In the latest Around Town column, news about the Palo Alto City Council considering a program for RV dwellers; the development of MARTY, an autonomous vehicle learning how to drift; and the city gathering community input on the future of Boulware Park.
REST STOPS ... Alarmed by the growing number of people sleeping in cars and vans on local streets, Palo Alto will consider on Monday a new program that will allow religious institutions to use their lots for "safe parking." If approved, the program would allow a church to have up to four vehicles parked at its lot between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. Program participants would have to be provided with a toilet and a sink (shower access is recommended but not required). Churches also would need to connect program participants with case management services that would help them transition into permanent housing. The program is modeled in many respects on similar initiatives that have recently been adopted in East Palo Alto and Mountain View. Councilman Tom DuBois (who was elected vice mayor this week) and Councilwoman Lydia Kou, who proposed the program last June, cited a recent census that showed a 31% growth in Santa Clara County's homeless population and argued that the city needs to tackle the issue "from a health and safety standpoint." While the memo suggested a number of "safe parking" options, including making city-owned sites and commercial lots available to car campers, the current proposal doesn't go that far. It would be limited to religious institutions and it would only offer permits for up to 90 days, with a provision for an automatic nine-month renewal if the program is found to be operating according to established standards. The program also would be abolished after two years, unless renewed by the council.
Update: By a unanimous vote on Jan. 13, the City Council approved the "safe parking" program. Read the full story here.
DRIFTING INTO THE FUTURE ... If "Back to the Future'' merged with "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," Marty would be the impressive results of the mashup. Short for Multiple Actuator Research Test bed for Yaw control, Marty is a 1981 DeLorean that Stanford University's Dynamic Design Lab repurposed into an all-electric, autonomous vehicle that can drift, according to a Dec. 20 article by Stanford News. Drifting is a deliberate movement where the vehicle intentionally oversteers, with a loss of traction, while maintaining control through the entirety of a corner. (The technique essentially forces car to slide sideways through a turn.) Engineers at the lab gutted the original car and replaced the insides with a slew of upgrades, including an electric motor, a stiffer suspension that can handle controlled oversteering and a computer-controlled steering system to safely and successfully drift the vehicle through complicated maneuvers. The car was recently put to the test on a kilometer-long obstacle course at the Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, a city 35 miles southwest of Chico, with on-board computers recording the results. Expertly drifting through sharp turns and zigzags, Marty completed the track without knocking over a single cone on its first try, according to the article. It's a novel feat by today's standards, but engineers at Dynamic Design Lab hope to use the results of the tests to develop self-driving cars in the near future that can better handle emergency maneuvers, especially during hazardous road conditions like rain or snow. Most autonomous cars today are designed to handle simple conditions such as staying within a lane and maintaining a safe distance from other cars, but it's all too common to hear of a Tesla on Autopilot driving into a concrete barrier as a result of limited system programming. The project team will continue to experiment with incorporating front and rear brakes to open up the car's capabilities for autonomous driving, which will allow Marty to make sharper turns in quicker succession and teach the vehicle to handle extreme circumstances for an overall safer driving experience.
HAVE YOUR SAY ... Do you think Palo Alto's Boulware Park is in need of a dog park, more play structures or pickleball courts? Those ideas and more could be considered by the city's Public Works Department, which is gathering the community's input on the future of the Ventura neighborhood's only open space, which is set for renovation. The 1.5-acre triangular site will expand by 0.64 acres through the city's $2.75 million purchase last year of a neighboring, vacant parcel from the Pacific Bell Telephone Company, which considered putting the property on the market. From now through Friday, Jan. 24, the public can fill out an online survey here.