Japanese engineer invents the world’s first ‘Car That Fits in Your Bag’

Next Shark (by Laura Dang):

Japanese engineer Kuniako Saito and his team at Cocoa Motors have developed a small portable transporter that Saito claims to be the world’s first “car in a bag.” The thin WalkCar transporter, which can fit in a backpack, is made from aluminium and weighs between 4.4 to 6.6 pounds, depending on its use for indoor or outdoor purposes.

Saito, 26, and his team recently showcased the lithium battery-powered device that resembles a skateboard and is about the size of a laptop computer, reports Reuters. Its maximum speed is 6.2 miles per hour with a distance of 7.4 miles when fully charged after three hours.

Just how fast is Japan’s new maglev train? See for yourself…

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RocketNews 24:

It may not be due to begin ferrying passengers between Tokyo and Osaka for another 10+ years yet, but Japan’s magnetic levitation (maglev) train is already zipping up and down a special section of test track in Yamanashi Prefecture, and it’s nothing short of spectacular.

Check out our video of this thing in motion – oh, and try not to blink because you really might miss it.

The Japanese maglev broke world records last week when its parent company, Central Japan Railway Company, announced that it had recorded speeds of 590 kilometres per hour (that’s 366 mph) on a stretch of test track in Yamanashi Prefecture, smashing a world record that has stood for over a decade.

But these are all just numbers; what does a train travelling that fast actually look like? Well, you’re about to find out…

Scheduled to start serving the public between Tokyo and Nagoya in 2027, the line is set to be extended all the way to Osaka by 2045, making it possible to travel between the two cities in just 67 minutes – roughly half the time it currently takes by bullet train. It’s going to be a long time coming, but with speeds like that, we’ll probably have clawed back our lost time after about a week of commuting.

If you’d like to check out the maglev for yourself, head over to the Yananashi Prefecture Maglev Exhibition Center website for more info.

Chinese company Ninebot buys out Segway

RocketNews 24:

It’s hard to imagine life before 2002 when the Segway standing scooter thing hit the scene completely revolutionized the way we get about, just like everyone predicted it would.

Its staggering success has made it an American institution. Like many of you, I have fond memories of making out with that special someone in the back of my Segway at the Segway-in movies during those hot summer nights.

But now, the vehicle we have all welcomed into our lives is entering a new chapter having been bought out by Beijing-based Ninebot Inc. I guess we won’t be able to use the old cliché “it’s as American as a Segway” anymore.

Ninebot was established in 2012 and also produces balance controlled wheeled devices very similar to the Segway that’s no doubt resting comfortably in the corner of your home as you read this. However, after generating US$80 million in funds from bakers including Beijing smartphone company Xiaomi, they have taken over the brand that had once inspired them.

In their announcement on 15 April, Ninebot said they hoped to use the expertise of Segway to further their own engineering advancements. Segway reportedly holds around 400 patents involving the mobility machines that gave rise to the beloved International Segway Polo Association.

▼ Hiroshima Toyo Carp Mascot and Segway enthusiast Slyly couldn’t be reached for comment on the deal.

It’s hard to say what Ninebot’s endgame is with this acquisition, perhaps they simply want a lock over the lucrative “tour group” and “mall security” markets. Or maybe it was just a matter of national pride as we will all now have to begin saying “it’s as Chinese as a Segway” instead… Admittedly it is a lot catchier that way.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club

The official launch of the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is set to take place in the near future. However, for those looking for an enhanced experience, the Club model introduces a more performance-inclined offering to coincide with the original general release. Aside from the manual transmission option, other performance and aesthetic upgrades include 17-inch gunmetal alloy wheels, a limited-slip differential, Bilstein shocks and new aerodynamics.

For more information head over to longlivetheroadster.com

Narita Airport shuttle buses – Cheaper than the train, but which bus is best?

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RocketNews 24:

Most tourists to Japan will come in and out through Tokyo’s Narita Airport. But like many international airports, Narita is not exactly on the doorstep of a major destination city, and travellers headed for Tokyo will usually make the 60-kilometer (36-mile) journey to the metropolis via the Narita Express, a high-speed rail service with a single-trip fare of 3020 yen (US $25.34).

What’s perhaps less well-known is there are two budget bus services that take you from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station for as little as 900 yen. Tokyo Shuttle and The Access Narita seem to offer similar airport shuttle services, but which is the better option?  And can they match the Narita Express in comfort and convenience? We sent one of our Japanese reporters to test out both services and find out!

First things first, let’s have a look at the vital statistics for each service.

1) Fares and times

Tokyo Shuttle: Reserved seats for all services cost 900 yen ($7.55) and can be booked online in English. The walk-up fare is 1,000 yen, or 2,000 yen on early morning services (before 5 a.m.).

The Access Narita: Tickets cost a flat rate of 1,000 yen ($8.38); you can also book online, but the website is in Japanese only.

Both services run approximately every 15-20 minutes (except services before 5 a.m. which are less frequent), with journey times of 60 to 80 minutes. By comparison, the Narita Express leaves every 30 minutes, with a journey time of just 53 minutes, although it doesn’t run as early in the morning as these buses.

2) Routes

Tokyo Shuttle operates between Narita Airport and locations in Tokyo: Ginza Station, Tokyo Station, Shinonome Shako, and the Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba.

▼ That’s right, you can get a shuttle bus direct from the airport to the retro wonderland that is arguably Tokyo’s coolest hot spring!

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The Access Narita, meanwhile, runs between the airport, Ginza, and Tokyo Station, and also runs a service between Tokyo and the major hotels at Narita airport. So if you’re staying near Narita Airport before flying home, The Access Narita is a good bet.

▼ They also get a bonus point for that unnecessary “The” in their name, although we immediately docked that point again because “The Access Narita” isn’t actually written on their buses anywhere.

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3) Location of Tokyo bus stops

When heading to the airport on your way home, you’ll need to be able to find the bus stop. Tokyo Shuttle’s stand was a little way away from Tokyo Station, and our reporter had a hard time finding it. The Access Narita, however, was close to the station exit and easy to find. He felt this gave it the edge in terms of convenience.

Tokyo Shuttle buses, operated by Keisei, are easily identifiable, unlike The Access Narita which is operated by different bus companies depending on the time of day.

▼ What bus company is this? We’re sure you’ll figure it out.

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 4) Onboard facilities

With tickets purchased and bus stops located, it was time to ride to Narita Airport! Next up, our reporter wanted to check out the facilities available on each service.

Tokyo Shuttle’s buses have electrical sockets and Wi-Fi which could be very handy if you’ve just arrived in the country (don’t forget your adapter!). The Access Narita, on the other hand, has more leg-room and an onboard toilet.

▼ Tokyo Shuttle gets a bonus point this time though, for those lacy seat covers.

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▼ Although there are still some Tokyo Shuttle services that don’t have Wi-Fi and electrical outlets yet, ours did, as marked on the exterior of the bus.

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▼ The Access Narita looks pretty similar, but boasts “wide seats” for extra comfort.

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 ▼ A choice between charging your electrical devices, and having access to a bathroom? It’s the ultimate 21st-century dilemma…

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We think this contest is almost a tie, to be honest, but our Japanese reporter felt that the extra leg-room and onboard restroom made The Access Narita the winner in his book. He offered the following words of advice for new riders:

  • When you ride the bus from Tokyo to the airport, an official comes onboard and checks tickets and ID. So keep your ticket and passport accessible, not buried in the bottom of your bag under all those souvenirs.
  • If you don’t make a reservation, it’s possible the bus might be full and you might have to wait for the next one. So we recommend either booking in advance online, or leaving a little extra time to get to the airport on your return journey.

With these points in mind, you should be able to enjoy a cheap and easy trip from Narita to Tokyo!

China to build $242bn high-speed Beijing-Moscow rail link

China Railway High-speed

China and Russia’s multi-billion dollar high-speed rail network project

International Business Times:

China is to build a 7,000-kilometre high-speed railway connecting its capital Beijing to Moscow which will reduce the journey time between the two cities to two days from five.

The $242bn (£160bn, €210bn) project was confirmed in a Weibo post published by Beijing’s municipal government. The rail link will go through Kazakhstan and make travel between Asia and Europe easier, according to the post.

China and Russia had signed a memorandum of understanding on the ambitious project in October 2014. The construction of the project is expected to take eight to 10 years.

The huge investment would mostly be made by China, as Russia’s economy has been hurt by the recent oil price plunge and Western sanctions, according to critics of the project.

However, the high-speed rail line can provide many other long-term benefits that could make up for the cost of the investment, according to an earlier post on Sina’s military blog.

The new high-speed rail line can be used to increase the transfer of energy resources and food items, which are scarce in China, according to the blog.

It noted that the rail network can be used to import some of Russia’s fertile soil to China to improve the quality of its overdeveloped land. Further, the rail line could be used by Chinese farmers to migrate to Russia and set up small agricultural villages.

The relationship between China and Russia has been strengthened as the latter is engaged in a political row with the US and Europe over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

The countries earlier signed a $400bn deal for Russian gas giant Gazprom to build a pipeline and start gas supplies to China. The 30-year contract will enable the company to supply 38 billion cubic metres of gas to China per year.

What will happen to Uber in China? Car-sharing app faces uncertain landscape and well-funded competitors

 ChinaFile:

Ride-sharing app Uber has expanded around the world at a blistering pace, launching in a new city every one or two days. At first glance, China would appear the ideal fit for the Silicon Valley startup. Most urban residents in the world’s second-largest economy rely on sclerotic local taxi monopolies whose numbers have failed to match the country’s breakneck urbanization: the population of the capital Beijing, for example, has grown by nearly 50 percent to 20 million in the past ten years, while its taxi fleet of 66,000 remains the same size it was in 2003. The potential for a better way to get around town is clearly immense.

But on December 23, Uber suffered a setback when local authorities raided its office in the large southern city of Chongqing, a sign the company may encounter regulatory scrutiny in China similar to what it has encountered in other countries. Uber’s Chongqing travails initially appear to be yet another case in the recent string of large foreign firms finding themselves in the crosshairs of Chinese regulators—often to the benefit of domestic champions. It may come as a surprise, then, that Uber’s local competitors have come in for their share of official scrutiny as well.

Foreign and domestic ride-sharing apps both brush against powerful vested interests here, meaning that app makers, riders, and drivers all need to prepare for a bumpy ride.

China’s ride-on-demand market has been so ripe for the picking that when Uber launched there in February this year, it quickly found itself a small player in a market dominated by existing alternatives. These include “black taxis”—low-tech drivers peddling rides outside of the official taxi system—as well as two domestic taxi-hailing and ride-sharing apps backed by deep-pocketed local Internet firms: Didi Dache (roughly “Honk honk, hail a cab”), which is integrated with social network titan Tencent, and Kuaidi Dache (meaning “Quickly hail a cab”), funded by e-commerce giant Alibaba. (On the same day Uber was raided, the U.S. firm also announced it had secured backing from a third internet giant, search engine firm Baidu, a move that Uber hopes will give it more resources to battle the local players.)

Both Didi and Kuaidi got their start as apps helping riders to hail traditional taxis from the local monopolies, allowing users to entice cab drivers with tips. The apps’ tech giant backers poured money into promotions and bonuses—which included literally paying drivers and riders to use their apps—to drum up supply and demand. The strategy has succeeded; taxi-hailing apps now count 154 million Chinese users. Didi alone boasts100 million users and 900,000 registered taxi drivers spread across 178 cities, with more than 5 million rides booked every day. Even after a decline following the termination of the major promotions, the apps remain in heavy nationwide use, appearing to vindicate the apps’ early, money-burning tactics.

Having conquered the taxi-hailing market, over the summer both Kuaidi and Didi separately rolled out secondary services for riding in private cars that compete more directly with Uber’s bread and butter. These offerings provide tiers of service, with car models going all the way up to high-end Audis. The private car services are still new, but Didi and Kuaidi and their deep-pocketed backers have made clear they aren’t afraid to spend lavishly on early promotions and subsidies to build the market.

It would appear that China’s ride-on-demand market is Didi and Kuaidi’s to lose.

Those apps’ private drivers are less sanguine. One told me that although business is good, “Didi is still new, so who knows if the government might ban it later?” It’s a line that illustrates the difficult relationship that firms on the cutting edge of business innovation often have with Chinese authorities.

Even before Didi and Kuaidi launched their private car services, their taxi-hailing functions already encountered considerable scrutiny and the occasional bans from city governments for most of their two-year lifespans. That has led to different regulatory regimes in different cities. For example, Didi’s ability to attract cabbies with the promise of hefty tips was still functional on this author’s recent trip to the regional capital city of Changsha, while as of late October, that option had apparently been removed in Shanghai, China’s largest city. Rumors swirled that authorities here were trying to protect traditional taxi reservation hotlines, or were attempting to prize the city’s taxis from the grasp of a smartphone-wielding technorati that had grown used to luring drivers with tips, leaving the elderly and other riders who still hail cabs the old-fashioned way coughing in the dust.

But another theory goes that Didi and Kuaidi removed the tipping function themselves, in order to push well-heeled riders to consider their new Uber-like private car services, which still allow tipping. But private car services also have seen their share of sniping from interest groups and regulators, in many cases well before the December raid on Uber’s Chongqing office. By adding private car services to their existing taxi-hailing functions, the apps have gone from helping traditional taxis secure riders and tips to cultivating competing services that step on the toes of local taxi monopolies, which are often state-owned and constitute influential vested interests. Cab drivers in some cities already have complained that private car services are eating into their business, with cabbies in the large city of Nanjing threatening to boycott Didi’s taxi-hailing app if the firm did not remove the private car function. Local governments have also come down on these native apps on grounds similar to those countries like Belgium have cited in restricting Uber: i.e., the cars act like taxis but aren’t licensed like taxis, making them technically illegal. The large industrial city of Shenyang has already banned the private car service, and others like the major seaport of Dalian have questioned its legality too.

I used Didi to ride with several private car drivers, and found them understandably concerned about a potential ban on their new business. A Shanghai native surnamed Wang drove for Didi’s private car service full time, and was thus most vulnerable to any future regulation. Like all drivers I met, Wang was aware of the potential for a government ban on Didi and its competitors, but called it a double standard, noting the government had “allowed fleets of ‘black taxis’ to operate around Shanghai’s train station and other hubs with impunity for years.” Called “black” because they are illegal, black taxis have been a mainstay of Chinese city streets before smartphones even existed, taking advantage of the surplus demand created by limited taxi fleets. They offer rides to the impatient or desperate for unmetered fares that are bargained on the spot—usually to the disadvantage of those unfamiliar with the city.

If the authorities could turn a blind eye to black taxis, asked Mr. Wang, shouldn’t they be lenient towards Didi’s more professional private car service as well? After all, his clean Volkswagen SUV offered standard Didi features like bottled water and a charging port, and his friendly service and metered fares tallied by Didi’s app added up to a far better experience than that offered by the rundown black taxis with their shady drivers. Wang may have answered his own question.

Since the apps are far better organized and provide superior service, they represent a more significant threat to traditional cabs than black taxis ever could, which has inspired a stronger protectionist response.

Not all drivers were bitter about the threat of government action. One cheerful Didi driver, also surnamed Wang (no relation), came from the city of Xi’an and drove for the app as a lucrative sideline to his day job running a boxed-lunch business for office workers. He acknowledged that his part-time work probably infringed on taxi drivers’ territory and was resigned to the possibility that government action would put an end to it, but he was happy for the extra income while it lasted.

Drivers continue to participate in Didi’s private car service despite the uncertainties in part because Didi pays generous subsidies to drivers who receive high customer ratings, a gambit that echoes it and Kuaidi’s earlier promotions for taxis. (In an attempt to curry rider favor, some drivers even go beyond the app makers’ basic requirements like bottled water, providing extra touches such as medicine for carsickness.) Mr. Wang from Shanghai told me he was earning about $1,600 per month, thanks to subsidies and bonuses, more than Shanghai’s average white-collar salary of about $1,180. Wang’s father had been a cab driver and drove crushing hours, sometimes from 7 o’clock a.m. until midnight or later, without weekends; the younger Wang felt his hours were much easier. Bonuses fluctuate daily, but at their best can let drivers pocket double what passengers pay in fares, with Didi making up the difference. Given that Didi and Kuaidi battled for taxi-hailing market shares earlier this year by literally paying drivers and riders to use their apps, this latest subsidy scheme appears to be an effort to flood the streets with private cars at key times, making the service more convenient in the eyes of riders while also undercutting less well-funded competitors.

Uber may in the future find itself ensnared in more regulatory troubles with local Chinese authorities, but it won’t be alone. Didi and Kuaidi’s private car services have already upset the old system, in which traditional cabs dominated and black taxis mopped up excess demand without providing any real competition. Kuaidi has expressed confidence that it has the market knowledge and official relationships to ride out the initial wave of government scrutiny, though only time can tell if that is the case. In the meantime, drivers and riders can enjoy the services’ financial generosity and convenience—while they last.