indicator that a lot of fine-tuning to the autonomous vehicle technology is still required before we can trust it with our lives.

Mr. Khosrowshahi, Mr. Musk and others have some serious work ahead of them before autonomous vehicles can even get close to becoming a full-fledged reality of our streets and highways.

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From The Editors Technology

Uber’s Autonomous Big Rigs are Hauling Cargo across Arizona

Uber announced Tuesday that it has been using its long-haul self-driving trucks since November last year to make actual delivery runs across Arizona for its ‘Uber Freight’ customers.

‘Uber Freight’ is basically a free app launched last year with the purpose of connecting shippers with carriers.

‘Uber Freight’ app that matches carriers with shippers (photo: Uber Freight)
‘Uber Freight’ app that matches carriers with shippers (photo: Uber Freight)

Following the completion of the testing phase, Uber contracted conventional trucking companies as part of its plan to complete the three-stage freight delivery sequence.

Here’s how it works:

A conventional, human-driven truck picks up the merchandise from the shipper’s address and makes a short-haul trip to a transfer hub, the Topock weigh station on the California-Arizona border being one of them.

The cargo trailer is then linked-up with one of Uber’s fleet of self-driving trucks for the long haul journey across the state to another transfer hub. Here again, a conventional truck takes over from the autonomous rig for the final short-haul to the intended destination.

While an Uber safety-driver is on board the autonomous truck all through the long haul, his job does not entail driving the vehicle; he is there, primarily, to keep an eye on the monitors and ensure things are going according to plan. However, certain situations, like accidents or construction zones, may require the onboard driver’s intervention.

Other than Uber’s Advanced Technology Group’s disclosure that its autonomous fleet has run a combined two million miles, the company has not been very forthcoming in so far as the strength of the fleet, the number of autonomous hauls it has made, or the type of cargo it has been hauling are concerned.

Uber is working towards reaching its eventual goal of making the entire three-stage delivery process seamless and continuous, according to Alden Woodrow, Uber’s product lead for self-driving trucks.

“We’re not at the point where that system is running 24-7 at all times,” Woodrow said. “But that’s the direction that we’d like to get to.”

Woodrow also said that the company has been concentrating all its efforts, for a while now, in fine-tuning the technology involved.

“We’re building something that solves problems in the industry … and also makes truck drivers’ lives easier and better,” he said.

Woodrow said that keeping the human-driven hauls short and localized will allow drivers to make money, without having to drive long distances away from home.

“The big step for us recently is that we can plan to haul goods in both directions, using Uber Freight to coordinate load pickups and dropoffs with local truckers,” said Woodrow. “Keeping trucking local allows these drivers to make money while staying closer to home.”

It must be mentioned that Uber is not single in its pursuit of perfecting the autonomous truck technology, what with start-ups like Embark and Convoy also vying for a piece of the $700 billion pie accounting for 70% percent of nation’s domestic cargo; not to mention Tesla, also looking to make forays into the lucrative freight business with its all-new Tesla Semi unveiled in November last year by company CEO Elon Musk.

Silicon Valley, California-based Embark, which has been hauling refrigerators between its home state and Texas since the latter part of 2017, successfully achieved a 2400-mile coast-to-coast autonomous trip from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Florida, as recently as last month. The trip lasted for five hours, which included rest stops for the accompanying driver.

Seattle-based Convoy, on the other hand, has managed to raise $62 million for an Uber Freight-like app that connects shippers with trucking companies.

Woodrow, however, does not envision Uber managing an autonomous fleet all on its own, which, basically, means that the company may be thinking in terms of selling its technology to established players in the trucking business.

“Today we’re operating our own trucks, but in the future it remains to be seen what happens,” he said. “Trucking is a very large and sophisticated business with a lot of companies in the value chain who are good at what they do. So our desire is to partner.”

Now that Uber’s self-driving fleet seems to be on the right path in Arizona, the company will be looking forward to extending its reach to other states, as well, by building more Topock-like transfer hubs across the country, linking the local-haul drivers to the autonomous long-haul routes.

The reason why Uber can’t undertake the entire end-to-end haul autonomously is that the technology isn’t capable of handling the complex and crowded streets in an urban scenario – yet. Hence, the need for local haul drivers.

“Because we are still in research and development mode, the capabilities are changing all the time,” Woodrow said. “In general, the trucks are pretty capable of driving on the highway, and that’s what we’re designing them for.”

In the past, Uber has had a few brushes with the authorities in so far as its autonomous vehicle program is concerned – like, for instance, when it tested its self-driving cars on the streets of San Francisco without a permit, and when it attracted a lawsuit from Google for allegedly stealing the tech giant’s self-driving car technology.

However, after Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi replaced former CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick, the company has adopted a by-the-book policy.

“Arizona has become a hub for testing of self-driving vehicles,” said Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. “And we welcome continued innovation and testing of new technologies.”

Here’s the long and the short of the Uber hauls:

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From The Editors Health

UBER HEALTH: Uber’s New Ride-Hailing Service to Address Patient Transportation Woes

In a move that the company is confident will change, if not revolutionize, the way non-emergency patients commute to and from healthcare providers, Uber announced the launch of its new ride-hailing platform “Uber Health,” on Thursday (March 1).

The HIPAA-compliant platform, tailored to suit the healthcare industry, will work along the lines of UberCENTRAL that allows the company’s business customers to provide transportation to their clientele through the service.

While Uber may have come a long way in so far as addressing transportation woes of different sections of society is concerned, it had not channelled its resources on an issue that the company admits is “vital to all of us: health” – well, not until its Thursday announcement that it was taking the healthcare transportation bull by the horns.

Healthcare stats reveal that a whopping 3.6 million non-emergency patients in the country fail to turn up for their doctor appointments because of the lack of consistently dependable transportation.

Jamie Gier, Chief Marketing Officer at SCI Solutions, wrote in April of last year that the U.S. Healthcare system had to bear the financial brunt of missed medical appointments to the tune of $150 billion each year.

“Each open, unused time slot costs a physician 60 minutes and $200 on average. Now factor in that no-show rates are as high as 30% nationwide, and you can see how that $150 billion figure is reached,” Gier wrote.

“With so many high-tech, digital reminders at our disposal, you may wonder how such an expensive and potentially dangerous problem exists. A missed medical appointment could pose serious health risks for patients as it could mean the difference between catching a disease early on or too late. In addition, an inefficient scheduling process can wreak havoc and raise stress levels for both a health systems’ staff and patients,” she added.

With a 30% no-show rate across the country, it was imperative that Uber harnessed its ample resources, sooner rather than later, to conquer the transportation barrier in this vital area of concern.

“There are a lot of people out there who are not going to the doctor simply because they can’t physically make it there,” says Uber Health’s head of partnerships Jay Holley.

Uber Health seeks to partner with healthcare providers, including hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, senior care facilities, home care centers, and the likes, in order to allow these caregivers access to the “Uber Health” dashboard for ordering rides on behalf of patients, to and from their appointments.

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As a matter of fact, more than 100 such setups are already participating in the beta program of this healthcare-dedicated platform, including the likes of Adams Clinical, Blood Centers of the Pacific, Georgetown Home Care, LifeBridge Health, MedStar Health, Manhattan Women’s Health, to name a few.

In addition to the Uber Health dashboard, the company is also introducing a platform-specific API (application programming interface) to allow smooth integrations of Uber Health into existing healthcare products.

What is really appealing about this platform is the fact that it bypasses the need for an Uber app, or even a smartphone for that matter, keeping in mind that there are many patients out there who do not own smartphones, or find apps a bit too complicated for their understanding.

Healthcare representatives will be able to book rides on behalf of patients through the Uber Health dashboard and text them the trip details, or call them on their mobiles or landlines with the information, thereby taking the app and smartphone out of the equation.

Aware of the fact that there will be many whose “first ever Uber ride will be through Uber Health,” the company has pledged its commitment to “providing the necessary educational tools that ensure every patient feels comfortable and at ease during their journey,”

The service also affords healthcare coordinators the flexibility to book rides starting immediately, or up to a month in advance, not only on behalf of patients but caregivers and employees as well.

“Coordinators can schedule rides on behalf of patients, caregivers and staff to take place immediately, within a few hours, or up to 30 days in advance,” says Uber Health General Manager Chris Weber.

“This allows for transportation to be scheduled for follow-up appointments while still at the healthcare facility. Multiple rides can be scheduled and managed at the same time, all from a single dashboard.”

Uber Health promises an equally uncomplicated business model in terms of billing and management, charging its healthcare business partners only for the rides they schedule, with free access to the dashboard and other related tools, such as billing statements, appointments etc.

“Organizations can easily keep track of what they’re spending on rides. Reporting on requested rides and viewing monthly billing statements, appointments, and scheduling reports is simple,” says Weber.

Organizations looking to pass on the cost of the rides to the patients availing them will have to come up with their own system of charging them.

As already mentioned, Uber Health will work in compliance with HIPAA – the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 to safeguard the privacy and security of information and data related to the health of patients.

Jay Holley assures that the data of patients will be “cordoned off,” with only a selected few having access to such information.

“To ensure Uber Health meets HIPAA standards, we have been working hard to develop, implement, and customize numerous safeguards,” Weber reassures. “We also worked with Clearwater Compliance, a leading HIPAA compliance company, to conduct comprehensive risk and compliance assessments. We are thus pleased to sign Business Associate Agreements (BAAs) with our healthcare partners.”

However, considering the fact that Uber was the victim of a 2016 cyber attack, which resulted in the exposure of data related to 57 million riders and drivers, apprehensions over 100 percent security will remain; more so, because of cover-up allegations against the company.

“Even if a platform is HIPAA-compliant, providers risk potential imposition of stiff penalties for data breaches, and business associate agreements should be implemented between providers and ridesharing companies,” wrote Carlton Fields’ consultants in a 2016 report titled “Offering Ridesharing Services to Patients: Uber Risky?”

It must be mentioned that “Uber Health” is not, by any means, the first of its kind, as a similar service called Concierge is being offered by Uber competitor Lyft. The service allows healthcare providers to arrange rides for patients to help them keep their medical appointments.

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From The Editors Technology

Uber’s Petition to Block English Language Test for Drivers in the U.K Rejected by Court

Uber, the San Francisco-based ride-hailing cab company, has lost its case against Transport for London (TfL) to remove the mandatory English Language test requirement for private hire drivers in the U.K., a major setback for the company which could result in the grounding of thousands of its drivers.

Uber initiated the court proceedings in August against the TfL imposed rule which demands that drivers should be able to prove their ability to communicate in English, with a set standard of reading and writing which Uber argued was too high for drivers to meet.

According to the cab app company, the test is rather “unfair and disproportionate, ” and it would appeal against the high court decision.

Well, as far as the new ruling goes it’s not that Uber has been singled out – it is applicable to all minicab companies in London.

While admitting that the TfL regulation could well mean 40,000 drivers failing the test over three years, Judge John Mitting rejected Uber’s petition saying “TfL are entitled to require private hire drivers to demonstrate English language compliance.” He also said that TfL had no workable alternative to the rule.

It must be mentioned here that the required English Language test costs £200 per appearance and lasts for two hours with a 120-word essay being part of the test.

Tom Elvidge, Uber General Manager in London, said: “While we are glad the court agreed with us on the other measures TfL tried to impose, this is a deeply disappointing outcome for tens of thousands of drivers who will lose their livelihoods because they cannot pass an essay writing test.”

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“We’ve always supported spoken English skills, but writing an essay has nothing to do with communicating with passengers or getting them safely from A to B,” he added.

QC for Uber and the drivers, Tom de la Mare, appealed to the High Court judge that the mandatory English Language requirement would mean that over a period of three years as many as 70,000 drivers would fail to get their driver’s licence terming the language requirement as “somewhat contrived” and “incapable of justification.”

According to Uber it would have an adverse impact on drivers hailing from non-English-speaking countries and would give rise to feelings of “indirect discrimination on the grounds of race and nationality.”

TfL’s argument, on the other hand, was based on the premise that the ruling was necessary for passenger safety and to raise service standards.

“Drivers being able to speak English and understand information from passengers and licensing requirements is a vital part of ensuring passengers get the high level of service they need and deserve,” said Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London.

“TfL will, of course, look at the High Court judgment in detail to ensure all our policies fully comply.”

This could include discussing a better route, talking about a medical condition, or ensuring every driver is fully up to date with new regulations,” he added.

Sam Dumitriu, head of projects at the Adam Smith Institute, was critical of the ruling saying, “These tests are not only expensive but excessive, and will do little to improve public safety. We’ve already seen London taxi drivers of 20 years or more struggling with essay questions about the Aurora Borealis and snowboarding, do we need them to have read Shakespeare too?”

“There’s clearly no public interest here, only the interests of the vocal Black Cab Lobby. Sadiq Khan should listen to drivers and scrap them,” he said.

According to Uber, the judge ruled in its favor on three counts one of which was that a U.K. based call center was not binding on Uber.

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From The Editors Technology

Susan Fowler’s Exposure of Prevalent Sexism and Aggressive Work Culture at Uber – Enquiry Called by Company CEO

What was only whispered about in the corridors of Silicon Valley turned into a glaring reality this week when Susan Fowler, former site reliability engineer at Uber, revealed, in a blog post, the prevalent sexism and aggressive work culture at Uber.

Fowler in a detailed revelation wrote about her ordeal at the Uber workplace where she spent a year until she could take it no more and decided to join Stripe in January.

Sexual harassment at the hands of seniors, the indifference of the management, reluctance of the HR department to initiate action against perpetrators, and the extreme meritocracy driven work culture where good performance is rewarded with a blind eye to sexual harassment complaints and other misdemeanours, have all come crashing out into the open with her Feb 19 blog post.

“On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t,” Fowler wrote in the blog post. “It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screen shots of these chat messages and reported him to HR,” she added.

The HR, however, told her that he would be given “a warning and a stern talking- to” and that would be the end of the matter as it was his first such offense, while the upper management told her that it would not be right to punish him for “just an innocent mistake on his part” as he was a star performer.

Later, Fowler came to know from other women staff about similar advances they had endured at the hands of managers and that a few of them had been the target of the same manager she herself had reported. It was clearly evident that it was not the man’s first offense as HR had tried to show. It was a blatant acknowledgment of the “performance over ethics” culture prevailing at Uber.

About the extreme and unethical manipulations that managers and supervisors resorted to in order to up their individual careers, she wrote “It seemed like every manager was fighting their peers and attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so that they could have their direct supervisor’s job. No attempts were made by these managers to hide what they were doing: they boasted about it in meetings, told their direct reports about it, and the like.”

Following the candid revelations by Susan Fowler, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick got into damage control mode calling for an internal investigation into the allegations bringing in Arianna Huffington, board member, and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. to investigate the harassment accusations and the HR department.

To further control the damage, Kalanick made some more disclosures on Monday giving some stats in regards to the hiring percentage of women for engineering, product management, and scientist positions. According to him, 15.1 % of the aforementioned positions were occupied by women and that there was no meaningful change in the numbers over the preceding year.

The New York Times reports that on Tuesday, Kalanick called an “all-hands meeting” which lasted for 90 minutes. In the course of the meeting, Kalanick and other executives were bombarded with questions and appeals from shocked employees who acknowledged Fowler’s story and demanded deviation from current practices.

According to the New York Times, who got to review the video of the meeting, CEO Kalanick was all apologies at the meeting for having led the company and the culture to where they stand today. “What I can promise you is that I will get better every day,” he said. “I can tell you that I am authentically and fully dedicated to getting to the bottom of this.”

Some Uber employees seem to be happy with the urgency that Kalanick has displayed toward tackling the contentious issues and his keenness to correct them. “I am pleased with how quickly Travis has responded to this,” Aimee Lucido, an Uber software engineer, wrote in a blog post. “We are better situated to handle this sort of problem than we have ever been in the past.”

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From The Editors Technology

Uber Plans to Develop Flying Cars – Hires NASA Engineer to Head the Ambitious Project

While Elon Musk is thinking in subterranean terms with his tunneling obsession to ease traffic woes, Uber Technologies is looking upwards by hiring NASA’s advanced aircraft engineer of 30 years to head its Uber Elevate project, an ambitious but plausible endeavor to get its taxi services airborne.

In short, Uber has hired the veteran engineer to help develop flying cars – the future of commuting. His appointment as Uber Elevate’s director of engineering for aviation was announced Monday by Uber Technologies.

“I can’t think of another company in a stronger position to be the leader for this new ecosystem and make the urban electric VTOL market real,” Moore said in a statement to Bloomberg.

In 2010, Mark Moore, researched and published a white paper on the feasibility of electric aircraft with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities which inspired Larry Page of Google fame to secretly start and finance Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk, two Silicon Valley startups, to develop the technology as reported by Bloomberg Businessweek last year.

Uber is reported to have impressed Moore with its own white paper on VTOL technology, technical hurdles that needed overcoming, and its long-term vision of taking everyday commute to the air with the intention of providing noise-free and eco-friendly rapid commute to its customers.

Uber
Uber

“Uber continues to see its role as an accelerant-catalyst to the entire ecosystem, and we are excited to have Mark joining us to work with manufacturers and stakeholders as we continue to explore the use case described in our whitepaper,” Nikhil Goel, Uber’s head of advanced programs, said in a statement to TechCrunch.

A progressive company, known for revolutionizing the taxi industry by connecting self-employed drivers with commuters, Uber is now testing self-driving cars in Phoenix and Pittsburgh after it faced a setback when a similar test in San Francisco was judged illegal. And now it has its sight set on an eco-friendly airborne transportation service.

“It could change cities and how we work and live,” Uber’s product head, Jeff Holden, had said last year. “We want to offer our customers as many options as possible to move around.”

“On-demand aviation has the potential to radically improve urban mobility, giving people back time lost in their daily commutes. Uber is close to the commute pain that citizens in cities around the world feel. We view helping to solve this problem as core to our mission and our commitment to our rider base,” says Uber in its Uber Elevate white paper of October 27, 2016.

Uber’s plans to offer an on-demand airborne taxi service through a fleet of electric aircraft or, colloquially speaking, flying cars that will be VTOL capable and travel 100 miles per charge at a maximum air speed of 150 mph seems to have taken off vertically with the hiring of Mr. Moore.