Planet Money on the productivity of the UPS driver

Check out this fascinating radio piece on the efforts of UPS to manage driver productivity. Sensors throughout the vehicle produce information that's "about as important as the package for us," says Jack Levis, who's in charge of onboard data collection and analysis.

The piece has the usual Big Brother tropes, but it also delves into the company's ROI for investing in technology that can save time for the driver. A driver who says he used to deliver 90 packages a day now handles roughly 120. Levis says, "Just one minute per driver per day over the course of a year adds up to $14.5 million."

Can you test-drive a driverless vehicle?

The U.S. Armed Forces have a goal to have one-third of operational ground combat vehicles unmanned by 2015. That's next year. The solution from Oshkosh Defense is the TerraMax UGV, a vehicle kit system, which gives soldiers the ability to control trucks remotely using a controller that will look familiar to anyone with a Mario Kart game.

Top Gear did a test drive of sorts, pitting an autonomous TerraMax against a Range Rover on an off-road course in Nevada. This video is a preview of a race between the driverless TerraMax versus Top Gear's James May; go here for the full 9-minute version.

Fight for your right to flash

Under the U.S. Constitution, the government can't censor your freedom of speech without proper justification. Which begs the question: Is flashing your headlights protected speech?

A judge in Oregon last week ruled that drivers have a First Amendment right to flash their headlights to warn oncoming vehicles about speed traps.  The citation given to truck-logger Chris Hill of Klamath Falls—a $260 ticket—"was clearly given to punish the Defendant for that expression," wrote Judge Joseph Carter. "The government certainly can and should enforce the traffic laws for the safety of all drivers on the road. However, the government cannot enforce the traffic laws, or any other laws, to punish drivers for their expressive conduct."

Earlier this year, a federal judge in St. Louis made a similar ruling in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. According to the ACLU, this was the first federal court ruling on the issue.

In Oso, reporters break out their toolboxes

More than a week after the March 22 mudslide in Oso, Wash., which destroyed dozens of homes and killed more than two dozen people, it's still remarkable to see how reporters are covering the story.

A package in The New York Times today uses video to show the scope of the damage; it's another example of the skills reporters are expected to bring to the field. Graphic artists are also telling the story. Check out this breathtaking before and after graphic in The Seattle Times.

It's getting harder to hitch a ride—unless you're shipping crude

Writing in Food Business News, Ron Sterk talks about challenges agricultural shippers face after a brutal winter and stiff competition for rail capacity

At what may have been the peak of the logistics problems in January, several flour mills and sugar refineries were forced to slow operations or temporarily close during a period of extremely cold and snowy weather. Severe cold slows switching activity and reduces the effectiveness of air brakes, forcing railroads to run more but shorter trains, which may add to congestion. While the most severe of those conditions appear to have eased, in part as grain millers and sugar factories added trucks to supplement slow rail shipments, the problems are far from over, and in some cases may have continued to worsen.

Teamsters score a win with PAC 9

Here's a solid summary in The Washington Post about a deal between the NLRB and PAC 9 Transportation, a drayage hauler at the Post of Los Angeles. The company is required to post a notice saying its 130 drivers have the right to unionize. It's a victory in the Teamsters' efforts to make independent contractors into employees, but one former union organizer says it's "like emptying the ocean with a 5-gallon bucket."

Nissan's smart rear-view mirror

Now this is clever. From Nissan:

The Smart rearview mirror is housed within the structure of the rear-view mirror, with a built-in LCD monitor that can be activated in place of the conventional mirror. A high-resolution camera mounted on the rear of the vehicle provides the driver with a clear unobstructed view of the rear flanks, allowing the ability to check blind spots and other traffic conditions. The camera projects a clear image onto the monitor to provide the driver with a better view for a more comfortable driving experience.