Self-driving delivery trucks are already on North Texas highways. How safe are they?

June 2, 2023

For now, these delivery trucks making stops at Sam’s Clubs, Krogers and other destinations do have a human behind the wheel — a safety driver in case of emergencies or technology glitches. Soon, that will no longer be the case…

While some states have different rules on testing and deploying autonomous trucks, Texas is very hands off on regulation, experts say. Texas’ regulatory environment means we could see more of these trucks on our roads. But that’s concerning to Philip Koopman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who has been working on self-driving car safety for more than 25 years. Autonomous trucking companies decide for themselves when they think their vehicles are safe enough to operate on public roads, Koopman said.

“The government probably made that decision for jobs and economic growth,” Koopman said. “But the cost of that decision is you’re potentially putting other road users at risk, and there’s no way to figure out how safe it is.

How self-driving cars and human-driven cars could share the road

May 31, 2023

Similar to when the first automobiles traveled alongside horses and buggies, autonomous vehicles (AVs) and human-driven vehicles (HVs) must someday share the same road. How to best manage this transition is the topic of a new Carnegie Mellon University policy brief, ‘Mixed-Autonomy Era of Transportation: Resilience & Autonomous Fleet Management.’ Carlee Joe-Wong, the Robert E. Doherty Career Development Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at CMU, shares her thoughts with AAVI on how this might play out…

Technology development continues to make driving safer as the auto industry pushes us toward eliminating human drivers. Who knows if humans will ever be totally out of the equation, but what is inevitable is that cars with varying levels of autonomous driving capacity will be sharing the roads. It would behoove us to get in front of this issue and learn what benefits can be derived from mixed autonomy on our highways, so that we can develop policies and regulatory structures that will keep people traveling safely and efficiently regardless of whether a person is behind the steering wheel or not.

Hyliion introduces fuel-agnostic Hypertruck Karno

May 19, 2023

Transportation Expo in early May in Anaheim, Calif. The semitruck employs an electric range extender powertrain that the company says can be powered by a variety of fuels, including hydrogen or natural gas…

The Hyliion Hypertruck ERX has an electric powertrain that is recharged by an onboard natural gas generator. In January, Austin, Texas-based Hyliion announced it planned to deliver 10 Hypertruck ERX Class 8 semitrucks in the first quarter of 2024 to Danish transportation company DSV…

The Karno generator uses heat to drive a sealed linear generator to produce electricity. The heat is produced by reacting fuels through flameless oxidation or by leveraging other heat sources including renewables. The power system will be capable of operating on with more than 20 fuels, including hydrogen, natural gas, propane, ammonia and conventional fuels…

Hyliion was founded in 2015 in Pittsburgh, where the company’s founder earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Artificial Intelligence, Part 3: OK, it’s bad. But it’s also good, right?

May 9, 2023

Stephen Smith is a research professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. He worked on a team that developed an adaptive traffic signal network called Surtrac, which improves commutes during peak traffic times in Pittsburgh. AI systems collect real-time data on where cars are on the road to change the traffic light signals based on where traffic is the worst.

The city partnered with his team after a pilot program showed it improved traffic flow and reduced average travel times by 25%.

Not only does this reduce the number of headaches for commuters, but cars spend up to 40% less time idling, reducing that much more carbon emissions from the air.

“There are technologies out there that will adapt the traffic signals to the traffic, but they tend to be applied to more suburban corridors where you have a main drag and then maybe side streets,” Smith said. “The problem we’re solving is one where you have multiple competing, dominant flows that change throughout the day, so you can’t really decide in advance where your dominant flow is. The system has to recognize that in real-time.”

The Future of Transportation: The Role of Bike Lanes

May 8, 2023

Bike lanes have a significant impact on traffic, both in terms of reducing congestion and improving safety. By providing a dedicated space for cyclists, bike lanes can help to reduce the number of cars on the road, which in turn can reduce traffic congestion. More protected lanes means more people leaving cars at home and opting to cycle, which is a win-win.

“The big takeaways are that micromobility could decrease congestion, especially on highly congested corridors. But you’re going to need wide-scale bike lane deployment,” said Corey Harper, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and one of the authors of a key micromobility study.

Additionally, they can improve safety by separating cyclists from motor vehicles, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries. Studies have shown that cities with well-designed bike networks have lower rates of traffic fatalities and injuries.

New electric vehicle tax credit rules aim to reduce dependence on China, but present new obstacles

May 8, 2023

The $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit in the Inflation Reduction Act, which Biden signed in August, doesn’t limit the number of credits, but ruled out the full $7,500 credit for new EVs assembled outside North America.

In April, the Treasury Department, writing regulations for the law, narrowed the tax credit eligibility further. The regulations require that a certain percentage of the components and minerals in car batteries be sourced from the U.S. or in countries that are U.S. trade allies.

Limiting the tax credit is meant to encourage EV component supply chains, which China now dominates, to shift toward the U.S. and its allies, said Jeremy Michalek, director of the Vehicle Electrification Group at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh…

Michalek said he expects the new regulations to slow EV sales temporarily. Slowik and Brinley said they don’t expect the new tax credit regulations to slow EV sales, because the manufacturing increase will make more vehicles eligible for the credits and because demand for EVs remains high.

The do’s and don’ts for sharing the roads with driverless cars

May 3, 2023

4. Social cues won’t work with computers
You can’t make eye contact with a driverless car at an intersection for a gut sense of whether it’s going to barrel ahead. You can’t wave your hand to make sure the car will yield to your family in a crosswalk.

Instead of those familiar social cues, the “alternative is blind trust in a hulking piece of metal and programming,” Heather said.

Phil Koopman, a Carnegie Mellon engineering professor who has worked on autonomous vehicle technology for 25 years, advised being extremely careful when you’re crossing in front of a driverless car without someone ready to take over the wheel — even if the car is stopped at a red light.

“You couldn’t give me enough money to walk in front of these things,” Koopman said.

Take care in the cone zone

April 28, 2023

Traffic slows in construction zones for a reason. Construction vehicles often pull onto and off highways, and here workers and heavy equipment operate sometimes just feet from the open lanes of travel.

Drivers have to be alert when traveling through a work zone, and that means allowing enough distance between vehicles so a sudden stop can be made without a collision. That’s especially true in longer work zones — research conducted by the college of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation shows that work zones more than 1.8 miles long could increase crash risks. The study also showed that road work conducted during the night does not increase the risk of accidents.

Tesla wins bellwether trial over Autopilot car crash

April 28, 2023

A California state court jury on Friday handed Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) a sweeping win, finding the electric vehicle maker’s Autopilot feature did not fail in what appeared to be the first trial related to a crash involving the partially automated driving software…

The main question in Autopilot cases was who is responsible for an accident while a car is in driver-assistant Autopilot mode – a human driver, the machine, or both?

“When fatalities are involved, and they are on highways, jury perspectives can be different,” said Raj Rajkumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

“While Tesla won this battle, they may end up losing the war,” he said, with people realizing Tesla’s tech is “far from becoming fully autonomous” despite Musk’s repeated promises over years.

The Case for Flying Cars as a Climate Solution

April 17, 2023

Venkat Viswanathan thinks there’s a “straight shot” from today to the technologies needed to build that future, despite all the jokes about flying cars being fantasy. The professor at Carnegie Mellon University is obsessed with building the batteries that will power these zero-emission aircraft…

Viswanathan has worked with next-generation battery companies such as QuantumScape Corp., 24M Technologies Inc., and Aionics Inc., and concluded that aviation is “the most important problem that batteries can address,” he told the Zero podcast…

The problem is that it’s hard to beat jet fuel when it comes to the right combination of weight and power needed to lift a plane (with passengers and cargo) off the ground. To make a battery that is powerful but light enough to accomplish the same feat is bound to be extremely expensive.

That’s why Viswanathan believes the first application will have to be in the luxury market.

When Will Cars Be Fully Self-Driving?

April 12, 2023

Around now, we should be relaxing in the driver’s seat of our autonomous cars, streaming a TV show or perhaps even taking a nap while the vehicles drive us safely to our destinations.

That was the prediction several years ago by some auto-industry executives and technology experts. But after billions of dollars in research-and-development spending, autonomous-vehicle technology hasn’t advanced anywhere near the point where it can replace human drivers…

The Wall Street Journal gathered three experts to discuss the future of autonomous vehicles: Alexandre M. Bayen, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley; Raj Rajkumar, a professor in the electrical and computer engineering department at Carnegie Mellon University; and Juergen Reers, a senior managing director at consulting firm Accenture who is part of its mobility practice.

Hydrogen hub, carbon projects face internal, external hurdles

March 28, 2023

The head of the public-private partnership that is shepherding Pennsylvania’s application for a potential hydrogen hub centered around the Pittsburgh region said success isn’t just about winning funding but a real pathway to decarbonization.

Team Pennsylvania Foundation President and CEO Abby Smith told a Carnegie Mellon University Energy Week audience Wednesday afternoon that she hopes the $8 billion in federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to start up between eight and 10 hydrogen hubs around the country not only does that but also helps to build relationships between companies, governments and communities that become the starting point for future projects…

Destenie Nock, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, said the focus should be on a wider scope of industrial development than a single plant to make the biggest impact and to provide a voice consistently throughout the process and not just at certain points.

High levels of chemicals could pose long-term risks at Ohio train derailment site, researchers say

March 6, 2023

“It’s not elevated to the point where it’s necessarily like an immediate ‘evacuate the building’ health concern,” said Dr. Albert Presto, an associate research professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon’s Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation, who is working on the university’s chemical monitoring effort in East Palestine. “But, you know, we don’t know necessarily what the long-term risk is or how long that concentration that causes that risk will persist.”

Much of what scientists know about chemical exposure comes from people’s contact with chemicals at work, Preston said, which generally means exposure for about eight hours a day. People now living in East Palestine are in constant contact with the chemicals, he said, and the impact of that kind of exposure on the human body is not fully understood.

Venture capital dries up for Pittsburgh driverless car startups, prompting a call for diversification

March 3, 2023

For the third quarter of 2022, $5.5 billion was invested in the sector, down 55% from the previous quarter and 79% lower than the same period a year ago, according to PitchBook, a Seattle-based company that tracks investments.

Turning back the revenue spigot for startups has meant lean days for entrepreneurs.

“It’s been very difficult for a startup in the last three or four months, both here and nationally,” said Matthew Johnson-Roberson, director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, which recently expanded on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill’s business district. “There’s just been this big pullback.”

Robotics is a growing part of the Pittsburgh-area economy, with more than 100 companies supporting 15,000 jobs and drawing $3.4 billion in venture capital and private equity since 2012, according to the Pittsburgh Robotics Network. Driverless vehicles are a small part of the sector, which has been dented recently by the layoffs at Locomation and the shuttering of Argo AI.

Pittsburgh’s street infrastructure is getting a smart tech upgrade

February 28, 2023

With a $28.8 million investment grant award that came from a combination of federal, city and state funding, the Steel City is welcoming the SmartSpines project, which will use advanced transportation technologies to modernize traffic signals. The goal is to improve “safety, efficiency, system performance, and infrastructure return on investment.”

These changes won’t happen all at once. According to the City’s website, the project will happen in three phases over the next two years. During that time, changes will include new vehicular signal heads, new pedestrian countdown signs, and new accessible pedestrian signs.

Drivers can also look forward to smart software implementation such as a cloud-based user priority system for the Pittsburgh Regional Transit Bus Rapid Transit project, an adaptive signal system that detects and optimizes movements on a “per-person” basis, an advanced traffic management system, and an advanced traffic signal performance measures software platform.

If ‘self-driving’ Teslas are defective, why are regulators letting them stay on the road?

February 24, 2023

Safety officials are struggling not only with new technology in the auto industry but also with Tesla in particular, an automaker that “thumbs its nose at NHTSA on a regular basis,” said Phil Koopman, a professor and autonomous technology expert at Carnegie Mellon University.

So, in its negotiations with Musk, why did NHTSA not require that FSD or the defective functions be turned off while Tesla attempts a fix? NHTSA won’t say. Koopman, emphasizing he’s only speculating, said it’s possible NHTSA feared being sued by Musk, which would require a huge commitment of resources and would drag out the situation.

“NHTSA would be motivated to get this thing fixed in a way that involves the least trauma and gets it done faster,” Koopman said.

Bryant Walker Smith, law professor at the University of South Carolina, said regulators are just coming to grips with the recent radical changes in automotive technology. Even the term “recall” is becoming outmoded: The Tesla fix will be delivered wirelessly to cars wherever they are through what’s called over-the-air software delivery. Smith proposes the term “virtual recall.”

Tesla Recalls More Than 300,000 Vehicles Over ‘Self-Driving’ Safety Concerns

February 22, 2023

U.S. safety regulators have pressured Tesla into recalling nearly 363,000 vehicles with its “Full Self-Driving” system because it can misbehave around intersections and doesn’t always follow speed limits…

Raj Rajkumar, a professor of computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, doubts that Tesla can fix all of the problems cited by NHTSA with a software update. The automaker, he says, relies only on cameras and artificial intelligence to make driving decisions, a system that will make mistakes.

“Cameras can miss a lot of things,” Rajkumar said. “These are not straightforward issues to fix. If they could have fixed it, they would have fixed it a long time back.”

Most other companies with self-driving vehicles use laser sensors and radar in addition to cameras to make sure vehicles see everything. “One sensing modality is not perfect by any metric,” Rajkumar said.

Electric Vehicles Are A Status Symbol Now

February 17, 2023

“You’re talking about renters who may not have the option to install charging infrastructure,” Jeremy Michalek, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and the director of its Vehicle Electrification Group, told me. “And even if they have charging infrastructure this year, renters tend to move, and they don’t know whether they’ll have that access next year. Even a lot of homeowners don’t have off-street parking, and relying entirely on public charging infrastructure is a whole different ball game.”

For those who can plug in at home, everyday driving gets better—no more service-station pit stops to top off the dinosaur car. If you can’t charge at home or at work, car ownership may get more annoying. As Michalek noted, fast-charging stations aren’t meant to be treated like gas stations.

The Inconvenient Truth About Electric Vehicles

February 14, 2023

For those who can plug in at home, everyday driving gets better—no more service-station pit stops to top off the dinosaur car. If you can’t charge at home or at work, car ownership may get more annoying. As Michalek noted, fast-charging stations aren’t meant to be treated like gas stations. Using them can mean driving a few miles to the closest one, possibly waiting in line for a plug, then waiting to actually get the electricity into your car (that time is decreasing as the tech gets better, but it’s still much longer than pumping a liquid fuel for a minute or two).

The cost is more than the time and the nuisance. Fast-charging in public is marked up and costs more than charging at home.

Tesla’s Pickup Truck Is Coming Soon. Maybe.

February 13, 2023

More than three years after Elon Musk stunned the auto industry with an electric pickup truck that looked more like a stealth fighter than a way to haul two-by-fours and drywall, Tesla said last month that it would begin building the vehicle by the end of 2023.

The announcement has helped fuel a recovery in Tesla’s share price, but also revived a debate about whether the often-delayed pickup, called the Cybertruck, is a work of genius or evidence of Mr. Musk’s hubris…

These challenges probably help explain why Tesla is two years behind schedule in manufacturing the Cybertruck, which the company plans to produce at its factory in Austin, Texas.

“Tesla thinks they can solve any problem and don’t have to learn from anyone else,” said Raj Rajkumar, a professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, “and then they get stuck in a corner.”

Self-Driving Car Services Want to Expand in San Francisco Despite Recent Hiccups

February 10, 2023

The plan, which could put as many as 5,000 of the new vehicles on the streets within two years, makes Cruise’s past issues “far more consequential,” the city said. If the company does not significantly improve performance of its technologies, it “could quickly exhaust emergency response resources and could undermine public confidence in all automated driving technology.”

The autonomous cars can watch for pedestrians, change lanes and make right-hand turns. But they may struggle to deal with more complicated or unusual situations, like unprotected left-hand turns and broken traffic lights that engineers call “edge cases,” because they do not happen as frequently as other scenarios.

“Sometimes these cars just need a human to help them out of a tough spot,” said Phil Koopman, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University who specializes in autonomous vehicles.

Autonomous Zamboni developed by Carnegie Mellon students

February 10, 2023

Using artificial intelligence, the student team nicknamed “AI on Ice” is developing an autonomous or self-driving Zamboni machine.

More precisely, they are taking the two-Zamboni machine convoy — traditionally driven by two people — and making the second one autonomous, though tethered electronically to the lead Zamboni, mimicking its speed and direction. A safety driver would be aboard the autonomous Zamboni.

The invention has already gotten some ice time at the Penguins training facility, the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry. It will need further refinement before appearing for a demonstration at a future Penguins home game.

If it performs as planned, fans long mesmerized by the Zamboni and its ability to systematically scrape up and resurface ice will have another reason to marvel as the autonomous machine in the rear “learns” from the human driving up front.

Pittsburgh-based investment vehicle for autonomous robotics, AI and Industry 4.0 startups launches

February 7, 2023

A new Pittsburgh-based investment vehicle has launched from an established venture studio that’s looking to land deals for startups that are using autonomous robotics, AI or other Industry 4.0-based operations.

Carnegie Capital Partners LLC, which will be managed by the Carnegie Foundry — backed by U.S. Steel Corp. and Oshkosh Corp., will serve as a special purpose vehicle to allow interested parties to invest directly into Carnegie Foundry. The Foundry itself looks to more broadly aid the development and commercialization of industry-specific solutions being created at the Carnegie Mellon University-affiliated National Robotics Engineering Center in Lawrenceville…

Carnegie Capital Partners is hoping to solicit collaboration with local investors who might be interested in helping to fund the next generation of advanced technologies. The investment vehicle is “not subject to any overhead or carried interest” and that all investor capital will go directly into Carnegie Foundry to join prior investments made by U.S. Steel and Oshkosh.

Ohio State researchers developing app for pedestrian safety

January 23, 2023

After working with the City of Marysville and observing data from one of their smart intersections, these professors, including Professor Levent Guvenc, Ph.D. who teaches mechanical and aerospace engineering, noted pedestrians’ movements can be quick and unpredictable, and they are often hard to see.

They asked themselves how could drivers be alerted to pedestrians without necessarily needing to see them first.

That’s where their app development started.

Most cellphones people use have GPS systems and Bluetooth capabilities allowing them to connect to each other.

From those capabilities, Doctor Guvenc and his team at the Ohio State University’s College of Engineering created an app for pedestrians and drivers to keep everyone on the road safe.

Drivers and pedestrians who download the app will be able to get alerts that tell drivers, for example, to slow down because there is a pedestrian they may not be able to see around their vehicle.

Feds reviewing Musk tweet about disabling driver monitoring

January 16, 2023

A tweet from Elon Musk indicating that Tesla might allow some owners who are testing a “Full Self-Driving” system to disable an alert that reminds them to keep their hands on the steering wheel has drawn attention from U.S. safety regulators.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it asked Tesla for more information about the tweet. Last week, the agency said the issue is now part of a broader investigation into at least 14 Teslas that have crashed into emergency vehicles while using the Autopilot driver assist system…

Philip Koopman, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, argued that Tesla is contradicting itself in a way that could confuse drivers. “They’re trying to make customers happy by taking their hands off the wheel, even while the (owners) manual says ‘don’t do that.’ ”