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San Mateo County raises worries about Waymo’s driverless cars

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San Mateo County has become the latest California community to express concerns regarding the deployment of Waymo’s self-driving vehicles into its jurisdiction. This comes after a series of incidents involving autonomous ride-hailing cars that resulted in injuries, prompting the county to request more information from state regulators before granting approval for Waymo to operate its driverless vehicles in the county.

Waymo, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, submitted a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission seeking approval for the expansion of its Automated Vehicle Passenger Services into portions of the San Francisco Peninsula, including San Mateo County, as well as the southwest region of Los Angeles County. The company has already been serving a portion of San Francisco and recently began offering rides in various neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

San Mateo County’s attorney John D. Nibbelin raised concerns about the pending approval, stating that the county did not have enough information on Waymo’s expansion plans and had not engaged enough with the company. Nibbelin emphasized that the “quick and simplified” advice letter review process used by the commission was insufficient to fully understand the potential impacts and issues that Waymo’s expansion into the county could create. He stressed the need to account for the differing needs and hurdles Waymo would face operating in San Mateo County compared to San Francisco.

The county’s board of supervisors passed a resolution in support of Senate Bill 915, which would grant local governments the authority to permit or prohibit the use of driverless cars within their jurisdiction. San Mateo County officials and other communities have expressed a desire to have a say in the regulation of driverless car company operations.

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Waymo representatives met with some members of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and the county executive officer to discuss their operation plans in the county. However, county officials stated that Waymo did not provide specific details, citing that the plans are still in development. Waymo spokesperson Julia Illiana said that the company reached out to various stakeholders, including county officials, local first responders, and others, to brief them on their mission, experience, and technology.

Local jurisdictions currently have no say in the commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles. In Los Angeles, Mayor Karen Bass has advocated for the city to have a say in regulating such vehicles and has requested state regulators to increase their scrutiny of companies operating autonomous vehicles. Additionally, incidents involving Waymo vehicles, such as a failure to initially stop for a traffic officer and a collision with a cyclist in San Francisco, have raised concerns about the safety and regulation of driverless cars.

These incidents have contributed to San Mateo County’s decision to seek additional information and engage more with Waymo before allowing the company to operate its driverless vehicles in the county. The growing concerns among local communities highlight the need for stronger regulations and local oversight in the deployment of autonomous vehicles.

The decision to request more information from state regulators reflects a responsible approach by San Mateo County to ensure the safety and well-being of its residents. As the technology for autonomous vehicles continues to evolve, it is essential for local governments and regulators to engage with companies like Waymo to address safety concerns and develop appropriate regulations for the deployment of driverless cars in their communities.

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The Contribution of Volcanoes to Venus’s Atmospheric Composition

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One of the many mysteries surrounding Venus, our closest planetary neighbor, is the origin of its atmosphere. The planet is veiled in thick clouds, making it challenging to study its surface and atmospheric composition. However, scientists have long speculated about the role of volcanoes in shaping Venus and adding to its atmosphere. With approximately 85,000 volcanoes on Venus, the idea of active volcanic activity is a topic of interest and debate among researchers.

A recent paper by European researchers explores the question of whether Venus has active volcanism through two approaches. The first approach considers whether Venus can maintain its current atmospheric composition without additional gases from volcanic emissions. The variability of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere over decades has been cited as potential evidence of ongoing volcanism. However, some scientists suggest that other factors, such as surface-atmosphere interactions or atmospheric dynamics, could also contribute to this variability.

The second approach focuses on identifying transient effects in Venus’ atmosphere that could indicate active volcanism. These effects could range from water vapor to particulate matter like volcanic ash. Data on these phenomena has been limited, primarily collected through remote sensing missions. However, upcoming missions to Venus, such as DAVINCI and EnVision, aim to provide more direct measurements and insights into the planet’s atmosphere.

DAVINCI, equipped with spectrometers and high-tech cameras, will gather data in Venus’ lower atmosphere to detect trace volcanic gases. It will also analyze ionic concentrations to indicate volcanic outgassing. EnVision, another mission, will focus on studying gases higher up in the atmosphere using various spectroscopic techniques to unravel mysteries in Venus’ cloud tops.

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While current missions offer valuable tools for studying Venus’ atmosphere, there are limitations to consider. For instance, an infrasound sensor could directly detect volcanic eruptions, but no missions currently include this technology. Despite these challenges, researchers are optimistic about the new insights these missions could bring to the ongoing debate on Venus’ volcanic activity.

With the earliest mission, DAVINCI, set to launch in approximately five years, scientists have time to refine their hypotheses and theories about Venus. The data collected during these missions could finally provide conclusive evidence regarding the presence of active volcanism on Venus, answering a long-standing question about our neighboring planet.

As researchers eagerly await the results from upcoming missions, the scientific community is hopeful that these endeavors will shed light on the enigmatic nature of Venus and its mysterious atmosphere. By leveraging advanced technologies and innovative approaches, scientists are poised to unravel the secrets of Venus and potentially redefine our understanding of planetary volcanism.

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