Transportation

  • The benefits, challenges of self-driving cars

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    Self-driving vehicles offer the promise of significant benefits to society, but raise several policy challenges, including the need to update insurance liability regulations and privacy concerns such as who will control the data generated by this technology, according to a new RAND Corporation study. Researchers suggest that a guiding principle for policymaking is to encourage the technology when the facts indicate clear societal advantages over the capabilities of the average human driver.

  • Volgograd train station bombing highlights need for more rail security

    The recent train station bombing in Volgograd, Russia has focused attention on the vulnerabilities of rail infrastructure. According to a recently published report by IHS, purchases of explosives, weapons, and contraband (EWC) detection equipment at rail stations worldwide is expected to increase by 3.3 percent in 2014, and 8.8 percent in 2015.

  • Student cannot sue TSA, FBI agents over airport detention for Arabic flashcards

    A student detained at Philadelphia International airport over his Arabic flashcards cannot sue the individual TSA and FBI agents who held him in custody, an appeals court has ruled. The student, double-majoring in physics and Middle Eastern studies, carried Arabic-English flashcards in his backpack. Most of the cards carried everyday words such as “nice”, “sad,” and “friendly.” Some of the cards, however, included words like “bomb,” “terrorist,” and “explosion.” Chief Judge Theodore McKee of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia noted that the student clearly had the right to have the materials, but “it is simply not reasonable to require TSA officials to turn a blind eye to someone trying to board an airplane carrying Arabic-English flashcards with words such as ‘bomb,’ ‘to kill,’ etc.” He added: “Rather, basic common sense would allow those officials to take reasonable and minimally intrusive steps to inquire into the potential passenger’s motivations.”

  • Air transportation data helps identify, predict pandemics

    Computational model demonstrates how disease spreads in a highly connected world. The computational work has led to a new mathematical theory for understanding the global spread of epidemics. The resulting insights could not only help identify an outbreak’s origin but could also significantly improve the ability to forecast the global pathways through which a disease might spread.

  • Airport scanner vendor failed to disclose use of Chinese components

    Recently TSA cancelled a $60 million contract with Rapiscan Systems, a manufacturer of anatomically revealing airport security scanners, after Rapiscan was found to be using unapproved Chinese components in its scanners – and failing to disclose this fact to TSA. Rapiscan, in bidding on the contract, submitted a list of U.S.-made components used in the scanners to the agency, as required by law. After the company received an approval of that list – and the $60 million contract – it ordered the same components from a Chinese company — the Shanghai Advanced Non-Destructive Testing – instructing the Chinese company to label the Chinese-made components with the same part numbers as the originally approved, U.S.-made components, apparently in an effort to make it more difficult for TSA inspectors to notice the illegal switch. Members of the House Homeland Security Committee, charging that the use of Chinese components made the machines susceptible to sabotage, disruption, or spying, want to know whether TSA was aware of Rapiscan’s shenanigans.

  • Airport screeners miss unusual – and possibly dangerous -- items

    A smartphone app that turns gamers into airport baggage screeners is showing that finding weapons and other illegal items is not all that easy, even when you are looking for them. Researchers analyzed data from searches of twenty million virtual suitcases in the game Airport Scanner created by Kedlin Co. and found that users failed in most cases to identify objects that occurred only rarely. The reason: Commonly found objects may be crowding out identification of the unusual items.

  • First no-fly list case goes to trial

    Rahinah Ibrahim, dean of the architecture and engineering school at the University of Malaysia, took to trial on Monday her claim against the U.S. government for wrongfully listing her on the government’s no-fly list. Ibrahim has sought to clear her name since January 2005, when she was arrested at San Francisco International Airport. Similar lawsuits are pending across the country, but Ibrahim’s case is the first to go to trial. Ibrahim claims she was mistakenly placed on the no-fly list due to her national origin and Muslim faith.

  • Existing airports through futuristic glass pods

    Two small Northeast airports, Syracuse and Atlantic City, have installed futuristic unmanned portals to replace security officers at the airports’ exit points. The move, which will add a few seconds to the end of passengers’ trips as they exit the airports, is estimated to save airports millions of dollars in wages over time.

  • Bottle scanning tech to enhance airport security, benefit passengers

    Los Alamos scientists have advanced a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology that may provide a breakthrough for screening liquids at airport security. They have added low-power X-ray data to the mix, and as a result have unlocked a new detection technology. Funded in part by the DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), the new system is named MagRay.

  • GAO says TSA’s costly behavioral detection program falls short

    The Government Accountability Office(GAO) said last week that DHS may have wasted $1 billion on the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program. SPOT aims to spot terrorists by detecting “anomalous” or suspicious behavior. The anomalous behavior – perspiration, fidgeting, restlessness – is supposed to be the result of high levels of stress, fear, or deception. Individuals who exhibit anomalous behavior are subject to additional security screening.

  • Drive-by charging: Advancing wireless power transfer for vehicles

    Researchers have developed new technology and techniques for transmitting power wirelessly from a stationary source to a mobile receiver — moving engineers closer to their goal of creating highway “stations” that can recharge electric vehicles wirelessly as the vehicles drive by.

  • Ann Arbor to offer residents networked, driverless cars by 2021

    By 2021, Ann Arbor could become the first American city with a shared fleet of networked, driverless vehicles. This is the goal of the Mobility Transformation Center, a cross-campus University of Michigan initiative that also involves government and industry representatives.

  • Unexpected pleasures: a new airport security-check experience

    If airport security checks cannot be made to move at a quicker pace, how about making them more comfortable, even pleasant? This is what a pilot project at the Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport’s Terminal E is trying to do. SpringHill Suites by Marriott has brought its hotel experience to E18 security check point, where passengers will now be welcomed by a stylish decor, soothing wall art, vibrant lighting, and relaxing ambient music in a setting that spans the entire checkpoint area. Lounge seating at the entrance and a furnished area for customers to gather their belongings after the screening process.

  • TSA tells airports to guard exit lanes

    The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has notified the nation’s airports that it will stop guarding the exit doors between arriving flights and baggage claim. TSA informed airports that they should start assuming the new responsibility at the beginning of 2014, with complete takeover by end of March 2014. Transferring the responsibility for guarding exit doors to the airports will save the TSA $88.1 million a year.

  • Man arrested in connection with LAX dry ice bombs

    Four dry ice bombs were planted in restricted area of LAX Sunday and Monday. Two bombs exploded, causing no injury or damage, and two were found before they exploded. The LAPD announced it had arrested 28-year-old Dicarlo Bennett, an LAX employee of one of the airport’s ground crew contractors, Servisair. The LAPD chief says the police and FBI believe there was “no nexus” between the bombs and terrorism, but that the incident is related to a labor dispute.