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New Florida Law Nixes Need for Autonomous Vehicle Operators

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last week signed a bill removing “unnecessary obstacles that hinder the development of autonomous vehicle technology”—including backup drivers.

The new law, which takes effect July 1, will allow a self-driving car (meeting all insurance requirements) to run without a human operator.

It also exempts occupants from laws against texting and other distractions.

“Signing this legislation paves the way for Florida to continue as a national leader in transportation innovation and technological advancement,” DeSantis said in a statement.

Flanked by smiling supporters, the governor on Thursday signed House Bill 311 at the SunTrax transportation center, used to test autonomous vehicles.

Also in attendance were Republican bill sponsors Sen. Jeff Brandes and Rep. Jason Fischer.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill allowing autonomous vehicle tests with no human operator (via Gov. DeSantis Press Office)

“We here in Florida are pioneering the most exciting innovations in transportation,” Fischer said. “This bill on self-driving cars will usher in a new era of smart cities that will not only expand our economy but increase road safety and decrease traffic congestion.”

And permit “active display” of TV or video in the car.

The Sunshine State isn’t exactly breaking new ground: Last year, the California DMV introduced new regulations allowing automakers to test and deploy fully driverless vehicles.

We still have a long way to go, though, before folks can start napping behind the wheel.

High-profile accidents—an autonomous Uber struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona; Tesla’s Autopilot feature was engaged at the time of a fiery Model X crash in California—have left some mistrustful of self-driving cars.

Others, meanwhile, are ready and willing to move forward with the unpredictable technology.

“Autonomous vehicles are the way of the future and Florida is leading the charge through the research, testing, and development of autonomous vehicles,” according to state Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault. “And now with this bill signed into law … Florida is ready to lead the nation with this innovative transportation advancement.”

Brandes agreed, adding that “With the signing of this legislation we reaffirm our bold commitment to lead the country as we transition to a shared, electric and driverless future.”

In February 2018, Ford unveiled a self-driving delivery pilot program that would see autonomous vehicles roaming the streets of Miami—notorious for its traffic congestion.

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Google Maps Out Thanksgiving

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The most wonderful time of the year is nearly upon us.

To kick off the holiday season, Google Maps is offering tips, tricks, and trends to help save time (and your sanity) while navigating the festivities.

Whether you’re prepping the turkey at home, traveling to see family and friends, or gearing up for the sales, keep an eye on Google Maps.

To avoid getting caught in the gridlock, the team analyzed 2018 traffic data to pinpoint the best and worst times to leave for your Turkey Day road trip.

Unsurprisingly, the afternoon before Thanksgiving—specifically, between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.—is the worst time to hit the road. Traffic, however, clears up “significantly” by 6 a.m. on Thursday, according to Google Maps’ Chief Thanksgiving Officer Genevieve Park.

So you can weigh the pros and cons of waking up early just to dodge congestion.

Ditch the Thanksgiving traffic with Google Maps. (Photo Credit: Google Maps)

In an effort to avoid “fowl” moods once the tryptophan kicks in, Park suggests escaping the Friday or Sunday afternoon rush by leaving once again in the morning, when there are “significantly” fewer cars out.

It’s not just the streets that get crowded over the long Thanksgiving weekend, though.

Whether you’re shopping for last-minute ingredients or early Christmas presents, holiday crowds can easily transform a quick stop into an hours-long undertaking.

Based on its Popular Times data set, Google Maps plotted the best and worst times to visit key holiday destinations like the bakery, liquor store, movie theater, and shopping center.

Avoid the Thanksgiving crowds with Google Maps. (Photo Credit: Google Maps)

“Pro tip: If you hate lines, avoid the grocery store at all costs on Wednesday evening,” Park added.

For more nuggets of wisdom, visit the Mapping Thanksgiving website—brought to you by Google Maps and Google News Initiative.

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Pick: Disney+’s Streaming Content Is King

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I have some relatively small issues with Disney+, which I’ll talk about later, but my biggest problem with the newest high-profile contender in the streaming TV services wars is more ethical and philosophical. Amazon, Netflix, HBO, NBC. None of these massive corporations are your friends. They all just want money. But there’s just something about Disney’s expanding entertainment monopoly, and their skill at making it seem so friendly, that feels uniquely menacing.

With Disney+, the strength of that monopoly is on full display. So in a sense, I find the very existence of this service viscerally disturbing. And yet if you’re looking for an affordable treasure trove of great, recognizable, and sometimes legendary movies and TV shows you won’t find anywhere else, especially if you have a family and want to keep your kids from YouTube online right-wing grifters, I can’t help but recommend Disney+.

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After a week-long free trial, you can subscribe to Disney+ for $7 per month or $70 per year. Disney also offers a bundle with the other streaming services they own, Hulu and ESPN, for a discounted price of $13 per month. So Disney+ on its own compares favorably to niche streaming services. And the bundle is at that Netflix sweet spot (for now) while filling in some of the biggest gaps in the Disney+ library itself: sports and R-rated material.

As expected, the huge influx of ten million users meant Disney+ didn’t have an entirely smooth technical launch. But it didn’t take long for me to eventually easily access the service on my computer or through my iPhone. The interface is straightforward with rows of boxes and highlights for special collections like “Marvel” or “Pixar.” You can create your own watchlist and pick out a cute little Disney avatar for each profile. Sadly, there was no Emperor Sheev Palpatine icon.

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The video quality itself obviously depends on the source material. You’ll be looking at some grainy 4:3 goodness if you queue up some forgotten early 2000s Disney Channel sitcom like Phil of the Future. On the flipside the original Star Wars films (now with Maclunkey) are lavishly presented in 4K HDR. But the presentation quality isn’t consistent. Some episodes aren’t listed in order. And one of the more egregious examples going around is the awkward widescreen crop of The Simpsons cutting out certain visual jokes.

But this is still the streaming platform with all of The Simpsons! Even though it’s been infuriating garbage for twenty years, I absolutely adore the first ten years of that perfect show with all of my comedy-loving self. It’s a part of my identity. I think it’s criminal that Disney can just buy Fox and pretend that Homer Simpson is and has always been one of their beloved mascots. But the appeal of streaming Simpsons is too powerful to resist.

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And leveraging, even exploiting, that fundamental connection with the material is how it is for almost everything on Disney+. For nearly a century Disney entertainment has colonized you so completely that you can’t help but see something here you’ve loved since you can remember being alive. It could be a classic cartoon like Aladdin or Steamboat Willie. It could be a bizarre live-action movie like The Shaggy Dog or Halloweentown. Every Pixar movie is here. Every Star Wars movie is here. The service is chock full of Marvel cartoons. Gargoyles!

It’s not 100 percent comprehensive. There are MCU gaps left to fill. I was surprised by the lack of ABC programming. And the Fox acquisitions aside from The Simpsons and Avatar feels incredibly spotty. If Disney wants to freeze out classic Fox movies from indie theaters the least they can do if offer them here. But overall the sheer nostalgic gravitational pull of a fully opened Disney vault is positively frightening.

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Even the original content, which is pretty limited at the moment, is playing this same iconic game. Disney’s power is just so well-suited to shows and movies that feel grown in a lab for mass mainstream appeal. Imagineering meets the algorithm. Anyone who saw Thor: Ragnarok is going to be down for a Jeff Goldblum National Geographic show. I don’t care about Anna Kendrick as Santa Claus’s daughter but surely someone does. And you can read our full review of The Mandalorian, which does successfully bring Star Wars to live-action TV at last.

If you’re a childless adult who truly doesn’t care about any of these properties, not only do I recommend you not buy Disney+, I envy you. For the rest of us poor saps though, subscribing to Disney+ feels like an enjoyable, if existentially entropic, inevitability.

1.

Netflix / Hulu / HBO Go Accounts

So many streaming TV services to choose from. Where do you start?

2.

Netflix is still arguably the biggest name in streaming TV.

3.

Hulu trial screen

Although it no longer has a free option, Hulu is a great streaming TV service that is worth paying for.

4.

From buying to renting to subscribing to individual channels, Amazon offers a bevy of streaming TV options.

5.

YouTube Red subscribers can watch original shows from streaming stars, but YouTube TV lets you watch actual live TV.

6.

Hook up a Slingbox and watch the cable and live TV you’re already paying for anywhere.

7.

You have to buy channels in bulk and still deal with commercials, but with DirecTV Now you get the real live TV experience delivered through streaming.

8.

Crunchyroll is the best anime streaming service if you’re all about subtitles.

9.

If dubs are more your thing, Funimation Now is the anime streaming service for you.

10.

If you want to stream shows and documentaries that actually teach you something, go with CuriosityStream.

11.

AMC Premiere just focuses on current AMC shows, but for Walking Dead super fans that might be enough.

12.

With Boomerang, tons of retro cartoons, from Looney Tunes to Scooby-Doo, can all come back to you

13.

FuboTV may be the escape from cable that sports fans are looking for. It’s pricey, but being able to easily stream live sports and more from dozens of channels with only one subscription might very well be worth it.

14.

Brown Sugar has all of the classic Blaxploitation movies you could want and then some. It’s niche, but it’s one of the most impressive niche libraries we’ve seen.

15.

For the true cinephile, FilmStruck has a large collection of classic films from all eras and countries, including movies from the Criterion Collection.

16.

CollegeHumor’s Dropout provides premium streaming online laughs.

17.

DC Universe offers live-action adaptations of less familiar superheroes, like Doom Patrol.

18.

Shudder Is the Horror Streaming Service Fans Were Waiting For

19.

Along with presenting streaming services like Netflix and Sling through one box, Dish AirTV also lets you watch local over-the-air channels with an additional installation.

20.

Get a streaming media device to enjoy these services on your TV. Our favorite is the Amazon Fire Stick.

21.

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Stingray-Inspired Spacecraft Could Explore ‘Dark Side’ of Venus

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Venus lies within Earth’s orbit, but little is known about our neighboring planet—especially its “dark side.”

University at Buffalo researchers want to change that, though, with their unique spacecraft.

The Bio-inspired Ray for Extreme Environments and Zonal Explorations (BREEZE)* project is one of 12 concepts selected by NASA for its Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

Proposed by the university’s Crashworthiness for Aerospace Structures and Hybrids (CRASH)* Laboratory, researchers envision a stingray-esque morphing spacecraft, with wings that flap like pectoral fins.

“By taking our cues from nature, specifically sea rays, we’re looking to maximize flight efficiency,” according to project lead Javid Bayandor, associate professor in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The design, he explained, could make use of high winds in the planet’s upper atmosphere, while still allowing scientists control over the vehicle—which would circumnavigate Venus every four to six days.

Add to that solar-powered instruments (charged every few days when the planet is illuminated by the sun) that take atmospheric samples, track weather patterns, monitor volcanic activity, and gather other data.

Perhaps most importantly, though, BREEZE’s “distinct versatility” could help scientists study the mysterious dark side of Venus.

Did you know that it takes Venus longer to rotate on its axis (243 days) than it does to orbit the sun (225 days), making a day on the planet longer than a year?

Because of these irregular cycles, large portions of the planet are shrouded in darkness for sustained periods of time, leaving them considerably different from the sunny side.

The technology behind BREEZE—including its morphing wings—could potentially be used to explore other parts of the solar system, as well as underwater environments on Earth, Bayandor said.

* They really love an acronym in upstate New York

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