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Elon Musk’s Las Vegas Loop might only carry a fraction of the passengers it promised

In pandemic-free years, America’s biggest trade show, CES, attracts more than 170,000 attendees, bringing traffic that jams surrounding roads day and night. To help absorb at least some of the congestion, the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) last year planned a people-mover to serve an expanded campus. The LVCC wanted transit that could move up to 4,400 attendees every hour between exhibition halls and parking lots.

It considered traditional light rail that could shuttle hundreds of attendees per train, but settled on an underground system from Elon Musk’s The Boring Company (TBC) instead — largely because Musk’s bid was tens of millions of dollars cheaper. The LVCC Loop would transport attendees through two 0.8-mile underground tunnels in Tesla vehicles, four or five at a time. 

But planning files reviewed by TechCrunch seem to show that the Loop system will not be able to move anywhere near the number of people LVCC wants, and that TBC agreed to.

Fire regulations peg the occupant capacity in the load and unload zones of one of the Loop’s three stations at just 800 passengers an hour. If the other stations have similar limitations, the system might only be able to transport 1,200 people an hour — around a quarter of its promised capacity. 

If TBC misses its performance target by such a margin, Musk’s company will not receive more than $13 million of its construction budget — and will face millions more in penalty charges once the system becomes operational. 

Neither TBC nor LVCVA responded to multiple requests for comment. 

Fire regulations limit the load/unload zone near the cars to 800 people per hour. Credit: TBC/Clark County

The LVCC always realized that it was taking a gamble on the Loop. Although Musk built a short demonstration tunnel near Los Angeles, this would be the first public system with real customers and service requirements. An analysis by Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman in May 2019 concluded that TBC’s unproven system presented a high risk for the LVCC’s parent body, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor’s Authority (LVCVA).

So when the LCVCA wrote its contract with The Boring Company, it did its best to incentivize Musk to deliver on his promises. The contract would be for a fixed price, and TBC would have to hit specific milestones to receive all of its payments. When the bare tunnels are completed, which could happen any day now, TBC will have earned just over 30% of the total. The next big milestone is the completion of the entire working system, which would result in a pay-out of over $10 million. 

That was scheduled to have happened by October 1, so that the system would be ready for the next CES show in January. Although CES 2021 has now gone virtual and there is less time pressure on Musk to deliver, he presumably still wants to get paid. 

In a tweet this week, Elon Musk wrote that the system would be open in “maybe a month or so. Some finishing touches need to be done on the stations.”

After another milestone for the completion of a test period and safety report, the system’s final three milestones relate to how many passengers it can carry. If the Loop can demonstrate moving 2,200 passengers an hour, TBC will get $4.4 million, then the same payment again for hitting 3,300, and the same again for 4,400 passengers an hour. Together, these capacity payments represent 30% of the fixed price contract. 

Even if TBC achieved those numbers during testing, the LVCVA was worried that it might not be able to maintain them once the system was operational, so it inserted yet another requirement: “[TBC] acknowledges liquidated damages are applicable for [TBC’s] failure to provide System Capacity for Full Facility Trade Show Events.” 

For each large trade show that TBC fails to transport an average capacity of 3,960 passengers per hour for 13 hours, it will have to pay LVCVA $300,000 in damages. If TBC keeps falling short, it keeps paying, up to a maximum of $4.5 million. 

So what is stopping TBC from transporting as many people as both it and the LVCC wants? There are national fire safety rules for underground transit systems that specify alarms, sprinklers, emergency exits and a maximum occupant load, to avoid overcrowding in the event of a fire.

Building plans submitted by The Boring Company include a fire code analysis for one of the Loop’s above-ground stations: 

Image source: The Boring Company/Clark County NV

The above screenshot from the plans notes that the area where passengers get into and out of the Tesla cars has a peak occupancy load of 100 people every 7.5 minutes, equivalent to 800 passengers an hour. Even if the other stations had higher limits, this would limit the system’s hourly capacity to about 1,200 people. 

“That sounds correct,” says Glenn Corbett, a professor of security, fire and emergency management at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “But if that’s the bottleneck, the question from a safety standpoint is, what controls that [800 per hour]? Is it just pure honesty and people following the rules, or is there a mechanical thing that keeps them out?” 

The plans do not show any turnstiles or barriers to limit entry.

Even without the safety restrictions, the Loop may struggle to hit its capacity goals. Each of the 10 bays at the Loop’s stations must handle hundreds of passengers an hour, corresponding to perhaps 100 or more arrivals and departures, depending on how many people each car is carrying. That leaves little time to load and unload people and luggage, let alone make the 0.8-mile journey and occasionally recharge. 

Although TBC’s Loop website says that the system will use autonomous vehicles, a TBC executive told a planning committee last year that the cars would have human drivers “for additional safety.” TBC had proposed developing a larger capacity autonomous shuttle for the Loop, capable of carrying up to 16 people. The latest plans all show traditional sedans, however, and another Musk tweet this week admitted: “We simplified this a lot. It’s basically just Teslas in tunnels at this point.”

The most recent documents filed by TBC also show changes to the Loop’s original design.

Gone are striking curved roofs, with both aboveground stations now having flat photovoltaic canopies to help charge the Tesla vehicles. These terminal stations each have a single Supercharger station, and a “showpiece sculpture” consisting of a concrete segment similar to those used in the tunnels below.

The central, subterranean station has a large, open platform, and also houses the electrical, fire safety and IT equipment. Each station will have bays for 10 Tesla vehicles to load and unload passengers. 

Even before the first Loop is operating, TBC is planning two more Loop tunnels nearby, connecting the LVCC to the Wynn Encore and Resorts World casinos.

The tunnel to the Encore is long enough that safety regulations require an emergency exit about halfway along. Plans indicate an emergency egress shaft and a small hatch, but it is unclear whether passengers escaping a fire or breakdown would be expected to climb stairs or even a ladder.

Loop extension egress. Image source: The Boring Company/Clark County NV

TBC last year suggested an emergency ladder for its proposed Loop between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., a system that Corbett called “the definition of insanity,” as it did not account for passengers with limited mobility. That project is now on pause

TBC’s stated aim is to expand the LVCC Loop from a local people mover to a Vegas-wide transit system serving the Strip, the airport and eventually extending all the way to Los Angeles. If the company struggles to deliver capacity — and revenue — from its small-scale Convention Center system, the future of those ambitions could be in doubt. 

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Decrypted: Hackers show off their exploits as Black Hat goes virtual

Every year hackers descend on Las Vegas in the sweltering August heat to break ground on security research and the most innovative hacks. This year was no different, even if it was virtual.

To name a few: Hackers tricked an ATM to spit out cash. A duo of security researchers figured out a way to detect the latest cell site simulators. Car researchers successfully hacked into a Mercedes-Benz. A Windows bug some two decades old can be used to plant malware. Cryptocurrency exchanges were extremely vulnerable to hackers for a time. Internet satellites are more insecure than we thought and their data streams can contain sensitive, unencrypted data. Two security researchers lived to tell the tale after they were arrested for an entirely legal physical penetration test. And, a former NSA hacker revealed how to plant malware on a Mac using a booby-trapped Word document.

But with less than three months until millions of Americans go to the polls, Black Hat sharpened its focus on election security and integrity more so than any previous year.

Here’s more from the week.


THE BIG PICTURE

A major voting machine maker is finally opening up to hackers

The relationship between hackers and election machine manufacturers has been nothing short of fraught. No company wants to see their products torn apart for weaknesses that could be exploited by foreign spies. But one company, once resistant to the security community, has started to show signs of compromise.

Election equipment maker ES&S is opening up its voting machines to hackers — willingly — under a new vulnerability disclosure program. That will see the company embrace hackers for the first time, recognizing that hackers have knowledge, insight and experience — rather than pushing them away and ignoring the problems altogether. Or, as the company’s security chief told Wired: “Hackers gonna hack, researchers gonna research.”

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Aptiv’s self-driving cars have given 100,000 paid rides on the Lyft app

What started out as a temporary pilot project to test a robotaxi service in Las Vegas has turned into a multi-year partnership between self-driving software company Aptiv and Lyft and a new milestone that suggests the operation is ramping up.

The companies announced Tuesday that they’ve given 100,000 paid rides in Aptiv’s self-driving vehicles via the Lyft app.

“To our knowledge this is the largest open-to-the-public commercial pilot,” Aptiv Autonomous Mobility President Karl Iagnemma said in a recent interview. “To me this partnership is a great example of the next-generation ecosystem at work.”

The milestone has a few important caveats. Aptiv’s self-driving vehicles — which initially began with BMW 5 series — have a human safety driver behind the wheel to take over if needed. The human driver operates the vehicle manually in parking lots and hotel lobby areas. 

The program, even if with those human safety drivers behind the wheel, has proven invaluable to the companies, according to Iagnemma and Jody Kelman, who leads the self-driving platform team at Lyft.

“We’ve got something here,” Kelman said. “This is really a blueprint for what future mobility partnerships can look like.”

Companies in this so-called “race” to commercially deploy on-demand ride-hailing services using self-driving vehicles must master more than the technical bits. Fleet management, real-time routing, and designing an approachable user interface are just a few critical components needed to operate a profitable robotaxi service.

The program has taught Aptiv how to “get and keep a fleet of autonomous vehicles on the road and keep them highly utilized,” Iagnemma said, later adding that this project positions Lyft and Aptiv to be major winners in this space. The companies also learned how to work with various regulatory bodies, in this case, with the city of Las Vegas, Clark County and the region’s transit authority.

Lyft and Aptiv first launched the pilot in January 2018 as a one-week experiment and then announced plans to extend the program. The program surpassed 5,000 self-driving rides by August and jumped to more than 25,000 paid autonomous rides by December 2018, all while maintaining an average passenger rating of 4.95 out of five stars, Aptiv said at the time. 

By May 2019, the companies reported they had given more than 50,000 paid self-driving rides in Las Vegas.

Aptiv’s investment in Las Vegas expanded as those ridership numbers grew. The company opened in December 2018 a 130,000-square-foot technical center in the city to house its fleet of autonomous vehicles as well as an engineering team dedicated to research and development of software and hardware systems, validation and mapping.

Source: TechCrunch

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At CES, Schneider Electric unveils its own upgrade to the traditional fusebox

As renewable energy and energy efficiency continue to make gains among cost-conscious consumers, more companies are looking at ways to give customers better ways to manage the electricity coming into their homes.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Schneider Electric unveiled its pitch to homeowners looking for a better power management system with the company’s Energy Center product.

Think of it as a competitor to products from startups like Span, which are attempting to offer homeowners better ways to integrate renewable energy power generation to their homes and provide better ways to route the electricity inside the home, according to Schneider Electric’s executive vice president for its Home and Distribution division, Manish Pant.

The new product is part of a broader range of Square D home energy management devices that Schneider is aiming at homeowners. The company provides a broad suite of energy management services and technologies to commercial, industrial and residential customers, but is making a more concerted effort into the U.S. residential market beginning in 2020, according to Pant.

Schneider will be looking to integrate batteries and inverters into its Energy Center equipment over the course of the year and is currently looking for partners.

In some ways, the home energy market is ripe for innovation. Fuse boxes haven’t changed in nearly 100 years and there are few startups looking to provide better ways to integrate and manage various sources for electricity generation and storage as they become more cost competitive.

Lumin, and Sense (which is backed by Schneider Energy) also have energy efficiency products they’re pitching to homeowners.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Source: TechCrunch

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All the high-tech, powerful vehicles TechCrunch reviewed in 2019

TechCrunch occasionally reviews cars. Why? Vehicles are some of the most complex, technical consumer electronics available. It’s always been that way. Vehicles, especially those available for the consumer, are the culmination of bleeding-edge advancements in computing, manufacturing, and material sciences. And some can go fast — zoom zoom.

Over the past 12 months, we’ve looked at a handful of vehicles from ultra-luxury to the revival of classic muscle cars. It’s been a fun year full of road trips and burnouts.


In the last weeks of 2018, we drove Audi’s first mass-produced electric vehicle. The familiar e-tron SUV.

I spent a day in an Audi e-tron and drove it hundreds of miles over Abu Dhabi’s perfect tarmac, around winding mountain roads and through sand-covered desert passes. The e-tron performs precisely how a buyer expects a mid-size Audi SUV to perform. On the road, the e-tron is eager and quiet, while off the road, over rocks, and through deep sand, it’s sturdy and surefooted.

Read the review here.

A few months later, we got an Audi RS 5 Sportback for a week. It was returned with significantly thinner tires.

This five-door sedan is raw and unhinged, and there’s an unnatural brutality under the numerous electronic systems. Its twin-turbo 2.9L power plant roars while the Audi all-wheel drive system keeps the rubber on the tarmac. It’s insane, and like most vacations, it’s lovely to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live with the RS 5.

Read the review here.

At the end of Spring, a 2019 Bentley Continental GT blew us away.

The machine glides over the road, powered by a mechanical symphony performing under the hood. The W12 engine is a dying breed, and it’s a shame. It’s stunning in its performance. This is a 200 mph vehicle, but I didn’t hit those speeds. What surprised me the most is that I didn’t need to go fast. The new Continental GT is thrilling in a way that doesn’t require speed. It’s like a great set of speakers or exclusive liquor. Quality over quantity, and in this mechanical form, the quality is stunning.

Read the review here.

In late May, we drove Audi’s 2019 Q8 from Michigan to New York City and back. To the passengers, it was comfortable. For the driver (me), it was unpleasant.

Yet after spending a lot of time in the Q8, I found it backwards. Most crossovers provide the comfort of a sedan with the utility of an SUV. This one has the rough comfort of an SUV with the limited utility of a sedan. Worse yet, driving the Q8 around town can be a frustrating experience.

Read the review here.

2019 bmw i8 1

The BMW i8 is a long for this world, so we took it out for one last spin, several years after reviewing it just after it was released.

The BMW i8 is just a stepping stone in BMW’s history. An oddball. It’s a limited-edition vehicle to try out new technology. From what I can tell, BMW never positioned the i8 as a top seller or market leader. It was an engineer’s playground. I love it.

Read the review here.

2020 gt500 3

This fall, we went to Las Vegas to get the first taste of Ford’s latest GT500. It’s exhilarating and yet manageable.

During my short time with the 2020 GT500, I never felt overwhelmed with power when driving it on city streets. The 2020 GT500 is an exercise in controlled restraint. Somehow this 760 HP Ford can hit 60 mph in 3.3 seconds and still be easy to putz around town. It’s surprising and a testament to the advances made within Dearborn.

Read the review here.

McLaren Senna GTR doors

Supercars are often an exercise in excess, and yet the McLaren Senna GTR is something different. It’s a testament to how McLaren operates.

Sliding into the driver’s seat, I feel at home. The cockpit is purposeful. The track was cold with some damp spots, and the GTR is a stiff, lightweight race car with immense power on giant slick tires. Conventional wisdom would suggest the driver — me in this case — should slowly work up to speed in these otherwise treacherous conditions. However, the best way to get the car to work is to get the temperature in the tires by leaning on it a bit right away. Bell sent me out in full “Race” settings for both the engine and electronic traction and stability controls. Within a few corners — and before the end of the lap — I had a good feel for the tuning of the ABS, TC, and ESC, which were all intuitive and minimally invasive.

Read the review here.

Quick thoughts on other cars we drove this year.

2020 BMW M850i xDrive Coupe
A grand tourer for the modest millionaire. With all-wheel drive, a glorious engine, and heated armrests, the 850i is exciting and comfortable anywhere.

2019 Ford GT350
Forget the GT500. The GT350, with a standard gearbox and naturally aspirated 5.2L V8, is a pony car that gives the driver more control and more thrills than its more expensive, supercharged cousin.

2020 BMW M2 Competition Coupe
This small BMW coupe is perfectly balanced. It’s powerful, controllable, and, during our week with it, gave endless thrills (and donuts). This was my favorite car this year.

2019 Ford Raptor
Need a pickup that’s faster than a sports car? You probably don’t, but if so, we discovered the Raptor was capable and enjoyable if not a bit unwieldy in traffic thanks to its wide body.

Source: TechCrunch