Aurora co-founder Drew Bagnell resigns from company’s board but will remain in chief scientist post

January 24, 2022

Drew Bagnell, one of the three co-founders of autonomous vehicle company Aurora Innovation Inc., has resigned from the company’s board of directors, though he’ll maintain his position as Aurora’s (NASDAQ: AUR) chief scientist. His departure from the eight-person board leaves the Pittsburgh-based company without a board director who resides in the region it calls home, which is also where the majority of its more than 1,500-person workforce lives.

Per a regulatory filing, Bagnell’s resignation is not due to “any disagreement with (Aurora) concerning any matter relating to its operations, policies, or practices.” The filing stated that Bagnell submitted a notice of resignation on January 12…

In the same filing, however, Aurora announced the appointment of Claire Hughes Johnson to serve as its latest board director, who provides work as a corporate officer and advisor for payment processing software company Stripe Inc.

DARPA to Field Test Autonomous Military Off-Roader

January 24, 2022

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is set to field-test autonomous technology on military off-road vehicles in March.

Last year, the agency selected Carnegie Mellon University, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the University of Washington for phase 1 of the Robotic Autonomy in Complex Environments with Resiliency (RACER) program.

The program seeks autonomous technologies that “enable unmanned ground vehicles to maneuver in unstructured off-road terrain at the limit of the vehicle’s mechanical systems and at, or beyond, human-driven speeds and efficiencies.”

The selected teams will demonstrate “platform-based autonomy”— which they have been developing on DARPA-provided vehicles — at the first RACER-hosted field experiment, which involves navigating up to five kilometers of complex terrain.

The self-driving vehicles, based on the Polaris RZR S4 1000 platform, are equipped with “360-degree range and image sensing such as multiple LIDARs (Light Detection and Ranging), stereo camera pairs, color and infrared imaging cameras, RADAR, event sensors, and inertial measurement sensing.”

State legislation seeks to expand driverless cars on the road

January 21, 2022

“This legislation is critical from two different perspectives: One is a competitiveness angle, both internationally and domestically, and the other requires a particular nature where testing has to happen on public roads with real traffic,” says Raj Rajkumar, the co-director of General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Vehicular Information Technology Collaborative Research Lab.

Rajkumar says it’s much easier to test and work with developers when they’re all in the same state, so it would benefit Pennsylvania to create laws that are more friendly to autonomous vehicle testing.

“If it is being permitted in 39 states, but not in the brain and heart of autonomous vehicle technology development, that doesn’t make sense,” says Rajkumar.

He says as technology improves, it needs to be tested in real conditions.

Philip Koopman: Autonomous vehicle safety bill needs improvement

January 21, 2022

The Warrendale-based SAE did issue the J3016 standard mentioned in the bill, but it is a terminology standard only. It does not impose requirements on driving automation systems, and is not intended to ensure safety. I should know, because I’m a member of the SAE committee that issued it.

There is another SAE standard, however, that does cover testing safety: SAE J3018. This standard provides guidance for training safety drivers and ensuring that HAV public road testing is done in a responsible manner. Because Pittsburgh is, and will remain, a development center for HAV technology, with-driver testing will always be essential for the newest innovations…

Putting SAE J3018 into this bill would not be onerous. After all, Pittsburgh-based Argo AI already conforms to that standard, and Motional has also been evaluated for testing safety along similar lines. The New York City DOT already requires conformance to J3018, and Massachusetts is pursuing that path as well.

Clarience Technologies Prepares for Smart Future

January 18, 2022

Kupchella said the trailer has to get smart in dealing with tires, rolling resistance and battery life, for instance, as the industry transitions into electrification, and eventually autonomous vehicles a little further out…

He suggested the whole supply chain is going to change to some extent over the next 10 to 15 years, as it figures out what to manufacture to support the electrification and autonomous vehicles…

Ensuring that happens prompted Clarience to move its R&D center to Pittsburgh near the campus of Carnegie Mellon University and its headquarters to Southfield, Mich. — both formerly located in New York.

The company also noted it forged strong relationships with several other top-tier universities, including Michigan State University and Lawrence Technological University in Michigan and Penn State Behrend in Pennsylvania, which will serve as key enablers to foster future innovations.

DMV ‘revisiting’ its approach to regulating Tesla’s public self-driving test

January 17, 2022

The agency has in the past pointed to California state law in defense of its current approach. California’s laws on autonomous vehicle technology use definitions derived from a document published by the Society of Automotive Engineers, which breaks down vehicle automation into six levels, from Level 0 to Level 5.

The DMV has said it considered Full Self-Driving to be Level 2, because, according to Tesla, it requires a human driver to assure safety. But so do test cars from the other robotaxi companies developing Level 4 vehicles, said Phil Koopman, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University who has assisted the SAE on its standard-setting documents.

“The DMV concludes that FSD is not an automated vehicle because a human driver must monitor to intervene. That is a description that fits any AV test vehicle with a safety driver, which FSD is,” Koopman said in an email to The Times.

There’s no evidence electric vehicles fare worse than gas-powered cars in long traffic jams

January 14, 2022

Jeremy Michalek, co-founder of the Vehicle Electrification Group and an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said cold weather can cut an electric vehicle’s range, in miles, by as much as half, citing a study he co-authored. But range is a function of a moving car.

While idling, a gas-powered vehicle, assuming a full tank of 15 to 18 gallons, could take anywhere from about a day to up to a week to burn through that gas, Michalek said. A stationary Tesla Model 3, he said, could exhaust its battery in as little as eight hours or as much as a few days, depending on the wattage of the heater.

So which would fare better stuck in a daylong traffic jam like the one in Virginia? It depends, Michalek said, on how comfortable someone needs to be, whether the car has a heat pump and other factors.

A new bill could put fully autonomous vehicles on PA roads. Does it pass the business ethics test?

January 11, 2022

With a disruptive tech that still lacks widespread public trust, there remain questions of the ethics behind fully allowing driverless trucks and cars on the road. John Hooker, a professor of business ethics and social responsibility at CMU’s Tepper School of Business, told that this is a subject his classes discuss frequently.

“In the ethics world, we have two principles that apply to an issue like this,” he said. “One we call utilitarian principle and the other is the autonomy principle.”

The utilitarian principle has to do with maximizing benefit with respect to releasing this level of autonomous vehicle on the road. That principle should be easy enough to satisfy, he said, given the incredible danger that human-operated vehicles pose today.

Pa. transportation secretary, senator unveil bill to allow self-driving cars to be tested without someone behind the wheel

January 10, 2022

Forty years ago, Pennsylvania became a leader in self-driving vehicles when it deployed one to help clean up the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Harrisburg.

Now, Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian said Wednesday, it’s important to change state law to allow continued development of self-driving cars and trucks in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Jahanian spoke in strong support Wednesday of bi-partisan legislation that will allow companies to test self-driving vehicles on Pennsylvania roads without a driver available to take over in an emergency. State Transportation Secretary Yassmin Gramian and state Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Johnstown and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, unveiled the proposed legislation at a news conference at Mill 19 at Hazelwood Green.

The bill, Senate Bill 965, was introduced Wednesday with nine co-sponsors, including two Democrats.

How Digital Twins Are Transforming Manufacturing, Medicine and More

January 5, 2022

In Pittsburgh, Ding Zhao, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon, has been working with carmakers to use digital twins to improve the safety of self-driving vehicles. In his lab, he leverages vast quantities of data collected from real tests of self-driving cars to build complex digital-twin simulators. The simulations, he says, help predict how a car’s AI will react in dicey situations that could be dangerous and difficult to re-create IRL: when merging onto a dark snowy highway, for instance, or when jammed in between two trucks.

Crucially, digital twins also allow researchers to run crash-test simulations countless times without having to destroy cars or endanger real people. That means digital-twin technology is becoming essential to the development of self-driving cars. “Real-world testing is too expensive and sometimes not even effective,” Zhao says. Digital twins are also being used in other complex and potentially dangerous machines, from nuclear reactors in Idaho to wind turbines in Paris.

Why autonomous vehicles won’t be taking over Ontario’s city streets in 2022

January 3, 2022

“We are way far from that level where a machine can drive like humans in any conditions,” said Amir Khajepour, a professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering at the University of Waterloo.

“Whether that will happen in my lifetime, I’m not sure.”

The biggest, according to Khajepour, is making machines that mirror brain functioning when we drive, and that is far from easy. Add in debates about insurance and ethics, and it’s clear there’s a lot more to the industry than just technology…

Raed Kadri, the vice president of strategic initiatives and head of the Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network (OVIN), which connects researchers with industry, points out there is another factor: electric vehicles, which presents other challenges.

A 2020 paper published by Carnegie Mellon University researchers found driverless cars use more energy than cars requiring drivers, which reduced driving range and required more charging. Researchers are now looking at how drivers feel about the decreased range.

Will Autonomous Vehicle Makers Get Back into Gear in 2022?

January 3, 2022

Moving into 2022, many AV manufacturers hope to build trust with increasingly skeptical lawmakers and consumers. Phil Koopman, a Carnegie-Mellon University associate professor with appointments in the department of electrical and computer engineering and with the Robotics Institute, believes that Tesla’s use of vehicle owners as “beta testers” is reckless and damaging to the image of the entire autonomous vehicle industry. “Reckless, because [drivers] are running stop signs, running red traffic lights, and veering across centerlines on public roads,” he explains. “Tesla is using civilian drivers who are neither specifically trained in testing safety nor operating according to best practices for road testing safety.”

Koopman says that the stance taken by the entire AV industry “to push back hard against any requirement to follow safety standards” further erodes public trust. He notes that manufacturers face a choice in 2022 and beyond. “They can continue to take an adversarial approach with regulators and have a problem when a high-profile crash forces regulators to intervene, or they can take a cooperative approach now while they still have time.”

Public Streets Are the Lab for Self-Driving Experiments

December 28, 2021

Any future regulation will be hammered out between diametrically opposed camps. On one side are safety advocates, who say autonomous driving features, like those that control speed, steering and braking, should be proved safer than drivers before they are allowed on public roads. On the other side are car and tech industry backers, who say those features cannot become safer than humans without unfettered testing in the real world.

The question facing regulators, carmakers and the public is: Does regulation makes us safer, or will it slow the adoption of technology that makes us safer?

Safety proponents may disagree over what testing should be required, but they agree there should be some standard. “You can’t anticipate everything,” said Phil Koopman, an expert on safety standards for autonomous cars. “But the car industry uses that as an excuse for doing nothing.”

Alarmed by Tesla’s public self-driving test, state legislators demand answers from DMV

December 20, 2021

DMV spokeswoman Anita Gore told The Times in a prepared statement that Tesla need not report FSD beta crashes because Tesla informed the agency that Full Self-Driving is a “Level 2″ system that requires driver attention…

The levels were never intended to serve as legal definitions or be encoded into law, said Phil Koopman, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, one of the world’s top driverless-vehicle research centers.

He also suggested that regulators study the full SAE document that describes the levels. It contains a line that Koopman calls crucial: “The level of a driving automation system feature corresponds to the feature’s production design intent.”

In other words, if you are testing a car with the intent to develop it into a Level 4 robotaxi, then it’s a Level 4 system, according to Koopman. “Intent is key to categorizing the autonomy level for Tesla Full Self-Driving,” he added.

Gaming while driving: Tesla allows it, Mercedes announces recall

December 20, 2021

A few days after reports surfaced that Tesla allows drivers to play video games on dashboard touch screens while vehicles are moving, Mercedes-Benz has issued a U.S. recall for a similar issue.

The German automaker said in documents posted today by U.S. regulators that the issue affected 227 vehicles and already has been fixed by updating an internal computer server.

But the fact that Mercedes did the recall over concerns about distracted driving, and Tesla has not, raised questions about whether federal auto safety standards are being applied equally by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“MB is following the regulatory rules as they are supposed to — in sharp contrast to what we’ve been seeing from Tesla,” said Philip Koopman, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. If NHTSA doesn’t take action against Tesla, the agency will have one standard for Tesla and another for Mercedes and other automakers, Koopman said.

PennDOT will provide $1.4 million for Pittsburgh Pedestrian Wayfinding Project

December 20, 2021

City officials are moving forward on a project to help residents and visitors more easily navigate four business districts in Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Pedestrian Wayfinding project will set up 50 kiosks and 110 directional signs in Oakland, the North Shore, the North Side and Downtown to highlight landmarks and reinforce “a sense of place,” according to an announcement from Mayor Bill Peduto’s office.

On Tuesday, Mr. Peduto introduced a resolution to City Council to provide $1.4 million to the project. The resolution would authorize a reimbursement agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, through the Southwest Pennsylvania Commission’s Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside program.

The initiative provides funding for programs and projects defined as “transportation alternatives,” including things like off-road pedestrian and bicycle facilities, environmental mitigation and recreational trail projects.

AI Is Helping to Stop Animal Poaching and Food Insecurity This professor is using game theory to tackle these problems

December 20, 2021

When Fei Fang was a graduate student she was introduced to game theory—mathematical models that describe strategic interactions among rational decision-makers. The IEEE member knew she had found her calling. She has combined the modelling technique with machine learning to thwart terrorist attacks and reduce animal poaching.

For Fang’s work in the field, she was named one of IEEE Intelligent Systems magazine’s “AI’s 10 to Watch in 2020.”

Fang, an assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, is now working with 412 Food Rescue, a nonprofit in Pittsburgh, to improve its system for alerting volunteers when surplus food is available for pickup.

Why The U.S. Infrastructure Crisis Will Get Worse In 2022 Before It Gets Better

December 17, 2021

Karen Lightman is the executive director of the Metro21 Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. She said that, “The American Society of Civil Engineers gives American infrastructure a C- [and notes] that there’s a water main break every two minutes in the U.S. and 43% of our roadways are woefully deficient.

Carnegie Mellon University’s Lightman said, “My hope is that the [recently approved federal funding] will also support more collaboration with private and non-profit sectors. The funding from the U.S. government is meant to be a catalyst for other private sector funding, whereby it reduces the risk and will encourage developers to make improvements on their properties, for companies to grow and expand.

“I look for infrastructure investments that are mindful of sustainability goals such as focusing on electrification and the use of renewable sources of energy (wind, solar, etc.) and also is focused on enhancing digital infrastructure such as equitable deployment of broadband— at the last mile as well as the very-important middle-mile infrastructure needed,” she recommended.

Carnegie Mellon University: CMU’s Roborace Team Launches Virtual, Autonomous Racing Challenge

December 14, 2021

A virtual, autonomous racing challenge launching this week will enable aspiring drivers to head to the track without leaving their computer.

The Learn-to-Race Autonomous Racing Virtual Challenge started Monday, Dec. 6. Competitors use the Learn-to-Race environment to teach an artificially intelligent agent how to race. The challenge is coupled with a workshop on Safe Learning for Autonomous Driving, which is accepting research paper submissions.

“We want people to use Learn-to-Race, make improvements to the environment, push it to the limit and create an agent that could run on a track,” said James Herman, a CMU alumnus who wrote the Learn-to-Race framework and is part of the team launching the challenge. “Hopefully, people will have fun with it and come up with creative ideas.”

Herman graduated this past May from the Master of Computational Data Science (MCDS) program in the Language Technologies Institute (LTI) at CMU’s School of Computer Science.

Smart Bandages, Vehicle-Damage Trackers and More Data-Collecting Devices of the Future

December 8, 2021

A team of researchers at Stanford University and the University of Michigan is developing sensors that, when placed on the floor, capture and analyze vibrations created by footsteps in a roughly 60-foot range and assign a signature to a person’s unique footprint. The sensors can capture a range of nuanced data, such as the force applied by a foot to the ground, so they provide more detailed information about gait balance or other subtle features than wearables, says Hae Young Noh, who initially worked on the project as an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon and is now at Stanford. Coupled with algorithms, they can then pick up on anomalies in an individual’s gait and transmit data wirelessly to a cloud-based platform or app accessible to patients that doctors could consult to make a diagnosis, says Dr. Noh.

The 6 terms you need to know to understand self-driving cars

December 6, 2021

For Levels 3-5, the person sitting in the driver’s seat is not driving the car—the automated system is, if it is engaged. But this can be tricky. Phillip Koopman, an electrical engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, points out on his autonomous vehicle blog that a vehicle’s Level 3 system may not notify the driver when human intervention is needed, as we’ve already seen from videos of people wrenching steering control from Tesla’s ostensibly Level-2 Full Self Driving beta system when it attempts to steer the car into danger.

This is why, Koopman adds, that the driver in vehicles with Level 3 systems activated cannot perform non-driving activities, such as napping or watching a video. “J3016 does not say that Level 3 means ‘eyes off road’ anywhere,” he emphasizes.

Level-Setting: Why Drivers Still Don’t Understand Self-Driving

December 6, 2021

American car and truck owners have shaky knowledge of what constitutes a fully autonomous vehicle (AV), says the 2021 J.D. Power Mobility Confidence Index (MCI), released November 30. In the survey, only 37% of respondents correctly identified Levels 4 and 5 (based on SAE definitions) as referring to fully automated self-driving. In fact, more than half (55%) pointed to descriptions that are actually aligned with more modest driver-assist technology…

Raj Rajkumar, a Carnegie Mellon professor who has collaborated with General Motors and others on autonomous technology, said he was “not surprised” by the numbers in the survey. “Since AVs are not being sold right now, it’s not shocking that people don’t know what the levels mean,” he said.

Rajkumar added that the enthusiastic marketing of Level 2 vehicles from companies such as Cadillac and Tesla can also create false impressions. “Tesla’s Full Self-Driving [FSD] system is nowhere near full autonomy,” he said. “With some companies, the information on what the systems can actually do is in the fine print.”

Could Roads Recharge Electric Cars? The Technology May Be Close.

December 3, 2021

Other challenges may slow the electric road of the future. “To put this in context, inroad charging while driving is not likely to be a broad solution for all electric vehicles, but it could play an important role for some applications,” said Jeremy J. Michalek, professor of engineering and public policy and director of the vehicle electrification group at Carnegie Mellon University.

“For passenger cars, most drivers will leave home on most days with a full tank of electricity, and EV range is growing large enough that most drivers won’t need public charging except on rare long-distance travel days,” he said.

But there is a bigger problem that these kinds of roadways can solve. “For long-haul trucking, inroad charging aims to address a real problem with electrifying trucks,” Mr. Michalek said. Electric trailer trucks require large battery packs that reduce payload; inroad charging could help, though that amount of long-distance travel would require a huge investment in infrastructure.

White House creates new energy division to help craft climate change policies

December 1, 2021

The White House has launched a new energy division of its Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and appointed Sally Benson, a well-known energy expert at Stanford University, to a high-level position to contribute to climate change policy…

In addition to Benson, the White House is bringing in another heavy hitter in climate policy circles: Costa Samaras has joined OSTP as the principal assistant director for energy. Samaras most recently served as an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, where he directed an effort to track the country’s progress in deploying clean energy.

Eric Lander, the OSTP director and Biden’s science adviser, said in a statement that Benson and Samaras are “leading experts in the energy field who will help us realize an emission-free future where clean electricity is the cheapest and most reliable electricity, where clean fuels are the cheapest fuels, and where we enable equitable access to clean energy services to everyone across the country.”

Southwestern Pa. residents can help boost the area’s broadband haul from the infrastructure bill

November 29, 2021

First, they want to get a better idea of the region’s connectivity needs, so they’re asking residents to complete a survey about the quality of their internet access.

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, a planning agency for the 10 counties that make up the state’s southwest corner, is leading the study with Carnegie Mellon University and the Pittsburgh-based child advocacy nonprofit Allies for Children. They’ve called the initiative “Southwestern Pennsylvania Connected.”

The state will get at least $100 million to invest in broadband, according to federal officials. Vincent Valdes, executive director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, said the amount the Pittsburgh area receives will depend on its level of need.

“That’s certainly important to be able to access that money since I think it’ll be competitive,” he said. “We’re launching a survey to really kind of get a granular sense as to what the needs are in our region.”