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Self-piloting taxis are flying around New Zealand (no, really), the TSA is now searching devices on US domestic flights, Estonia’s set to create a new visa for digital nomads, and Google’s making it easier to find your way to difficult destinations.
Flying Self-Driving Taxis are Being Tested In New Zealand
My homeland of New Zealand has long been used as a testing ground for new technology, due to having good infrastructure and a small population to limit the fallout if things go wrong. In recent months, locals in the South Island have been spotting an odd-looking object in the skies, but it turns out it’s not a UFO. Instead, it’s a prototype of what could be the world’s first flying, self-piloting taxi.
Kitty Hawk, a company backed by Google founder Larry Page, has been developing these half-helicopter, half-plane taxis as a stealth project. It’s all out in the open now, though, with the Kiwi government announcing an official joint testing and certification project.
The battery-powered “Cora” taxis have an 11 metre (36 foot) wingspan, outfitted with a dozen rotors so they can take off and land vertically like a helicopter. Since there’s no pilot, both seats will be available for passengers.
Some reports suggest the goal is to have a fleet of these taxis operating commercial services in as little as three years, although the company itself is careful not to make such claims on its site. That timeframe, honestly, sounds highly-ambitious, but Page has deep pockets, so you never know.
If you’d like to see the taxis in action, check out the video in this New York Times piece.
The TSA Is Searching Devices on Domestic Flights, Because Reasons
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the United States has been in the news a lot recently. Searches and seizures of phones, tablets, and laptops from passengers arriving off international flights have increased dramatically in the last year, to the point where lawsuits have been filed against the government and guides have been published for travelers on how to protect themselves.
Now, it’s emerged that domestic travelers, including American citizens, are being targeted as well. Officers are said to have demanded iPhones and other devices from passengers as they go through airport security checkpoints, without giving a reason, and then disappearing with the devices for several minutes.
Reports are mostly anecdotal at this stage, with no clear pattern behind the searches. Still, it’s a timely reminder that your data and privacy aren’t assured when traveling in the United States, even if you’re a citizen or far from the nearest border. As we’ve been saying for a while, password protection and file encryption on mobile devices is the minimum requirement for travelers who value their privacy, no matter where they are in the world.
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Estonia Set to Introduce Work Visas for Digital Nomads
Estonia’s been at the forefront of tech-based government innovation for a while now, and has been getting plenty of attention from online entrepreneurs since introducing its “e-residency” programme in 2014.
The scheme allows people from anywhere in the world to easily set up a company, including euro bank accounts, in Estonia. That’s ideal for those looking to do business in the European Union, but doesn’t give any residency rights beyond the length of a standard tourist visa.
Realising this, the Estonian government is now looking at offering a one-year visa targeted specifically at digital nomads. It would allow holders to live and work in the country without restriction during that period, with potentially no need to pay taxes locally as long as they were registered to pay them elsewhere. They may also be able to buy “packages” of services, such as access to healthcare, as needed.
At a time when many countries are looking to shut the gates and make it more difficult for foreigners to live and work there, it’s truly refreshing to see Estonia taking the opposite approach. Assuming it happens, the visa is due to be available from early next year.
Google’s Made It Easier to Navigate to Difficult Locations
If you’ve ever tried to use an app to get around in countries like India, you’ll already know just what an interesting experience it is. In cities where street names and numbers are often fluid or non-existent, and even Uber drivers have a hard time and navigate mostly by landmark, tourists spend a lot of time being lost.
Google’s trying to help with that, adding a new concept it’s calling “Plus codes.” It’s basically a way of identifying any spot on the planet via a unique string of characters. Broken up into a four character area code and six letter code for the exact location, generating it is as simple as opening the Google Maps app, tapping and holding on a spot, and scrolling down to see the Plus code.
Tap that to copy it, then share it any way you like. You can do much the same thing on the Plus website if you’re on desktop or not a Google Maps user.
When anybody else wants to find the same spot, they just paste the code into Google Maps or the Plus site. It works all over the world, although obviously is most useful in places where navigation is otherwise difficult.
It’s such a simple idea, it’s surprising it hasn’t been done before. I can see it getting a lot of use from hotel owners in remote locations, friends sharing favourite camping spots, or anyone else sick of typing out 200 words of explanation every time they want to guide people somewhere off the beaten track.