Play it safe

Sometimes a helmet is more effective than an army of robots

Roads Report Article February 02, 2018
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David Matthews

Caught off guard

San Francisco is known as a hub for technology and innovation, so when a local animal charity needed to boost security, they took a modern approach.


Rather than simply hiring a human security guard, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) hired a security robot.


Looking like a cross between R2-D2 and a personal massager, the 5-ft-tall, 400-lb droid named K9 was rented to curb the rising rate of car break-ins, theft and vandalism around the SPCA’s offices.


Developed by San Francisco-based Knightscope, K9 is designed to predict and prevent crime using cameras, LIDAR sensors, thermal imaging and laser scanning.


These autonomous crime fighters have already been hired by shopping malls, the Sacramento Kings NBA team and even Microsoft.


Unlike their human counterparts, robots don’t require health insurance, they can work 24 hours a day, and they cost as little as $7/hour, half of California’s minimum wage.


The SPCA saw a significant decrease in petty crime and vandalism with K9 on the job this past fall, but local residents weren’t as impressed.   


After just one week on the job, K9 had been knocked over, covered with a tarp, doused with barbeque sauce and even smeared with poop.


The SPCA first took K9 off sidewalk duty and relegated him to parking lot security. But as public pressure mounted, they eventually had to allow K9 to “pursue other career opportunities.”


Once in a blue moon

Full moons are said to cause some rather peculiar behavior. Some believe the extra illumination causes insomnia or even insanity.


Too much of that brighter moonlight on your face might even turn you into a werewolf.


Now researchers have found another dangerous side effect: Full moons increase motorcycle accidents.


The study published in the British Medical Journal in December found that fatal motorcycle accidents increase by 5% on nights with a full moon.


The numbers get even worse on those rare nights when a supermoon is visible.


A supermoon is a full moon that occurs when the moon’s orbit is closest to Earth. The closer proximity can make the moon appear up to 14% bigger and 30% brighter in the sky.


Supermoons only occur about once a year, and on those nights researchers found that motorcycle fatalities increase 32%.


Based on data from the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, the study found that the typical accident involved a middle-aged man riding a motorcycle in a rural location and experiencing a head-on collision in the hours before midnight. The majority of those drivers were not wearing a helmet. 


The study didn’t find any evidence of magical phenomena increasing accident rates. Instead researchers believe that full moons are just another form of driver distraction and hope their findings highlight the importance of safe and attentive driving at all times.


While we won’t see another supermoon until 2019, March raises the stakes with a rare blue moon, meaning that there will be two full moons in the same month.


Reverse psychology

In the ultra-competitive automotive industry, every advantage counts.


One common practice is for automakers to buy their competitors’ cars and tear them apart to figure out the secrets of how they work.


This practice of “competitive engineering” made headlines this past summer when Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, dismantled a rented Tesla Model X electric SUV for research purposes.


That’s right, instead of buying the Tesla, they rented one for seven weeks, tested it under extreme conditions, took it all apart and tried to put it back together, and then returned it to the rental company with nearly $20,000 worth of damages.


The Tesla was rented from an agency in Germany, but actually belonged to a Bavarian couple who rent out the car as an additional source of income.


The couple said the rental agency paid them for damages and depreciation, but not enough to cover their lost income while the Tesla was in the shop. 


By sheer coincidence, Mercedes is developing its own electric SUV, the EQC, which is scheduled to hit showrooms next year.


About the author: 
Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news since 2000. The stories are all true.
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