Technology

City’s new congestion tax puts burden on Uber and Lyft drivers

By Kari McMahon
Medill Reports

On a recent journey downtown local Uber driver Matt collected a fare of $10 but said he only made $4 from it. The city, which began imposing a new congestion tax a month ago, made $3.

Matt, who typically drives eight hours a night, said that working as a ride-hail driver was not an easy job. He said the congestion tax is just another challenge he has to deal with on top of ride-hail companies taking a significant cut of his fares and having to compete with thousands of other drivers for those fares.

“It really is just a cash grab for the city, cloaked under the guise of congestion reduction,” said Matt, who did not want to share his full name for fear of losing his job. “Now you just have the same number of cars looking for potentially fewer riders.”

 In January, the City of Chicago implemented a new congestion tax on ride-hail providers to encourage riders to either use public transport or shared trips in the downtown area. The thinking behind the tax was that it would encourage residents to use public transportation, thereby lowering the number of vehicles in the city center and reducing congestion.

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Tailor-made models for preventing suicide may soon be a reality

By Madhurita Goswami
Medill Reports

A recent study based on social media data shows that chat features of conversations between help-seekers and therapists can be used to predict suicide risk and develop models to reduce the risk.

“There is an interesting link between language and health that hasn’t been explored in real-time fashion,” said Carlos Gallo, a research assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. For instance, expression of positive or negative emotions compared to “yes” or “no” answers is linked to reduced suicide risk. Help-seekers who are less engaged tend to fare the worst, Gallo said.

On the other hand, he said a counselor can improve suicide prevention by using sentences such as – “it’s understandable that you are feeling sorry for your loss” or “thank you for sharing that awful experience” or “what would it feel like if you were to take a walk around the park?”

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Northwestern University researchers offer innovative solutions for Chicago’s growing climate challenge

By Selah Holland
Medill Reports

The American Lung Association declared Chicago the 18th most polluted U.S. city, with an ‘F’ rating for ozone pollution on the organization’s annual “State of the Air” report this year. Ozone levels rise with the heat index in summer and Chicago, like many cities, is seeing more heat waves.

This is one indicator that Chicago is facing serious climate change implications, said Northwestern University environmental researchers who are determined to do something about it.

Northwestern’s Climate Change Research Group (CCRG) leader  Daniel Horton and researcher Irene Crisologo presented a climate action plan — Systems Approaches for Vulnerable Evaluation and Urban Resilience (SAVEUR) — to area residents in Evanston recently. An audience of more than 75 people learned about their plan and why it’s critically urgent. Continue reading

NASA space-weather satellite launches after one-day delay

By Harrison Liao
Medill Reports

Due to weather and communications problems, NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer satellite (ICON), initially set to launch Wednesday, remained grounded for an extra day.

At first, precipitation held back Northrup Grumman’s L-1011 Stargazer aircraft, ICON’s courier into the fringes of Earth’s atmosphere where it would launch. When weather finally cleared up Thursday, aircraft communication issues prevented the launch of Pegasus XL, the rocket designed to carry ICON into orbit.

With those problems solved, ICON began its journey into orbit at around 10 p.m. EST on Thursday and hit its orbit at 39,000 feet. Continue reading

AI brings brand new experience in recruiting, while data poses challenges

Yixuan Xie
Medill Reports

Hiring the right people is crucial to an organization’s success and companies are turning to artificial intelligence to optimize that process.

AI, which uses computer science to make machines imitate human intelligence and behavior, is revolutionizing numerous industries. It is the technology behind Amazon Inc.’s cashier-less stores, Tesla Inc.’s self-driving vehicles and Apple Inc.’s Siri voice assistant. It is also lending a helping hand to the recruiting industry to find the right people for the right jobs.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent for July, which is near a five-decade low. Despite being good news for job seekers, the rate has some employers desperate to find talented workers when so many people are already employed.

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AI for candidate screening: eliminating or reinforcing bias

Yixuan Xie
Medill Reports

While job applicants hope they are evaluated based upon their capabilities and skills when applying for a job, hiring decisions can be full of biases, ranging from dismissing a candidate simply for a name to focusing recruiting efforts on elite schools.

With multiple studies revealing discrimination in recruitment, artificial intelligence is being embraced as a way to level the playing filed. AI removes human interaction from some parts of resume and video screening, helping to address conscious and unconscious hiring bias. But despite creating a more consistent and fairer way to evaluate applicants, it has the potential to be problematic.

Resume Screening

A 2016 study by Cornell University showed that resumes reveal candidates’ personal identifiable information and may introduce bias into the screening process, especially at the initial stages. It found that candidates with Caucasian-sounding names had 50 percent higher call back rates for interviews than those candidates with African American-sounding names. Research by PayScale, a salary trend analysis website, revealed this year that women face barriers to being hired at tech companies, with females being just 29 percent of the industry.

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Despite launch delay, NU undergrads plow ahead with redesign for NASA freeze-casting experiments

By Lauren Robinson
Medill Reports

Young scientists are racing to deliver by October a satellite payload of instruments to test freeze-casting — technology that could free space explorers from expensive, time-consuming deliveries of supplies from Earth.

The team of Northwestern University undergraduates building the innards for a small satellite called a “CubeSat” missed the launch window last year but are getting ready for another try.

“The sample container failed,” explains Kristen Scotti, a graduate student and mentor for SpaceICE, the initiative creating the CubeSat instrumentation to test freeze-casting for eventual manufacturing needs in space. Essentially, the glass containers for three sample suspensions were cracking, and anything less than airtight would jeopardize the freeze-casting process, dependent upon controlled temperatures and accurate readings.
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Madrid’s Cajal Institute fosters collaboration among international neuroscientists

By Valerie Nikolas
Medill Reports

A Japanese postdoctoral fellow, two Spanish doctoral candidates, an Italian undergraduate and an American journalist walk into a neuroscience research institute in Spain.

It’s 2 p.m. and the Cajal Institute’s break room is abuzz with the sounds of scientists eating packed lunches, discussing the latest episode of Game of Thrones and debating which country has the best coffee.

I’m at the Cajal Institute for a three-week embedded science reporting assignment, during which I will work closely with scientists here to learn about their research and communicate their findings. The Cajal Institute—the oldest neuroscience institute in Spain—was founded by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the Nobel Prize-winning father of modern neuroscience.

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Stoned drivers targeted by new breathalyzer technology

By Brady Jones
Medill Reports

Slowed reaction time. Reduced ability to make decisions. Impaired coordination. Memory loss. Difficulty in problem-solving. These are some of the symptoms listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describing people who drive under the influence of marijuana. And right now, it is very difficult for law enforcement officials to determine when these drivers are sharing the road with you—and may be responsible for causing an accident.

Detecting recent marijuana use by drivers is far more difficult for law enforcement than detecting the presence of alcohol. Currently, testing can’t be done for marijuana using on-site breath samples. Now, a new device that aims to provide a reliable solution to this growing concern is being developed—and law enforcement officials welcome the potential of the new technology.

As more states move to legalization for recreational purposes, marijuana is more accessible to people with limited or no experience using it. The ability to successfully detect drivers that have smoked or ingested the drug becomes paramount to keeping drivers safe. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana that produces the feeling of being high, does not show up on current, traditional breathalyzer devices used by law enforcement to detect blood alcohol content.
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How to ensure your electric vehicle is powered by renewable energy

By Brady Jones
Medill Reports

Driving an electric vehicle plays a critical role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but the impact of this reduction gets diminished if the electricity comes from fossil fuels. The sources of electricity used to power your car must be green too and several choices are available to make that happen.

It all comes down to this: how can you ensure that you are maximizing the amount of electricity that comes from renewable sources used to charge your vehicle?

The two highest contributors of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 were transportation and electricity production, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In Illinois, 40 percent of the state’s electricity is produced by coal and natural gas—only 7 percent is produced by wind and solar, reports the U.S. Department of Energy. Fortunately, some power companies offer green energy options for your power. And there are steps you can take to maximize the percentage of renewable sources for your electricity. How you do that depends first on where you live.
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