Weekend what we’re reading — driverless cars, faster Eurostar trains, why CO cut free food, space flights

by Charlie Leocha on October 30, 2010

Google testing driverless cars

Google seems to be putting their fingers into everything these days. One of the latest is the concept of driverless cars. Some have speculated that these cars can be used to collect more data for Google in the future without the need for any human inteface.

…seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. One even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of the steepest and curviest streets in the nation. The only accident, engineers said, was when one Google car was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light.

The Google researchers said the company did not yet have a clear plan to create a business from the experiments. Dr. Thrun is known as a passionate promoter of the potential to use robotic vehicles to make highways safer and lower the nation’s energy costs.

New faster Eurostar trains slice 15 minutes from London-Paris route

In an unrelenting drive to make train transportation competitive with air transportation the Eurostar train system will soon be able to zip from London to Paris in about two hours. There are potential problems with British railroad tracks that cannot handle the high speeds of the new German trains, however experts expect those issues to be worked out as the project moves forward. The British track problems will not affect the rest of the European rollout.

The arrival of the e320 trains, built by German company Siemens, could see London to Paris journey times reduced to just over two hours from the existing 2 hours and 15 minutes.

But the speed limit on the UK stretch of the current line is 186mph – matching the top speed of the existing trains – though for much of the journey between the Channel and London they travel slower.

The company, which operates high-speed services to Paris and Brussels from London’s St Pancras station, is to buy ten of the German-built trains which will carry 900 passengers.

This is a 20 per cent increase in capacity on the existing trains which will also be in service – once they have been overhauled and refurbished.

The surprising reason Continental cut free food from their flights

I know this happened a few weeks ago, but I only recently learned why Continental dropped their free food on flights.

Are your ready for this? Continental dropped free food because customers wanted the free food removed and replaced by “more food choices.”

“The new menu is a direct result of feedback from our customers, who told us they wanted more food choices on our flights,” said Sandra Pineau-Boddison, Continental’s vice president of food services, in a statement.

Yes, and the airline began charging for baggage because of customer demand for additional fees. Change fees were probably instituted because of passenger demand.

Virgin Galactic completes first solo space flight

Rather focus on terrestial airline problems, we turn to outer space and Richard Branson’s dream of a spaceship line with only the fringes of the galaxy for limits. It’s coming. The dream is coming closer to reality.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic on Sunday completed its first manned free flight of a spaceship intended to eventually take customers on commercial space flights.

SpaceShipTwo, also known as the VSS Enterprise, was piloted by Pete Siebold and Mike Alsbury. Virgin Galactic was testing whether the spaceship could successfully release from its mothership and glide back to Earth. The ship did indeed release at 45,000 feet and land safely at Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

“This was one of the most exciting days in the whole history of Virgin,” Branson said in a statement. “For the first time since we seriously began the project in 2004, I watched the world’s first manned commercial spaceship landing on the runway at Mojave Air and Space Port and it was a great moment. Now, the sky is no longer the limit and we will begin the process of pushing beyond to the final frontier of space itself over the next year.”

A seat on Branson’s spaceship will cost $200,000 per person, with refundable deposits starting at $20,000. There is interest, however. Virgin Galactic has managed to sell 700 seats thus far.

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  • Mike

    With all due respect to Mr. Leocha, Continental may had dropped the free food several weeks ago, but they ANNOUNCED they were dropping free food mere weeks before the UA/CO merger was first reported. That move by CO led to rampant speculation on airline blogs that a merger between the two was imminent. It was believed at the time that CO was starting to position itself as a “perfect fit” for UA. CO has always had a better-than-average reputation for customer service, and the free meals they offered went a long way in insuring their continued high regard. Admittedly, one does not fly for the food, and when one wants to go out to eat you don’t normally think of boarding a plane to consume their fare. However, on longer flights — heck, even on shorter flights — a meal — perferably hot but cold was acceptable, too — was a nice perk. Those days are over. Despite CO’s “wordplay” or “spin”, however you wish to look at it, I doubt — seriously doubt — that the customers were telling CO that they would be willing to pay for meals in order to have “more choices”. Puh-leeze. CO needs to credit the traveling public with more intelligence.

  • Carrie Charney

    Gee. Where was I when CO distributed the food survey? Probably happy to be eating the free food on one of their flights. I am sooooo dreading this merger.

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