Tesla owners’ battery data show it won’t win through chemistry, only a better factory

July 18, 2018

When it comes to winning the battery race, only one thing matters, says Jay Whitacre, a materials science researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. “It’s all cost,” he said by phone. “This is completely an economic battle. The innovation is doing this as cheaply as possible. It’s less about building the cell, and more about building the factories that make the batteries.”

It’s unlikely anything will shake up the market for at least five years, say battery researchers. New battery types take years to move from the lab to production, and there’s still room for improvement in lithium-ion cell design and manufacturing methods. Yet potentially cheaper designs such as “pouch cells” are already popular with rival EV makers. New battery factories larger than Tesla’s are breaking ground in Europe and Asia. Tesla’s clever engineering gives the carmaker an advantage over its rivals, for now. But change may arrive faster than many think.
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A replacement for traffic lights gets its first test

July 11, 2018

So automotive engineers, motorists, and pedestrians alike would dearly love to know whether an alternative is feasible. Today they get an answer of sorts, thanks to the work of Rusheng Zhang at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and a few colleagues. These guys have tested a way of ridding our streets of traffic lights entirely and replacing them with a virtual system instead, saying that their system has the potential to dramatically reduce commuting times.

First, some background. The problem that Zhang and co tackle is coordinating the flow of traffic through a junction where two roads meet at right angles. These are often uncontrolled, so motorists have to follow strict rules about when they can pass, such as those that apply at four-way stop signs. This causes delays and jams.

To solve the problem, Zhang and co use the direct short-range radio systems that are increasingly being built into modern vehicles. These act as a vehicle-to-vehicle communication system that shares data such as GPS coordinates, speed, and direction. This data passes to an onboard computer programmed with the team’s virtual traffic light protocol, which issues the driver a green or red light that is displayed in the cabin.
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WHY DID THE HUMAN CROSS THE ROAD? TO CONFUSE THE SELF-DRIVING CAR

July 11, 2018

Because in this strange new world of complex interactions between people and robots, it’s as much about machines adapting to humans as it is humans adapting to machines. Determining the intent of pedestrians will help, but it won’t be easy. “Knowing the intent of pedestrians would certainly make [autonomous vehicle] deployment safer,” says Carnegie Mellon roboticist Raj Rajkumar, who works in self-driving cars. “It is, however, a very difficult problem to solve perfectly.”

“Consider Manhattan,” Rajkumar adds. And consider a big group of people crossing, specifically a person on the far side of a group from a robocar. “Among this group, one person is either short or starts running to cross quickly after the vehicle has decided to make a turn. Machine vision is not perfect.” And machine vision can get confused by optics, just like humans can. Reflections, the sun dropping low on the horizon, alternating light and dark patches on the road, not to mention heavy rain or snow, all can bamboozle the machines.
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To Better Predict Traffic, Look to the Electric Grid

July 9, 2018

Commuters check Google Maps for traffic updates the same way they check the weather app for rain predictions. And for good reasons: By pooling information from millions of drivers already on the road, Google can paint an impressively accurate real-time portrait of congestion. Meanwhile, historical numbers can roughly predict when your morning commutes may be particularly bad.

But “the information we extract from traffic data has been exhausted,” said Zhen (Sean) Qian, who directs the Mobility Data Analytics Center at Carnegie Mellon University. He thinks that to more accurately predict how gridlock varies from day to day, there’s a whole other set of data that cities haven’t mined yet: electricity use.

“Essentially we all use the urban system—the electricity, water, the sewage system and gas—and when people use them and how heavily they do is correlated to the way they use the transportation system,” he said.
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Long Road Ahead: The Promise — and Perils — of Self-driving Cars: Podcast

July 9, 2018

Many companies are trying to crack the code for self-driving cars, which could one day help reduce deaths from traffic accidents. But when? In this wide-ranging interview, Wharton management professor John Paul MacDuffie looks at the major issues. He notes that despite the hype suggesting that autonomous vehicles will arrive within a couple of years, full autonomy for all vehicles is many decades away. “In the next five years, there will be lots of pilot projects and testing, so companies can learn from real-world data and the public can learn about the technology. By 2030, autonomous vehicles will be common in some settings and for some uses. But the roads will still be a complex mix of human-driven and algorithm-driven vehicles.” MacDuffie, who is also director of the Program on Vehicle and Mobility Innovation at Wharton’s Mack Institute for Innovative Management, added: “Throughout, diffusion will be erratic — moving fast at times, slowed up by unexpected constraints at other times. But we’ll feel like [autonomous vehicles] are part of our lives, at least partially, within the next five to 10 years.”
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Portland tests smart traffic signals in trailblazing effort to put the brakes on congestion

July 9, 2018

Surtrac was developed by Rapid Flow Technologies, a Pittsburgh-based company that emerged from Carnegie Mellon University, where Professor Stephen Smith and his students first tested the technology back in 2012. Rapid Flow Technologies opened in 2015 to market Surtrac technology to U.S. cities. Smith remains a professor at Carnegie Mellon and also is a chief scientist for Rapid Flow.

In an interview, Smith said the technology was tested successfully at nine intersections in Pittsburgh and now is used at 41 more intersections, with more likely to be added. Atlanta also has adopted the smart traffic signals and now has 24 intersections using the technology. Smith said travel time is reduced by an average of 25 percent and the amount of time spent idling in traffic or at a red light decreased by 40 percent.

“Our technology focuses more on the complex problem of urban areas,” he said, “where the dominant flow of traffic is likely to change throughout the day.”
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Lost? Ask This Robot for Directions

July 3, 2018

Rathu Baxter has been designed by the robotics team to act as a guide for people with low or no sight. It’s intended to help them to move through public spaces, such as train stations and local government-run facilities, after gaining instructions from the robot. Here’s how it works.

“Where do you want to go?” said Rathu after an initial “hello” message that alerts non-sighted humans to its presence.

“Elevator, please,” said Dr. Aaron Steinfeld, Associate Research Professor, Robotics Institute.

Rathu gently moved its arm towards Dr. Steinfeld. As the robot has vision via its onboard cameras and sensors, it won’t accidentally bump into him. Dr. Steinfeld then held his right hand flat under Rathu’s left end effector, which has a small cylindrical tube at the end. Once in position, Rathu prompted him to grasp the tube.

This is because it’s customary, in the non-sighted experience of the world, to ask a sighted person to “draw out” a map with steps on your palm. Then your brain translates it into a mental 3D map and you can move ahead.
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The nation’s top highway official talks self driving cars

July 3, 2018

These were among the topics that made for meaty discussions at a two-day symposium hosted by the Federal Highway Administration in Philadelphia this week. After the event, the agency’s acting administrator, Brandye Hendrickson, discussed the federal government’s approach to the nascent technology.

The task of the federal government, she said, is to ensure the technology is safe, convince the public of the technology’s potential, and allow developers latitude to explore a still-evolving industry.

“We don’t want to mandate the technology because we don’t want to hinder innovation,” Hendrickson said after the conference at the Science History Institute in Old City…

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are devising what amounts to a driver’s test for autonomous vehicle software that’s able to simulate driving conditions in virtual reality, something researchers say could be a valuable check on technology that is moving faster than government regulation.
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How to keep self-driving cars safe when no one is watching for dashboard warning lights

July 2, 2018

As the self-driving car industry works to create safer vehicles, it is facing a significant regulatory challenge. Complying with existing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) can be difficult or impossible for advanced designs.

For conventional vehicles the structure of the standards helps ensure a basic level of safety by testing some key safety capabilities. However, it might be impossible to run these tests on advanced self-driving cars that lack a brake pedal, steering wheel, or other components required by test procedures.

While there is industry pressure to waive some requirements these standards in the name of hastening progress, doing so is likely to result in safety problems. There is a way out of this dilemma based on the established technique of using safety cases…

Philip Koopman is an expert in autonomous vehicle (AV) safety and associate professor at Carnegie Mellon’s College of Engineering.
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From Mechanical to Technological: The Evolution of Smart Cars

July 2, 2018

They need to talk. No, not him and her. It’s your car. Your car and the road.

The ability for that to happen is what’s driving the change from standard cars to autonomous vehicles.

Research into autonomous vehicles is already unleashing a change in education and igniting concerns among owners of small repair shops.What makes a self-driving car work is less about the mechanics and more about the controls.

“It’s about the software and hardware within the vehicle and how they interact with the sensors; whether it’s Lidar sensors, radar sensors; those types of visual systems, and how those feedback into the computer systems of the vehicle. ” said Maryn Weimer, senior associate director of Ohio State University’s Center for Automotive Research in Columbus.
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GET YER BREAD AND MILK FROM KROGER’S CUTE NEW DELIVERY ROBOT

June 29, 2018

Ask Dave Ferguson, though, and he’ll pitch the idea that this technology could make moving about so efficient and affordable that transportation becomes effectively free. But first, before the zeroes and ones can do any of that, they may bring you your groceries. If you shop at Kroger, that is, and are cool with a Lilliputian pseudo-car pulling into your driveway all by itself.

Ferguson is a co-founder of Nuro, the startup making that robot, and his CV is about as good as it gets in this young industry. He got his PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, helped lead that school’s winning bid at Darpa’s 2007 Urban Challenge, and spent five years on Google’s self-driving project (now known as Waymo).
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Never Bet Against The Ambitions Of Elon Musk

June 29, 2018

Self-driving cars are much closer than most people suspect. It is a game-changing development. It also a big opportunity for investors.

Aptiv PLC is an offshoot of Delphi Automotive, the former General Motors subsidiary. The company now holds all the autonomous car bits and pieces that have been acquired throughout the years.

In 2015 Delphi bought Ottomatika, a self-driving car software startup. That business was spun out from Carnegie Mellon, a Pittsburgh school considered to be one of the premier robotics engineering institutions in the world.

In October 2017, Delphi acquired nuTonomy, another maker of self-driving software. It’s also the manager of a fleet of Singapore autonomous taxis.

Aptiv is building a significant advantage over its competition.
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Portland, Maine Ready to Flip Switch on Smart Traffic Signals

June 29, 2018

The system was developed at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. Researchers there recently spun it out as a new company, Rapid Flow Technologies LLC, with the goal of commercializing the Surtrac adaptive signal control technology developed in the university’s Robotics Institute.

The company’s website describes Surtrac as “an innovative approach to real-time traffic signal control, combining research from artificial intelligence and traffic theory. Surtrac optimizes the performance of signals for the traffic that is actually on the road, improving flow for both urban grids and corridors and leading to less waiting, reduced congestion, shorter trips, less pollution, and happier drivers.”

The technology has been piloted in Pittsburgh over the past three years and now extends to a network of 47 intersections. Atlanta is also experimenting with Surtrac.
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Artificial Intelligence May Make Traffic Congestion a Thing of the Past

June 29, 2018

Progress in Pittsburgh
For AI to do its potential magic, the first thing that’s needed is data. Lots of it. So several startups are connecting hundreds of sensors at traffic lights to understand why congestion is happening and learn how to manage it in real time.

For instance, Rapid Flow Technologies, which began as a Carnegie Mellon University research project, is testing its Surtrac traffic-management system in the East Liberty neighborhood in Pittsburgh.

Straddling a major arterial route and home to a Target store, the neighborhood has long been an area of heavy congestion as commuters, shoppers and local residents clog the roads.

“Traffic patterns changed so much over the course of the day that [the traffic signals] didn’t really work all that well” in keeping traffic moving, says Greg Barlow, a Rapid Flow co-founder…

“What if we want to really emphasize person throughput rather than vehicle throughput?” says Karina Ricks, Pittsburgh’s director of mobility and infrastructure. “What if we were able to tell the signal that not only is there a 30-person bus, but there is a 30-person bus with one person in it—the driver—or a 30-person bus with 40 people in it? That can get into the algorithm” to get the most people to their destinations as quickly as possible. The city is working toward this goal with Rapid Flow.
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Machine Learning: A Road’s Automated Doctor

June 29, 2018

Machines That See Roads Better Than Humans
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A town forged in steel is now a leader in a new movement: autonomous vehicles. One of the companies leading the charge is Roadbotics, a Pittsburgh-based company that creates advanced road monitoring technology.

Under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Mark DeSantis, the Roadbotics team has developed a comprehensive road monitoring system. This system uses semi-autonomous vehicles to collect road data and machine learning to analyze road conditions with 10-foot accuracy. A cloud-based Geographic Information System (GIS) dashboard is used to make each road’s assessment easily searchable and accessible.

* Video clip from full interview below.
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Innovation Contest Rewards Adventurous Curiosity

June 29, 2018

RoadBotics is a new company that combines smartphone and artificial intelligence technology to detect and record the condition of concrete and asphalt surfaces. But the technology began as research on self-driving cars.

It wasn’t until Christoph Mertz and his team at Carnegie Mellon University started asking, “Hey, what if we … ?” that the research veered down a tangent toward civil engineering innovation…

Now used by 41 cities to monitor roads, RoadBotics is a classic innovation success story, one of several brilliant ideas showcased by the 2018 ASCE Innovation Contest.
ASCE hosted the various category winners this week for a two-day Innovation Contest celebration event at the Society headquarters in Reston, VA.
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What Should We Teach Robots? 13 Experts Weigh In

June 28, 2018

Aaron Steinfeld, of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, is on the same page as Yanco. He considers self-assessment, and even self-criticism, as a much-needed lesson to be taught to robots.

It isn’t enough for robots to complete repetitive tasks satisfactorily. They need to understand why their actions resulted in a satisfactory outcome, and whether or not different actions could result in a better outcome. By reflecting on their own actions and gaining the ability to consider a variety of scenarios, robots will become more useful and effective.
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The Solid-State Lithium-Ion Battery — Has John Goodenough Finally Done It?

June 28, 2018

The paper has drawn criticism from other battery researchers, who tell Axios one aspect of the new battery cells — the relative dielectric constant — is higher than ever before recorded in any material known to science. That metric measures how much energy can be stored in an electric field. That extraordinarily high number raises some red flags, those other researchers say. They also note the research does not indicate the batteries retain their charge when unplugged.

Six researchers contacted by Axios said they had never encountered a rise, rather than a decline, in capacity as a battery is cycled. “The way to think about it is that you have a car that can travel 200 miles, and after five years it can go 800 miles,” said Venkat Viswanathan, an assistant professor at Carnegie-Mellon University. Gerbrand Ceder, a professor at Cal Berkeley, sniffed that Goodenough’s new paper “is not what it is stated to be. Most of us have moved on from this saga.”
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Will we ever trust driverless cars? We ask the experts

June 28, 2018

“History across many different other types of life-critical systems has shown that to be safe you need transparency on your safety process and you need to do an independent safety assessment,” says Philip Koopman, associate professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon and an expert on self-driving car tech.

“This includes ensuring that all relevant safety standards have been met as well as ensuring that novel aspects of the system have a reasonable explanation for safety backed by sufficient evidence that the system has been built in a safe way.”
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3 Ways 5G Wireless Technology Could Change Your Daily Commute

June 28, 2018

5G technology could speed up the flow of traffic by allowing traffic lights to receive real-time information about current traffic patterns from cameras, sensors and drones distributed throughout smart cities. This should allow traffic lights to be more responsive to actual traffic, keeping traffic flowing and reducing unnecessary stops at red lights. Preliminary tests of smart traffic light systems by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh yielded a 40 percent decrease in traffic stops, a 21 percent drop in emissions and a 26 percent speedier commute.
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FUTURE U.S. COMBAT VEHICLES HAVE ‘SHAPE-SHIFTING’ WHEELS, VIRTUAL WINDOWS

June 28, 2018

Technology-enhanced combat vehicles with Transformers-like capabilities, such as “shape-shifting” wheels, autonomous driving and virtual windows, may soon be on the battlefield.

As part of an ongoing program known as Ground X-Vehicle Technologies (GXV-T), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently demonstrated a number of new “disruptive” advancements, including a mechanism integrated into a U.S. military Humvee that transforms a round wheel to a triangular track in a matter of seconds while the vehicle is on the move.

The futuristic function, officially called Reconfigurable Wheel-Track (RWT), is being developed by a team from Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center. It was one of many new traversal capabilities exhibited at the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Test Center in May.
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CITIES ARE WATCHING YOU—URBAN SCIENCES GRADUATES WATCH BACK

June 28, 2018

IT IS NOT so often that a major university like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovers a new kind of science. But in the fall, the university will launch a novel sort of program, an undergraduate major called Urban Science that combines data analytics training with the sort of informed policy knowhow offered in typical Urban Studies programs.

Yes, it will be a science, with hypotheses that can be measured by data and evaluated with software engineering tools by smartypants computer scientists. But the new program will also attempt to honor the actual fleshy people with hopes, fears, and questions about how the places where they make their homes might adapt to the future…

Urban science is a budding discipline that has exploded over the past half-decade, and multidisciplinary programs have cropped up at mostly private institutions like New York University, Northeastern University, the University of Southern California, and Carnegie Mellon.
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Small businesses aimed at city folks get help from Urban-X, backed by BMW’s Mini

June 28, 2018

Urban-X addressed the issues of congestion and pollution, for instance, by investing in a company called RoadBotics, which developed a system for monitoring the condition of pavement and rating it so that officials can review which roads are in greatest need of repair, leading to fewer traffic jams.
RoadBotics CEO Mark DeSantis said he was attracted to Urban-X because it offered contacts, support and access to other companies, not just funding. He wanted investors “who could do more for us than just give us capital.”
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Test center gives glimpse into world of autonomous vehicles

June 22, 2018

YPSILANTI, MI A 500-acre test facility for autonomous vehicles recently held an open house to show how companies are using lane detection, mobile apps to inspect poor roads and new methods of detecting pedestrians in the quest to make driving safer.

Those were a few of the innovative concepts demonstrated in June at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti…

RoadBotics, a smartphone-enabled road-inspection application, was developed at Carnegie Mellon by the same research group who developed Uber autonomous vehicles, co-founder Mark DeSantis said.

The app identifies and diagnoses road defects for pavement engineers in an attempt to prevent the conditions from worsening.

“What I want to do is see the small … subtle changes to make a small, cheap, inexpensive fix. Waiting till it gets bad costs a ton of money,” DeSantis said.
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To Combat Potholes, Cities Turn to Technology

June 19, 2018

Other local governments also are trying to think ahead. More than 40 of them, from San Joaquin County, California, to Quincy, Massachusetts, contract with a Pittsburgh software company that uses smartphone cameras and algorithms to create color-coded maps of road networks that show not only potholes but the cracks and fissures where they might develop.

The company, RoadBotics, sends out drivers with the phones placed on windshields. Drivers turn on an app that collects video from every street and sends the data to the cloud. The company, which charges $75 a mile, then uses artificial intelligence to analyze the road surface the same way a trained pavement engineer would, CEO Mark DeSantis said.

“This saves time and effort of having to send people out and inspect the roadways,” DeSantis said. “Staring at mile after mile of pavement is difficult, it’s tedious, and in some cases, it’s dangerous.”
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