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Silicon Valley pushes auto technology to new heights

This year, several events in Silicon Valley made it clear: Revolutions in transportation are upon us. And huge transformations in the way we get from place to place are arriving sooner than many imagined.

If all goes according to plans hatched by Silicon Valley tech firms, within the next several years we’ll be traveling in cars driven by software, without a human backup. Green energy will power our movement. And we may even break free from the Bay Area traffic that binds — up, up we’ll go, in flying cars.

Tesla is taking an incremental approach on the way to full autonomy, with systems that can steer and brake for the user and are now on the market. But in May the perils of that method were revealed when a man drove into a truck and died while relying on the Tesla Model S “autopilot” system.

A month earlier, Tesla expanded its lineup when it unveiled its $35,000 electric Model 3; it expects to start shipping the zero-emissions vehicles next year.

In October, Google announced that its self-driving cars had surpassed 2 million miles of roadway testing. But the Mountain View company’s goal — complete autonomy, without possibility of human intervention — means other firms are getting self-driving technology into the hands of consumers first.

Also entering the autonomous-vehicle fray was San Francisco ride-hailing giant Uber, which in September launched a pilot program of self-driving taxis in Pittsburgh. The cars are fully autonomous, but have backup drivers.

Meanwhile, Uber rival Lyft expanded its “Lyft Line” carpooling service, which started in San Francisco in 2014, to 15 U.S. areas, including Silicon Valley. Google’s Waze also launched a Bay Area carpool service.

But perhaps the most surprising story was the discovery of the unusual, electric vehicle now under development by Zee.Aero, reportedly funded by Google co-founder Larry Page. Spotted hovering at the Hollister Airport over the summer, Zee.Aero’s product is a “flying car” that takes off and lands vertically.


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