Towering 45 feet above Lawrenceville, NREC’s latest robot is its tallest

January 10, 2019

Sometimes secretive about its projects, Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center isn’t exactly hiding its tallest robot.

The 45-foot robot has been visible since autumn on NREC’s grounds in Lawrenceville.

“I can see it from my bedroom window in Polish Hill,” said Gabriel Goldman, technical lead for the project.

The machine is a prototype for a larger floating robot the Army Corps of Engineers will call ARMOR 1. It will bind 3,600-pound concrete blocks into mats that will be sunk into the Mississippi River to shore up its banks.

AV Testing Advances Without Standards

January 9, 2019

The failure of the AV START Act in the United States Senate did more than just delay U.S. federal regulations for self-driving car technology that has yet to progress beyond the pilot-test stage…

“We need a good functional safety standard. FMVSS doesn’t say a thing about AVs and there is no functional safety standard for autonomy,” said Philip Koopman, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, who specializes in safety testing and validation of autonomous vehicles. “With or without AV START, in 2019 we need to see the industry come together and see how these things can be made safe. If the industry can get together on safety, that would do more to move things forward than regulations. If it could give the government a realistic idea of direction and timelines, that would get NHTSA closer to mark as well.”

2019 is the year to stop talking about ethics and start taking action

January 4, 2019

There’s a better way to help designers and engineers act more ethically when developing technology–educate them.

That’s the idea behind a series of ethical tech classes that have sprung up in places like Carnegie Mellon University, where computer science professor Fei Fang began teaching a class called Artificial Intelligence for Social Good. The idea: If computer science students can learn to think about the potential impact of their code, they’ll be more likely to make ethical decisions. The Mozilla Foundation is also throwing its weight behind this idea, with a multi-year competition that offers cash prizes to encourage professors to come up with ways of teaching ethics to computer science students that won’t make them fall asleep at their desks.


January 4, 2019

Volkswagen thinks it has part of the solution. Last week, the German automaker unveiled its mobile charging station concept, which could appear in its hometown of Wolfsburg as early as the first half of this year, and elsewhere starting in 2020…

“This is probably more expensive than just having a charging station, but this concept of ‘mobile charging’ might induce some folks to become EV buyers who are worried about a place to plug in,” says Costa Samaras, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University who studies electric vehicles and systems. But Samaras notes that kind of charging and range anxiety can’t be patched by mobility alone. “Ultimately, the problem will have to be solved with both widespread public charging and battery improvements that increase the range between charges,” he says.

Smoking weed: When is someone too high to drive?

January 4, 2019

Roadside testing for THC is also logistically difficult.

Blood, for instance, needs to be analyzed in a lab, and collecting urine gets complicated.

In Canada, which legalized recreational pot just this year, law enforcement will test drivers with a saliva test called the Dräger DrugTest 5000, but that isn’t perfect, either.

Some private companies are trying to develop a sort of breathalyzer for marijuana. But Jonathan Caulkins, a drug policy researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, said, “There are fundamental issues with the chemistry and pharmacokinetics. It’s really hard to have an objective, easy-to-administer roadside test.”

Aptiv partners with AI company Affectiva

January 4, 2019

Autonomous vehicle company Aptiv entered into a commercial partnership with Affectiva, a Boston-based startup that creates human perception artificial intelligence to identify the cognitive state of vehicle occupants, according to a news release from the company.

Affectiva, which spun out of MIT Media Lab, uses its technology to determine in real time if a person in a vehicle is paying attention to the road or if they are distracted. The sensing tech takes into account changes in eye movement and facial expression.

Robocar Tech Faces ‘Major Pain’ in 2019

January 4, 2019

In assessing who’s ahead in the race to first commercially deploy AVs, companies, pundits and media have been using the number of hours each company spent on robocar testing on public roads as the yardstick.

This might be the wrong criterion. Phil Koopman, safety expert and professor at Carnegie Mellon University, stressed that to deploy AVs, the industry must “get past the notion that road testing is enough to ensure safety.”

The industry today is “still trying to get vehicles to work properly on an everyday basis,” Koopman observed. This hardly ensures the safety of AVs. “No reasonable amount of road testing will address the gap between ‘seems to work pretty well’ and ‘safe,’” he stressed. “True safety isn’t just about the everyday stuff — it is also about handling edge cases, component failures, and other rare but critical events.”

Who Will Regulate Autonomous Vehicles Best?

January 3, 2019

So it would be useful to have a look at the experience of Roger Cohen, senior advisor to the secretary of transportation for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, who Koopman described as “the best guy, leading the best autonomous car program of all the states.”

Pennsylvania’s first CAVs rolled out of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh more than a decade ago on the way to winning the DARPA autonomous driving challenge, which gave Cohen and company the sense of inevitability about the whole thing.

“You can’t actually do as much as you think to keep autonomous vehicles out of the city if you want to,” Cohen said. “So when it became clear the private sector was coming in, we designed model legislation to suggest to the general assembly to authorize full, automated vehicle testing at all levels, with PennDoT designated as the agency charged with oversight for safety. We thought it was a critical part of the legislation that we be given authority to oversee the process, and we were—but only through the mechanism of policy, not regulation.

‘Mobility’ Is Starting to Get the Attention It Deserves

December 26, 2018

Bill Peduto, who became mayor of Pittsburgh in January 2014, made mobility one of his top priorities early on. He focused on reshaping the way the city’s transportation functions were organized and delivered so that they would support and facilitate Pittsburgh’s ongoing renewal…

As a result, in May 2017 Peduto hired Karina Ricks to create a new Department of Mobility and Infrastructure. Ricks had spent about 20 years working in transportation in Washington, D.C., during that city’s dramatic economic recovery. When I heard Ricks’ presentation at a conference last fall, I could see that she had a view of transportation that I would call human-scale, grounded in the idea that it should bring people together in ways that build community.

With Carnegie Mellon University serving, in Ricks’ words, “as the research arm of the city,” Pittsburgh is emerging as a leader in the smart city movement.

AI takes on potholes

December 21, 2018

The poor state of infrastructure poses serious safety threats to drivers today and may delay the safe deployment of AVs. One-third of the 33,000 U.S. annual traffic-related deaths involve poor road conditions, with potholes alone causing $3 billion in vehicle damage per year.

The big picture: AV developers have focused on improving how their cars respond to pedestrians, bicyclists and other cars on the road, but they must also address the challenges presented by infrastructure. Using AI and advanced image stabilization, AV companies are building better tools to map and assess road conditions.

Where it stands: Companies and academic labs are working on technology for AVs to anticipate hazards on the road. If shared with city and state offices, the information these AI-powered tools generate can also be used to guide infrastructure repairs and investments.

Smart Circuit self-driving shuttles fuel Ohio State research

December 21, 2018

The initiative bringing self-driving shuttles to the Buckeye state is driven by Smart Columbus and Ohio Department of Transportation’s DriveOhio, in partnership with The Ohio State University. The Smart Circuit demonstration will help engineers, researchers and policymakers from this partnership inform future deployments of self-driving vehicle technology throughout the state…

Ohio State’s Institute for Materials Research hosted a three-day INNOVATE-O-thon event in November with DriveOhio, an initiative working to advance smart mobility in Ohio. Each semester, IMR challenges undergraduates studying a variety of disciplines to work with each other, as well as faculty, industry and government representatives to a solve real-world problem.

At the most recent INNOVATE-O-thon, students were challenged to help shape DriveOhio’s technology strategy by imagining a future with self-driving shuttles on the Columbus campus of Ohio State. Students built value propositions for that project and pitched them to government representatives, faculty and other subject matter experts.

7 Arguments Against the Autonomous-Vehicle Utopia

December 21, 2018

Self-driving cars are coming. Tech giants such as Uber and Alphabet have bet on it, as have old-school car manufacturers such as Ford and General Motors. But even as Google’s sister company Waymo prepares to launch its self-driving-car service and automakers prototype vehicles with various levels of artificial intelligence, there are some who believe that the autonomous future has been oversold—that even if driverless cars are coming, it won’t be as fast, or as smooth, as we’ve been led to think. The skeptics come from different disciplines inside and out of the technology and automotive industries, and each has a different bear case against self-driving cars. Add them up and you have a guide to all the ways our autonomous future might not materialize.

More detail emerge about Uber’s return to self-driving mode

December 21, 2018

The company received its letter of authorization from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation this week, and joins Aurora Innovation, Qualcomm Technologies, Carnegie Mellon University, UATC and Argo AI as authorized testers in the state.

The autonomous testing will follow Uber’s newly Operational Design Domain, which outlines the rules Uber will follow in getting its small fleet, just a few cars at this time, back on the road…

The vehicles will only drive during daylight hours on weekdays, excluding holidays. The cars will not exceed the posted 25 miles per hour speed limit in its testing area.

Uber will still require two missions specialists, with extensive training, in the cars at all times to communicate with engineers. The vehicles will have Volvo Automatic Emergency Braking and real-time driver monitoring active at all times.

Self-driving, burrito-carrying rovers are going to talk to us with their eyes

December 19, 2018

Say it wants to let a pedestrian know that it’s going to yield for them, Kashani says. “It would use its eyes; it would look down,” he explains…

And using eye movements—and other non-verbal cues—is a good strategy, says Aaron Steinfeld, an associate research professor at Carnegie Mellon University who focuses on human-robot interaction and advanced transportation systems. He likes that the rover is capable of “deferential behavior,” which he says isn’t common with robots.

Serve is intended for sidewalks, and Steinfeld says that environment is challenging. It’s easy for people to move fluidly with a crowd—they usually can do it (with varying degrees of success) while staring at a smartphone. For a bot, that’s a lot. “We actually have active research on robots navigating socially around people when they’re moving,” he says. “And it’s really tricky to do this well.”

37% of Tech Experts Worry Artificial Intelligence Will Make Humanity Worse by 2030

December 19, 2018

Overall, 63% said they were hopeful that people will be better off by 2030, with 37% believing they will not be better off. “Yet, most experts, regardless of whether they are optimistic or not, expressed concerns about the long-term impact of these new tools on the essential elements of being human,” Pew wrote in its survey findings released this week…

Some also saw a potential risk to human liberty if AI expertise widens a gap between the powerful and the powerless.

“AI affects agency by creating entities with meaningful intellectual capabilities for monitoring, enforcing and even punishing individuals,” said Greg Shannon, a chief scientist at Carnegie Mellon’s CERT Division. “Those who know how to use it will have immense potential power over those who don’t/can’t. Future happiness is really unclear.”


December 19, 2018

“‘Safety culture’ is when you don’t let things slide,” says Philip Koopman, who studies safety in autonomy at Carnegie Mellon University. “If your self-driving system does something unexpected, just one time, you drill down and you don’t stop until you figure out why, and how to stop it happening again.” This sounds simple, but tracking down every last little, sometimes inconsequential bug takes a heap of time and money. You can find this sort of safety culture at work in factories, the oil industry, and hospitals. But the best example—the one especially relevant to a human-toting technology—comes from the sky.

Since the late 1960s, the American airline industry has cut its fatality rate in half.

The Technology That Could End Traffic Jams

December 18, 2018

In Pittsburgh researchers are already working with city managers on a similar approach that has been operating in the city since 2012. An adaptive traffic control system developed by researchers at the Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, has been rolled out around the city by a company called Rapid Flow Tech…

The system uses video feeds to automatically detect the number of road users, including pedestrians, and types of vehicles that are at an intersection. The AI software then processes this information second by second to come up with the best way to move traffic through the intersection, changing traffic lights depending on the most optimal way of keeping traffic moving.

As vehicles become more connected with the help of mobile phone and other wireless technology, they too will help to feed even more information into systems like this.

Ford was offered Volkswagen for free after WWII — and passed

December 18, 2018

Volkswagen has moved from making news for a diesel emissions scandal to making headlines about its aggressive pursuit of electric technology and a commitment to a more sustainable future.

The automotive landscape is shifting more quickly than ever from sales in Western economies to emerging markets. In the U.S., younger consumers don’t run out and get driver’s licenses like their elders. And aging consumers don’t buy lots of cars. Growth potential is limited.

“Plus, we have an interesting political environment in the U.S. and Germany,” said Tim Zak, director of the Institute for Social Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University. “Business doesn’t like chaos, whether it’s trade issues or tariffs or a variety of things. It puts a fog around the environment.”

Driverless vehicles soon to be tested in Central PA

December 17, 2018

“I think a lot of people think this is on the horizon for the future, and there could be benefits for the future. I understand that. I think our focus is on just making sure Lancaster County roads are safe,” said Lancaster County Commissioner Josh Parsons.

Parsons says he received a letter Tuesday from the Secretary of Transportation saying Carnegie Mellon University was given the green light to test automated vehicles in several Pennsylvania counties.

He says he hasn’t had the chance to speak with PennDOT about the decision, but he does have some concerns about the new technology in Lancaster County.

“We have some unique issues here in Lancaster County, specifically Amish buggies, that we want to make sure we’re safe about,” said Parsons.

They say software will eat the world. Here are some software bugs that took a stab at it

December 17, 2018

Bugs can be expensive, and bugs can kill. Carnegie Mellon University Professor Phil Koopman specialises in embedded software quality including safety-critical areas such as self-driving cars and other automotive software. In a recent post about potentially deadly automotive software defects he lists more than 50 reports of disturbing defects such as unintended acceleration, cruise control which will not disengage, and power steering preventing the driver from controlling the vehicle.

Koopman makes the point that improving software quality is largely a matter of observing best practice.

These include reducing code complexity, using static analysis tools and compiling with zero warnings, rigorous checking of real-time code scheduling, satisfactory software testing, and use of basic tools including configuration management, version control and bug tracking.

UPenn Hosts ‘How To Stop Distracted Driving’ Event

December 13, 2018

Every day, nine people are killed by distracted driving. The University of Pennsylvania addressed how to stop the dangerous trend on Tuesday.

Research has shown young people are the worst culprits when it comes to using their phones while behind the wheel of a car.

At the event, experts were reviewing what kinds of advanced auto safety technologies could help save lives.

Everybody knows how dangerous texting and driving is but drivers are constantly on their phones and distracted driving is a leading cause of car crashes.

Hoping to find new solutions, Penn hosted a symposium aiming to harness science and innovation to combat distracted driving.

Big strategy: Innovation campus may finally launch development near Pittsburgh’s airport

December 12, 2018

While the site work takes place, the authority will be working on a strategy to attract companies and business to the campus, CEO Christina Cassotis said.

It also will be collaborating with local universities to help chart a course for the development, she said.

Carnegie Mellon University already is partnering with the authority to make Pittsburgh International “the smartest airport on the planet” through the use of apps, sensors and other technology.

“This is really a big vision for the airport in terms of bringing the manufacturing that will take advantage of the region’s destination as a leader in [artificial intelligence] and robotics,” Ms. Cassotis said.

Tech execs at White House field ideas for US dominance

December 12, 2018

Top executives from Google, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Qualcomm gathered Thursday at the White House amid strained ties between President Donald Trump’s administration and the tech industry and an ongoing trade war with China.

The White House described the Thursday meeting as a listening session to field ideas for securing American dominance in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, advanced manufacturing and faster wireless technology known as 5G…

The meeting also included former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who has recently expressed interest in AI, and presidents of top engineering universities such as Carnegie Mellon and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ohio’s first autonomous shuttle will start accepting passengers

December 12, 2018

Passengers can ride Ohio’s first self-driving shuttle along the Scioto Mile starting Monday.

Smart Circuit will operate from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week at no charge to riders. Smart Columbus and DriveOhio, in partnership with Ohio State University, are leading the initiative. The shuttles are operated by May Mobility, a Michigan-based startup. The Ohio Department of Transportation’s DriveOhio is the state agency devoted to autonomous-vehicle research.

“Smart Circuit gives us an opportunity to learn more about self-driving technology in real time as we work to improve our city’s transportation ecosystem,” Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said in a news release.

The shuttle, which reaches a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour, will make four stops along the 1.4-mile route along the Scioto Mile at COSI, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, Bicentennial Park and the Smart Columbus Experience Center.

Startups collecting data about Pittsburgh roads think they can shake up city infrastructure

December 11, 2018

The challenge? Integrating various datasets, said Alex Pazuchanics, assistant director of planning, policy and permitting at the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure…

Usually such data is siloed and used for a specific purpose, such as when a city comes up with bus routes, explained Zhen Qian, director of CMU’s Mobility Data Analytics Center in Oakland.

And even though startups like Gridwise and LaneSpotter could enable better infrastructure decisions, the “old-fashioned way” is still popular, he said.

To predict traffic on the Parkway East, for example, city planners rely on inductive loop detectors, buried in the pavement, and radar detectors set up on the shoulder to count cars.

“It’s very useful, but it misses a lot things,” Mr. Qian explained. “It’s a fixed location number. You don’t know where people are going, where they’re coming from, what route they take, why they take Uber over the bus. This is what I’m missing.”