Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Elon Musk’s SEC Lawsuit, Lyft’s Giveaway, and More Cars News

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Elon Musk’s SEC Lawsuit, Lyft’s Giveaway, and More Cars News

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Tesla CEO Elon Musk managed to get himself into a spot of trouble—again. This week, the charismatic business maven was sued by the SEC, for a series of what the feds are calling “false and misleading” tweets about taking Tesla private. The CEO reportedly ripped up a potential settlement with the enforcement agency, confident that he could beat the rap. And then promptly settled the case on Saturday afternoon, in an outcome that legal experts say is about as good as the electric carmaker could have hoped for. Our heads hurt, too.

Plus, we chat with makers of electric airplane motors, and look into a pedal car (??), clever ride-hail marketing stunts, and soldiers who can build bridges in 12 minutes—seriously. It’s been a week. Let’s get you caught up.

Headlines

  • How does one go about building a bridge in just over ten minutes? Transportation editor Alex Davies asked a member of the 32nd Multirole Bridge Company of the California National Guard—a thing that exists—about pulling off the task. Yes, it does involve unfolding a piece of metal like in reverse origami.
  • Meet the researchers trying to solve a critical problem for electric aviation motors: The power-to-weight ratio. As the CEO of Magnix puts it, “If a plane doesn’t have the power to weight ratio that it needs, it simply won’t take off.” You probably want your electric plane to take off.
  • Lyft’s “ditch your car challenge” is a PR stunt, I write. It’s also a way for the company to collect possibly valuable data on what its users want from a service that offers bike, scooter, and car rides.
  • Saudi Arabian inventor Nasser Al Shawaf wanted to get some exercise while he drove. This weird thing is the result.
  • WIRED contributor Eric Adams sends this dispatch from a small, secretive Arkansas conference for those plotting to launch the flying car industry in the US. Reps from Airbus, Google, Joby Aviation, TerraFugia, Uber, Virgin Galactic, NASA, the US Air Force, and Walmart all flew down South to attend—and worry collectively about China, which might take the lead in this the area if regulators don’t act quickly.
  • On Thursday, the US Securities and Exchange Commission sued Tesla CEO Elon Musk for making false and misleading statements as the head of a public company—charges that stem from a series of August tweets about taking the company private. The lawsuit could end with Musk banished from his role at the head of the electric carmaker.
  • With that much on the line, one might expect the Tesla CEO to scramble to settle with the feds. Not Elon Musk. The Tesla head reportedly backed out of a settlement with the SEC on Thursday morning—a move that has seriously ticked off investors. Did the CEO finally find a fight he couldn’t win?
  • Well, maybe not. By Saturday afternoon, Tesla and Musk had settled with the feds. Musk will have to step down as chairperson for at least three years, and loses his iron grip on the company. It could have been a lot worse.
  • Meanwhile, WIRED contributor Zachary Karabell wonders whether the SEC should have gotten itself involved in the Elon Musk tweet issue at all. Will its lawsuit chill innovation, and keep “rare birds” like Musk out of the marketplace?

Blog of the Week

This Teacher Was Taking Three Buses To Work, So Her Students Surprised Her With Better Public Transit Infrastructure

Stat of the Week

Hexbyte Tech News Wired 1%

According to a report by the JP Morgan Chase Institute, that’s the share of American families who earned money from app-based transportation companies in March 2018. Just over half a percent were making money through all other “gig economy” apps. Transpo is hot.

Required Reading

News from elsewhere on the internet

In the Rearview

Essential stories from WIRED’s past

Ah, 2007: When Elon Musk first made it to space.

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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Elon Musk’s SEC Settlement Could Have Gone So Much Worse

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Elon Musk’s SEC Settlement Could Have Gone So Much Worse

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

SASHA MASLOV/The New York Times/Redux

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

SASHA MASLOV/The New York Times/Redux

In early August, Tesla CEO Elon Musk posted a fateful tweet: “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.” On Saturday, two days after the US Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit against Tesla CEO Elon Musk for “false and misleading” statements made on Twitter, Musk, Tesla, and the feds reached a compromise—a settlement.

According to documents filed in a New York federal court, Musk and Tesla will have to each write $20 million checks for the misadventure, which will be disbursed to investors harmed during the wild market swings that occurred after Musk’s tweets. (Tesla announced in late August, 17 days after the tweet, that it would remain public.) The electric carmaker will appoint two additional independent members to its board. The company will have to keep firm oversight over Musk’s communications with investors—including by tweet. Most critically: Musk will have to step down from his role as Tesla chairperson for at least three years. He will remain on as the company’s CEO and will retain a seat on its board.

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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Elon Musk’s Boring Company Is Planning a Tunnel to Dodger Stadium

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Elon Musk’s Boring Company Is Planning a Tunnel to Dodger Stadium

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

With six weeks left in the 2018 baseball season, the Los Angeles Dodgers are just two games out of first place in the National League West and a trip to the playoffs. But even if they can top last year’s pennant-winning performance, the men in blue may not be the only heroes for the faithful packing into Dodger Stadium. Another Angeleno wants to share in the glory, with his own contribution: Elon Musk.

Getting to Dodger Stadium is a nightmare, even for a city where traffic is a way of life. Vehicles back up for miles. Brake lights outshine the sun. Exhaust pipes spew pollutants, choking up the 110 freeway and Sunset Boulevard, as cars notch forward inch by inch. It’s the sort of inefficiency Musk abhors, particularly when it’s him sitting in the middle of it.

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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Elon Musk’s Tesla Tweets Could Spark a Fight With the SEC

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Elon Musk’s Tesla Tweets Could Spark a Fight With the SEC

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

For the SEC—which, like many enforcement agencies, enjoys making headlines with shows of force—investigating Elon Musk’s tweet about taking Tesla private could be an easy win.

Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

For the SEC—which, like many enforcement agencies, enjoys making headlines with shows of force—investigating Elon Musk’s tweet about taking Tesla private could be an easy win.

Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Elon Musk is, if nothing else, a warrior. He has battled short sellers. He was waged war against the auto industry and the National Transportation Safety Board. He has scrapped with the media and Los Angeles traffic and, because 2018, Azealia Banks. Now, Musk may be in yet another battle, with the US Securities and Exchange Commissions.

This all started a week ago, when the Tesla CEO tweeted, “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.” But as Musk revealed in a Monday blog post, that funding may not, in fact, have been all that secured. And for the agency that regulates the securities industry, that may be a problem. One that could hurt Tesla where it counts: its checkbook.

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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Elon Musk’s Flint Water Plan Doesn’t Address the City’s Real Needs

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Elon Musk’s Flint Water Plan Doesn’t Address the City’s Real Needs

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Wednesday afternoon, on the heels of his belated effort to rescue a youth soccer team from a Thai cave with a tiny submarine, Elon Musk promised to fix another seemingly intractable problem. “Please consider this a commitment that I will fund fixing the water in any house in Flint that has water contamination above FDA levels,” Musk wrote in a tweet. “No kidding.”

You can nitpick pieces of this—the EPA, not the FDA, determines how many parts per billion of lead is safe in drinking water—or dismiss it as just another manifestation of Musk’s itinerant savior complex. But know that Flint, at least, welcomes Musk’s help. Just maybe not the version that’s on offer.

Which, in fairness, continues to evolve. Musk went on to invite residents to tweet their water quality test results to him—no takers yet, it seems—and said he would send someone over to install a water filter. When a reporter suggested that many Flint houses have safe water already, Musk pivoted to organizing “a weekend in Flint to add filters” to the remaining houses that lack them.

‘There are many people in Flint, I think it’s safe to say, who are never going to trust tap water again.’

Benjamin Pauli, Kettering University

Flint does need help, but filters are one thing it already has plenty of; the city distributes those and water testing kits, for free, at City Hall, and will continue to until Flint’s remaining 14,000 damaged lead and galvanized water service pipes have been fully replaced. And even then, slapping a filter on a kitchen faucet doesn’t address the deep-seated problems still felt by the Flint community four years after its crisis began.

“We had a lot of things damaged as a result of the corrosive water,” says Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who offered in a tweet Wednesday to talk through her city’s “specific needs” with Musk. “This is about reestablishing trust, and rebuilding trust. While filters have been helpful, we still need access to bottled water. People need to see all new pipes going in. That’s how you’re going to reestablish trust. And we know that’s what the residents deserve.”

Musk took her up on it, suggesting he’d call on Friday. Weaver says her office and Musk’s are still sorting out schedules, but preliminary conversations have been promising.

Filtering Down

It’s worth spending more time talking about those filters, not because they demonstrate Musk’s lack of familiarity with Flint’s current situation, but because they underscore the city’s deeper challenges.

First, it’s important to note that Flint’s drinking water has met federal standards for contaminants for at least a year. “From every objective measure that is out there, Flint’s water is like any other US city with old lead pipes,” says Siddhartha Roy, who works on the Virginia Tech research team that helped shed light on the Flint water crisis and has tracked it ever since. Water from old lead pipes still isn’t ideal, obviously, and makes filters a necessity. But even then, Flint residents remain understandably wary.

“There are many people in Flint, I think it’s safe to say, who are never going to trust tap water again under any circumstances,” says Benjamin Pauli, a social scientist at Flint’s Kettering University, who has been involved in clean water activism efforts. “It’s true that the filters solve a lead problem at point of use, but there are lots of other issues with the filters.”

Not all residents know how to install and maintain them, for one. A March survey of 2,000 residents by Flint News showed that 15 percent of respondents didn’t have a filter, while over a third weren’t confident in their ability to change the filter at the appropriate time.

And then there’s what Roy calls the “big trust gap” that makes Flint activists and residents suspicious of even working filters. That’s because they effectively get lead out of the water at a specific tap, but don’t clear away bacteria. For a city that suffered a deadly spike in Legionnaires’ disease in 2016, which has been linked to corrosive water from the Flint River, that causes understandable unease. But Roy notes that the current bacteria found in Flint’s filters has not been shown to be harmful. And anyone who does have concerns can follow a few simple steps to minimize bacterial buildup.

“We do have concerns about filter use, and maintenance, and education around the filters. Everybody is not comfortable with that. Seniors are especially not comfortable with the filters,” says Weaver, who notes that the city does have Community Outreach and Resident Education that visits homes to help remediate any filter issues that arise.

Which again should sound familiar to anyone who read Musk’s tweets. What he proposes to accomplish in a barnstorming weekend has been an available resource for years. Better, then, to focus on what Flint really needs.

Bottle It Up

In April, the state of Michigan stopped providing free bottled water to Flint. For a city that still doesn’t trust its taps, the impact can’t be overstated.

“The bottled water is necessary as a short-term intervention for a long-term, structural water system problem,” says Pastor Monica Villarreal, who has helped organize community-based efforts to provide clean water resources in Flint. “The water crisis is going to affect this city from generation to generation. And when you look at it from that perspective, two, three, maybe even four years of bottled water is not much.”

Community aid stations that were once open daily to distribute bottled water now operate just three times a week. And in the absence of state support, Flint increasingly has to rely on private donors; Weaver says the Detroit Police Department recently brought in a fresh supply.

So if Elon Musk—or anyone else—wants to help Flint, start with bottled water, which residents will continue to depend on until every last lead and galvanized line gets replaced. “Bottled water is really the life and death issue,” Villarreal says.

‘That was one of the fears of the residents, that attention would go away, and we have not been made whole.’

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver

And if you want to think bigger, plenty of options remain. “One issue that residents have been raising from very early on is that corrosive water from the river didn’t just damage service lines and water mains, it also damaged the plumbing within people’s homes,” says Kettering’s Pauli. “And not just pipes but fixtures, and also appliances that use water. That would include washing machines, and dishwashers, and hot water heaters.”

Scale it up again, to billionaire proportions. “We want to look at the bigger infrastructure issues in the city as well,” Weaver says. “It’s about reestablishing trust. You have to be confident in the water again.” One way to accomplish that? Get more contractors on the ground replacing service lines; get a three-year replacement plan finished by the end of 2018. And then, Weaver says, look at investment in the community. Instead of—or in addition to—giving people water, how can you help get them back to work?

Those are the types of questions Elon Musk can expect on his call with the mayor. But no matter what comes of it, even expressing interest in the first place has accomplished something invaluable: Reminding people that Flint still exists, and still needs help.

“We’re glad to have the attention. That was one of the fears of the residents, that attention would go away, and we have not been made whole,” Weaver says. “We want everybody watching, because what happened to Flint should never happen to any place again.”


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