Riderless Motorcycles; That Should Reduce Accidents

If you see a motorbike driving along the road without a rider, don’t feel you need to pop into Specsavers. You’ve just seen the future of motorbike riding. Or at least BMW’s version of the future. The German auto goliath has just unveiled film footage of a R1200GS driving around a test track by itself.

The company has spent thousands investing in AI technology that it fitted to the bike and which can now start its own engine, accelerate and then make turns on a racing track  – at some speed  – before returning to a complete stop; all without a rider perched on its seat.

Is the company hoping to make thousands of dispatch riders unemployed and dash the hopes of millions suffering a mid life crisis? We hope not. But it is going to keep bikers safer by building an autonomous driving assistant into their bikes (based on AI technology) that can automatically brake and adjust the steering during dangerous situations.

This will save not just lives but the blushes of those inexperienced midlife crisis sufferers who have acquired the cash to afford a big bike but not the skills to drive it.

As self-driving technology grows, it appears that our roads are destined to be filled with motorbikes, cars, buses, vans and other vehicles all driven by robots. Which is good as we’ll have taken to the skies by then, or our beds.

You can watch a video of the bike driving itself by clicking here.



Taxi Ranks Head Skyward

‘Your taxi will be with you in five minutes. The pilot’s name is Steve’. Those conversations could soon be happening if a Bristol start up is successful in getting its flying air taxi service off the ground.

The company, called Vertical Aerospace, recently announced that the first flight of its eVTOL aircraft had been successful. EVTOL stands for electric vertical take-off and landing and the company hopes that it will transform travel in the UK.

The aircraft feature four propellers at the front and back of a helicopter-shaped body and, being electric, could provide carbon-free travel for would be passengers. That environmental message is important, annual air passenger journeys are projected to reach 7.2 billion by 2035, which will have a major impact on local air pollution.

The vehicle’s vertical take-off and landing technology would also allow it to travel between exact locations, without a pilot having to make diversions to an airport. A pipe-dream? Well, the company’s founder is hopeful that they can offer eVTOL services on specific intercity routes within four years.

The company needs to get lift off pretty soon. Uber has recently announced that it was teaming up with NASA to launch a fleet of flying taxis with NASA saying its goal was to create a ride-share network that will allow US citizens to ‘hail a small aircraft the same way you use the Uber app to call a car’.

This is all pretty mind boggling stuff. Especially if you run a mini-cab company. But it could be hugely exciting for the rest of us who get tired with waiting in queues at airports or even taxi ranks.

If you want boggle your mind a bit more then watch the video that the company released for the test flight. Click here to watch it on YouTube.

No More Burning Oil. Vespa Goes Electric.

Vespa scooters have been a regular feature on our roads since the 1940s. Anybody passing them today –  particularly an older model – will notice that they, well, smell. Depending on your age, that smell of hot oil may bring back memories of Mods in the 1960s or of carefree summers with the wind blowing in your hair. (younger readers won’t know this but helmets weren’t compulsory until 1973).

The good news is that Vespa scooters will still be on our roads for many years to come but the smell will soon disappear, as Vespa has announced that its scooters are to go electric.

The Vespa Electtrica – as it will be known – will go on sale next month (October). As it will be battery-powered, not only will the smell go but the distinct engine noise too, as the Electtrica will be silent.

Don’t worry that you won’t be able to hear it coming, as it will only have a top speed (when in Eco-driving mode) of nineteen miles an hour, so you’ll have plenty of time to see it coming.

And what it lacks in speed it will more than make up for in technical wizardry. The scooters will come fitted with an AI system that ‘will provide users with real-time mapping and traffic data, as well as the ability to detect if a pedestrian is about to walk into the road in front of the vehicle’. (That’s comforting for the rider although not necessarily for the pedestrian). Riders will also be able to connect their phones to the bike using Bluetooth and this will also allow them to access the digital dashboard and use the navigation services.

Clearly, you can do everything you want to do except drive fast. That’s probably no bad thing as more and more local authorities are limiting driving speeds to twenty miles an hour in urban roads anyway so remaining just one mile an hour underneath it might feel quite satisfying , as well as always being legal.

Strangely, manufacturer Piaggio Group has remained tight-lipped about the price of its new scooter, as well as its top speed.




Can We Use Your House For A Team Bonding Moment?

How big is your house? We only ask as we saw that Airbnb is now trying to find accommodation providers who can host offsite meetings!

For the casual observer this seems like quite a leap for the company to take although for its senior management it’s just another small step in their efforts to reposition the company as a ‘hospitality’ company that serves everyone’s needs from individual travellers to businesses.

Its Airbnb for work division is already experiencing startling growth; the company reports that 300,000 businesses are now working with the $31 billion ‘start up’ on their business travel needs. In fact, it was requests from these businesses that led the company to launch this new service.

So they’re creating a new category on the site where accommodation providers can label their accommodation as ‘suitable for events’. Clearly, ‘events’ can cover a very broad range of things from small, intimate gatherings to, well, quite rowdy affairs. Offsite meetings to us means things like ‘team bonding’ exercises, which we just don’t see happening in the average British semi, unless it has a climbing frame and trampoline in the back garden, in which case you might be able to arrange some team sports.

Actually having given this topic some more thought here in the office, we think there is all manner of activities that could be called team-bonding and which could justify taking over somebody’s house for the day. A game of hide and seek in the back garden perhaps (although the shed should be out of bounds)?

Another required shift in mindset is that most users of Airbnb accommodation want a bedroom for the night, whereas this new type of customer wants it for during the day. Presumably they would have to agree to tidying up everything before you got home from work and would have put anything that they used back where they found it?




Make Way Please. Commuter Coming Through

Which side will you be on in the scooter war? What? You  didn’t know there’s one on the horizon? Initial skirmishes have already broken out in the US which are predicted to turn into full scale battles, which are then expected to cross the pond and arrive here.

The two protagonists are some extremely well-funded electric scooter suppliers on one side and regulators on the other. The ‘scooterists’ are claiming that their scooters are ultra eco-friendly and could do much to alleviate inner city congestion. Like the ride-hailing companies that preceded them they’re also arguing that jumping on and off a scooter so as to travel the last mile makes life a lot easier for everyone; aside from the owners of inner city car parks.

Lined up against them are the regulators who’re claiming that the majority of scooter drivers so far are ‘law-flouters’ who are a danger to other pedestrians and motorists (when they swop the pavements for roads) and that having lots of available scooters dotted around the urban landscape is unsightly.

The relevant regulator in the UK is the Department for Transport (DfT) which considers them motorised vehicles -which require permits. These are impossible to obtain because scooters do not meet “normal vehicle construction” rules, such as lights and three wheels.

And by citing a 1835 law meant to keep “any horse, ass, sheep . . . or carriage” off public walkways means they are prohibited from pavements as well.  Only in the UK could a law designed with animals in mind be used to keep electric scooters off the road.

Which side is likely to win? Well it depends if you view them as a positive new mode of urban transport. Interestingly, ride-hailing companies are welcoming them and one, Lyft, has recently unveiled plans to offer scooter and bicycle rides within its ride-hailing app. Its founder John Zimmer was quoted as saying ‘such “multi-modal” rides would be a key part of a new transport system that would lead to “decoupling people’s right to mobility from car ownership”. (Well, he is American).

One thing is for certain, the numbers are shooting up. Segway-Ninebot, one of the largest manufactures is already churning out 250,000 per month. At $300 each, they are now flooding markets in China and the US with Tel Aviv, Madrid and Paris also in their sights. Thousands had already been – literally – dumped on US city streets before the regulators mounted a fight back. In San Francisco’s case officials ordered all of them but 1,250 to be taken off the streets while they worked out a regulatory plan.

Did we mention how deep were the scooterists’ pockets? Well, one new market entrant called Lime has just raised $335m from Google’s parent company Alphabet whilst another called Bird has raised more than $400m from investors. That’s nearly ¾ of a billion dollars invested in just two companies.

We’re not sure who will win but using 200 year old legislation in your defence doesn’t strike us as a winning stratagem.

The Holiday’s Over, Now You Just Need To Get Home!

Just when you thought it was safe to travel again; don’t. Strange advice from a company that has travel in its title but word has it that the travel chaos that affected so many of us in August is set to continue into September. (Yes, we know, Oful souls aren’t we?!)

This coming weekend promises to be a real bun fight as hundreds of thousands struggle to get back in time before schools and colleges reopen. Here’s some of the challenges that you may face.

Three of the UK’s biggest airports – Gatwick, Manchester and Stansted – anticipate bumper passenger numbers this weekend. Numbers will reach a peak at Gatwick on Sunday 2nd September, with 162,000 passengers predicted to depart and arrive – of which 88,000 will be flying in at the end of their holidays. That’s an average of one passenger per second!

Over at Stanstead, the airport expects Friday to be its busiest day with 97,500 passengers expected. The peak in arrivals for them will be Monday 3rd September, with just under 54,000 arriving.

And finally Manchester is expecting 56,000 to arrive on Monday, also their  busiest day for inbound travellers. (We’re assuming that some parents will be driving straight from the airport to the school if they re-open on the 3rd).

Meanwhile London Euston railway station, the hub for the West Coast main line, will be closed for the third weekend running. An average of 100,000 passengers per day would normally expect to use the station at the weekend so that’s a lot of displaced travellers.

Travellers in the Northern Rail area face another day of disruption on Saturday 1st September where members of the RMT union are striking again and it appears that that industrial action has now travelled southwards as the union has confirmed that a three-day strike will also take place at South Western Railway over the same weekend.

Eurostar has also confirmed that Friday 31 August will be its busiest day and finally, motorists returning through the Channel Tunnel from Calais to Folkestone this weekend have been warned not to turn up ahead of time as the terminal can’t cope with that volume of vehicles.

For the rest of us who have enjoyed getting a seat on buses or trains while everyone else was away, our misery starts next week too.

We promise to be less grumpy next week.




Around The World In Eighty Gin & Tonics

If you love gin and love travelling then you could be in luck. A company called Inception Group is looking for a global ambassador that they can send around the world drinking gin as they go.

Is there a catch? Well, we’re assuming that tee-totals needn’t apply. And if you’re prone to getting lairy after a few then don’t be surprised if they don’t choose you. But other than that, we can’t see many at all.

The job is part of a marketing stunt dreamt up by the company to promote its new bar. Called ‘Mr Fogg’s Society of Exploration’ (try typing that into your phone after you’ve had a few) the new bar will open in Charing Cross this Autumn. The job entails retracing the famous 80-day journey made by Jules Verne’s fictional explorer Phileas Fogg and will therefore include stop overs in Mumbai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, San Francisco, New York and Lisbon.

Not only will you be expected to drink copious amounts of gin – mainly Bombay Sapphire which is co-sponsoring the trip – but you’ll also be expected to collect some botanicals on your journey and use your ‘ima-gin-ation’ (their words not ours) to create your own ‘Around the World Cocktail’ when you arrive home.

What sets this gig apart from some of the others we’ve seen that offer free world trips is that you can take a partner along with you. So far so exciting although some may baulk at one of the conditions, dressing up in Victorian garb. To ease the pain of wearing those corsets or a stove hat the winning couple will also be ‘kitted out with a bespoke atlas, journal, luggage tags and hip flask made by Aspinal of London’.

Naturally, the company isn’t looking for just any old gin soak and to stand a chance of winning the competition and so booking your seats – you’ll need to demonstrate ‘good photography skills; be a deft writer; have oodles of followers on social media; and have a strong knowledge of both the Bombay Sapphire and Mr Fogg’s brands’. Mm, that should winnow a few out, particularly anyone living in London as although the company already owns several Mr Fogg’s bars this is its first to open in the capital.

This being ‘a whole new world’ of marketing, the actual costs of flying two people around the world for free are as nothing compared to the amount of press coverage that the company has already achieved with articles already appearing in the Metro, Evening Standard and HuffPost as well as tons of social media comments.

In fact by the time the company has announced the names of the winners plus promoted all their social media posts and published the ingredients of the winners’ ‘own around the world cocktail’, we reckon they’ll think this a pretty good deal.

The deadline for entry is 27th August and if you fancy having a go at this gin-fuelled odyssey then just click here Or click here to watch the – rather fun – video.

Probably The Best Waterfall-Powered Pub In The World

Danish brewer Carlsberg is rightly famous for its advertising campaigns. Its straplines such as ‘probably the best lager in the world’ and ‘if Carlsberg did…’ are pretty iconic.

So we were intrigued to see that the brewery had turned its hand to building a pub. But not just any old pub. This one is ‘the world’s first waterfall-powered pub’. We kid you not. Its been built in an old slate quarry in Cornwall called Kudhava that has been turned into a glamping retreat.

According to the blurb we read about the project, the ‘inspiration for the design of the Carlsberg Cabin is a ‘Danish’ re-imagining of the iconic Cornish engine houses you see in ‘Poldark’. At this point we imagined they had probably been drinking too much of their own beer, but the blurb got worse (or better); ‘Carlsberg brought together six strangers to put together the modular structure. With  a goal to provide a carbon-neutral dwelling, the cabin’s electricity is powered by a mix of hydro from the waterfall and solar energy from PV panels’. We had visions of these six strangers getting quietly plastered while drawing up their plans but we sat up when they also confirmed that a highlight of the cabin was ‘’a Carlsberg Expørt DraughtMaster …powered by a nearby waterfall’.

The cabin can sleep up to six and you can book it through Airbnb.  It features a spacious deck and hanging birdcage chairs while ‘a hinged wooden door opens vertically like a garage to provide more open-air seating’.

By now we began to think that these Danes perhaps knew more about pub construction than we had given them credit for. But we then noticed that the cabin also had a tin rooftop. In our experience tin roofs and heavy rain don’t make for a comfortable night’s sleep so our advice would be to sit at the bar for as long as possible before turning in. Or perhaps that’s what they had in mind all along? As we said, they’re damned clever these Danes.


British Teenagers Get Onboard Before Its Too Late

The EU is so worried about ‘misinformation about Europe’ that its offering 15,000 young people the chance to travel across Europe – for free. Whether all those  teenagers crisscrossing the Continent will  fix the problem the organisers aren’t saying but they are intending to expand the scheme in the future and give away 1.5 million inter-rail tickets; at a cost to the European taxpayer of £619 million!

This year 1,900 British teenagers took advantage of the scheme and the same number will have a chance to again when DiscoverEU (the body that runs the scheme) opens it up  in the Autumn. (If you’re interested then click here to apply) To get a place onboard, entrants have to enter an online competition and if successful, they’ll be given a free Interrail ticket which they cna use to visit up to four European countries over a month.

This year, 100,000 people attempted the quiz, answering questions about EU cultural heritage and European Parliament elections. Call us curmudgeonly but we’re amazed that  nearly 2,000 British teenagers took part let alone win tickets . In fact a spokesman for DiscoverEU told the BBC that 3,786 applied from the UK which shows how much we know about modern British teenagers.

With Brexit looming, the chances of British teenagers taking part in the scheme are dwindling and although they are eligible to apply in the Autumn, the EU has said it is “too early to say” if there will be a third round before March 2019, after which we’re definitely no longer be eligible.

Will British teenagers be missed and will that cause yet more misinformation about Europe, we’ll never know.


Ola, Taxi Driver

Ola is Spanish for ‘hello’ but those living in South Wales might soon be saying it when ordering a taxi. Confused? So will the cabbie. A new ride hailing service called Ola has chosen South Wales as the first region in the UK where it wants to take on Uber. Next on its list is a city, Manchester.

Although unknown in the UK the company is a big player in two other countries where it already serves 125 million customers in 110 cities. That’s some going for a company that was only set up seven years ago, but as one of those two countries is India – where the population is 1.324 billion – then grabbing even a tiny share of the market from Uber can bring in large numbers of passengers.

The UK follows India and Australia (population 24 million?) where it opened for business earlier this year. Compared to Uber, which operates in 600 cities in 65 countries, then its still a minnow, but clearly one on steroids.

Despite its apparent popularity, Uber’s growth has attracted a lot of criticism; not just from other cabbies  – many of whom have had to spend years ‘doing the knowledge’ and still face close scrutiny from licensing authorities regarding the roadworthiness of their cabs  – but also from tax authorities (Uber’s drivers are self employed so the company pays no employment taxes) and more recently, groups concerned about the safety and welfare of the passengers.

Ola’s management has not been deterred by all this negativity and it clearly sees Uber’s tarnished reputation as a chance to build their own. In fact, the CEO was quoted on the BBC news website as saying, “The UK is a fantastic place to do business and we look forward to providing a responsible, compelling, new service that can help the country meet its ever demanding mobility needs”. As an example of PR spin then that statement is surely pure gold.

But does South Wales, followed by Manchester and then the rest of the UK actually need another taxi service? Current taxi drivers would probably say no and who can blame them. Each new market entrant simply drives prices down forcing them to spend increasing amounts of time in their cabs to make up the lost income. And those long hours are not conducive to their health or their passengers’ safety.

Of course, South Wales’ cabbies could just play a waiting game. (After all, they’re used to waiting). Despite its enormous population, the Indian market is intensely competitive and the company admits to having lost $700 million last year largely spent on marketing against Uber. Whether that level of losses is sustainable in the long run is surely debatable.