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‘A long road’: the Australian city aiming to give self-driving cars the green light | Self-driving cars

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As the traffic lights turn from amber to red, Miranda Blogg accelerates towards them.

“Here we go,” she says.

A dash-mounted screen in her Renault ZOE flashes a warning featuring a traffic light symbol.

Blogg continues. “Oh no, I’m not slowing!”

The screen erupts with a more aggressive visual display (“Stop!”) accompanied by three loud, grating, beeps.

“Whoops,” she says, as she brakes, still well ahead of the lights.

A dash-mounted screen in a Renault Zoe helps test self-driving systems in Ipswich.
A dash-mounted screen in a Renault Zoe helps test self-driving systems in Ipswich. Photograph: Supplied

Blogg is the director of the Connected and Automated Vehicle Initiative (Cavi) at Queensland’s transport department. Since September it has retrofitted 350 vehicles with cloud-connected antennae, under-the-seat control boxes and dash-mounted screens to test systems in the streets of Ipswich that might one day allow fully self-driving cars to operate.

This technology installed as part of the Ipswich connected vehicle pilot – Australia’s largest to date – allows cars to communicate with other cars, sharing information about their position, speed and other data, and to receive real-time warnings from roadside infrastructure about road hazards or red lights.

Early results show that drivers do pay attention when “talking cars” warn them about approaching red lights, reduced speed limits and pedestrians.

Blogg says that emerging data is promising, but further research will be needed to explore whether the system could work on a broader scale.

As we crawl through Brisbane’s peak-hour traffic, heading west towards Ipswich with Blogg behind the wheel, the dash-mounted screen displays nothing more than a static white circle.

But as we hit the Centenary Highway, just past the Moggill Road turnoff, we enter the 300 sq km radius of roads that are part of the trial, and the screen blinks to life, showing the current speed limit.

A few kilometres further on, Blogg points out a roadside sign flashing a variable speed limit, signalling that the usual 90km/h limit has been reduced to 80.

The screen display immediately follows suit, thanks to the feed coming from TMR’s real-time traffic management platform.

Being able to “read” variable speed limit signs is crucial to the connected driving vision, which demands accurate real-time feeds from a multitude of sources. There are 90 jurisdictions in Queensland that manage speed limits, including 77 local councils, 12 TMR districts and the toll-road operator Transurban.

“It seems simple but it’s actually quite a lot of effort,” Blogg says.

Cloud-connected antennae
Cloud-connected antennae retrofitted to cars can ‘talk’ to information-gathering antennae on traffic lights in Ipswich. Photograph: Supplied

As we reach the central business district of Ipswich, Blogg circles the block to demonstrate the car’s ability to recognise the red light – one of the 30 sets in Ipswich fitted with information-gathering antenna.

Similar warnings are activated when drivers head towards hazards such as water on the road, road closures or a crash, or when there are pedestrians or bicycles crossing at an intersection.

No vehicles have yet been automated as part of this trial, says Prof Andry Rakotonirainy, the director of QUT’s centre for accident research and road safety, one of the partners in the trial.

However, the technology represents an important link in the transition to self-driving cars. In the meantime, it will “help people to drive safely, and potentially reduce road trauma”, he says.

Participants are now being recruited for a different trial, which will include elements of automation.

Ipswich was chosen for the trial partly thanks to its proximity to smart motorways, which already embed information, communications and control systems in and alongside the road.

Unlike Brisbane, it uses the same standard traffic signals as rest of the state. Unlike the Gold Coast, it has no expanding light rail network to complicate matters. And unlike the Sunshine Coast, the CBD has a grid structure, facilitating ample interactions between cars, bikes and pedestrians.

There was one more reason – when the trial was set up, the ebullient “Mr Ipswich”, Paul Pisasale, was mayor.

Pisasale threw his support behind the iGO plan for a sustainable transport future and the Smart City program, which promised innovations such as robotic street cleaners, wheelie bins that alert garbage trucks when they need to be emptied and park benches with solar-powered charging stations.

These initiatives survived the downfall of Pisasale, who resigned in June 2017, and was later jailed in relation to a raft of charges including extortion, fraud and sexual assault, and the later sacking of the entire Ipswich City Council in 2018, followed by a 16-month period of administration.

It was a tumultuous time, which heightened concerns over the continuity of the project.

“We moved pretty quickly to gain the support of the new councillors,” Blogg says. “Sometimes it can be a very complicated project to explain [but] they were great, they were on it, which made my life much easier.”

Other challenges lay ahead, including equipment malfunctions due to summer temperatures in Ipswich which are, on average, 5C higher than Brisbane’s.

Then followed a year of more or less empty roads due to Covid-19, which the team filled with up to 30,000 kilometres of on-road testing to keep participants motivated and to prepare for the current on-road phase.

“Some may refer to it as the Cavi curse,” Blogg says. “It was a long road.”



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Facebook oversight board to review system that exempts elite users | Facebook

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Facebook’s semi-independent oversight board says it will review the company’s “XCheck” system, an internal program that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules.

The decision follows an investigation by the Wall Street Journal that revealed that reviews of posts by well-known users such as celebrities, politicians and journalists are steered into the separate system.

Under the program, some users are “whitelisted”, or not subject to enforcement action, while others are allowed to post material that violates Facebook rules pending content reviews that often do not take place. The Xcheck system, for example, allowed Brazilian footballer Neymar to post nude pictures of a woman who had accused him of rape, according to the report.

Users were identified for additional scrutiny based on criteria such as being “newsworthy”, “influential or popular” or “PR risky”, the Wall Street Journal found. By 2020 there were 5.8 million users on the XCheck list, according to the newspaper.

The oversight board said Tuesday that it expects to have a briefing with Facebook on the system and “will be reporting what we hear from this” as part of a report it will publish in October.

The board may also make other recommendations, although Facebook is not bound to follow these.

The Journal’s report, the board said, has drawn “renewed attention to the seemingly inconsistent way that the company makes decisions, and why greater transparency and independent oversight of Facebook matters so much for users”.

Facebook told the Journal in response to its investigation that the system “was designed for an important reason: to create an additional step so we can accurately enforce policies on content that could require more understanding”. The company added that criticism of it was “fair” and that it was working to fix it.

A representative for Facebook declined to comment to the Associated Press on the oversight board’s decision.

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Philippines imposes 12 per cent digital services tax • The Register

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The Philippines has become the latest nation to impose a digital services tax.

Such taxes require the likes of Netflix and Spotify to pay local sales taxes even though their services are delivered – legally, notionally, and physically – from beyond local jurisdiction.

The Philippines has chosen a rate of 12 per cent, mirroring local value added taxes.

“We have now clarified that digital services and the goods and services traded through digital service providers should generally be subject to VAT. This is just a matter of common tax sense,” said Joey Salceda, a member of the Philippines’ House of Representatives and a backer of the change to the nation’s tax code.

Salceda tied the change to post-pandemic economic recovery.

“If brick and mortar establishments, which are the hardest-hit by the pandemic, have to pay VAT, the giants of e-commerce shouldn’t be exempt,” he said.

However, local companies that are already exempt from VAT by virtue of low turnover won’t be caught by the extension of the tax into the virtual realm.

Salceda’s amendments are designed to catch content streamers, but also online software sales – including mobile apps – plus SaaS and hosted software. The Philippines’ News Agency’s report on the amendment’s passage into law even mentions firewalls as subject to VAT.

The Philippines is not alone in introducing a digital services tax to raise more revenue after the COVID-19 pandemic hurt government revenue – Indonesia used the same logic in 2020 .

But the taxes are controversial because they are seen as a unilateral response to the wider issue of multinational companies picking the jurisdictions in which they’ll pay tax – a practice that erodes national tax bases. The G7 group of nations, and the OECD, think that collaborations that shift tax liabilities to nations where goods and services are acquired and consumed are the most appropriate response, and that harmonising global tax laws to make big tech pay up wherever they do business is a better plan than digital services taxes.

The USA has backed that view of digital services taxes, by announcing it will impose tariffson nations that introduce them – but is yet to enact that plan.

Meanwhile, the process of creating a global approach to multinational tax shenanigans is taking years to agree and implement.

But The Philippines wants more cash in its coffers – and to demonstrate that local businesses aren’t being disadvantaged – ASAP. ®

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How to ask your boss for more flexible working

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While returning to the office is now possible for many, some workers might still want the option of flexible working some of the time. Here’s how to broach the subject.

This week marked the beginning of a phased and staggered return to workplaces for many employees in Ireland.

It essentially marked the first official green light for employers to ready their offices and start putting plans in place for their staff’s return.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

However, HR body CIPD Ireland urged employers to be mindful of anxious workers as they face “another round of upheaval” with the return to offices.

So, while employers are finalising plans about how, where and when their teams will work, some employees may be wondering how to go about expressing their preference, worried that it’s not in line with what the company wants.

While there have been plenty of discussions and remote work advocates calling for leaders to be more flexible and recognise that the future of work will be hybrid, the reality for individual employees can feel very different.

While big-picture debates around the right to request remote work are happening, how do you ask for what you want in the here and now, when your boss is determined to have a full return to the office?

Explain your reasons

If remote or flexible working isn’t something your boss is already willing to give you, then you must treat it like a pay rise request.

Explain clearly and concisely the reasons why you want more flexibility, how it will benefit you and make you a more engaged, happier worker.

While family commitments might be an important factor, so too is work-life balance and getting rid of long commutes. And, while there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, Covid-19 is still a very real concern, so don’t be afraid to express your reservations about this too.

Make a business case

When you ask for a pay increase, you provide proof of the value you have added to the company. Take the same approach here and explain to your boss how flexible working will actually be beneficial to them.

Some managers who resist remote working might still have an office-based mentality where presenteeism is key. But there are numerous studies that show that knowledge workers are more productive when working remotely.

And, when done as a purposeful business strategy, remote working can help teams prioritise work more clearly as well as allowing for more downtime and work-life balance.

Be realistic

Depending on your manager, your team and the work you do, it may not be feasible to ask to work from home five days a week.

It’s important that you are realistic about asking for what you want and also realistic about what you can deliver in return. Remote workers can be more productive but they can also be in danger of burning out so be thoughtful about what strategy will work best for both you and your manager.

Listen to their perspective

While conversations around remote working appear to be mostly positive, it can be a different situation behind the office doors.

Many managers and leaders are still hesitant about moving to a fully flexible working strategy and this can lead to workers feeling like they are not being listened to.

However, one of the best ways to combat that hesitancy from managers is to listen to their concerns and address them in a problem-solving manner.

Being able to alleviate some of your manager’s worries might make them more amenable to allowing for more flexibility.

Make expectations clear

If you do convince your boss to allow for a more flexible working plan than what they had originally considered, it’s important that both sides understand what is expected.

Without clearly defining the outcomes of the new set-up, misunderstandings can lead to disappointments and feelings of mistrust in the idea of flexible working.

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