The City of Portland reduces travel times at Maine’s busiest intersection by 20%

March 20, 2019

The Surtrac adaptive traffic signal control technology was originally developed in the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, and is now offered by spin-off company Rapid Flow Technologies. Using real-time data and artificial intelligence (AI), Surtrac works well in more predictable suburban arterial environments, but it is also ideal for more complex networks, including grids and closely spaced intersections, where competing traffic flows require service from different directions or where flows are unpredictable and change in ways that makes time-of-day patterns obsolete very quickly. These were the very conditions present at Morrill’s Corner, and why Surtrac has been so effective in reducing congestion there. As Portland’s population continues to grow, the traffic conditions at Morrill’s Corner will evolve and change over time. Surtrac naturally adapts to these changes using its second-by-second AI optimization.

Boeing’s B737 Max and Automotive ‘Autopilot’

March 20, 2019

Should the catastrophic plane crashes of Indonesia’s Lion Air last October and another by Ethiopian Airlines last week set off alarms in the automotive industry?


Automation technologies used in airplanes and autonomous vehicles are neither similar nor easily comparable. If anything, “Aviation autopilot is probably easier than an automotive autopilot,” according to Phil Koopman, professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s department of electrical and computer engineering.

For me, the most chilling aspect of the two Boeing 737 Max airliners that crashed within a span of five months is that these tragedies occurred despite presumed scrutiny by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — long considered the world’s gold standard for aircraft safety.

RoadBotics continues path of growth with newest partnership

March 20, 2019

RoadBotics, which creates artificial intelligence-based road inspection technology, continues its recent growth via a partnership with Bahamas Industries and Construction Co. Ltd.

Through the partnership, the East Liberty-based company will provide objective road assessments to local governments in the Bahamas.

The announcement comes just a month after RoadBotics partnered with BuildTrail in Bengaluru, India, and about a week after the startup traveled to Austin to participate in the SXSW Pitch Competition.

Montgomery – The Capital of Dreams – Brings Big Ideas to City Governance

March 20, 2019

From pavement management to sanitation fleet efficiency, Montgomery is making things happen. The city recently won two separate Smart 50 Awards! In recent years, Montgomery has experienced a renaissance both economically and structurally. In addition to serving as the second largest city in Alabama and the seat of state government, Montgomery is home to a major military installation (Maxwell-Gunter AFB), the USAF Air University, Civil War and Civil Rights historical monuments, and an industrial base that includes Hyundai Motor Manufacturing. From street paving to sanitation, Montgomery strives to provide the best public goods and services it can to the community. It was our pleasure to dig in a little bit deeper on what it means to be a smart community with Savio Dias, IT Manager for the City of Montgomery. Here’s what he had to say:

SD: Last July, we engaged in a pilot program with a private company to scan and analyze a significant portion of our roadways using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology.

Brian O’Neill: A Pittsburgh history of hype for loops and levitation

March 20, 2019

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission will spend $2 million it doesn’t have to study a scheme to transport people and freight in pods going more than 500 miles per hour between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia…

Joe Grata began covering transportation for The Pittsburgh Press in the early 1970s. That makes him one of the few who ever rode Skybus, an automated, rubber-tire people-mover on an elevated track that never got past its two-month demonstration project in South Park. Skeptical public officials successfully sued to kill it.

Henry Posner III, chairman of Railroad Development Corp. in Green Tree and an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University, owns or manages freight and passenger lines from Iowa to Peru to Germany. His view of hyperloop?

“I think it’s the next maglev — without the job-creation component specific to Pittsburgh,’’ Mr. Posner said

Investors likely to put $1 billion into Uber’s self-driving unit

March 14, 2019

Uber Technologies Inc. may see around $1 billion in investment headed its way in the coming months, as a group including SoftBank Group and an unnamed automaker are in late stage talks to invest in the company’s self-driving unit, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal Wednesday.

Raj Rajkumar, co-director of the General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Vehicular Information Technology Collaborative Research Lab, said the likely investment reinforces Pittsburgh’s place as a leader in the autonomous vehicle space.

Rajkumar said Uber spends close to $800 million per year on it’s self-driving tech, and an investment of this size could fund that development for about two years. Yet, Rajkumar said he expects Uber will need more where that money came from to get its products to a place where they would be commercially available.

Smartphones, Electric Cars, and Green Buildings Need a Better Battery. This MIT-Trained Scientist Just Might Have Built One

March 12, 2019

The electric-vehicle market demonstrates some of the problems that battery makers have yet to solve. Today, most EVs still can’t go as far on a single battery charge as a traditional vehicle can on a tank of gas. But that EV is more expensive to make and to buy–in part because the batteries that power it are big, inefficient, and expensive. They’re the same, after all, as the batteries in your fast-draining iPhone, except that “there are about 10,000 times more cells in a car than in a smartphone,” says Carnegie Mellon mechanical engineering professor Venkat Viswanathan. “What we need for the mass-market electric car is some more reduction in battery cost and some increase in energy density.” Fewer than one million vehicles sold in 2016 were powered solely by batteries; but by 2025, that number will increase to eight million and another 25 million hybrids will be on the road, which combined will account for 31 percent of the global automotive market, according to JPMorgan predictions.

RoadBotics Maps a Route to SXSW

March 11, 2019

The idea has taken off, and RoadBotics currently contracts with nearly 100 governments across the United States. They also have expanded into Australia and India.

RoadBotics’ next big hurdle is figuring out how to spread their message as broadly as possible. It is one of 50 startup finalists competing in the 2019 SXSW Pitch Competition.

“I was really pushed at CMU to think about how computer algorithms could be useful for the real world,” Mertz said. “For me personally, being part of SXSW really validates the research I’ve been doing.”

Chapter 90 funding will not cover funding needed for road repair in Ashburnham

March 11, 2019

Budrewicz said during a recent Board of Selectmen discussion concerning the 2020 pavement plan that the Chapter 90 funding from the state was $341,000, meaning the town would have to find supplemental funding to complete the roads listed for repair. She told the selectmen she was looking for ways to make up for the gap through the town’s operational budget.

Ashburnham has contracted with a firm called Beta, a company that has teamed with RoadBotics to provide the latest technology in automated pavement management inspections. Beta is analyzing all roads to make recommendations on which roads should first be addressed because of their deterioration. A completed list will be submitted when the analysis is done.

Pittsburgh tech scene participates in SXSW

March 11, 2019

SXSW, a series of conferences, festivals, concerts, pitch competitions and exhibitions, kicked off in Austin Friday, and Pittsburgh’s tech scene is making its mark on the event, which runs until March 17.

Pittsburgh-based AI startup RoadBotics will pitch its road inspection technology alongside four other startups in the annual pitch competition’s newly added artificial intelligence category on Sunday, March 10.

Benjamin Utter, RoadBotics’ business development manager, will represent the company in Austin, and he described the event as “a big activation festival.”

Utter said it’s an opportunity for Pittsburghers to gain exposure on a global stage.

1 big thing: A sky-full of cars

March 11, 2019

Venkat Viswanathan, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who advises flying vehicle startups, tells Axios that enormous improvements in lithium-ion batteries are a key enabler of this new age, but that much more progress is required.

It’s all about the economics: Developers are relying on autonomous electric technology because they cheapen the cost-per-mile operation of such vehicles over internal combustion systems, Viswanathan said.
“Having access to a pilot for that number of flying taxis will be nearly impossible,” he said.Currently, Viswanathan said, commercial electric car batteries can last about 1,000 cycles of charging and recharging, enough for hundreds of thousands of miles of driving.

But flying passenger vehicles will require batteries that can endure many thousand more cycles, he said, in order to make the vehicles work economically.
That is the next hurdle — developing more durable lithium-ion batteries.

CMU’s Howie Choset, known for his snakebots, awarded ‘most prestigious’ robotics prize

March 11, 2019

Howie Choset, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has been awarded the world’s “most prestigious” award in robotics.

The Robotics Industries Association, a trade group, announced Wednesday that Mr. Choset was selected for the 2019 Engelberger Robotics Award for Education, named for Joseph F. Engelberger, sometimes referred to as the “father of robotics.”

Mr. Choset was recognized for his work in creating CMU’s undergraduate robotics degree program, as well as his own research in multi-robot collaboration, surgery, manufacturing, infrastructure inspection and search and rescue.

State Government and Adelaide City Council to jointly fix Adelaide High School’s pedestrian crossing

March 7, 2019

The riskiest school crossing in Adelaide will get a major safety upgrade, under a deal between the State Government and Adelaide City Council.

The two tiers of government have agreed to fix the West Tce junction in front of Adelaide High School, which links Currie St with Glover Ave.

They have each committed $500,000 to the project, although a start date is yet to be set.

Last year research by Carnegie Mellon University, in conjunction with the State Government, revealed the crossing was the most risky traffic location for Adelaide students, recording scores of crashes each year.

Could new software solve Dublin’s traffic problem?

March 6, 2019

Morrill’s Corner in Portland is one of the Maine city’s busiest traffic junctions. Some 33,000 cars pass through it each day, and it doesn’t take much imagination to visualise the kind of chaos and holdups that can occur. Except they don’t anymore, or at least not as much as they used to.

Portland’s city authorities installed a traffic management system called Surtrac, developed by Rapid Flow Technologies, a tech startup that spun out of Carnegie Mellon University. Since the software was installed, Morrill’s Corner has become much less of a traffic hotspot.

In fact, the Portland city managers estimate that they’re saving those 33,000 cars and drivers a combined 156 hours a day, or as many as 41,000 hours per year. That’s one junction. That’s less time stuck in traffic, more time spent at work, or at home with the kids…
Now, EY is trying to bring Surtrac’s benefits to Dublin.

How to Prepare Students for Jobs in the Self-Driving-Car-Industry

March 6, 2019

One thing all of those companies seem to have in common, says John M. Dolan, principal systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon University and a self-driving vehicle researcher in the school’s Robotics Institute, is the value they place on employees with that broad skill set.

“Generally speaking, it’s not enough to be just a programmer or an engineer,” Dolan says. “You might be hired to write the code or design the hardware, but they expect you to be able to understand the big picture.”

All three experts interviewed for this story emphasized that the self-driving car/autonomous vehicle industry is still in its infancy, and that it is evolving quickly and often in unpredictable ways. With that caveat in place, they offered the following advice for students and educators:

Tesla’s promise of ‘full-self-driving’ angers autonomous vehicle experts

March 4, 2019

Dean Pomerleau, of Carnegie Mellon University, who in 1995 drove a minivan that steered itself across the country, told CNN Business he has “grave concerns” about Tesla’s practices on autonomous driving.
“Claiming its vehicles will soon be ‘feature complete’ for full self-driving is one more step in the unconscionable practices that Tesla is already engaged in with Autopilot — overselling its capabilities and reliability when marketing its vehicles and then blaming the driver for not reading the manual and paying constant attention when the technology inevitably fails,” Pomerleau said.

Mayor Peduto, self-driving car companies announce “Pittsburgh Principles”

March 4, 2019

Mayor Bill Peduto announced Monday what he billed as a novel set of policies for self-driving cars, covering issues including safety, transparency and data sharing. The agreement binds the city and a host of the leading companies in the emerging field.

Mr. Peduto was joined by one of Carnegie Mellon University’s leading experts in the field and industry leaders Aptiv, Argo AI, Aurora Innovation and Uber, for the signing of an executive order. Those companies are testing their technology on city streets.

“There was a lot of give and take on all sides — proprietary interests of industry, requests of what would be expected in return for use of public right of way,” Mr. Peduto said from a podium positioned in front of five self-driving cars parked in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.

How sensor data can help cities improve public spaces

February 28, 2019

Urban sensors are often used to monitor illegal activity — from identifying drivers that run red lights to generating predictive crime maps — but they can also collect data for quality-of-life improvements like reducing emissions and preventing car accidents.

The big picture: Municipalities could use anonymized, secure sensor data in combination with advanced computing to better understand how people travel through and use public space, without sacrificing individual privacy.

What’s happening: Academic researchers and urban planners can leverage the latest sensors — including “camera-as-sensor” technologies, which convert a camera’s optical image into an electronic signal — to gather and share insights about roads, intersections and public spaces.

Yes, but: Ensuring the data collected is protected and anonymized will be crucial to earning public trust in these efforts.
Details: These projects rely on a combination of video streams, computer vision, AI, and edge computing (computing done near the data source, not in the cloud).

Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University collaborated with Urban Data Eye and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership to identify pedestrian movement patterns based on CCTV footage and live-streaming.

AI My Ride: Startup Revs Up Vehicle Videos to Spot Potholes

February 27, 2019

Christoph Mertz wants to fix your bumpy ride.

His solution — using AI to detect potholes — came as a lightbulb moment inspired by working on autonomous vehicle projects at Carnegie Mellon University.

Mertz is now the chief scientist at RoadBotics, which spun out of CMU in 2016 and has since blazed a trail through more than 100 U.S. cities that have adopted its image detection technology to help monitor and improve roads.

Based in Pittsburgh, RoadBotics captures video from Android phones placed in the windshield of vehicles to assess road conditions.

Power over Wi-Fi: The end of IoT-sensor batteries?

February 27, 2019

Harnessing energy inherent in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth radio waves to power remote, wireless, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors — and also communicate with the devices at the same time — is a big-ticket item on IoT want-lists. Advantages include no batteries, thus reducing costs, size and weight.

The key to achieving it functionally, some scientists say, is in converting AC waveforms to DC voltage, combined with the use of new materials. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along with some collaborators, say they’ve made a breakthrough in this area. Interestingly, it also includes scaling potential…

The researchers also say the non-rigid, battery-free system is better than others’ attempts at rectennas because they capture “daily” signals such as “Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular LTE, and many others,” says Xu Zhang, of collaborator Carnegie Mellon University, in the article. The other Radio Frequency-to-power converters, which are thick and non-flexible, aren’t wideband enough, the groups say.

Volkswagen Tries to Play Catch Up On Driverless Tech

February 20, 2019

Volkswagen AG’s next step into autonomous driving looks like it could be disappointing. But it’s also probably the best option the German giant has if it’s going to become a serious player in driverless technology.

The world’s largest automaker is in talks to invest in Argo AI at a $4 billion valuation, the automated car company backed by Ford Motor Co., Bloomberg News reported. The deal could be finalized in the next few months…

And as much as Argo doesn’t have the same aura as a Cruise or Waymo, it has advantages over much of the rest of the industry. Chief Executive Officer Bryan Salesky was an early employee of what was then known as the Google self-driving car project, and has now evolved into Waymo; and Argo’s Pittsburgh headquarters means it’s well placed to hoover up top artificial intelligence and robotics experts from Carnegie Mellon University. Its access to talent is enviable.

Phone carriers make money selling your location data — and they keep breaking promises to stop

February 13, 2019

Last spring, Robert Xiao got a tour of Hawaii from a bird’s-eye view. He wasn’t flying a drone. He wasn’t in a plane. No helicopters, either.

Then a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute, he sat in Pittsburgh and — on his computer -— watched a friend drive around the island. All Mr. Xiao needed was the friend’s cell phone number to track his location in real time.

It was a test. Mr. Xiao wanted to ensure he had really found a security breach that exposed nearly every American’s real-time location, just using a phone number.

What resulted was a “bizarre” tour of the island, he said, and a slew of questions about LocationSmart, the Carlsbad, Calif.-based company he was checking up on. It aggregates location data from cell phone providers and, in turn, sells that information to other parties — even bounty hunters.

The 18-hour suburb: Savvy communities embracing a mixed-use approach to development

February 11, 2019

“Recently, I’ve been really starting to become concerned about inner suburbs and the small towns around these metropolitan areas,” said Don Carter, director of the Remaking Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. “We’re starting to see declines in property values and rising crime in some suburban areas.”

He described broader forces at work — economic, generational, demographic — at a time when cities, Pittsburgh included, are showing signs of revitalization.

“Thirty-five years ago, people were pretty much writing off downtown Pittsburgh,” he said, noting a series of planning and policy strategies that were then undertaken to revive it. “Is there a similar strategy looking at these small towns and these suburbs?”

Why Ford Hired a Furniture Maker as CEO

February 6, 2019

ur lives are made up of human-machine interactions—with smartphones, televisions, internet-enabled parking meters that don’t accept quarters— that have the power to delight and, often, infuriate. (“Maddening” is Hackett’s one-word description for 90-button TV remotes.) Into this arena has stepped a new class of professional: the user-experience, or UX, designer, whose job is to see a product not from an engineer’s, marketer’s, or legal department’s perspective but from the viewpoint of the user alone. And to insist that the customer should not have to learn to speak the company’s internal language. The company should learn to speak the customer’s.

LinkedIn lists tens of thousands of UX job openings; the role has become a fixture on those year-end “hottest job” lists. If you want to study UX, you now have the option at some three dozen institutions in the United States, including Carnegie Mellon and the University of Washington. But Ford is one of the few major industrial companies in the U.S. to put a UX guru in charge.

CMU to receive nearly $3M in funding from U.S. Department of Transportation

February 6, 2019

Carnegie Mellon University was one of 32 universities selected nationally to receive funding by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the department announced Tuesday.

CMU will receive just over $2.8 million for its role as a University Transportation Center. According to the federal agency, the UTCs “are comprised of groups of universities seeking solutions to national, regional and local transportation issues.

A total of $60 million will be distributed among the 32 UTCs.

As one of five national UTCs, CMU’s funding is among the highest being given to a single university. The other four receiving $2.8 million each are Portland State University, the University of North Carolina, the Regents of the University of California-Davis, and Virginia Tech.